Saturday, June 13, 2009

Book views Texas history from above

A new book of photographs takes a different look at Texas history.
"Historic Texas from the Air" (University of Texas Press, $45) is a colorful, informative and interesting coffee-table book that focuses on 73 historic sites. The authors – David Buisserer, Richard Francaviglia and Gerald Saxon – and photographer Jack W. Graves Jr. are associated with, or have taught at, the University of Texas at Arlington.

Graves’ aerial photographs are the highlight of the book, of course, but each photo is accompanied by a page or two of text explaining the site’s significance. Historic photographs or maps also illustrate most entries.

Well-known sites such as the Alamo, San Jacinto, the State Capitol, Spindletop and Dealey Plaza are pictured, as well as some lesser-known places like the Medicine Mounds of Hardeman County, the Hueco Tanks of El Paso, La Lomita Chapel in Mission, and the Fanthorp Inn in Anderson.

The 73 sites are representative of various aspects of Texas history and geography. The authors divide the book into six sections and include an introductory essay for each – The Land, The Indian Presence, French and Spaniards, 19th Century Forts and Communications, 19th Century Settlements and Industries, and Texas in the 20th Century.

Even with such an excellent collection as this, the authors concede that there are many other locales not covered. "Texas has hundreds of sites," they write, "where important events and developments – wars, migrations, treaties, and inventions – took place."

Still, readers will find in these 73 selections a rich variety of the state’s history and culture in such places as the Big Thicket, Fort Richardson (Jacksboro), Caddo Mounds (Alto), Camino Real in Nacogdoches and San Augustine, Palo Alto Battlefield (Brownsville), Indianola, Washington-on-the-Brazos, Fort Concho in San Angelo, Fort Phantom in Abilene, the main square in San Marcos, the Salt War (El Paso), the industrial ghost town of Thurber, the Houston Ship Channel, the Fort Worth Stockyards, the LBJ Ranch, and Six Flags Over Texas.

A little about how the pictures were taken: "Jack (Graves) deliberately kept his altitude low – usually about 300 to 800 feet above the ground," the book explains, "in order to capture the texture of the places. We chose this ‘bird’s-eye’ perspective because we wanted to provide a rather intimate but unfamiliar look at the Lone Star State’s history and geography. We feel that this perspective perfectly captures the details while also presenting the bigger picture."

"Historic Texas from the Air" is an impressive and readable representation of Texas history that deserves a place in every Texan’s library.
How to purchase: The book is available at a 10 percent discount ($40.50) at Texas Star Trading Company, 325-672-9696, or

Glenn Dromgoole writes about Texas books and authors. Contact him at