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by Light Townsend
Speeches and Essays by the Texas State Historian
Foreword by Larry McNeill
Texas State Historical Association, 2014)
Illustrated. 225 pages. Paperback.
ISBN: 978-1-62511-023-7. $30.00
Review by Dr.
Light Cummins served as State Historian of Texas from 2009-2012. A
longtime professor at Austin College in Sherman,
he is also a prolific scholar. Cummins' books include Spanish Observers
and the American Revolution, 1775-1783 (LSU Press, 1991); Emily
Austin of Texas, 1795-1851 (TCU Press, 2009); Discovering Texas
History (University of Oklahoma Press, 2014, with Bruce Glasrud
and Cary Wintz); Allie Victoria Tennant and the Visual Arts in
Dallas (Texas A&M University Press, 2015); and Texan Identities:
Moving Beyond Myth, Memory, and Fallacy in Texas History (UNT
Press, 2016, with Mary Scheer).
He divides this book, an engaging collection of twenty-nine lectures
and articles written and delivered during his tenure as State Historian,
into six segments: "Essays on Historical Personalities and Places,
Famous and Obscure;" "Speeches about Eighteenth-and Nineteenth-Century
Texas;" "The Texas Centennial of 1936;" "Far Afield for the State
Historian;" "Talks on Texas Politics and Public Service;" and "The
Nature of Texas History." Dr. Cummins discusses such diverse Texans
as Lee Simmons; Emily Austin; John Nance Garner; Dolph Briscoe; Allie
Victoria Tennant; Audie Murphy; and Sam Rayburn. Topics he examines
include the empresario era; the Battle of San Jacinto; the Red River
War; Bigfoot (yes, the cryptic wilderness-dwelling creature!); the
state's first law school; and the role of myth in Texas history.
Cummins perceptively comments on the state's traditional myth and
mystique, which, he correctly contends, is vanishing. "The old myth
and mystique of Texas is dying and exists today only on life support.
When was the last time you heard of a new elementary school being
named for William B. Travis, James Butler Bonham, Stephen F. Austin,
or Sam Houston?" Much of what lingers of the myth, Dr. Cummins asserts,
"is now commercialized as a form of local color for purposes of retail
marketing and popular entertainment, such as the tourism-oriented
stockyards in Fort Worth.
There is much money to be made in bluebonnet-themed mailboxes, jalapeno-flavored
jelly, exotic hot sauces in flavors such as peach and chipotle, and
various kinds of wrought-iron stars that can be hung on the exterior
wall of your garage or house. That is what keeps the Texas myth alive
on life support."
Still, Texas is changing, and the state's traditional icons (including
heroes of the 1835-36 Revolution, ranchers and trail drivers, Lone
Star law enforcers, and oil barons) will be supplanted by new ones.
"Somehow, in the coming years," Professor Cummins declares, "I suspect
things such as the Cowboys Stadium and the Rangers Ballpark at Arlington
will become icons of a revised myth and mystique that will feature
Texas Rangers running the bases, not pursuing outlaws."
This splendid collection of essays and addresses, written by one of
the state's premier scholars, deserves a place on the bookshelf of
every Texana enthusiast. Hopefully, Jesus F. de la Teja and Bill O'Neal,
the other two State Historians, will follow Cummins' lead.
Review by Kirk Bane,
Managing Editor, Central Texas Studies
April 3, 2017
More Reviews by Dr. Kirk Bane
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