JESOS F. DE LA TEJA, Editor
Last Cavalier: The Life and Times of John A. Lomax, 1867-I948. By Noland
Porterfield. (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1996. Pp. [151+582.
Illustrations, prologue, notes, sources, acknowledgments, index. ISBN 0-252-
02216-5. $34.95, cloth.)
Songs like "Home on the Range," "Whoopee Ti Yi Yo," "Sweet Betsy from
Pike," "The Dying Cowboy," and "Git Along, Little Dogies" are as much a part of
America's cultural iconography as physical monuments like the Grand Canyon
and the Mississippi River. And yet these frontier ballads, along with a vast body
of other American folk songs, were nearly lost to history. The preservation of
this cultural treasure chest became the lifelong quest of a Texan named John
Lomax, who himself became an American cultural icon and institution.
Lomax's exploits as a ballad hunter-riding for hundreds of miles on horse-
back with an Edison cylinder recorder strapped to his saddle horn-have
become the stuff of legend, a legend he also had a hand in promoting and
embellishing, as in his autobiography, Adventures of a Ballad Hunter (1947). The
complete and unvarnished examination of his life and personality presented in
Nolan Porterfield's excellent biography gives us a look at the man behind the
legend. Lomax emerges as a man who was by turns proud and insecure,
doggedly determined and blessed by good fortune and good timing. Porterfield
also illuminates many of Lomax's contradictions, including his ability to
empathize with African Americans and their culture without believing in equali-
ty of the races.
Porterfield does a good job of detailing Lomax's personal trials and tribu-
lations during his early years as a student and registrar at the fledgling
University of Texas and, later, at Texas A&M University and Harvard.
Although these formative years are interesting and illuminating, some of the
details become a bit tedious, especially the ill-fated three-year courtship of
Shirley Green, who eventually died of tuberculosis without declaring her love
The book picks up considerable momentum, however, when it tells the story
of when Lomax enrolled in an American literature class at Harvard in the fall of
19o6 and was urged by his professor to come up with "something interesting
about your regional literary productions." Lomax responded to the challenge by
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 September 3, 2014.