Friday, February 26, 2010

Civil War Officer's Descendant on Moss Bluff Rebel

It isn't often that our history authors make personal contact with descendants of the individuals they research.

So imagine Moss Bluff Rebel: A Texas Pioneer in the Civil War author Phil Caudill's surprise when he heard recently from the great-great grandson of Texas pioneer cattle drover turned reluctant Civil War commanding officer William Berry Duncan.

In his book (Texas A&M University Press, 2009), Caudill draws from Duncan's previously untapped diaries and letters written by candlelight on the Gulf Coast cattle trail to New Orleans, in Confederate Army camps, and on his southeast Texas farm after the war, to paint a picture of Texas life the Republic's early citizens. Caudill's carefully crafted narrative reveals Duncan's wartime emotions and his postwar struggle to reinvent the lifestyle he knew before the war.

John Urban had the following to say:

". . . enjoyable and informative. . . my wife and I were thoroughly captivated by your story and style of writing. We feel that because of your writing, we were able to get a lot of insight into my family."

For more on Moss Bluff Rebel, visit the author's Web site.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Leadership of George Bush on CBS News

"For Bush, a leader is someone who can bring people together to get things done."─Roman Popadiuk, author of The Leadership of George Bush
As President Obama and Congressional Republicans prepare for tomorrow's health care reform summit, CBS News White House Correspondent Peter Maer says in an article on today's Political Hotsheet that the leaders could "profit" from the words of two presidents named George ─ Washington and Bush.

In his book, The Leadership of George Bush: An Insider's View of the Forty-first President (TAMU Press, 2009), Roman Popadiuk examines the ways in which Bush's personal leadership style influenced the formation and execution of policy.

Maer, who cites Popadiuk's book in the article, refers to the book as a "surprisingly frank and objective account. . . Popadiuk provides fascinating details of the Bush administration's internal debate on many of the same health care issues that confound the current administration and Congress."

The correspondent goes on to say, "Since the former president adamantly insists he will not write an autobiography, The Leadership of George Bush will serve as a definitive record of his White House tenure.

In the story, Maer also reflects on a quote from George Washington's Farewell Address, "The common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and the duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it."

Read the story in its entirety here.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Welcome Back, Dat Nguyen!

COURTESY: 12th Man Magazine

Texas A&M University Press is home to some of Dat Nguyen's most die-hard fans! We would like to congratulate Nguyen on his upcoming post, as an assistant linebackers and defensive quality control coach to the Aggies.

Front row: Texas A&M University Press Marketing Manager Gayla Christiansen. Second row (l to r) former Publicity and Advertising Manager Jennifer McDonald, Dat Nguyen, Rusty Burson. Third row: (l) Press Director Charles Backus.

Five years ago Nguyen ─ a leading tackler of A&M's famed Wrecking Crew and the first Vietnamese football player to make the pros, playing as middle linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys ─ graciously signed more than 1,000 copies of his autobiography, Dat: Tackling Life and the NFL (Texas A&M University Press, 2005) for Bryan High and A&M Consolidated High School students at a Bush Library-hosted event.

His book, which he wrote with Rusty Burson, offers an insightful look at his faith, his family, and his career, recounting his father's decision to flee Vietnam, the boat that took his family to freedom, and their eventual settling in Rockport, Texas, where a community of Vietnamese shrimpers established an economic livelihood using skills brought from their homeland.

In addition, Nguyen also examines the personalities and playing (or coaching) styles of many celebrated stars of college football and the NFL.

Find out more about the book and view a Google Preview here.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Spring '10 Sneak Peek: Exploring the Edges of Texas

Walt Davis holds an ornate box turtle at Spring Creek Ranch in the Texas Panhandle (Courtesy: Walt and Isabel Davis)

"It took an unlikely coalition of farmers, sportsmen, and conservationists to stop and finally reverse the slide to extinction. We owe their continued presence to a previous generation of conservationists who deserve our recognition and gratitude."
In 1955 Frank X. Tolbert, a well-known columnist for the Dallas Morning News, circumnavigated Texas in a Willis Jeep, sending his dispatches to the newspaper. Fifty years later, Walt Davis -- an avid fan of Tolbert's column -- and his wife Isabel repeated Tolbert's trek.

In their new travelogue, Exploring the Edges of Texas, the Davises offer a dual perspective of each of the places they visited -- from the eyes of both previous visitors (artists, explorers, naturalists, or archeologists) and contemporaries (biologists, ranchers, river-runners, and paleontologiests) who serve as modern-day guides for their journey of rediscovery.

Here, the Davises talk more about their book, the experiences they shared along their treks, and why they hope readers will find Texas' explorers and nature activists fascinating.

Q: Please, tell us about how you came up with the idea for your book and what inspired you to organize it the way that you did.

