Texas Reading List
(with precis and comments by JR)  

One of our 2016 tour participants, Jim Gerber, suggested that we develop a reading list so that our guests could begin their tour early, vicariously, and also so that they could have some background information on Texas culture and natural history.  We thought it was a great idea.   Below we provide a few suggestions based on our own favorites along with a brief precis and/or comments (by JHR).  

Birds of the Texas Coastal Bend ​by John Rappole and Gene Blacklock - The Texas Coastal Bend is that part of the state where the Texas coastline turns sharply from a northeast-southwest angle to almost directly north-south.  It comprises a 9-county region smaller than the state of Massachusetts where more than 500 species of birds have been recorded, making it the richest bird area in North America north of the tropics.  The reasons for its extraordinary diversity are plain - temperate, tropical, pelagic, and desert zones overlap.  This little book provides an excellent and thorough introduction to the region's birds and natural history (if I don't say so myself!).  The Welder Wildlife Refuge is located in the northeast portion of the Coastal Bend.

Texas by James A. Michener - When this book came out in 1985, Michener traveled to Kingsville to announce its release at the Texas A&I University library, an event that I attended.   His reason for choosing to come to little old Kingsville rather than Dallas or Houston was obvious.  The headquarters and administrative offices of the King Ranch were located in Kingsville up until the late 80s, and the King Ranch looms large in his book as it does in most Texas accounts, whether fictional or not.  It has been years since I read it, but it seemed to me that Michener correctly caught much of the essence of the Texas character - self reliance,  big-hearted loyalty to friends and family, distrust of outsiders, contempt for yankee (urban eastern liberal) values and education (in the academic sense), and a willingness to take whatever steps are necessary to defend their way of life.

The Texas Rangers by Walter Prescott Webb - An unabashed hagiography for an institution.  True stories of hard (white) men in a hard world working to keep it safe; the real people and actions on which the characters in Larry McMurtry's novel, "Lonesome Dove" were based.  Not much political correctness here, but if it were you and your family living on the edge of civilization, these are the guys you would want providing your protection.

Birds of Texas: A Field Guide by John Rappole and Gene Blacklock.  Gene and I wrote this book back in 1994.  Why Texas A&M Press put a male cardinal courtship feeding a female on the cover, I don't know, but it's a good book with a lot of information on Texas birds.  In particular, if you compare our maps with those in the TOS Handbook of Texas Birds, which was published in 2004, you will note that about 80 species of Texas birds have shifted their breeding ranges north and east by quite a bit.  One Amazon reviewer called the book "horrible" but I think this is pure hyperbole.  "Horrible" is a descriptive appropriate for something that threatens fundamental beliefs or potentially hurts your children.  There is none of that in our book, even if you read it backwards.  It's just an accurate account of Texas birds and where and when to find them.  You and your family will be perfectly safe perusing it.

Giant by Edna Ferber  - Not so loosely based on the King Ranch and Kleberg family some of whom, such as our good friends Tio and Janell Kleberg, still live on the Santa Gertrudis division of the ranch outside Kingsville, Texas.  Our "Nature Buff" group will visit the ranch's former headquarters and take a 2-hour drive over parts on the fourth day (Thursday) of our tour .  The movie version, with James Dean, Rock Hudson, and Elizabeth Taylor, is a lot of fun too. 


King Ranch Cookbook by a passel of Kineños (King Ranch denizens) including our friend, Janell Kleberg - Food is a big part of Texas culture, and this book captures the flavors of the Tex-Mex ranch cuisine wonderfully.  I have fond memories of sharing lunch with hands at the Norias Division cookhouse - brisket, ranchero beans, chiles and rice, and pan de campo plus a few gallons of sweetened ice tea - it was a hot day in the wild horse desert.   

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry -  Tennyson's Ulysses had nothing on these ranger retirees, leaving their quiet lives in Lonesome Dove (Del Rio?), and heading north on a cattle drive to Montana on a last quest for adventure before they and their way of life are completely gone and forgotten.  A good portion of the action takes place in South Texas - Del Rio, San Antonio, etc.

Friday Night Lights by H. G. Bissinger - Football has not replaced the Rangers as the key narrative theme for Texas culture, but it comes close.  This non-fiction book follows the Permian Panthers (an Odessa high school team with a championship pedigree) through its 1988 season, taking a hard look at the town and its obsession with the game.  Three of my close friends and colleagues, Lynn Drawe (halfback), Alan Tipton (safety), and Tim Fulbright (fullback) are Texas Friday Night Lights veterans with the honorable wounds to prove it.  

