Friday, April 13, 2018

Booknotes: A Crooked River

New Arrival:
A Crooked River: Rustlers, Rangers, and Regulars on the Lower Rio Grande, 1861–1877by Michael L. Collins (Univ of Okla Press, 2018).

Michael Collins's A Crooked River: Rustlers, Rangers, and Regulars on the Lower Rio Grande, 1861–1877 is his follow up to Texas Devils: Rangers and Regulars on the Lower Rio Grande, 1846-1861 (2008), both from University of Oklahoma Press. "During the turbulent years of the Civil War and Reconstruction, a squall of violence and lawlessness swept through the Nueces Strip and the Rio Grande Valley in southern Texas. Cattle rustlers, regular troops, and Texas Rangers, as well as Civil War deserters and other characters of questionable reputation, clashed with Mexicans, Germans, and Indians over unionism, race, livestock, land, and national sovereignty, among other issues. In A Crooked River, Michael L. Collins presents a rousing narrative of these events that reflects perspectives of people on both sides of the Rio Grande."

Much like Andrew Masich successfully did in his strikingly good Civil War in the Southwest Borderlands, 1861–1867 (though with a much narrower geographical focus and over a more extended time period), Collins "brings a cross-cultural perspective to the role of the Texas Rangers in the continuing strife along the border during the late nineteenth century. He draws on many rare and obscure sources to chronicle the incidents of the period, bringing unprecedented depth and detail to such episodes as the “skinning wars,” the raids on El Remolino and Las Cuevas, and the attack on Nuecestown. Along the way, he dispels many entrenched legends of Texas history—in particular, the long-held belief that almost all of the era’s cattle thieves were Mexican."

"A balanced and thorough reevaluation, A Crooked River adds a new dimension to the history of the racial and cultural conflict that defined the border region and that still echoes today." If you're like me and most particularly interested in the Civil War years, it looks like something less than a third of the narrative is explicitly devoted to that part of the period covered in the book. To be entirely honest, I was turned off early on by the tone and direction of Texas Devils (enough that I didn't get very far into it), though if I had continued on to the end it's entirely possible that my overall impression of its balance would have changed. Regardless, I will do my best to approach A Crooked River with an open mind.

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