Saturday, July 7, 2012

Reavis Z. Wortham

Reavis Z. Wortham is the author of The Rock Hole, hailed by Kirkus Reviews as one of the Top 12 Mystery Novels of 2011. A finalist for the Benjamin Franklin Award, the second novel in this Red River Series, Burrows, recently received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Columnist for a number of Texas newspapers, Wortham is also Humor Editor for Texas Fish and Game Magazine, and is a contributor of both state and national magazines. Recently retired from 35 years in public education, he has launched a new career as a writer in what he now calls, Mystery Thrillers.

His new novel, Burrows, was released on July 3, 2012.

Recently I asked Wortham what he was reading.  His reply:
I should be writing instead of reading, but I can’t stand to go for very long without stepping into other written worlds. My eclectic selections from the past couple of weeks ran the gamut from old works from long ago, specifically Dandelion Wine, by Ray Bradbury and Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods to John Gilstrap’s thriller, Threat Warning.

I recently finished an outstanding novel by Texas Monthly columnist Jan Reid. Comanche Sundown is the rich story of the great war Chief Quanah Parker and Bose Ikard, the real life cowboy model for Larry McMurtry’s character, Deets, in Lonesome Dove.

Reid takes that interesting step of creating a fictional look at historical events and weaves his tapestry so seamlessly that it’s impossible to tell the difference between his creativity and fiction. Of course the true story of Cynthia Ann’s 1836 capture by Comanche Indians rings true to Texans. Moviegoers will be interested to note this tale was the basis for John Ford’s sweeping 1956 saga, The Searchers, starting John Wayne.

With an ear toward accurate dialogue, Reid brings us a look at the interaction between two men struggling to survive in the canyonlands and plains of the Texas panhandle. After her capture, Cynthia assimilates into the Comanche tribe, eventually marrying the ferocious warrior, Nocona, and bears several children, one who becomes Quanah Parker, the last Comanche war chief. Through the years, Quanah’s life frequently intersects the black enslaved son of a white physician, Bose Ikard. At first Bose and Quanah do their best to kill each other, but through the years, they discover they become friends.

As a fifth-generation Texan, I am fascinated with all things Texas. Often writers from other states, both unknown and famous, have attempted to capture the true voice of the vast Lone Star State, and usually fail miserably. In fact, not long ago, even Stephen King made an error in estimating distance in the Texas landscape. One of his characters steps outside in Ft. Worth and “smelled the oilfields of Midland.” Sorry, but Midland is 290 miles away.

Jan Reid knows Texas. Comanche Sundown is a story by a Texan, about Texas. It don’t get no better than that.

Which leads us to another remarkable nonfiction book about Quanah Parker. I finished Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne only a week before reading Jan Reid’s novel. Empire is a stunningly vivid historical account of the clash between the fierce Comanche Indians, and the ever-increasing tidal wave of settlers.

This well-researched account traces the rise and fall of the Comanches, while at the same time recounts Cynthia Ann Parker’s pivotal role in the clash between two completely different worlds and ideals. Settlers wanted the land. The Comanche wanted to preserve their way of life.

Neither side was innocent. The Comanche wrested control of the plains from the Apache, Sioux and other tribes who claimed what is now Texas. When they won this fierce tribe halted the French expansion and then Spain’s attempts at settlements. When Mexico won their independence from Spain, they still had to contend with the Comanche, who often raided deep into Mexican homeland. In response, Mexico welcomed Texas settlers, not for their contributions, but to act as a human buffer.

Texans, though, had other ideas. They created the Texas Rangers, and then worked closely with gunmakers to create a new weapon designed specifically to fight the Comanche: the six gun. Then they slaughtered the natives, to drive them from the land.

Cynthia Anne died not long after she was rescued. Her son, Quanah, became one of the most famous war chiefs of all time. He was never captured, yet gave himself up and eventually became a strong political figure who learned the “white man’s ways” and finally discovered that he could work within the system to save himself, and his people.

Austin resident Gwynne’s meticulously detailed work of non-fiction is a must read for anyone interested in Texas, the western expansion, the old west, the Civil War, buffalo herds and the arrival of the railroad.

If you like American history, read both of these novels as companion pieces. Then you’ll understand Texas, and Texans.
Visit Reavis Z. Wortham's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Rock Hole.

My Book, The Movie: The Rock Hole.

Writers Read: Reavis Z. Wortham (June 2011).

The Page 69 Test: Burrows.

--Marshal Zeringue