The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 104, July 2000 - April, 2001 Page: 117
isolation and beauty she found there.
Koch was a young housewife in suburban Cincinnati before she and her hus-
band decided to move west. Hoping that Etta's asthma would improve and that
Peter could establish his career as a nature photographer, they left the East with
their daughters, ages twelve, eight, and two. Upon reaching the Big Bend, they
simply stayed, living in their tiny trailer parked in the Chisos Basin. When Peter
left on an illustrated lecture tour, Etta and their daughters moved into a stone
house on the Rio Grande near Maggie Smith's store at Hot Springs. With her
asthma gone, Etta was eventually employed by the park, and Peter became
known for his photographs.
Believing her life was exotic, Koch wrote long letters home describing her
daily experinces and her impressions of the strange world around her. The
"lizards on the mantel" and "burro at the door" appear in the stories she wrote.
Koch's daughter, June Cooper, took her mother's writings and brought the
book together. Although Cooper appears as a child in the stories, this is her
mother's book, told from her mother's vivid perspective.
All of us who love Big Bend National Park will be moved by Koch's descrip-
tions of the sun rising behind the Sierra del Carmen and the mountains' vivid
pink at sunset, the innumerable stars, and the other visual wonders of the
region. In addition, her story helps to fill a gap in our knowledge of the park,
both in the years it covers and in her focus on the people who were living there
at its beginning. Early park administrators are simply friends who gathered over
dinner and the parents of her daughters' friends. Koch's stories of weekly deliv-
eries of supplies and the all-day excursion from the Basin to Hot Springs provide
a sense of how much more isolated the park was during the 1940s than today.
Etta Koch was a transplanted wife and mother, trying to raise her daughters by
the values of suburban post-World War II America in an isolated desert land-
scape. Her narrative implicitly reveals the conflicts in this task. Despite the beau-
ty of her new home, Koch was lonely at Hot Springs. She worried about her chil-
dren growing up in an unconventional environment. Her comments about her
Mexican neighbors remind us that as a society we have moved beyond the con-
descending attitudes typical of Anglos fifty years ago.
Lizards on the Mantel is a simple, straightforward memoir, enjoyable and infor-
mative on its own terms. Koch was not analytical or deeply psychological. Unlike
others who have written about Big Bend, she was not primarily a naturalist. Her
details and her unique perspective on the park's beginning are an important
addition to the published history of the Big Bend.
Sul Ross State University Marilyn Brady
Texas Constables: A Frontier Heritage. By Allen G. Hatley. (Texas Tech University
Press, 1999. Pp. xviii+237. ISBN o-89672-424-7. Preface, acknowledgments,
appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $34.95, cloth.)
Allen Hatley, a geologist and present-day constable, has produced a work with
two virtues: it is a synthesis that shows the evolution of the office of constable in
Here’s what’s next.
Show all pages in this issue.
This issue can be searched. Note: Results may vary based on the legibility of text within the document.
Citing and Sharing
Basic information for referencing this web page. We also provide extended guidance on usage rights, references, copying or embedding.
Reference the current page of this Periodical.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 104, July 2000 - April, 2001, periodical, 2001; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101221/m1/145/ocr/: accessed August 25, 2016), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.