Heritage, Volume 8, Number 1, Winter 1990 Page: 27
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Three Roads to
By Roy L. Swift and Leavitt Coming, Jr.
395 pp. Eakin Press, Austin. $24.95.
Reviewed by Alex Apostolides
This handy volume is subtitled The Great
Wagon Roads that Opened the Southwest,
1823-1883. It belongs on the reference
shelf of everyone involved in writing or researching
the southwest part of our country.
Having said that, what's left? The story
of the wagon roads from Chihuahua to
Texas is a fascinating one, and there are
enough legends and tall tales sprinkled
through their history to make for several
radio programs, a fact of which we took full
and glad advantage. But-and there's always
a but tied in-the leaden dullness of
the author's prose makes for heavy slogging
at times. Part of this may be explained by
the fact that Roy L. Swift was director of
public information for the Social Security
Administration at its Baltimore headquarters
for almost twenty years. Government
handouts have never been noted for sparkling
And yet, Swift's avid interest and obvious
love for his subject go far to overcome
any lack of writing skills. He did a massive
job of research and in spite of a turgid style
reminiscent of the 1930s, manages to hold
your interest until the last page is turned.
Given that, this is a successful book.
The roads? Everyone knows about the
Santa Fe Trail, which ran from Independence,
Missouri to Santa Fe and then took a
dogleg south, passing through Paso del
Norte (today's Juarez) and going on to
Chihuahua City and the silver-mine country.
Far less familiar are Connolley's Road
and the great Chihuahua Road.
Dr. Henry Connolley was a longtime
Chihuahua trader obsessed with gaining
access to eastern markets in the United
States. He hammered out a route that went
along the ancient trail of the conquistadores,
down the Conchos River to Ojinaga
on the Rio Grande and from there angled
north and east to Fort Towson out beyond
the Red River. It was soon overshadowed
by the Chihuahua Road, which started out
at Indianola on the Gulf, zigzagged up to
San Antonio and then traced a wild trajectory
west and north and south to pass
through Ojinaga once again and wound its
way up the Conchos to Chihuahua City.
We ride the trail through winter storms
and the blowing sands of summer. We
know the experience of Apache attack and
the swooping suddenness of raids by other
bandits. We ride with Leutenant William
H. C. Whiting, one of the frontier's true
heroes who experienced dangers not many
men would care to face today.
We visit with Henry Skillman, wagonmaster
and extraordinary scout, murdered
in his bed by a Yankee captain. The list of
fascinating tales goes on and on, but I'm
not about to spoil it for you here.
You'll spend several weeks with this
book. The reason? As gripping as each
individual tale may be, that dull and leaden
prose, forced onto the page word by grudging
word, will cause you to lay the book
aside time and again. And yet, the story is
so gripping that you'll find yourself coming
back to it. And the book passes the ultimate
test of success-in spite of its shortcomings,
you are sorry when you come to
the last page because you want the story to
go on and never end.
A sparkling literary adventure? Not by a
long shot. A book to put on your shelf and
dive into time and time again for reference ?
You bet. No Southwestern library should
be without it.
Alex Apostolides is director of The Wilderness
Park Museum in El Paso and creator of the
Edge of Texas radio series.
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HERITAGE * WINTER 1990 27
l -------l Dinosaur Days
Dinosaur in Texas
ifilS* Tom & Jane Allen
)'~ ^S;,?'f with Savannah W. Walker
Dinosaurs roamed what is now
Texas. Dinosaur footprints, fossils and
nearly complete skeletons have been
found. Texas rock is rich in such
remains. There are always things to
discover. This book opens the door for
those in search of Texas dinosaurs.
Handsome, full-color, laminated hardcover. Three-color illustrations
throughout. Tables, maps, charts, glossary.
64 pages. 81/2 x 11 $14.95
& Virginia Hurlburt
Laugh and cry as you read this unique
account of the siege of the Alamo as
told by Davy Crockett's dog.
". . . will delight the young people
while giving them a bit of Texas history
as a side dish." Larry Lawrence, Abilene
Hardcover, illustrated, 64 pages, 6 x 9 $9.95
At bookstores or from
'Hendrick-CLong Publishing Co.
L P.O. Box 25123 * Dallas, Texas 75225 *
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 8, Number 1, Winter 1990, periodical, Winter 1990; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45426/m1/27/: accessed March 17, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.