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Any successful novelist worth his salt understands the value of first hand experience in writing. Who wants to read a historical novel or any novel without the ring of truth? There are many exceptions. Science fiction writers must rely entirely on their creative minds to produce a saleable work. Stephen Crane formed a timeless classic about the Civil War without having to without having to fight in the Great Rebellion. But he obviously talked to Civil War soldiers to learn about what it was like to be in combat. Historical fiction in print and in movies, no doubt, does much more to inspire young minds and teach the value of history than some dry, boring history text. But, to be effective some sort of research must be done by the writer who starts out with no life experience to draw upon.

Years ago when I first came to the Big Bend, I had grand but naive dreams of writing the great novel. But I soon discovered I could never manufacture anything between my ears better than the real and fascinating story of the far west Texas. So I set out to write history and resolved to make it readable, accurate and interesting to everyone. I had the fortunate experience of first learning to write in a newsroom noisy with the clack of typewriters. I studied journalism, not mass communications, and learned to tell the story always including, as best I could, the who, what, when, where, why and how. I learned the method of writing for readers who had no advanced degrees or even much formal education.

So how does one experience the past before putting it to paper? Most of the topics I take on are about people, places and events that long ago faded away. Native Americans left us no written records. Only today, their descendents are telling us their real story. Archaeologists fill in a bit of the story with their invaluable but plodding science. The end of prehistory in this part of the world came when Cabeza de Vaca published his remarkable narrative in the 1500s. Other Spaniards later also told us about the Indians they encountered. Likely, the Jumano Indians, as the conquistadores chroniclers named them, would have understood or recognized little about these stories. Later, William Henry Chase Whiting recorded an important bit of our west Texas past when he had the foresight to recognize the value of writing about his groundbreaking journey in his excellent journal.

The historian is bound by the written word with all of its troubles. Yes history is many times anecdotal. But that does not mean the story cannot be told accurately or in words only the very learned can understand and enjoy. Mark Twain formed the modern genera of writing what, in our time, is enduring history with "Roughing It". He learned his method by writing for a newspaper. But today the historian, to do quality research and writing must have first hand experience about which he or her writes. This experience comes from the land and the people living today and, of course, the primary source documents left from those who went before. Writers of history must make use of primary sources, as much as possible, and not simply rehash what others looking back have penned.

Big Bend historiography has seen much good work done by local historians and writers. J. E. Gregg, Alice Jack Shipman, Carlysle Graham Raht, Barry Scobee, Clifford Casey and Clayton Williams learned well the history from the land and the people. Later, Mildred Bloys Nored, Lucy Miller Jacobsen, Cecilia Thompson and Enrique Madrid also contributed their valuable local viewpoints. More recently, Lonn Taylor, Glenn Willeford, Jerry Raun need be included in this list. There are others. Our Big Bend folklorists including Virginia Madison, Halley Stillwell, Elton Miles and Blair Pittman have added their talents to the telling of our past from the oral tradition.

Although they did not spent much time in the Big Bend, Ronnie C. Tyler, William H. and Shirley A. Leckie, and Robert Wooster did fine research and writing in their efforts. Those who have only visited this part of the world only occasionally have written a fair amount of our more modern Big Bend history with considerable and lasting influence. When the lauded historian Walter Prescott Webb came to Marfa at some point in the 1920's for a short stay to do a little Big Bend first hand research, he was fascinated by the stories told him by the Texas Rangers he idolized. As a result, Webb's writings have greatly influenced our historiography. A prime example of this is Webb's telling of the Porvenir massacre. To Webb, the massacre was not a massacre at all, but rather a gunfight between brave Rangers defending themselves and Mexican badmen. Bill Smithers did much the same thing helping to further carve in stone the Ranger and U.S. Army view of the bloody border raids and reprisals on the Rio Grande during the Mexican Revolution. Their dated books are still in print and can be easily found in Big Bend bookstores.

