The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 87, July 1983 - April, 1984 Page: 220
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
honor and recognition. Wells's lament that political leaders of his day
ignored South Texas can be carried forward as a valid criticism of
historians who write about late nineteenth- and early twentieth-
century Texas, for, as a group, we usually have given scant attention
to the region between the Nueces and the Rio Grande except to record
the beginning of the range-cattle industry or to cite isolated examples
of voting irregularities and occasional border disturbances.
Evan Anders has now done much to correct our oversight-or dispel
our ignorance-of this place and time. Boss Rule in South Texas: The
Progressive Era is an account of three political bosses: Jim Wells of
Cameron County, Manuel Guerra of Starr County, and Archer Parr
of Duval County. The book is more than a case study of bossism, how-
ever, for Anders weaves the thread of lower Rio Grande valley politics
into the broader fabric of state affairs in a significant and meaningful
way. The result is a better understanding of the whole state of Texas
in the decades around the turn of the century. National and inter-
national politics also fall into sharper focus with his descriptions of the
early congressional career of John Nance Garner, an ally of the bosses,
and the border crisis occasioned by the Mexican Revolution and
exacerbated by World War I. For all these reasons, Anders has made
an important contribution which transcends the somewhat limited
subject implied by the title.
Jim Wells is the principal figure in the book, and the account ends
with his political demise and death in the early 192os, though the
Guerra and Parr machines lasted much longer. The clash between
these South Texas bosses, who derived their power from a "remarkably
resilient combination of paternalism, corruption, and tyranny" (p.
283), and the Anglo progressives who represented the forces of good
government, was little different from the contests occurring in urban
centers around the nation. The conventional wisdom is that the public
good was always served when the bosses were defeated. As Anders
shows, however, this public good was sometimes achieved in South
Texas with legalized violence in the form of Texas Rangers intimidat-
ing the Hispanic population; the harshness of boss rule was often
replaced by the religious and racial prejudice of the Ku Klux Klan.
Given the choice between bosses and vigilantes, local Hispanics rarely
experienced any improvement in their condition.
It is a minor criticism to say the book still reflects the style and or-
ganization of a dissertation, which in places obscures the fascination
of the subject. It is more important to say that Anders has made care-
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 87, July 1983 - April, 1984, periodical, 1983/1984; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117150/m1/256/: accessed August 18, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.