book might be called: What To Do Until the Drought Comes.
It's an unvarnished, unsentimental look at the real Texas Frontier
and as a subject, it's about as serious as it gets. Using interviews,
diaries and published sources, Mr. Fairchild, a psychology professor
at Texas A & M University, Canyon,
Texas, explores a rarely discussed subject - the suffocating
and omnipresent loneliness of the Panhandle
frontier. The frontier was a place of spiritual as well as material
deprivation, despite the awe-inspiring sky and landscape.
Since contemporary West
Texas and Panhandle
life offers many* distractions and
diversions, the book deals with the late 19th century and early
20th century - the times of the pioneer and hopeful immigrant. Despite
the seriousness of the subject there is something uplifting or memorable
on nearly every page.
Diet, infant mortality, burial procedures and etiquette, mourning,
and the importance of friendship and neighborliness are all covered
by these sobering and sometimes heartrending personal accounts.
Also discussed is the way men dealt with these problems and benefits,
which predictably, was quite different from women.
The subjects of the book are shown without any romantic embellishment
- as people living, coping and struggling in a harsh and unforgiving
landscape. Using the actual writings as source material allows for
an easy and personal connection with the reader.
The scarcity of settlers in the Panhandle
(.06 per square mile in 1880) allowed people to actually know every
individual in nine counties. One woman said that she truly felt
that her nearest neighbor was God, while another grew to appreciate
her only companions - three chickens that a cowboy had given her.
Another practiced playing the piano on her husband's desk - probably
a laughable scene under other circumstances.
Cowboys rode miles to attend dances or just to see a woman from
a distance. Although this is familiar cowboy behavior that you'd
expect to see in the movies, what writer could invent a story of
cowboys riding miles just to see or hold a baby that they had only
heard about - a baby belonging to complete strangers?
Thankfully, the second part of the book is a little lighter and
covers the camp or brush arbor meetings / revivals and comes close
to explaining why West Texas
has so many churches. Here the reader is relieved to find that there
was some fun to be had when families would bring their children,
dogs and even most of their furniture to these semi-annual events.
Getting a year or six months worth of friendship and/ or religion
crowded into a few short days is something few societies experience.
Rather than a cover photograph there's a bleak and dismal landscape
painting by Harry Carnohan during The Great Depression. This might
limit the book's appeal as a gift, but it remains a great reference
for writers, sociologists and anyone who takes seriously the study
of Texas and Texans. The details of everyday pioneer life are valuable
and passages and quotes taken from the letters and diaries are well-
chosen. It's a contribution to any West
Texas library - personal or public.
You might have to find yourself in the right mood to start reading,
but it's not an easy book to forget. It reads like a novel without
the drone of academia and Mr. Fairchild's profession is never apparent
- although it explains the depth and coverage of the subject.
It's a sober and unromantic homage to settlers of the Panhandle
and is highly recommended.