Texas: 1874

By Edward King and J. Wells Champney

Cordovan Press

Hardcover

This isn’t a new book, having been published in 1974, but I was most pleased when my younger son found a copy on the shelves for used books in a Sugar Land book store and bought it for me.

Since I had not been aware of its existence, I figured many of my readers might also have missed it and would be interested in looking for a copy for themselves.

“Texas: 1874” was edited by Robert S. Gray and has an introduction by Joe B. Frantz, who noted it offers a sensitive reader “a glimpse of what might have been, of the resources of land and space that were squandered in pursuit of the false god of progress, of the crimes committed in the name of ‘development.’”

Probably because a number of state prison farms are located in Brazoria County, I found the section regarding a “convict train” near Huntsville of particular interest.

This section tells of a long line of chained prisoners, both black and white, who labored from dawn to dusk to clear a railroad right-of-way.

This experience, described as one that “still clings like a horrid nightmare,” was come upon at a small, lonely station where “the abject, cowering mass of black and white humanity in striped uniform had crouched down upon the platform cars.”

Watchmen at each end of every car, “with their hands upon their cocked and pointed rifles,” were guarding men who were “worked from dawn to dark, and (were) then conveyed to some near point, to be locked up in cars or barracks constructed especially for them.”

The description adds that prison records show “many a name against which is written, ‘Killed while trying to escape.’”

There is much more, including the author’s description of one of the prisoners, Kiowa Chief Santana, who had been convicted of murder.

Other observations I found particularly interesting included the description of Galveston as a combination fairy land and burgeoning seaport.

King calls San Antonio the “Pearl of the Southwest,” mentioning some elements he described as being reminiscent of cities in Europe.

In contrast, he describes Houston as a railroad hub that gave promise of someday becoming a great city. Its commercial importance grew daily, he wrote, and although at that time it had only a couple of cotton mills and a few other enterprises, he expected it to become a prominent manufacturing center.

If you are a Texana enthusiast who isn’t familiar with this book, be on the lookout for a copy. It provides a vivid picture of Texas in the 1870s that I have rarely seen elsewhere.

Protecting Historic Coastal Cities

Edited by Matthew Pelz

Texas A&M University Press

$30, hardcover

The consequences of climate change, increasing storm surge, and rising sea levels are being seen and felt by coastal communities across the globe as hurricanes, coastal storms and flooding increase in intensity and frequency.

Understanding how coastal communities around the world have adapted to these challenging environments can help identify not only the strategies to better prepare vulnerable cities, but also the attitudes that are most effective in producing constructive solutions.

“Protecting Historic Coastal Cities” presents an overview of how historic communities in coastal environments understand and confront the unique challenges facing them.

It presents the viewpoint from a variety of disciplines including historical preservation, public history, environmental science, engineering and architecture.

Authors explore communities that take a proactive approach to the special circumstance of living on a coast — historic preservation efforts in the midst of hurricane response.

The periods involved include the 1900 Galveston Hurricane and the subsequent raising of Galveston Island, resilient housing initiatives in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, aggressive public infrastructure changes in Miami Beach and pioneering advances in flood protection in the Netherlands.

Each disaster is different, and the unique characteristics of the event determine approaches to recovery as well as funding from both insurance and government.

In preparing for future disasters, it is necessary to understand the underlying conditions that make us vulnerable as human beings and recognize the links between the built environment and the natural environment, the author emphasizes.

The text of this book emphasizes building resilient coastal communities requires a profound understanding of this relationship in order to confront the extreme conditions of living and working in coastal areas around the world.

Matthew Pelz is the special projects consultant for the Galveston Historical Foundation. He is part of the GHF’s Center for Coastal Heritage, whose goal is to preserve the built environment as a strategy toward developing sustainable communities.

Marie Beth Jones is a published author and freelance writer based in Angleton. Contact her at 979-849-5467 or 1mbjones@nnewwave.com.

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