Another Red River Historian

When you take into the account the vast volumes of literature that American historians have produced over the last two centuries, what becomes clear is that the Red River hasn’t been discussed much. Like the Thames in England, the Nile in Egypt, the Ganges of India, and the Tigris in ancient Persia, rivers have defined the civilizations that grew around them, and the Mississippi River has been given that honor in the United States. And that’s pretty much how it should be… the Red River isn’t the grandest of streams, after all. Though it figured prominently in the boundary questions between the US, Spain, France, the Caddoan Confederacy, Mexico, Texas, and Arkansas, the Red River happened to become important just as river traffic was slowly giving way to the railroads, and what could have become a major river in American history was instead left to nature.

Red River bottoms by childress
Certain historians have recognized the Red River, however, and none has done such a good job of it than Dan Flores. Flores, who holds a PhD from Texas A&M and is a native of Natchitoches, has become one of the eminent historians of American West history. His research has focused on the “Old Southwest” (also called the Near Southwest) in many of his books, and what I like best about him is that he emphasizes the past through both geography and art, which allows the reader to obtain a “sense of place.” One of his first projects was as editor to the short but informative Journal of an Indian Trader: Anthony Glass and the Texas Trading Frontier, 1790-1810 (1985). Flores allows Glass to recount his explorations, adding geographic descriptions to create a valuable reference to early interactions between Native Americans and European capitalists. In Horizontal Yellow: Nature and History in the Near Southwest (1999), he again combined geography and history by explaining – very poetically – how the landscape of the Llano Estacado shaped human interaction. He was one of the first historians to offer a thorough treatment of the Louisiana Purchase expedition up the Red River in Southern Counterpart to Lewis and Clark: The Freeman and Custis Expedition of 1806 (2002). As best he could, he recreated portions of the journey himself, and filled gaps with a realistic imagination as so much of the original landscape had been altered over the years.

Carpenter Bluff bridge wide shot tx side
I highly recommend Dr. Flores’ studies on the Red River. Like John Graves did in his classic treatment of the wild Brazos of 1960, Goodbye to a River, Flores makes the Red River a central figure in his histories, and when you read his books, the river becomes as important a figure as any one man or woman. I truly hope that one day, my small contribution to the study of the Red River will be even a fraction as good as his.

Published in: on May 30, 2013 at 4:31 am  Comments (1)  
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An Ode to New Orleans

ship on mississippi

New Orleans awakened a creative hunger in me. I just felt like sharing this feeling. Ignore as you wish!

I gained an idea
in a town I visited
Back in the month
Of soft autumn light.
The sidewalks were carved
by millions of footsteps
and the balconies filled
with the inkiness of night.

The houses, all worn
gleamed in the sun
and shadows were cast
softly, if at all.
In the flits of history
of the public square
along the river banks
I heard the idea call.

I listened intently
as I drank the absinthe
and watched as souls
stumbled about.
Saw an old staircase
climbed to its end
and laughed absurdly
as I called them out.

The tugs of voices
some ancient, some new
others quiet or poor
I strained to remember.
The cause of my longing
that found throughout
those streets, those buildings
on that day in November.

I leaned in closely
as I sighed, understood
that to live in my head
was a worn-out cause.
I had to reach into
the city, the sounds
the art of being alive –
the gained idea I had once lost.

Robin Cole-Jett, 2012

Published in: on March 10, 2013 at 5:41 am  Leave a Comment  
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