Heritage, Volume 3, Number 4, Spring 1986 Page: 6
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Practical Western Training
Dave Jones, with a foreword by Randy Steffen.
Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985.
Second edition, revised and enlarged. 290 pp,
The horse is an essential part of the Texas
myth: William S. Hart and Fritz, Roy Rogers
and Trigger. The cowboy and his horse are so
intimately associated that it is easy to forget
the two were not always one. Dave Jones'
Practical Western Training is a handbook of
techniques used in making a horse a good
partner-a process not far removed from
Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. But the
book is much more; it communicates a whole
subtext of a cowboy's attitude towards the
horse and towards life. The book is about the
personality of the cowboy and the interrelationship
of horse and rider as much as it is
about handling a green horse or turning a bad
horse into a good one.
The book begins with a chapter on selecting a
good horse and then moves ino techniques for
training a horse. The second half of the book
covers corrective techniques to break a horse
of bad habits. Comments on gear are scattered
throughout the book. Jones' structure is not a
rigourous one: the book is reminiscent of that
genre of detective novel where the ace private
eye hands out maxims in a series of autobiographical
Jones' book assumes that the reader has a fair
knowledge of horses. (I confess, I'm a cityslicker
who hasn't ridden a horse since a dude
ranch 15 years ago.) Terms specific to horses
(withers, hackamore, surcingle) aren't defined
and Jones uses a fair amount of slang (a
"buzzy" horse). Many of the procedures Jones
describes will be difficult to comprehend unless
the reader has some actual riding experience.
Naive readers will come to a better
understanding of the horse-that there are
different personalities; that some are better
suited to pleasure riding and others to cattle
work; that a good relationship with a horse is
equally dependent on the human half. Reading
the book will correct many of the distortions
of the Western romance of the horse and
rider. Jones presents the reality of horsemanship
with a satisfying thoroughness that make
movie cowboys appear two-dimensional.
Nevertheless, Jones' book is certainly not for
horse people only. For those who foresee little
riding- much less training-of horses, the
book is fascinating for its subtext. Jones'
earthy humor comes through clearly, mixed in
with rough-hewn metaphor ("My mother
foaled me. .. ."). His conversational, folksy
tone makes the book very readable. Through
these devices, the reader comes to know
Jones, and it is Jones's personality that captures
the non-horse reader's imagination. Certainly
Jones does not present himself as the archetypical
cowboy, but I suggest that he is a Western
man who we can come to know through
his own writing rather than through the interpretation
of an intermediary.
For non-horse people, an afternoon with
Jones' book will be like stopping and chatting
with the owner of a small general store on a an
afternoon trip to the country. The affable
stranger gives pause, a sense of perspective,
Richard Pearce-Moses is the Historic Photography
Project Coordinator for the Texas
Historical Foundation and is a freelance picture
By James Michener. (New York: Random
"A writer has certain advantages. He can publish
such evaluations, then scurry out of the country,
but his words remain behind, generating
bitterness. . ."
-James Michener, Texas
When Giant was published, there was a popular
story among Texans which placed author
Edna Ferber in an airliner headed from New
York to Hollywood. Over the Mississippi, as
the pilot walked back through the first-class
section, Ferber was supposed to have asked
him sweetly, "When we cross the Texas border
could you fly a little lower? I have a book to
This was decidedly not the case with James
Michener. The world of commercial publishing
was breathless in anticipation of his proposed
book on Texas. Lavishly advanced, promoted
and selected for book clubs before it
was even committed to a first draft, the work
was unfortunately greeted at publication by a
nationwide yawn of critics. The trouble with
Texas is that the book is even worse than the
critics suggest. We wined, dined and feted
Michener across the length and breadth of the
Lone Star state; and, with the sauce still on
his lips from our barbecue, he has repaid us in
wormwood and gall, delivering an 1,100-page
collection of unremitting hostility.
According to the author, we have no respectable
arts or music, our diet is "very heavy and
unimaginative" and our newspapers do not
"command serious intellectual attention." We
are "deficient in education," "raw," and "un
couth" and "nouveau riche." Hazing at the
University of Texas, we are told, regularly in
cludes stripping an undergraduate, tying his
arms and legs to stakes in the ground, heating
the iron in a flame and then burning a fourinch
"UT" brand into his manly chest.
Michener's Texas is the scene of "general lawlessness"
and "when the lynching of black
men had begun to fade elsewhere, it still flourished
as a form of community entertainment
in Texas. Texas cities became murder capitals
of the nation and therefore the world....
Texas would always remain one of the most
violent of the American states and would violently
defend its right to behave pretty much
as it damned well pleased."
The insults begin on page one, where
Michener first denigrates Texas driving, then
dredges up the Charles Whitman massacre as
an edifying introduction to place. His story is
framed and narrated by a native son and legal
resident of the state, a major-league academic
thinktanker named Travis Barlow who has
won the Pulitzer prize for his book written in
Colorado. Dr. Barlow is summoned back to
Texas by the governor to chair a "Task Force
... on how to instill in our children a love for
the uniqueness of Texas." Appointed with him
in this vain glorious and extravagantly unnecessary
search are a group of Michener's Texas
archetypes: Ransom Rusk, a rough-hewn combination
of H. L. Hunt, Trammel Crow and
Jimmy Ling with a "net worth probably exceeding
one billion;" "Lorenzo II Magnifico"
Quimper, the "prototypical Texas wheelerdealer"
and a fanatical booster of the University
of Texas at Austin who is best described by
the naming of his home spread as "El Rancho
Estupendo;" Miss Lorena Cobb, representing
descendants of the Southern aristocracy, who
is treated favorably, but only in terms of her
male forbears' accomplishments; and Efrain
Garza, professor of sociology at A&M whose
family has been in Texas for 21 generations.
Michener's Task Force conducts hearings in
various Texas cities to examine what he determines
to be the seven cultural inheritances
of the state-Indian, Spanish-Mexican,
Kentuckian-Tennesseean, Old South, Blacks,
the "freewheeling cowboy" and the GermanCzech-and-other-European.
No mention is
made of Asians arriving through El Paso and
Houston, nor are the great Jewish and Lebanese
mercantile families of Texas represented.
The aurthor has crafted a careful narrative involving
two hundred or so characters, including
most of the obvious historical ones (Houston,
Davey Crockett, Willie Nelson, Bill
Clements)-over a period of more than three
centuries. Parallel to the Task Force tale is the
story of the development of Texas. On March
20, 1536, it begins with the appearance of
Alvar Nunez Cabez de Vaca before a startled
group of teamsters in Guadalajara. Garcilaco,
Michener's proto-Texan, is an "illiterate and
SPRING 86 * HERITAGE
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Reference the current page of this Periodical.
Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 3, Number 4, Spring 1986, periodical, March 1, 1986; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45441/m1/6/: accessed April 26, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.