Book review: “Texas Blood” digs up deep generational roots
The extensive subtitle on the cover of Roger D. Hodge’s book reads: “Seven Generations Among the Outlaws, Ranchers, Indians, Missionaries, Soldiers and Smugglers of the Borderlands.”
The title, “Texas Blood,” refers to family, bloodline, Hodge’s ancestors, but also, as the subtitle suggests, the wide-ranging topics covered in this fascinating Texas story.
Hodge is something of an expert on Cormac McCarthy. He is also a fan of the novelist and asserts that those novels, known for their graphic scenes, are close to the reality that he perceived during his time in Texas.
The violent history of this place in a bygone frontier era is well-documented and accepted as a product of a brand of lawlessness that figures fully here.
Hodge left Texas at the age of 18 and believed his departure could be for good. A former editor of Harper’s magazine, author of “The Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism,” he lives in Brooklyn now and is the deputy editor of The Intercept magazine.
Hodge does, in fact, return to the state by way of this work of nonfiction. He revisits his roots and tells the wild stories of things he experienced working on a ranch. He contextualizes the experiences by way of the stories of his ancestors in Texas, and also in Oklahoma and Arizona, but the main setting of the book is Texas — big, complex, idiosyncratic Texas.
Hodge’s history starts in the 1800s, years before the 1848 signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the U.S./Mexican war and added an additional 525,000 square miles to United States, including the land that makes up all or parts of present-day Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.
The long span of centuries here isn’t covered chronologically. We learn about the seven generations of the author’s family — Wilsons, Adamsons, Kirks and Hodges — and move back and forth along a timeline and all over the state.
The Texas border is a place of the twice-conquered people and a sad history that just isn’t recounted in the books we read in school.
Hodge covers the multicultural history of the state, the lives and battles of the indigenous, and flashes forward, too, to the more contemporary problems of the insurmountable drug war that characterizes the contentious space.
The book is an example of narrative journalism. That is, we learn Hodge’s personal family story, but all is grounded in facts.
There are dates and maps that help tell this true story to replace what Hodge terms a “self-congratulatory, nationalistic” version.
Hodge also underscores the fact that the “long tenure of the Indians” surpasses the European one.
Hodge’s Texas is ominous and bleak. The stories are fascinating and the characters that people an otherwise flat, dusty dimension come alive due to Hodge’s masterful prose.
As a work of narrative journalism, “Texas Blood” is very much like a novel, with fantastic details that enthrall, and it’s easy to recall the adage of nonfiction: “You can’t make this stuff up.”
At 353 pages and with an extensive bibliography and index, this is a big book, befitting big Texas. Although it’s Hodge’s story, it’s really a big Texas story.
Anyone interested in learning about the state would gain much knowledge and information from reading this well-researched, well-wrought tome.
And it isn’t a quick read, not because it’s long, but because the prose demands a close, deliberate, unhurried pace to absorb quite so many carefully offered details and a extensive cavalcade of memorable characters and events.
Yvette Benavides is a professor of English at Our Lady of the Lake University.