Horsemen, Goodbye

Thoughts on the gradual march of civility and urban sprawl across the lost frontier.

In 1968, five years before this magazine was born, I published—with Bill and Sally Wittliff’s elegant, Austin-based Encino Press—a slim book of essays called In a Narrow Grave, a title derived from a well-known range cattle ballad, “The Dying Cowboy.” No New York publisher had the slightest interest in the book. The dying cowboy of the lament asked his comrades to fling a handful of roses o’er his grave and pray the Lord his soul to save.

The handful of roses I flung was a 25-page anatomy of the more or less major cities of Texas, to wit: Houston, Dallas, Austin, Fort Worth, San Antonio, and El Paso. The piece—the next-to-last in the book—was critical but not wholly unaffectionate. I was, after all, living in various of those cities: often was I affronted but rarely was I bored.

I was 32 when I published In a Narrow Grave, an easy age to be smart at, if one is ever going to be smart. The three novels I had published up to that point—Horseman, Pass By; Leaving Cheyenne; and The Last Picture Show—were all about people who lived in the country or in small towns that were culturally indistinguishable from the country. The essays had been accumulating, so I published them and immediately turned my attention to urban Texas in a long novel called Moving On, set

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