WALT DAVIS: When I was 13 years old, Frank X. Tolbert and his 9 year-old son, Frank Jr., drove a Willis Jeep all the way around the border of Texas. I read about their exploits in the Dallas Morning News and wished they had asked me along. Fifty years later my wife, Isabel, and I fulfilled my boyhood dream and made our own 4,000 mile circumnavigation of the state. Exploring the Edges of Texas is the record of our journey.

Q: You have said that you hope readers will take from your book a deeper appreciation for the human dimension of scientific exploration. How did your travels serve to enhance your own appreciation of these explorers and advocates?

WALT AND ISABEL DAVIS: The explorers and naturalists who traveled the edge of Texas before us did so under difficult and dangerous conditions. Charles Wright walked 673 miles from San Antonio to El Paso and back to collect plants for Asa Gray at Harvard. Lt. James W. Abert mapped the Canadian River while being shadowed by Comanche and Kiowa warriors. Jacob Boll traveled into the wilderness to collect fossils, and paid for it with his life when appendicitis struck him down beyond the reach of medical help. The natural history of Texas was written by men and women of grit and determination drawn to the geographic and scientific frontiers of their time. The knowledge they passed on to us was bought at great personal cost.

Isabel Davis rests by a tree at Spring Creek Ranch. (Courtesy: Walt and Isabel Davis)

Q: In Exploring the Edges of Texas, you chose to retrace the steps of some very influential explorers and advocates, from French trader and explorer Benard de la Harpe (who, in 1719 established a trading post that would later become Texarkana) to artist Louis Agassiz Fuertes (who, in 1901 penned one of the most lyrical descriptions of the Big Bend country from his mountain campsite). In your research for the book, how did you choose which explorers and scientists to follow? And, what was the single most surprising thing you encountered, when studying these locales from this unique and unusual perspective?

WD and ID: Choosing the explorer or naturalist to follow as we traveled the edge of Texas was one of the most interesting, and at times most difficult, parts or our journey. We looked for someone who left a compelling personal narrative of their experience. We also looked for people whose stories were not well known hoping to bring them out of obscurity and introduce them to a new generation of readers. The most surprising thing we learned was that many of the animals we saw on our travels would have disappeared a century ago if concerned people had not fought to save them. By 1900, white-tailed deer in Texas were nearly wiped out by market hunters supplying a burgeoning wild game meat market. It took an unlikely coalition of farmers, sportsmen, and conservationists to stop and finally reverse the slide to extinction. At the same time a similar coalition, led by the Audubon Society, put a halt to the wholesale slaughter of plumed birds for the millinery market. Imagine the beaches and marshes of the Texas Gulf Coast without the flocks of pelicans, spoonbills, herons, and egrets that grace the landscape. We owe their continued presence to a previous generation of conservationists who deserve our recognition and gratitude.

Walt Davis sketches the Texas Panhandle landscape (Courtesy: Walt and Isabel Davis).

Q: For this book, you divided the 4,000-mile-long border of Texas into sixteen segments, spanning as much as 400 miles each, in some cases. How long did it take you to travel these areas? What was a typical day like for you?

WD and ID: A map of our journey around the state looks more like a spider web the shape of Texas than a single line around it. We would drive from our home to the Rio Grande Valley then back again; to the Big Bend and back, to the Sabine, the Sulphur River, the Red. Ultimately, we did manage to drive all the way around, but it took many trips over 4 years to get it done. A typical day might include a quick breakfast of cereal and banana in our tent or travel trailer, a morning interview with a local rancher, an afternoon hike to locate the campsite of a previous naturalist and a quick watercolor sketch to record the scene. After supper Isabel would write up our day in her journal, I would download photos, and together we would plan for the next day. Trying to choose a favorite locale is like trying to choose a favorite child. Each is special in its own way. Goose Island State park was the site of a birders perfect day with hundreds of migrating warblers pinned down by a spring cold front. Benito Trevio introduced us to a whole new world of semi-tropical plants at Rancho Lomitas in the Rio Grande Valley. We raced a herd of pronghorn on a Panhandle ranch and hiked to the Bowl in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. However, our personal favorite has to be the seven-day raft trip through the Lower Canyons of the Rio Grande guided by Terlingua outfitter Far Flung Adventures. For seven days we floated through a desert canyon wilderness treated every night to gourmet meals served on the riverbank. But that leaves out a dozen other favorites, each with its own unique claim to our affection.

Isabel Davis looks over Mineosa Creek in the Texas Panhandle (Courtesy: Walt and Isabel Davis).

Thursday, February 11, 2010

OPINION: Lynch 'em Then Love 'em: Dr. Wakefield and His Forebears

". . . my son sprinted ahead of me on the Katy Trail, veered off onto Routh Street, and disappeared into uptown Dallas."
Two weeks ago, Dan Burns' 22-year-old autistic son, Ben, lay on the couch with a blanket wrapped around his head and his fingers in his ears, catatonic, not eating.

