MY INTENTION FOR THIS anniversary issue was to write about my favorite Texas women. But history and myth, which all too often have been indistinguishable here, paid scant attention to women. The best popular history of Texas, T. R. Fehrenbach’s Lone Star, makes more than passing mention of just three: Jane Wilkinson Long, the wife of an early swashbuckler, who stayed with two young daughters and a slave girl on the Gulf Coast across from Galveston Island in the year 1821 while her husband went gallivanting off to foment a revolution against Spain and got himself killed; Cynthia Ann Parker, who was captured by Comanches in 1836 at the age of nine (“The Warrior’s Bride”); and Miriam “Ma” Ferguson, the wife of an impeached governor who gained his revenge on his tormentors by successfully running his spouse in his stead in 1924 and again in 1932. These three different women shared a common circumstance: They did not set out to make history; their destinies were thrust upon them.
But at some point before compiling my list of women who had set out to achieve something and succeeded—women like Congresswoman Barbara Jordan and author Katherine Anne Porter—I came to reflect on the three women featured in Lone Star. Something about them echoed in my own life. I didn’t have to search through history to find my favorite Texas women. They were women much closer to home, women from whom I have learned so much: my mother, my wife, my daughter. Texas women all.
In her own way, my mother was like Jane Wilkinson Long: alone and widowed at Galveston. My father died when I was not quite five years old and my sister was still an infant. Natalie Burka never remarried, never even had another date. She was infused with a sense of duty—to her children, to her deceased husband, to her own sick mother living across town—that waged a lifelong war against self-pity and rarely lost a battle. Losing her husband wasn’t her only disappointment; she had wanted to go to law school at a time when few