Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 25, No. 4, Winter 2005, pp. 54-55.
In Gone to Texas, Randolph B. Campbell has combined the best recent scholarship with thirty years of his own prodigious efforts to produce the best narrative account of Texas yet. Authoritative and engaging, a chronicle that is equal parts Spanish colonial period, revolution and republic, Civil War and Reconstruction, and twentieth-century politics, the work includes the usual cast of explorers, generals, ranchers, governors, and businessmen. It treats the standard controversies, the climactic battles, and the diverse populations that have created a complex state, if one not so unique as Texans would like to believe. It does all of this with humor, clarity, flair, and an appreciation for the lives and words of ordinary individuals-women and men from many backgrounds who, probably unintentionally, became part of history.
As might be expected from the author of An Empire for Slavery (1989) and Grass Roots Reconstruction in Texas (1997), Campbell is particularly interested in events surrounding the Civil War, and his chapters on Texas politics and antebellum life are among the best in the book. Effectively mixing political history with descriptions of houses, diet and health care, transportation, churches, and recreations, he avoids the dreaded, awkward, catch-all, stand-alone topical treatment found in most texts. He asserts boldly that secession, when it came, was in defense of slavery; and he convincingly argues that roots in the Deep South and experience in the War and Reconstruction did more to shape Texas than any brief ranching frontier.