In this guest column, Dan, author of Saving Ben: A Father's Story of Autism, talks about Dr. Andrew Wakefield and the help he sought from Thoughtful House:

"Desperate for help, we took Ben to Thoughtful House, where Dr. Andrew Wakefield leads the research program. Dr. Jepson, author of Changing the Course of Autism, prescribed a protocol to heal Ben’s gut. The results were astonishing.

"On Tuesday, a week after starting treatment, my son sprinted ahead of me on the Katy Trail, veered off onto Routh Street, and disappeared into uptown Dallas. Squad cars, helicopter, sirens, fear. His mother and I waited in the parking lot for the call from the police, the hospital or the morgue.

"An hour and a half later, Ben came loping back down the Katy trail, thirsty, exhausted, and brimming with pride. For the first time in his adult life Ben was, briefly, on his own. And he had survived.

"Though I would have preferred less dramatic evidence, Ben’s temporary escape from autism supports the Thoughtful House protocol and, indirectly, Dr. Wakefield’s research.

"We often lynch our heroes before we saint them, and the lynching of Andrew Wakefield has reached a new level of frenzy. Yesterday I received an email from a writer doing a health care piece for a Canadian periodical. The writer was greatly pleased by the publisher’s withdrawal of Wakefield’s 1998 Lancet article, “Ileal lymphoid-modular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children,” and was outraged by people who still believe that there is a vaccine/gut/autism connection. He wanted a quote from me that he could use to thrash the ignorant parents who have supported Wakefield and his research these dozen years. “What can be done,” he asked, “to push back sooner against this quackery?”

"Dr. Wakefield is in good company. He is the latest in a line of alleged quacks whose questions and tentative answers outraged the medical and political establishment and who were shamed, fired, and censured before being honored, too often posthumously. For example:

"1. Dr. Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis. In 1847, cut the death rate from “childbed fever” at Vienna General Hospital’s maternity ward from 30% to 1% by requiring doctors who had performed postmortem examinations to wash their hands in a chlorine solution before assisting with childbirth. Germ theory had not yet been proposed; prevailing medical opinion held that childbed fever was caused either by “bad air” or by an imbalance of humors, to be remedied by bloodletting. Semmelweis had other ideas, and his practices offended the medical establishment. He was dismissed from the hospital, hand washing stopped, and women resumed expiring by the hundreds. Semmelweis toured Europe expounding his ideas, which were widely ridiculed. He was lured to an insane asylum in Lazarettgasse, secured in a straitjacket, severely beaten, and confined to a darkened cell, where he died. Today his portrait is on the 50 Euro gold coin.

"2. Dr. John Snow. Ended the 1854 cholera outbreak in London, which killed 615 people, by removing the handle of the Broad Street Pump, located on a cistern three feet from a cesspit which had been used to dispose of a dirty diaper. His theory connecting the quality of water with cholera cases offended the Southward and Vauxhall Waterworks companies, which supplied homes with water from sewage-polluted sections of the Thames. Under pressure, government officials rejected Snow's theory of oral-fecal disease transmission. “After careful inquiry,” the Board of Health report concluded, “we see no reason to adopt this belief.” The pump handle was replaced, and government refused to drain the cesspool. Snow died unrecognized, having drunk only boiled water throughout his adult life. In 2003, he was voted in a poll of British doctors as “the greatest physician of all time.”

"Because they fear him, the powers that be have decided to crush Wakefield. It is not the man but the truth that they should fear. “What lessons,” the Wakefield-despising Canadian writer asked, “can we take away from the persistence of this idea?” I wanted to fire back at the writer and tell him what a shallow, lazy, arse-licking excuse for a journalist he was. But on reflection, I think it’s an excellent question. It brings to mind another lynching. That of Medgar Evers, a black civil rights activist who on June 12, 1963, emerged from his car in the driveway of his Jackson, Mississippi, home carrying a stack of NAACP T-shirts that read “Jim Crow Must Go.” Evers was struck in the back with a bullet from an Enfield 1917 .303 rifle, staggered 30 feet, and died at a local hospital just after John F. Kennedy’s nationally
televised speech on civil rights. But not before saying, as the legend goes, “You can kill a man, but you can’t kill an idea.” Let’s roll."

Ben Burns on the Katy Trail.

Dan E. Burns, Ph.D, is Adult Issues Liaison for AutismOne, where he is a regular columnist. He is the author of Saving Ben: A Father’s Story of Autism, published by University of North Texas Press, a member of the TAMU Press Consortium.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Historic Hotels Author Helps Olle Hotel Obtain Historical Marker

Attention fans of the Olle Hotel in Flatonia (Historic Hotels of Texas: A Traveler's Guide author Liz Carmack is a BIG one.) The owners will be unveiling the hotel's recently acquired Texas historical marker at 4 p.m., Sat., Feb. 13. Food, drink, and tons of small-town charm.