Webb was the father of the Handbook Of Texas. Certainly, I would be the last to be overly critical of this fine effort by the Texas State Historical Association. That said, however, there are some factual errors about the Big Bend even in the latest online edition. The common problem is usually that many of the Handbook articles were written by those who had seen, first hand, little or nothing of the places and people they wrote about. An example is the Handbook article on Pilares, Texas. There is no such place as Pilares, Texas although it may have been called that by some years ago. Porvenir, Texas lies just across the Rio Grande from Pilares, Chihuahua and the two places continue to be confused even today. This error bled into Bob Keil's book and goes on even in the maps published in the book. The Keil account is highly colored by his attempt the whitewash the actions of the U. S. military on the border 1910-1920. No editorial comment is made anywhere about this in the book. Keil's one-sided but at the same time important telling of the story is now in print and his influence will live on. Gj

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In the 1980's, I had the great privilege of working as a staff writer for the Handbook Of Texas published by the Texas State Historical Association. This massive encyclopedia of Texas history is anything but a handbook. The print edition contains more than 23,000 articles on the people, places and events of Texas past in seven huge volumes. Fortunately, this vast wealth of information is available free online at Here you will find first class historical research county-by-county and place-by-place on just about any Texas topic. It is a goldmine of information for teachers, students, writers and anyone interested in Texas history. More than 3,000 folks from every discipline and background contributed to the research and writing.

Like anything written by us humans, history is subject to mistakes, errors, viewpoints and individual agendas. Certainly, the Handbook is not flawless. But the research and writing was done with great care and careful editing. Footnotes were required on every paragraph and the research was meticulously reviewed. There are errors but at the same time, the online edition has a link for corrections and corrections are continuously made.

Recently the Handbook and the art of history came under fire in public by a prominent archaeologist who continues to belittle us lowly historians because he apparently feels scientific method should somehow be applied to the telling of the past. The magnificent one seems to take Napoleon's statement that "history is but a fable agreed upon" literally and not tongue in cheek. No one questions the huge value of using all disciplines in the research and writing of history. But history, thank goodness, is an art and not a science. Archaeology is mostly written for academics. Good history is written for everyone so we, at least, have the opportunity to learn something from the mistakes of the past. Gj

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Clacton Press in Palestine, Texas has just published an appealing new book about Comanche Chief Quanna Parker's mother. "Return: The Parker Story" by Jack Selden, is 328 pages and looks to be a fine contribution to Texas history by telling the story of Cynthia Ann Parker in detail for the first time. In 1836, Cynthia Ann Parker was taken captive by a band of Comanche Indians. She became the wife of Peta Nocona, a Comanche warrior and mother of the famous chief, Quanna Parker. John Wayne dramatized her story in the classic western movie "The Searchers". The Dallas Morning News has said that Mr. Selden, himself a member of the Parker family, is a diligent researcher who corrects, "a lot of the erroneous baggage" about the tale. I am looking forward to reviewing this book. "Return: The Parker Story" is available from Clacton Press at or by calling 903-729-1606. Gj

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"A people who do not hold in reverence the splendid achievements of their ancestors will not of themselves accomplish anything to be remembered of posterity. We must keep an eye on the shrines of yesterday if we would rock aright the cradles of tomorrow."

Texas Governor Pat Morris Neff penned this piece of wisdom. Neff became governor in 1920 following a brilliant career in law. He is best remembered for establishing Texas Tech and Texas Parks and Wildlife. Later in his life, he became president of Baylor University. Thanks to the Haley Memorial Library in Midland for bringing this to my attention. Gj

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Old maps are such an invaluable historic resource. They offer a way for us to look back in time and see Texas past through the eyes of those who lived in those days. The folks at the Texas General Land Office in Austin work hard to restore and preserve thousands of old maps and make fine reproductions available to the public. Their archive is simply fascinating and their offerings are available online. Take a minute to check out
What Texas history buff would not proudly want to hang "The Great Military Map Of Texas" on the walls of their home or office? See it at ... nmap4.html Gj

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In the 1930's the Texas Historical Commission placed a granite historical marker at the abandoned Presidio County community of Ochoa. Ochoa is located about ten miles north of Presidio, Texas on F. M. 170. Historians have long postulated that this could be the approximate location of a Spanish mission known as San Francisco de los Julimes. Established in the seventeenth century, the mission was situated at a place the Spaniard Lieutenant General Juan Dom'nguez de Mendoza called La Navidad en las Cruces. Although the mission remained in operation for only a short time, some say less than a year, it is a place of considerable historical interest. Spanish records seem to indicate that the famed Mendoza expedition made its way downriver from Paso del Norte on the western side of Rio Grande before crossing the river into present day Texas about 1682 at a place then called Senora del Rosario. There is some historical evidence that Mendoza forded the river in the vicinity of today's Ruidosa, Texas.

