A sturdy survey of early-19th-century Texas history and the “Texican” struggle for independence.
Brands (History/Texas A&M; The Age of Gold, 2002, etc.), one of the most fluent of narrative historians, spins a good yarn, strong on colorful characters and situations. He even adds a few subtle shades to the exceptionalist interpretation of Lone Star State history, which paints the place as a sort of promised land. Perhaps, Brands rejoins, but Texas was a frontier for a long time after its discovery, an empty place: “To find Texas,” he writes, “one had to be looking for it.” Yet for the hardscrabble farmers of Tennessee, “where the stony ridges and thin soil tested the patience of even the Jobs among the plowmen,” the fertile soil of the Texas bottomlands promised paradise, and the entrepreneurs who recruited them to accept Mexican citizenship and colonize the place made a comfortable living from the place, too—never mind the fact that plenty of people with longer pedigrees had their own claims to the land. Brands doesn’t offer much new in the way of fact, but his narrative is fluent and even entertaining, and it gives and strips away credit as is due. Stephen Austin, for instance, emerges as a somewhat slippery character who began his Texas career as a naturalized Mexican citizen opposed to “mad schemes of independence,” so much so that he denounced would-be rebels to the authorities; Antonio López de Santa Anna earns points for bravery, even as he “distracted his compatriots from their domestic problems by reopening the Texas war” in 1842, several years after most books about the Alamo end; and so forth. There are a couple of false notes here and there—slavery seems almost an accident, for instance—but on the whole, Brands’s account is as good as any in the literature.
A pleasure for students of Texas history, and a fine complement to Randolph E. Campbell’s more complete Gone to Texas (p. 726).