Originally Posted: February 2018
A Tale of Two Texas Families
New books from Roger D. Hodge and Bryan Mealer draw an unsparing portrait of rural Texas.
Families are the bedrock of Texas settlement. Take, for instance, the Old Three Hundred, the first white migrants who came to Texas from the American South in the 1820s, lured by the colonization schemes of Moses and Stephen F. Austin; nearly two centuries later, their descendants meet twice a year to celebrate this shared history. Likewise, many Texans of more recent vintage engage in one-upmanship over the depth of their roots in the Lone Star State, all in a quest to bind themselves as tightly as possible to the land and its myths.
Journalists Roger D. Hodge and Bryan Mealer would make formidable opponents for any challengers looking to compare such Texas bona fides. Both are descended from Southern families who arrived here during the nineteenth century and settled in rural areas that remain so even today, earning their livelihoods in ranching and oil, the state’s most iconic industries. And both rely on their intimate knowledge of Texas to plumb its darkest reaches. In his new book, Texas Blood: Seven Generations Among the Outlaws, Ranchers, Indians, Missionaries, Soldiers, and Smugglers of the Borderlands (Knopf, 2017), Hodge uses his family as a vehicle for exploring the state’s violent past and present. Mealer, in The Kings of Big Spring: God, Oil, and One Family’s Search for the American Dream (Flatiron Books, February 6), drills down into four generations of his ancestors to understand one especially ruinous decision made by his father. In tandem, Texas Blood and The Kings of Big Spring offer a searing portrait of Texas as a land of opportunity but one that extracts a heavy price.
Hodge, deputy editor of the Intercept, began working on Texas Blood shortly after he was fired from his job as editor of Harper’s Magazine, in 2010. With time on his hands, he made several trips to his home country, near Del Rio, which he had left—“forever,” he writes—when he went away to college, in 1985. Three decades later, his ambivalence remains palpable: he is clearly fascinated by Texas but repelled by its casual prejudice, false piety, and receding authenticity. On one of those visits home, it struck him how little he knew about his birthplace and why his paternal ancestors had chosen to settle there. After looking for answers in a range of published sources, Hodge concluded that “the official story of Texas is not false, but there is another Texas, every bit as violent but perhaps more tragic and thus far more interesting.” Texas Blood is his version of that tale. READ MORE