name once was a household word in Texas,
but only a few aficionados of Texana know it today.
He wrote 17 books--more than J.
Frank Dobie. He reported for and edited newspapers, regaled countless
civic clubs and Chamber of Commerce banquets with Texas anecdotes,
worked in Hollywood as technical consultant for a blockbuster movie
starring Clark Gable, ran twice for lieutenant governor, wrote a column
that ran in 200 newspapers, had a weekly radio show and was a member
of the by-invitation-only Texas Institute of Letters.
Most of his books went through numerous editions with thousands of
copies printed. One book sold more than 200,000 copies. Some of his
stories appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, the top national
magazine of its day.
Chances are, you’ve never heard of Boyce House. But he deserves to
improved the communities he served as a hard hitting newspaper editor,
he made a couple of generations of Texans laugh and he offered himself
as an unsuccessful political candidate. What he did best, however,
was collect Texas stories--folktales, jokes, history--and preserve
them in books, articles and newspaper columns.
Born in Piggott, Ark., in 1896 as the son of a country newspaper editor,
House lived in Texas for several years
and attended schools in Brownwood,
Taylor and Alpine.
When his father died, his mother moved to Memphis, Tenn., where House
graduated from high school. He cut his journalistic teeth as a cub
reporter on the Memphis Commercial-Appeal in 1916.
He came to Texas in 1920 because of ill
health, but soon recovered. He wrote for or edited newspapers in the
oil boom towns of Eastland,
Cisco and Ranger
and later worked for papers in Olney
and Fort Worth.
covered one of Texas’ biggest crime stories, the so-called Santa
Claus bank robbery in Cisco
on Dec. 23, 1927. He broke the story of "Old
Rip" (for Rip Van Winkle), the
horned toad that supposedly survived for 30 years sealed in the
cornerstone of the Eastland
County Courthouse. This almost certainly was a Chamber of Commerce
trick, possibly concocted by House himself, but many folks swore it
was true. One thing for sure, "Old
Rip" made great newspaper copy and focused national attention
on Eastland County
and the man who wrote the stories about it.
His newspaper career in Eastland
County coincided with one of Texas’ most prolific oil booms. At
the height of the drilling activity, $1 million worth of oil gushed
every 72 hours from wells around Ranger.
House wrote four books that remain excellent sources of information
on this wildcat period of early 20th-century Texas history: "Were
You In Ranger?" (1935), "Oil Boom" (1941), "Roaring
Ranger: The World’s Biggest Boom" (1951) and "Oil Field Fury"
in the lore of the oil patch got him a job in Hollywood as technical
adviser for the 1940 movie "Boomtown" and the material for
another of his books, "How I Took Hollywood by Storm."
After he came back to Texas from Tinsel
Town, House started writing a humorous newspaper column as well as
books featuring Texas tales and humor. His best seller was "I Give
You Texas," a collection of humorous Texas stories.
Soon after House’s “Roaring Ranger” came out, the former boom
town declared April 6, 1951 “Boyce House Day.” Following an
invocation, speeches, a glowing introduction and music by the 36-piece
Ranger High School band, House spoke at the old Arcadia Theater to
a packed house.
House’s last book was "As I Was Saying" (1957), a collection
of anecdotes mostly centering on the newspaper business. He dedicated
the volume to "The Home Town Editors."
in 1927, he and his wife, Golda Fay, did not have children, House
died in Fort Worth
on Dec. 30, 1961. News of his death even made the New York Times.
Most of his books had been published by the old Naylor Co. in San
Antonio, a firm that went out of business in the early ‘70s. None
of his titles are in print today.
for a time House’s chief rival for the title of "Mr. Texas," called
his fellow writer of Texana "a poet as well as historian and wordwielder."
The six-volume "New Handbook of Texas" offers this assessment
of House’s work: "Analysis and interpretation are lacking in House’s
scholarly efforts, and he relied heavily on secondary sources; nevertheless,
he was a powerful writer..."
Of course his material lacked "analysis and interpretation." House
was a newspaperman of the old school. His generation of journalists
viewed analysis and interpretation as cardinal sins, worse than using
someone’s name in a story without giving the person’s age.
House simply was a reporter who knew a good story when he heard or
saw it and how to tell it even better. He left us, not a gasoline-like
refined and boring academic product, but good old Texas crude, a body
of work that in time will be recognized as having captured the color
of Texas’ early oil days before it flared off like so much waste gas
into the darkness of time. His collected anecdotes played a significant
role in developing a part of the Texas myth.
Maybe Boyce House will be like the tenacious horned toad he made famous
Rip". It’s time for this Texas writer’s work to be freed from
the musty cornerstone of literary obscurity and be appreciated by
another crop of Texas readers.
© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" March
19, 2009 column
by Mike Cox - Order Here