William Faulkner famously wrote that the past is never dead; it’s not even past. And that’s at least as true in Texas as in the author’s native Mississippi. Texans have long argued over whether Travis and Crockett and Bowie were defending Texas independence or slavery, and whether Comanche raids on white settlers were any more savage than the slaughter of Mexicano Texans by certain bands of Texas Rangers. Such debates are very much in the news, as Confederate monuments fall and textbooks are rewritten to take into account newly discovered documents and previously overlooked figures, especially women and people of color. One of the most reliable guides to this landscape is Stephen Harrigan, a writer-at-large for Texas Monthly, whose magisterial new history of the state, Big Wonderful Thing, is exclusively excerpted in this issue’s cover package on Texas history.
I first had the pleasure of meeting Steve three years ago, when I interviewed him about one of his historical novels, A Friend of Mr. Lincoln, at the San Antonio Book Festival. What particularly impressed me was the depth of research he undertook for his fiction, down to the specific type of cutlery that Lincoln used as a young lawyer in Springfield, Illinois. Steve is, of course, even more rigorous in his latest work. He makes judgments, as any historian does, but I think you’ll find that he presents the facts, the conflicting interpretations, and the gaps in the written record in a manner that allows readers to draw their own conclusions.
Our history package also includes a perceptive inquiry by writer-at-large Christopher Hooks into how the latest controversies reflect our current anxieties. (Chris juggled this assignment alongside his wry coverage of the unfolding scandal involving House Speaker Dennis Bonnen.) Also featured is a penetrating essay by contributor John Phillip Santos about the professional feud, and eventual friendship, of two of the state’s premier folklorists, J. Frank Dobie and Américo Paredes. John and I have been friends since grad school, and he has been invaluable to me during the decade since I moved to his hometown of San Antonio, frequently referring me to books and articles on the state’s history and culture and introducing me to his favorite musicians and poets and photographers.
Aside from the history package, this issue features very different articles by two of our best-loved writers, Mimi Swartz and Skip Hollandsworth. While writing her profile of Tony Buzbee, the wealthy, flamboyant, scandal-prone candidate for mayor of Houston, Mimi commented that “the hardest part was deciding which bizarre scenes and details to leave out.” Skip delivers a chilling narrative that he’s been reporting off and on for nearly a year, about the search for a serial killer in Laredo, whose identity, when it was finally revealed, shocked virtually everyone who knew him. Along the way, Skip demonstrates a sensitivity to the murder victims and their families and puts the killings in the context of a city where such crimes are relatively rare.
I hope you enjoy these stories and others in this issue of Texas Monthly and on our website. Please write me at [email protected].com, and let me know what you like and dislike and what you think we should cover next.
On the cover: History buffs might note that some details in the Alamo painting on the cover are anachronistic. That’s by design. Our image faithfully re-creates the sorts of misrepresentations found in many such paintings that one can peruse in online art galleries and vintage stores across Texas.