Where the West Begins: Debating Texas Identity

By Brannon-Wranosky, Jessica | The Journal of Southern History, August 2012 | Go to article overview

Where the West Begins: Debating Texas Identity


Brannon-Wranosky, Jessica, The Journal of Southern History


Where the West Begins: Debating Texas Identity. By Glen Sample Ely. Plains Histories. (Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, c. 2011. Pp. [xviii], 201. $34.95, ISBN 978-0-89672-724-3.)

Historians have argued over Texas's regional identity for generations. These debates stretch from claiming or denying that the state is part of the U.S. West, the South, a cultural borderland or "frontier," or a mixture. Author and documentarian Glen Sample Ely has added a new voice to the exchange with his book Where the West Begins: Debating Texas Identity. Despite the title, readers should not expect to find a history arguing over the identity of the entire state. Instead, the book's purpose is to explain why a smaller segment, which Ely designates as "west of the 100th meridian," does not fit with the significantly larger and more populated portion of the state that aligns with the South. The West begins, and thus the South ends, inside Texas.

The first and last chapters provide detailed historiographical analysis of the two dominant academic groups--an older tradition, led by early- and mid-twentieth-century historians Eugene C. Barker and Walter Prescott Webb, that situated Texas with the West and frontier historiography and "Texas's Southern School," within which historians Randolph B. Campbell and Walter Buenger are prominent (p. 7). The middle three chapters add West Texas to the mix, and each chapter explores a different theme, attacking any blanket approach to the state's regional identity. Chapter 2 discusses the Civil War by questioning the meaning of Confederate membership. Ely argues, for example, that West Texas ranchers, by selling their cattle to Union troops stationed in New Mexico, chose a United States alliance, turning their backs on "a worthless [Confederate] currency" and the requisition of their herds by Confederate troops (p. …

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