The Olle, one of 64 historic hotels featured in Carmack's book, is the last railroad hotel still in operation in the tiny, Fayette County community. Around the turn of the 20th century, Flatonia was a bustling town with two railway lines and multiple hotels and boarding houses.

Carmack researched the Olle’s origins and wrote a historical marker application for the hotel’s owners. The Texas Historical Commission awarded the hotel a marker in 2009. The Olle Hotel building dates to shortly before 1900. It began operating as a hotel as early as 1915. Today it offers guests 10 rooms with custom bedding, free wireless Internet, and a continental breakfast.

Here are some additional facts on the Olle from Carmack's book:

"All ten airy guest rooms have private baths. Five rooms are on the first floor, off the main hallway, where (Kathryn) Geesaman spreads a complimentary breakfast buffet.Guests eat in the adjacent small dining room on a half-dozen tables dressed with bouquets of fresh flowers on white linen. . . Geesaman is an affable hostess and enjoys sharing tips about where to eat and what to see and do in the area."

Check out Historic Hotels of Texas for more info.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Bamberger Ranch Preserve on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered"

"Realtors were trying to show me places with landing strips and big fancy houses, and I said, 'You got me all wrong. I'm not interested in this kind of stuff. I want something nobody else wants. I want something that has been so beat up, so neglected.'"--J. David Bamberger
After turns as both a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman and a fried chicken tycoon, J. David Bamberger bought what he describes as "the sorriest piece of land in Blanco County" and began his decades-long effort to restore the ecological balance of his 5,500-acre ranch, Selah.

On the Tuesday edition of the nationally aired National Public Radio show "All Things Considered," Bamberger talked about the transformation of his land -- from the time he spent tossing "$5 handfuls" of grass seed into the wind from the back of his tractor to organizing dozens of landowners to plant the highly endangered Texas snowbell tree.

Bamberger's work recently earned him the state's highest voluntary land stewardship award. He and his ranch property are also the subjects of Water from Stone: The Story of Selah, Bamberger Ranch Preserve, by Jeffrey Greene (Texas A&M University Press, 2007).

Now, an excerpt from the segment on "All Things Considered:"

"If some Texas millionaires buy hill country property to build 20,000-square-foot homes, private runways and swimming pools that would make a Roman emperor blush, Bamberger is role-modeling a different way to show off. . .

If you think it's all good and well for a wealthy scion to restore his little piece of Texas hill country paradise but that it's beyond the means of the average landowner, Bamberger and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department want you to stop making excuses.

'You don't need a bulldozer. You need a chainsaw, wheelbarrow, axes, hand tools, and a lot of friends coming out from time to time, and a little time,' Bamberger says. "You can buy used equipment -- don't waste your money on new -- and you can accomplish on your property what I've done here.'"

Listen to the full segment here:

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Houston's Silent Garden Featured in Chronicle

The giant live oak, twelfth in the Harris County Tree Registry, is thought to be about a hundred years old--smaller in trunk circumference but larger in canopy spread than other large live oaks in the county.

". . . a marble-angels-and-Spanish-moss piece of the Old South, a stray piece of New Orleans hidden just off Washington Avenue, about a mile from downtown."--Lisa Gray, Houston Chronicle

Since 1871, Houston's Glenwood Cemetery has offered a serene and pastoral final resting place for many of Houston's civic leaders and historic figures.

For her recent column for the Houston Chronicle, Lisa Gray spoke to Joanne Seale Wilson, co-author of Houston's Silent Garden: Glenwood Cemetery, 1871-2009, as she investigated the history of a 64-foot tall, presumably 135-year-old cemetery oak.

In Houston's Silent Garden, Wilson and Suzanne Turner (with photographer Paul Hester) reveal the story of Glenwood -- a story that is also very much entwined with the history of the city of Houston.

Wilson told the Chronicle that Glenwood's founders had lofty ambitions for their cemetery, aiming to develop a "garden cemetery" and burial place for the elite, akin to Laurel Hill in Philadelphia or GreenWood in Brooklyn. Also, in an era that pre-dated city parks, Glenwood's founders hoped to design a place where the public could enjoy the outdoors, Turner said.

The cemetery's planners, who chose a spot on the hilly banks of Buffalo Bayou, succeeded in this regard. On big holidays geared toward memorializing fallen soldiers, media reports noted that thousands of celebrants visited the cemetery -- more living people than dead ones, Turner said.

See Gray's column here.

Head bowed, the Kremers monument angel has her wings silhouetted against the skyline. When Glenwood was founded, Houston was still a new town and the cemetery site was on its outskirts. Today the cemetery's picturesque landscape and collection of handsome memorials are close to the city's heart and among its treasured landmarks.