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"An outstanding contribution to the historiography of the American West and likely will remain for a long time the definitive work on the Texas Panhandle."—Ernest Wallace"As one born in the region, Rathjen is sympathetic to it, but he is also understanding of it; there is little Chamber of Commerce stuff in his story." —Robert G. AthearnThe Texas Panhandle—its eastern edge descending sharply from the plains into the canyons of Palo Duro, Tule, Quitaque, Casa Blanca, and Yellow House—is as rich in history as it is in natural beauty. Long considered a crossroads of ancient civilizations, the twenty-six northernmost Texas counties lie on the southern reaches of the Great Plains, where numerous dry creek beds and the Canadian River have carved the region appropriately named the High Plains.Through these plains and their canyons, ancient peoples trailed game for the hunt. The Panhandle provided choice grazing lands for bison, and as the region became more familiar to ancient tribes, semipermanent camps marked the landscape. Yet when Coronado's conquistadores crossed the High Plains in search of fabled wealth and found sun-baked adobe instead of gold, they declared the region a wasteland. Likewise, the Republic of Texas found little use for their vast plains land—considering settlement of the frontier far too dangerous. Not until the late-nineteenth century, as the U.S. Army waged war on the Comanches, Kiowas, and Cheyennes who lived there, did Panhandle tracts of frontier open to hard-bitten settlers who had to prove themselves as indomitable as they were land hungry.Departing from the premise that the Panhandle frontier "is but a brush stroke on . . . [the] much larger canvas" of previous frontier histories, Rathjen challenges the work of Frederick Jackson Turner and Walter Prescott Webb, and proves that regional is by no means synonymous with provincial.
|Preface to the 1998 Edition|
|The Middle Nineteenth Century||67|
|The Buffalo Hunters||115|
Posted January 17, 2002
As a relative newcomer to the Texas Plains-Panhandle region, I found this book quite helpful in advancing my understanding of the forces that crafted its culture. Rathjen artfully begins with a geographic review of the llano flat lands and the canyons that splay out from them. He moves chronologically from the Paleo Indian cultures through the Spanish explorers, the Anglo-American scientist-explorers, the historic Indian cultures, the buffalo hunters, and finally, the U.S. military conquest. The Panhandle region was discovered by Europeans twice¿first by Coronado and his followers from Spanish New Mexico and later by the Anglo scientists, such as James Abert and Randolph Marcy. Yet, the wearying sameness of the region, its extreme weather, and paucity of water intimidated settlers, leaving it open through the middle 19th century for the free run of semi-nomadic Comanches and other native groups. Coming to this region from El Paso, I wondered why the Spanish influence was nearly absent from the Plains-Panhandle. Rathjen shows how the area today might have been oriented toward New Mexico if the Spanish explorers of the 16th and 17th centuries had seen the region as a place of settlement rather than as an expanse to be crossed in the search for gold. Ultimately in the 19th century, as more choice lands were claimed, the region attracted Texas cattlemen and ranchers who saw financial opportunity in the emptiness. Hence, the region today is oriented east to the heart of Texas and even north toward Dodge City, Kansas. Rathjen suggests that the tough barren landscape drew settlers who were equally as tough. His book helps a reader to understand how an intense and often uncompromising Christian Bible-based culture took hold in an uncompromising terrain. The book also leads the outsider begrudgingly to admire this land and its relatively new residents, yet also to lament that its Native peoples were not permitted to flourish and add a plurality to the region. Rathjen deals sensitively with the various groups who crossed the land, crediting both the Indians and their white adversaries with the intelligence and nobility of worthy opponents. In different ways each found a niche in a difficult land. He acknowledges the sometimes severe military tactics on both sides and also presents a dispassionate but sympathetic look at the buffalo slaughter of the late 1800s. Rathjen¿s prose is never overbearing, melodramatic, or intrusively opinionated. He allows readers to draw their own conclusions about the complex relationships between humans of different cultures, animals, and the environment that all must share. The book is well written and engaged in its subject. Rathjen is to be commended for the way in which he periodically summarizes the chapters and draws meaningful conclusions. Passages like the following are especially insightful: 'Significantly the scientific exploration of the Texas Panhandle was exclusively financed and directed by the federal government and executed by its agents, and was in no way a function of state or private enterprise. Having occurred in a state that owned its public lands, this fact, in turn, suggests that the federal government was far more a factor in the development of the American West than has generally been supposed' (113). The Texas Panhandle Frontier is a classic study of this region. It is an excellent companion to Walter Prescott Webb¿s The Great Plains, Dan Flores¿s Caprock Canyonlands, and Donald Worster¿s Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s. Rathjen provides a highly readable history of a part of the West that is indelibly woven into our American heritage.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.