Monday, October 28, 2013
West Texas of Yesteryear
I returned from my recent trip to West Texas inspired and in awe of the expansiveness, the silence, the space, the light, and the sheer beauty of the region. I'm reading all kinds of books about Texas, and happened upon The Lonesome Plains: Death and Revival of an American Frontier, by Louis Fairchild, at the public library. Published by Texas A&M University Press in 2002, Fairchild relies heavily and interestingly on first person primary accounts (letters, journals, etc.) of West Texas settlers in the 1800s. Often living many miles apart and not seeing anyone other than family for long stretches at a time, the empty endless land often created a deep sense of loneliness and isolation, for which settlers hungered to escape, however briefly. Neighbors often came together for two specific reasons- as Fairchild puts it "times of misfortune" such as accidents and deaths, and annual religious revival meetings. As Fairchild writes, "of all the late nineteenth century agricultural frontiers, western Texas was probably the most isolated and the most lonesome..." The religious gatherings often gave the settlers an opportunity to have an "emotional release," an outlet from the stoicism and harshness of their daily lives. This is a very specific book that was of particular interest to me, but it may not be everyone's cup of tea. It is very readable, and was clearly painstakingly researched and presented in a really clear and informative way.