After being bypassed by more modern road construction, the Ochoa marker sat forgotten for years hidden in the brush a few hundred feet west of the pavement. Recently, thanks to the efforts of several people including the Armendariz family and my friend Tom Mangrem, the marker was moved to the roadside where the public can now know of its existence. It should be noted that the location of the marker is not supported by any archaeological evidence that I know of. Perhaps, one day, the good folks at the Center For Big Bend Archaeological Studies will see fit to investigate the Ochoa site to see if it truly is Mendoza's La Navidad en las Cruces. For more information about Ochoa scroll down in the blog to OCHOA: FIRST SPANISH MISSION EAST OF THE RIO GRANDE? Also, Chapter 1 of my book "Little Known History of the Texas Big Bend: Documented Chronicles From Cabeza De Vaca To The Era Of Pancho Villa" addresses the topic more fully. Gj

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James Edward Hinds of Ruidosa, Texas left this world quite suddenly for adventures beyond on Wednesday, November 8, 2006. James was born January 29, 1941 to Edward Granison Hinds and Lucille Holcomb Hinds in Brownwood, Texas.

His life was a culmination of adventures that most people only dream of. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps at the age of 17 and experienced life in Hawaii before statehood. He then joined the U.S. Army and found himself in the Mojave Desert doing maneuvers in the tracks left by Patton's training. He fell in love with the desert landscape and always dreamed of living in Texas in the high desert.

James then decided the Corps might once again need him during the Viet Nam war. He reenlisted in 1966 and was called "Pappy" as he was the oldest member of his platoon. During this enlistment he once found himself at the Vatican for Christmas Mass.

He left the Marine Corps and found himself aboard a shrimping vessel in the Gulf of Mexico. He eventually opened a motorcycle shop in Austin, Texas called R and J cycles.

James later began working as a welder for the Fusion Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

He leaves behind his wife Janet Hinds of Ruidosa, daughter Sheila Hinds of Austin, daughter Robin Hinds, her husband Bobby Hollis and grandson Bailey James Hollis of Pflugerville, TX, and son Jeremy McIntosh and friend Crystal Sutherland of Austin, TX.

Other survivors include his sisters Lois Allgood, husband Roy of Taylor, TX and Iris Hinds of Pflugerville, Texas and niece Karen Berryman and daughters Katherine Pala and Elizabeth Pala.

James was laid to rest near the house he loved so much on Thursday, November 9th. surrounded by his family and friends who meant so much to him. He is greatly missed by those who loved him including his cat "Hello Bob" and dogs Lillie, Gretchen and Otto.

Thanks Janet for the above. We all miss James very much. Gj

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If you are like me and enjoy keeping up with news in Texas from local newspapers check out: Gj

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Those of you interested in Graham Barnett's story will not want to miss John Barnett and Jim Coffey when they present their paper, "Graham Barnett: Husband, Father and Shootist of the Big Bend" at the CBBS Conference. Barnett and Coffey are scheduled Saturday morning, November 11th. at the 10:45 session in Room A on the second floor of University Center at Sull Ross in Alpine. Gj

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With the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898, John Simpson "Jack" Howard answered Teddy Roosevelt's call to arms by enlisting in the 1st U. S. Volunteer Cavalry at San Antonio, Texas. As a Rough Rider, Howard served with distinction in Cuba, taking an active part in the major engagements of the war including the famous charge up San Juan Hill. Following the war in 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt personally appointed Jack Howard to the U.S. Customs Service. For the next twelve years, Howard worked as a mounted inspector of customs along the border in the Big Bend. During this time, he earned a reputation described by the Marfa New Era newspaper as being, generous, high minded, gentle and kind but brave as a lion and cool and self possessed in an emergency. Jack Howard's life came to a tragic end in February 1913 when Mexican bandits ambushed and murdered him not far from Porvenir, Texas. The murder of Howard shocked and outraged Big Bend residents leading to a number of bloody reprisals along the border. Jack Howard was the father of Marian Walker and Nell Howard who operated the Candelaria store for many years. Jack is pictured above standing in his Rough Rider uniform at the top of the blog. He is also shown in the third photo from the left standing in front of the Presidio County court house with his right hand on his holster. Just left of Howard is Texas Ranger Joe Sitters.

On Friday, November 10th, the yearly conference of the Center For Big Bend Studies will commence at Sul Ross University in Alpine. I will be presenting my paper about Jack Howard at 2 p.m. Friday in the Espino Center Room A on the second floor of University Center. For more information about the conference see

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