YOU CAN GIVE ME A STANLEY MARSH 3 OVER A WHITTENBURG anytime [“Big Feud at Cadillac Ranch,” March 1996]. Reading and howling about this eccentric old coot’s escapades, I kept wondering, “How can I help this guy stave off those damn Whittenburgs?” I was waiting for a quote from George A. Whittenburg II to the tune of “Bring Me the Head of Marsh 3!” Lighten up, George.
AS A TEENAGER, I WORKED FOR STANLEY MARSH 3 one summer. I can attest that there was no “funny business” going on at his Toad Hall estate, other than a few bizarre chores—painting entire trees with yellow paint; feeding his Clydesdale horse, llamas, and ostriches; painting strange signs, which were then only placed around his estate. After two weeks of employment, I realized that I had better things to do with my life than work for a spoiled-brat millionaire. Thank you, Stanley, for teaching me an important lesson.
Daniel J. Albracht
REGARDING YOUR HEARTFELT AND MUCH-APPRECIATED PIECE on Barbara Jordan [“Major Barbara,” March 1996], I am at a disadvantage in not having read the essay “The Conscience of Huckleberry Finn” in the class taught by Ms. Jordan, but I want to plunge ahead anyway. My son is named for Mark Twain. Mark Twain is important to me. Periodically the man from Hannibal is reevaluated—which is fine, the essence of academic honesty—and we’re going through that again, especially with Huckleberry Finn. I have no problem with any conclusions anyone wants to draw from the novel; that’s part of its greatness. All I’d like to point out is that the passage you quote is not the heart and soul of the novel. Yes, in that passage Huck cannot bring himself to tell the truth about the man in the raft, and I have no argument with the conclusion that he does it out of weakness of will, not moral conviction. But that’s not the passage from which American literature takes its sustenance.
This comes later, when Huck has written a note to Jim’s owner, telling her where the runaway slave is and how to pick him up. He feels good and thinks about how near he came to going to hell, but he goes on thinking about his friendship with Jim, and he sees the note, and he says, “I took it up and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: ‘All right, then, I’ll go to hell’—and tore it up.” Weakness? Sure, Huck realized his moral principles were useless, as you put it. But that’s because they were neither principles nor moral. His choosing to “go to hell” reflects a genuine, and deep, moral odyssey. It’s the opposite of weakness. His principles and his feelings turned out to be one and the same.
I LOVED “THE JONES GANG” [March 1996]. Though I am neither a true Texan nor a Dallas Cowboys fan, I at least used to respect the teams of the seventies and eighties, along with Coach Landry. Jones’s Cowboys are truly America’s team of the nineties, displaying that money can buy anything, regardless of the rules.
BEDICHEK, DOBIE, AND WEBB WILL ALWAYS BE MY FAVORITE Texas writers [“Pen Pals,” March 1996]. Roy Bedichek and I talked back and forth in letters, J. Frank Dobie inspired me to become a journalist, and I was a student under Walter Prescott Webb. In one letter, Dobie wrote: “No journalism professor in America can teach you a damned thing about the architecture of a sentence. They are all ignorant pretenders.” In class one day, students were asked what their majors were and one young woman said journalism. Mr. Webb came out with “Aw, hell!” Mr. Webb later apologized to the student for his outburst but explained, “I spent a lot of my golden youth taking courses in writing before I had anything to say.” Mr. Webb also wrote an article for a history magazine, which went unpublished, about how history professors couldn’t write.
DON GRAHAM IS REGRETTABLY RIGHT when he asserts that contemporary Texans neither know nor appreciate their famous forebears. In proof, I cite your misidentification of Roy Bedichek and Mody Boatright.
The editors reply: Mr. Shockley is correct. The men’s names are reversed in the caption on page 103.
CANONIZING IS NOT WITHOUT ITS CRITICS nor its charges of subjective judgment [“Canon Fever,” March 1996]. As much as I like Duel of Eagles, it is a good book but not good history. It is certainly not as canon-ible as Texian Iliad, by Stephen L. Hardin. Besides, Jeff Long’s Empire of Bones is more deserving to be on your list; in fact, it is among the best novels about the Texas Revolution ever written, a page-turner that leaves its images and its character forever in the reader’s imagination. I also want to barrack for The Cannibal Owl, by the late, great Chad Oliver, a top-notch science fiction writer who just happened to be very good at writing about the confluence and conflict of the Indian and the white man on the Texas frontier.
AS ROBERT DRAPER REVEALED IN “THE HORSE KILLERS” [March 1996], life is difficult for the poor and disadvantaged. I grew up poor with a single parent, but I still believe that one can overcome and that it is not an excuse for criminal behavior.
TO THE MOTHERS OF THE EAST TEXAS HORSE KILLERS: It is ludicrous to think racism had anything to do with your children’s crime. The only victim didn’t even comprehend differences in human skin color.
I’M NOT SURE WHAT I FIND MORE PATHETIC, the actual horse beating or the mothers of these children. These two mothers make it easy to understand why their children grew up without any values.
IN AN OTHERWISE OBJECTIVE ARTICLE, Mr. Draper unfairly labels the beleaguered town of Vidor as “Klan-friendly.” On what does Mr. Draper base this assumption? Having grown up there and gone back to interview its citizens, officials, and the late Bill Simpson (one of the first blacks to live in the infamous housing project), I can tell you that Vidor should no more be labeled “Klan-friendly” than Silsbee “horse-killing-friendly.” The people of a town should not be identified as condoning heinous activity simply because it has occurred in their midst.
Mr. Draper responds: My remark was gratuitous, and I apologize to the city of Vidor for it.