The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 97, July 1993 - April, 1994 Page: 179
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forgettable figures as Charles Goodnight, George W. Littlefield, Jefferson Davis
Milton, and Charles Schreiner. These narratives have great scope and reso-
nance. They are biographies in the tradition of that Greek master, Plutarch, and
are therefore more than antiseptic accounts. Instead, like the Parallel Lives, they
preserve for our instruction some of the heroic spirit which animated the early
history of our state, setting for those who have come after an example with real
authority. The scale on which to measure the achievement of these books is like
the epic ambitions of their subjects-large. Indeed Haley's Charles Goodnzght:
Cowman and Plainsman invites comparison to Beowulf, El Poema Del Cid, or one of
the Icelandic sagas. And Jeb Milton: A Good Man with a Gun is no lesser perfor-
mance. But these books are not all of the story concerning Haley as biographer.
For some of his finest work is in the more restricted genre of the biographical
sketch or "portrait," the art of which is to render a personality with anecdotes, a
bit of summary and a remembered turn of phrase. Evetts Haley does some of
this work in the set of sketches which he brought out together as Men of Fiber.
There are more of the same kind in this new book, brief images of people Evetts
Haley wishes that we might cherish for some human excellence they embodied.
I like particularly "Ab Blocker, Trail Boss" and "Santana, the Orator of the
Plains." But "Martha Summerhayes, Frontier Army Wife" and "Ben Ficklin, Pio-
neer Mail Man" are equally well done. All of these portraits present us with fron-
tier originals, persons who grew to meet the demands of a strenuous and
danger-filled way of life, coming to be finally confirmed in their faith that
courage and determination bring their own rewards, that challenges and good
causes are the gifts of providence to healthy souls. I know of no writer, Texan or
otherwise, who is a greater master of this form thanJ. Evetts Haley.
The eulogies for Haley's parents and his first wife, Nita, are powerful docu-
ments, personal and full of sentiment, yet characteristic Haley, not lachrymose
or forgetful of what these lives have achieved: even when in the midst of mourn-
ing, full of love, respect and thankfulness.
Also exceptional are the five Haley Christmas writings which make up another
part of his new book. "Christmas at the Hancock House," the story from Recon-
struction Austin of the Texas girl who tends and restores a Yankee officer about
to die and then accepts him as a husband, is a graceful and polished composi-
tion, resonant of larger reconciliations. As is the meditation on West Texas at
Christmas, "And So It Must Be-At Christmas." There, looking out across the
harsh and sometimes beautiful land of his birth, Haley writes that ". .. Christmas
on these western Plains-though forbiddingly cold and usually severe-glows
with an inner, brighter, more kindly light. For this, our chosen if not our
promised land, awes us into humility with its cataclysmic violence, toughens our
natures to eternal perseverance by its rugged discipline, and turns our hearts to
reverence as the only real refuge from her physical storms."
The Holy Season calls forth from Haley his most reflective vein. Yet more im-
portant (and more representative of Haley's achievement) than these finely
wrought Christmas essays are the various studies here gathered under the head-
ing of "Cowman's Commentary." To this group belong some fine examples of
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 97, July 1993 - April, 1994, periodical, 1994; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117154/m1/207/: accessed September 26, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.