The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 106, July 2002 - April, 2003 Page: 642
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
The Lonesome Plazns: Death and Revzval on an American Frontzer. By Lewis Fairchild.
(College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2002. Pp. xi+353. Illustrations, acknowl-
edgments, introduction, notes, bibliography, index. ISBN 1-58544-182-1.
Lewis Fairchild in The Lonesome Plains explores the psychological impact of the
loneliness experienced by settlers of the southern plains in the late nineteenth
century and looks at the means by which they attempted to cope with and com-
Although the forced solitude affected everyone, men had opportunities to en-
counter other people on cattle drives or in towns while talking politics, imbibing
at saloons or pitching horseshoes. In contrast, women, with few opportunities for
social contact sometimes resorted to engaging the family cows in conversation
just for the companionship. Although men suffered from the effects of isolation,
it was the women upon whom the weight of loneliness most acutely pressed.
Fairchild contends that the only breaks from the silence and solitude for many
occurred during times of sickness, death, and religious camp meetings and re-
vivals. And with the risks of stampeding cattle, floods, disease, flighty horses and
gunplay, death was a frequent visitor to the homesteads of West Texas. Neigh-
bors often sat with corpses to keep grieving families company, and the aura of
dignity and respect surrounding preparations for burial also provided chances
for social interaction. Consequently, the rituals of death created community be-
cause "when terrible things did happen on the west Texas plains, people came
together" (p. 72).
Religious revivals and camp meetings also provided occasion for people to in-
teract. Some settlers regarded camp meetings that occurred on the far reaches
of the frontier and sometimes lasted three to four weeks as "the greatest occa-
sion of the day" (p. 133). Meetings were filled with fire-and-brimstone preaching
and physical manifestations of indwelling by the Holy Spirit. Wild grotesque gy-
rations and high-pitched shrieking provided emotional and physical releases for
people isolated from human contact. Perhaps inevitably, given the rough-hewn
character of frontier humanity, brawls, drunkenness, and extramarital sex often
accompanied camp meetings, sometimes to such an extreme that "corn spirit"
was often more prevalent than "the Holy Spirit" (p. 138). Camp meetings also
provided women with a break from domestic duties-after they prepared cold
meals to last several days. Upon arriving, women would socialize with other wom-
en, sometimes for days at a time. More than revivals, more than vacations, camp
meetings were events, the highlight of the existence of people whose lives were
characterized by loneliness and fear.
Fairchild tells his story from the letters and diaries of the people who endured
the bleak isolation of the plains and he writes in prose as vivid and cutting as a
Panhandle winter's day. Chapters entitled "Fearsome Solitude" and "Death's Vis-
itation" draw the reader into the hopelessness and despair that settlers, women
in particular, felt. The author succeeds in demonstrating that religious meetings
and funerals enabled people to forge communal bonds in the most adverse of
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 106, July 2002 - April, 2003, periodical, 2003; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101223/m1/720/?rotate=90: accessed March 29, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.