It’s been a busy and exciting year here at Texas Monthly, and that’s meant no shortage of incredible longform. We’ve put together some of our favorite and most-read stories of the year below, listed in no particular order. Whether it’s Skip Hollandsworth on the beautiful and tragic friendship of two girls at Santa Fe high school; Michael Mooney on Fox News fixture Robert Jeffress; Mimi Swartz’s meditation on love and the lessons in caring for her late father’s dog; Leif Reigstad on the twisted world of Joe Exotic, the “tiger king”; Eric Benson on the man behind the Buc-ee’s empire, or any of the others below, there’s something here to make you laugh or cry or just want to nestle a little deeper into the cushions.

You can also check out nineteen moments that shaped Texas in 2019, our favorite films of 2019, Texan actors’ best performances of the year, the best of Texas music from 2019, or, if you’re feeling masochistic, take a stroll through the last decade’s ten worst years in politics. Enjoy!

Buc-ee’s: The Path to World Domination

Beaver Aplin

Photograph by Jeff Wilson

Beaver Aplin built the quirky convenience chain into a Texas empire. Will his tactics translate outside the state?

Faith, Friendship, and Tragedy at Santa Fe High

Photograph by Brian Goldman

Sabika Sheikh, a Muslim exchange student from Pakistan with dreams of changing the world, struck up an unlikely friendship with an evangelical Christian girl. The two became inseparable—until the day a fellow student opened fire.

Joe Exotic: A Dark Journey Into the World of a Man Gone Wild

Courtesy of Joe Exotic

He called himself the Tiger King and plastered his face on highway billboards in Texas and Oklahoma. He bred big cats, bears, baboons, and more. He lived, with a parade of partners, on the grounds of his private zoo. He threatened a rival with murder—repeatedly, on YouTube—and tried to hire a hit man to do the deed.

The Hunt for the Serial Killer of Laredo

A family member holds a photo of Claudine Luera during a prayer vigil .

Susan Montoya Bryan/AP

Last September, law enforcement officers were confounded by a murderer targeting prostitutes along the border. As the investigation intensified, they discovered that the killer had been hiding in plain sight.

When Does an Accident Become a Crime?

Illustration by Corey Brickley

While driving through a dangerous curve in East Texas, James Fulton crossed into oncoming traffic and killed a young woman. The cops said the crash was an accident. But the Smith County DA saw it differently.

The Permian Basin Is Booming With Oil. But at What Cost to West Texans?

A crew pulling a well just north of Welch.

Photograph by Nick Simonite

Though some will reap serious profits, the region’s dealing with skyrocketing rents, overcrowded schools, and potholes as big as VW Beetles.

Trump’s Apostle

Robert Jeffress

Illustration by Marc Burckhardt

No matter how incendiary his latest tweet or policy might seem, Donald Trump can count on evangelical preacher and Fox News fixture Robert Jeffress to defend him. What’s behind the Dallas pastor’s unconditional embrace?

Bobby Bones Is Just Getting Started

Bones photographed at his home in Nashville on August 30, 2018.

Photograph by David McClister

The unlikely rise (and rise, and rise) of the most powerful man in country music.

Crowdsourcing Justice

Ed Ates at his Cedar Hill home on June 1, 2019.

Photograph by Matt Rainwaters

It took only a handful of people to wrongly convict Ed Ates of murder. It took an army to free him from prison. Now comes the hard part.

Was Apollo 11 a Beginning or an End?

future of space

Illustration by Jason Holley

Fifty years after man walked on the Moon, mankind is still stranded on Earth. That’s not the way it was supposed to be.

When ‘Angels in America’ Came to East Texas

Twenty years ago my hometown made national headlines when the local college staged an internationally acclaimed play about gay men and the AIDS crisis. The people I grew up with are still feeling the aftershocks.

Bachelorette Parties Have Overtaken Austin. What Does It Mean for the City?

Photograph by Matt Rainwaters

Every weekend, scores of bachelorette parties flock to the Texas capital in search of cute murals, dressed-up cocktails, and the perfect Instagram. But the new tourism also reveals something deeper about the city’s socioeconomic reality.

Street Fight: Inside Austin’s Bitter Brawl Over Homelessness

Alvin Sanderson rests on a bench.

Photograph by Tamir Kalifa

The legalization of camping and sidewalk sleeping has stirred a backlash that obscures the progress some Texas cities have made in steering the homeless off the streets.

Can Bee Stings Treat Lyme Disease?

bees

Photograph by Brian Goldman

Treatments for chronic Lyme disease are controversial and expensive. As a last resort, some patients are pursuing this unproven and painful alternative.

Could a Loud, Rich, and Scandal-Prone Personal Injury Lawyer Win Control of Houston?

Houston mayoral hopeful Tony Buzbee in his neighborhood

Photograph by Jeff Wilson

Tony Buzbee knows how to win big in court. In the era of Trump, he might just win the Houston mayoral race.

Life, in Dog Years

Photograph by Matt Rainwaters

My father always pampered his pets. So when he fell ill and moved in with us, it was no surprise that his corgi came to rule our home. What I didn’t expect was for Trilby to care for me after Dad was gone.

The Great Texas Whiskey Boom

whiskey barrels

Photograph by Suech and Beck

A decade ago, there was no Texas whiskey. Today, the state’s craft distillers are making world-class bourbons and single malts—and slick imitators are trying to stake a claim.

The Battle to Rewrite Texas History

TEXAS HISTORY Illustration

Illustration by David Palumbo

While a new generation of scholars is correcting the historical record, supporters of the traditional narratives are fighting to keep their grip on the public imagination.

Will Hurd Has Defied Both Liberals and Donald Trump. Is He the Future of the GOP or a Party of One?

Photo Illustration by LeAnn Mueller

The outspoken congressman left a promising career in the CIA and became a rising Republican star. But his political balancing act is dicier than ever.

How the Unchecked Power of Judges Is Hurting Poor Texans

A replica of the state seal in the courtroom of Judge Karen Sage, in Austin.

Photograph by Trevor Paulhus

Can’t afford a lawyer? Don’t expect justice.

A Lone Postman Delivers the Mail to the Far Reaches of the Big Bend

Postman Gilbert Lujan and his truck on Pinto Canyon Road.

Photograph by Trevor Paulhus

Not many people will drive the mail to places the U.S. Postal Service won’t. Seventy-one-year-old Gilbert Lujan is one of them.