Heritage, Volume 3, Number 4, Spring 1986 Page: 8
The following text was automatically extracted from the image on this page using optical character recognition software:
In addition, Michener over simplifies our love
for sports, claiming that "there is nothing in
Texas to which a man can aspire that is held in
more reverence than skilled performance on
the football field, especially a high school
football field. . ." Football is actually a social
duty in Texas, like serving in a militia. Skilled
performance in the pursuit of money is much
more highly revered. "There's never been a
really first-rate book or play or dramatic presentation
of Friday night football," he claims.
So much for the work of Jenkins, Shrake,
Gent, McMurtry, Cronley, Winningham,
Cartwright, Sherrod, Heifner and C. W.
Witness Michener in full cry:
In the arts the new state was unlucky.
Because in its first stages it had been of
Spanish heritage, it did not have
among its original settlers a cadre of
men and women accustomed to writing
freely; it could not therefore duplicate
settlements like Boston, Philadelphia,
Williamsburg and Charleston, in which
a predominantly English population already
trained in a free English culture
produced newspapers, books, impressive
schools and thriving colleges.
Also, Texans were so busy trying to
tame their frontier that they had little
time for culture, and their refusal to
support education vigorously, as states
like Massachusetts and Ohio did,
meant that they lacked a constant infusion
of fresh intellectual ideas. So, at
the end of the nineteenth century and
the beginning of the twentieth, when
indigenous forms of Texas culture
should have been emerging, as such
forms did in the rest of America, both
the foundation and the desire were
lacking, and a notable Texas culture
composed of songs and paintings and
plays and operas and epic poetry and
delightful stories did not come forth.
This statement represents both deep cultural
ignorance and completely specious reasoning,
for Texas at the end of the eighteenth century
had a density of only 0.26 people per square
mile. The U.S. at that date, even with vast
unsettled areas, had a population density more
than twenty-four times as high, providing a social
and economic base from which culture
could flourish. Massachusetts, to use
Michener's example, required only one school
to be established for each fifty tax-paying
families, but I would be willing to bet he cannot
document a far-flung Texas settlement of
even thirty families where no education was
available through church or community.
By 1890 Texas had narrowed the population
gap with 8.5 people per square mile, compared
to the U.S. figure of 21.2. And though the
character of the Texas population was still decidedly
rural, the state had already produced
successful writers like Charles Siringo and
Amelia Barr, hosted the Barrymores and
Sarah Bernhardt on the Texas stage, and sent
Texas actors to Broadway. Onderdonk, Ney,
Lungkwitz and Iwonski had flourished as visual
artists. Scott Joplin was writing Texas-based
operas, and William Sydney Porter (O. Henry)
was running an Austin newspaper and writing
truly delightful tales of Texas.
By 1921, though Michener never mentions
them, Texas had its own Fine Arts Association,
Poetry Society, museums and symphony
orchestras-and Texans were conducting and
soloing with New York orchestras and singing
on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera. Few, I
think, need be reminded of the ethnographic
efforts of John A. Lomax, who collected the
great body of Texas folk songs and ballads.
And what of the work of Katherine Anne Porter
and Dorothy Scarborough from this time?
Only a few examples can be offered in this
limited space, but it is obvious that Michener
seriously underestimates us as a people.
The author has spun a bizarre fantasy out of
the bleakest facts of our history and used it to
stigmatize contemporary Texans, putting his
odd observations into our words and in the
first person. Michener's Fictional Task Forcenative
Texans all-conclude in their final report
Any state which acquires great power is
obligated to provide outstanding moral
and intellectual leadership. We know
that Texas has the capacity for such
leadership, [but] we cannot identify in
what significant fields it will
be exerted. ... It has no major publishing
house, no art except cowboy illustration,
no philosophical preeminence.
Obviously, it has other valuable
assets, but not one that society prizes
highly . . . It still has the courage to
take great risks, and is wildly devoted to
football. It runs the risk of becoming
America's Sparta rather than its
Athens. And history does not deal
kindly with its Spartas.
So here at last are the root problems with
Michener's Texas: That somewhere between
Poland and Alaska the author found himself
and didn't like what he saw; that he could not
honestly come to grips with a society which
maintains cultural diversity; that he imposed
his own narrow perspective on us while wear
ing the disguise of a Texan. Compensating by
overstatement, the author gave us a work
which is too heavy for beach or bedside and
too light to dignify the Sesquicentennial. My
earnest recommendation is to leave Michener's
bitter book alone. Pick up the reissue of T. R.
Fehrenbach's Lone Star and meet some real
Jon Holmes is a freelance writer and author
of Texas, a Self Portrait and Texas Sport.
A Photographic Portrait.
Introduction by William A. Owens, picture
research and captions by Richard PearceMoses,
edited by Martha A. Sandweiss, Roy
Flukinger, and Anne W. Tucker. 327 pp, illustrated
with 360 black-and-white photographs.
A Photographic Portrait.
Introduction by Stephen Harrigan, edited by
Martha A. Sandweiss, Roy Flukinger, and
Anne W. Tucker, photographs by Jim Bones,
Paul Hester, Fredrick C. Baldwin and Wendy
Watriss, Mary Peck, Michael Allen Murphy,
Carol Cohen Burton, Rick Williams, Peter
Helms Feresten, Stuart D. Klipper, George
Krause, Ave Bonar, Frank Gohlke, Frank
Armstrong, Gay Block, and Skeet McAuley.
239 pp, 150 illustrations in color and duotone.
With two large volumes of photography, Historic
Texas: A Photographic Portrait, and Contemporary
Texas: A Photographic Portrait, the
Texas Historical Foundation has produced
works that will reward anyone interested in
Texas, its history, or the photography done
here. Careful to disclaim any pretentions of
being comprehensive studies, the books do
provide a treasure chest of Texas photography.
Here is a vast resource to help understand
what Texas is and was, and how photographers
have dealt with its complexities. Although
there are flaws in some of the presentations
and judgements to question, these are beautiful
and inspiring books.
Martha Sandweiss, General Editor, introduces
Historic Texas noting ". .. this is not an illustrated
history of the state or an evenhanded
history of regional photography. It is simply a
book of pictures that seemed compelling to
the editors." There is, of course, a great deal
more to both the process by which this book
came to be and the complexity and scope of its
results than that statement suggests: a serious
effort was made to do a comprehensive review
of the available photography taken in Texas to
provide the widest possible basis for the final
selection. Sleuthing for pictures was the work
of Richard Pearce-Moses, who spent months
SPRING 86 * HERITAGE
Here’s what’s next.
This issue can be searched. Note: Results may vary based on the legibility of text within the document.
Tools / Downloads
Get a copy of this page or view the extracted text.
Citing and Sharing
Basic information for referencing this web page. We also provide extended guidance on usage rights, references, copying or embedding.
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/m1/8/: accessed July 26, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.