The Big Story: A Journalist Looks at Texas History
IHAD DOUBTS ABOUT MAKING THIS SPEECH. YOUR KNOWLEDGE OF TEXAS
history is so much more concrete, so much more intimate, that a jour-
nalist puts not only his reputation but his life and limb at risk when he
parades his quick and easy judgments before true aficionados. As
Texans you know-every schoolchild knows-that old story about Phil
Sheridan; that when General Sheridan passed through Galveston in
1866 he was quoted as saying that if he owned Texas and all hell, he'd
rent out Texas and live in hell. From that day on he suffered the
unremitting fury and disgust of every right-thinking Texan.
But you, as historians, also know the rest of the story. That General
Sheridan came back many years later to attend a dinner honoring
Ulysses S. Grant, and he tried to apologize. He explained that at the
time he'd been returning from a difficult journey to Mexico, and it was
August, and hot, and dusty, and he 'd been traveling for days straight
without a break, and his men were sick, and when he finally arrived in
Galveston desperate for a bath and a bed, the first person he met was a
journalist who rushed up to him and asked him how he liked the city. So
he said something intemperate and ill-considered, but he really didn't
mean it, he said; he was just 4ngry at the journalist for asking such a
question under the circumstances.
The very next day after the General's apology, a local reporter wan-
dered out to get some man-in-the-street commentary about the incident.
And the first man he talked to said: "I have never understood that there
was any feeling of bitterness toward General Sheridan on account of his
having made that remark. The only reason people thought hard of him,
at all, was on account of his failing to kill the reporter."
As a journalist who often tries to do journalism about history, I've
pondered the differences between the two, and there's one thing I know
for sure: more people have wanted to kill reporters than historians. So
* Bill Moyers is with Public Affairs Television. This paper was presented at the centennial
meeting of the Texas State Histoncal Association, March 7, 1997.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 101, July 1997 - April, 1998. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117155/. Accessed July 3, 2015.