Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

El Paso's Muckraker: The Life of Owen Payne White

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

El Paso's Muckraker: The Life of Owen Payne White

Article excerpt

El Paso's Muckraker: The Life of Owen Payne White. By Garna L. Christian. (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2015. Pp. [x], 192. $45.00, ISBN 978-0-8263-5545-4.)

The strength of Garna L. Christian's biography of Owen Payne White is its deft placement of the journalist-historian amid the tumult of his time. The story begins in 1879 in the raucous, violent frontier town of El Paso, Texas, where, as Christian notes, "In one isolated village one might find as many of the seven sins in such combination as one could afford" (p. 27). It ends with White's death in post-World War II New York, a city far removed from the legendary West he celebrated in numerous histories and memoirs. White's life and career spanned wars, the rise of industrialism and urbanization, and the lingering reform efforts of the Progressive era. His work for some of the early twentieth century's most influential magazines put him in the center of movements that shaped modern America.

Christian has rescued from obscurity the story of a muckraking journalist who wrote prolifically between the world wars. White has not been celebrated historically alongside muckrakers like Ida M. Tarbell and Lincoln Steffens, yet he is worth remembering--not just for the quality of his journalism, but also for how the story of his career takes us behind the scenes in a golden era of reportage. White wrote about topics as wide-ranging as the Texas Rangers, Prohibition, corruption in the oil industry, and government scandal. He once narrowly escaped arrest after purchasing machine guns to show how easy they were to obtain, a fact that surprised even the police. …

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