Texas history, like just about any other, is marked by misunderstanding and violence—but in Texas, naturally, everything’s bigger.
The first Europeans looking for gold to arrive in what is now Texas, writes native-son historian Haley (Sam Houston, not reviewed), had a vague notion they were in Mexico and found out otherwise when they wrecked on or near Galveston Island. The Karankawa Indians they met were occasional cannibals who ate only enemies; when they learned that the shipwrecked survivors ate their own merely to fend off starvation, they “declared that if they had known the Spanish were capable of such an abomination, they would have been slaughtered on the beach.” There’s lots of slaughtering in Haley’s pages. For instance, he offers a lucid, careful exposition of the siege at the Alamo, in which he avoids hero worship and iconoclasm alike while addressing questions that have occupied generations of Texas schoolchildren: Was David Crockett tortured? Were the “Texians” executed? Elsewhere, he tells the little-known story of the civil war within the Civil War in Texas, with unionists (including Sam Houston) battling rebel guerrillas. The war revealed a red state/blue state split early on; the referendum on secession was rejected in Austin, but they loved it in Dallas. Haley charts the course of progressive politics in Texas through the careers of Lyndon Johnson, Shirley Jordan and other civil-rights pioneers, and then the pendulum swings to the hard right with George W. Bush. Haley seems not to be a fan of the last, but he is harder on Bush’s predecessor as governor, Ann Richards, who threw away her minority and progressive constituency to try “to embrace conservatives who would never hug her back,” thereby violating the “cardinal rule of Texas politics: dance with the one who brung you.”
Haley’s highly readable book complements but does not replace Randolph B. Campbell’s more idea-driven Gone to Texas (2003), and it nicely updates T.R. Fehrenbach’s Lone Star, the standard overview.