The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 101, July 1997 - April, 1998 Page: 260

Southwestern Historical Quarterly

Gardner has done an excellent job of arranging and annotating the Glasgow doc-
uments. His volume provides a rare glimpse at an often overlooked phase of the
Mexican War and is a welcome addition to the literature on the subject.
A Cowboy of the Pecos. By Patrick Dearen. (Plano: Republic of Texas Press, 1996.
Pp. vi+266. Illustrations, epilogue, bibliography, index. ISBN 1-55622-528-
8. $12.95, paper.)
Midland writer Patrick Dearen has made a career of extolling the deadly
virtues of one of Texas's harshest regions. From Skeleton Plain to Horsehead
Crossing, even the names of Pecos River sites bespeak a perilous land, where
cowboys often dealt with equally treacherous inhabitants. Following up such
selections as Castle Gap and the Pecos Frontier and Crossing Rio Pecos, this current
monograph adds significantly to his growing body of work. Well written and
thoroughly researched, the book includes crisp, vivid chapters surveying various
stages of the river country's stunted development.
From the trailing days before and after the Civil War, through the open-
range era, the advent of fencing, and into the early twentieth century, the
extremes of Pecos-country geography and weather made even the routine chal-
lenges of cowboy life considerably more formidable. Some particular episodes
reached legendary proportions. One observer exclaimed that the "Big Die-Up,"
during the blizzard of 1885, left so many carcasses on the flood plain that "a
man could have walked for five miles ... without stepping on the ground" (p.
174). The next year the "Big Dry" claimed many of the survivors: 'You could
have gone up the Pecos River on both sides," recalled a cowboy, "and it was four
feet high with dead cattle" (p. 189). "Normal" conditions presented such every-
day obstacles as the river's inaccessibly high banks as well as quicksand, and
water that could ravage a digestive tract. Rattlesnakes, packs of wolves, stock
thieves, and Comanches lurked along the banks. Nevertheless, claims Dearen,
such a tough land bred tough people, inspiring an early-day chronicler "to pro-
claim the valley of the Pecos 'the cowboy's paradise"' (p. 3).
If this work possesses any shortcomings, the absence of either a preface or
an introduction leaves the reader to infer the book's thesis. In this respect,
the somewhat mistitled book is more about the Pecos River itself and how it
affected not only its cowboys but also the immigrants, travelers, explorers,
herders, Indians, and thieves who crossed it, used it, and died in it. Rather
than an interpretive work, A Cowboy of the Pecos is a paean to the daring souls
who braved the forbidding environment. If those who inhabited the land
seem a little taller for the telling, enthusiasts of cowboy life and frontier
adventure will be forgiving-after all, could a place that Pecos Bill called
home have been any different?



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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 101, July 1997 - April, 1998, periodical, 1998; Austin, Texas. ( accessed May 30, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History,; crediting Texas State Historical Association.