Trees, Shrubs, and Cacti of South Texas by James H. Everitt, D. Lynn Drawe, and Robert L. Lonard - The plants of the region are even more diverse than the birds, as this book beautifully documents.  Our close friend and co-leader for these tours, Lynn Drawe, is a co-author.

Adventures with a Texas Naturalist by Roy Bedichek - In 1947 at the age of 70, Bedichek took a sort of  sabbatical from his job as head of the University Scholastic League (part of the state extension service) to write this book at the strong encouragement of his close friends and fellow famed Texas authors, Walter Prescott Webb and J. Frank Dobie.  After a year of seclusion on a ranch southwest of Austin owned by Webb, he produced this remarkable memoir of natural and cultural history experiences, mostly from the Texas Hill Country.  Bedichek is a keen and insightful observer with valuable thoughts and information on a number of topics including avian range change, flocking, effects of habitat alteration, altruism, and the meaning of various animal behaviors.  He is, however, a child of his place and time, and some of his obvious prejudices make for painful reading today.

The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Means of Ascent (Volume 2 in the 4-volume work) by Robert A. Caro - Tells the fascinating tale of the 1948 senate race where LBJ triumphed over Coke Stevenson, thanks to the votes of over 200 dead people from the Coastal Bend county of Jim Wells.   Famous TV conservative, Bill Buckley, Jr.,  used to joke that his Dad, Bill Buckley Sr., former sheriff of neighboring Duval County, who was dead  at the time of the election, had helped put Johnson over the top.  My wife, Bonnie, was a visiting home health nurse for a 6-county region in the Texas Coastal Bend in the 1980s.  She knew the vast empty spaces and desperate poverty of Jim Wells and Duval counties well.  The Duke of Duval County (Archie Parr III) still ruled.

Tales of Old-Time Texas by J. Frank Dobie - The great Texas folklorist was born on a ranch in the Coastal Bend county of Live Oak, about 60 miles southwest of Welder.  As a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, he ran into trouble for his volubly expressed liberal views with the saintly (according to Caro - see above) Coke Stevenson, who was governor at the time, and was fired. 

The Mammals of Texas by W. B. Davis and David J. Schmidly - Just like the birds and the plants, there are lots of weird mammals in Texas as well - ringtails, ocelots, coatimundis, javelinas, jaguarundis (at least one!), and more bat species than anywhere else on the continent north of the tropics.  And Welder has its share! - a 5-minute evening walk is likely to yield views of javelinas (at the feeder), Mexican Free-tailed Bats (exiting their roost sites in the tiled roofs), and armadillos.  Coyotes provide a nightly chorus, and deer and feral hogs are common sights. 

Apparent Rapid Range Change in South Texas Birds:  Response to Climate Change? by John Rappole, Gene Blacklock, and Jim Norwine - South Texas in general and the Texas Coastal Bend in particular are on the front lines of climate change, and the effects have been profound.  In a matter of less than 30 years more than 70 species of tropical, subtropical, and warm desert species have shifted their breeding ranges up to 100 miles north or east of their historical distribution as reported in this paper.   Birds like the Green Jay, White-tipped Dove, Cave Swallow, Audubon's Oriole, Green Kingfisher, Kiskadee, and Couch's Kingbird, previously absent as breeders at Welder, are now common.  Click here for a .pdf copy.

Remember the Alamo: a ballad by Jane Bowers - I first heard this sung by the Kingston Trio on their album, At Large, in the early 1960s, long before I had any first-hand knowledge of Texas or Texans.  As fate would have it, I got to know a lot about both, initially as a graduate student with my family (Bonnie and two kids, Brigetta - 4 and Jay - 2) at Welder from 1973 to 1975, and later as a curator, professor, and research scientist at Texas A&I University (now Texas A&M University, Kingsville) from 1981-1989.  The more I came to know the people and the culture, the more this song seemed to me to capture something very important to the Texas spirit.  I know that Johnny Cash cut a somewhat different one, but the trio's Jane Bowers' version rings truest to me.  The oddest thing is that despite the fact that 80% of Texans live in cities, and regardless of time in the state, racial identity, or ethnicity, many accept this frontier notion of fierce independence and national pride, Austinites excepted.  It's an attitude that seems a bit archaic to a yankee in the 21st century.   Nevertheless, when push comes to shove, you want such people on your side.  Click here for a .pdf.