Heritage, Volume 6, Number 2, Summer 1988 Page: 25
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nesses to the assassination. This is strange
for a Texan, but he doesn't seem to know
Penn Jones, the feisty editor of the
Midlothian Mirror, whose indefatigable research
fell on deaf and uncaring ears.
Wright seems to think it's all wrapped up,
but the question of just who did kill JFK
continues to go begging.
He tells of Dallas, the Grand Continental
Tour and the ex-pat time in Europe-a
hegira one thought had gone out of fashion
in the 1920s. In Egypt on a two-year teaching
stint, he discovered, as many ex-pats
do, that his roots are ineradicably American.
He differs from most ex-pats in feeling
comfortable with this country once he
He chronicles an odyssey through the
latest growing-pain years of the United
States. His facile prose bears you along in
effortless joy, with a bonus you rarely
find-someone who can actually write!
"...I thought about what a strange country
I was living in, how we all change, how
surprised we seem to be about who we are."
The question of identity has not been
settled to this day, but the vital, surging
energy of that search is something Wright
has captured perfectly.
There are gaps in the chronicle; Wright
makes no pretense of giving anything more
than his own impressions, admittedly lim-,
ited, of troubled times. What he does give
is a fascinating account of a man's growth
through those years. Brightly written and
eminently readable, you can't ask more of a
book than that.
Soldiers, Sutlers and Settlers:
Garrison Life on the Texas
Soldiers, Sutlers and Settlers: Garrison Life on
the Texas Frontier, by Robert Wooster.
1987, Texas A&M University Press, College
Station; i-xv + 240 pp.
Army life on the advancing frontier was
more discomfort than high adventure. The
1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo threw
open a vast region to the west, and troops
were sent to garrison the new frontier
against everything from Indian attack to
the threat of resentful residents displaced
by the new order and the yankee culture
The forts thrown up across Texas had
little in common with established army
installations in the East. Most were regarded
as temporary, and a parsimonious
War Department skimped as much as it
could. Why pour money into an installation
that might be moved tomorrow, as
frontier conditions changed? What went
up in most places was a gaggle of temporary
buildings, meant to be used as outposts
rather than anything permanent.
These forts were set up along the major
rivers in central and east Texas. Far to the
west, the only installation of even rudimentary
permanence was Fort Bliss, whose
buildings stood where downtown El Paso is
today. Until 1861, Forts Bliss, Quitman
and Davis guarded what came to be known
as the Military Road, along the trail between
San Antonio and El Paso. Today,
Bliss, in its fifth reincarnation, is an active
military post. Quitman has crumbled with
the years of abandonment, wind and
weather. Davis, in the most unstrategic
location imaginable, is a reconstructed
monument now, a display laid out for tourists.
Robert Wooster, associate professor of
history at Corpus Christi, paints with a
broad and skillful brush as he pictures frontier
installations from Galveston to the far
west tip of Texas. He began the work as a
labor of scholarship, supported by grants.
The book itself saw life, thanks to the
generosity of Clayton W. Wheaton, Jr.,
who provided major funding for A&M's
Texas Life Series, of which this volume is
This is no dry recounting of history.
Wooster has a felicitous turn of phrase; the
book is an easy and enjoyable trip across
our one-time wild frontier. The emphasis is
not on outstanding events as much as it is
a look at the people who walked or rode
through that time and those places more
than a hundred years now gone. Their own
impressions, sad or glad, of their survival in
new scenes, and Wooster's skillful wordweaving,
make the account sparkle.
You suffer through the dusty heat of
summertime at Fort Concho; surely one of
the most unfortunately placed installations
in all the army's chain that stretched
in a shallow arc along the frontier.
A wry grin is brought to your face, and
you may reflect that not much has
changed. You read accounts of venal army
officers acting in collusion with opportunistic
merchants embroiled in real estate
speculation. A mystery-or part of one-is
solved. The location of some forts seem to
make no sense, until you realize just how
much politics played a part in those locations.
The new-strung forts were orphans.
Washington, a far-off Never Never Land,
wasn't very interested in the outland called
Texas. The interest was to lag, until politicians'
cronies turned beady eyes toward
new markets, reachable by the westward
expansion of their railroads.
Most of the forts that lay along the
westward trails were jerrybuilt pest-holes,
thrown together with spit and rotten canvas
and whatever scraggly timber could be
found nearby. They did as good a job as
they were capable, fending off or thwarting
Indian raids, and the War Between the
States saw the forts abandoned, as Blue set
upon Gray. The Indians had a happy field
day that didn't wane until 20 years after the
None of the forts resembled the palisaded
'forts' of the Hollywood westerns.
Rude buildings sprawled in an open pattern,
built for the most part of scraps and
canvas except where local Mexicans
showed the newcomers how to make adobe
bricks. "There is nothing to prevent Indians
or anyone else from riding through the
posts in any direction. They are built simply
for quarters, and their locality for defense
is seldom thought of. They are placed
so as to have a level place for a
parade...without any expectation that they
will ever have to stand a siege."
The book is liberally sprinkled with
excerpts from personal journals, letters and
memoirs, and this gives a lively presence to
the text. You can trace the building of the
forts from the mouth of the Rio Grande to
the tip end of Texas at El Paso. You can
look at the daily life of common soldiers, at
the impressions of officers' wives, laundresses
and camp followers. Wooster walks
you through the days of brain-numbing
'normalcy' that is life in a peacetime army
camp. The myriad petty details that call to
mind the classic advice in Mister Roberts,
when a wise doctor tells a callow Navy
lieutenant he must regard the armed services
as 'a scheme devised by geniuses for
execution by idiots.'
In a chapter titled "Economic Concerns,"
Wooster looks at the pay scale of
the troops and officers. A colonel's pay in
1870 was $291.67 a month, and officers got
an extra 10% to pay for food and housing.
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 6, Number 2, Summer 1988, periodical, Summer 1988; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45434/m1/25/: accessed July 23, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.