Stories from Texas

Stories from Texas > All Episodes

June 14, 2017

McMurtry And Twain

By: W.F. Strong

Larry McMurtry is, by many standards, Texas’ best writer.

He wrote “Horseman, Pass By” to wide acclaim when he was just 25, which became the movie “HUD,” starring Paul Newman. When he was thirty, he published “The Last Picture Show,” which won him even greater critical praise and the movie that followed launched Cybil Shepard’s career.

“Terms of Endearment” is another of his great novels. The film that followed pumped sales of the book when Jack Nicholson and Shirley McClain took the lead roles. McMurtry’s best book is his Pulitzer Prize-winning “Lonesome Dove.” That became, to most Texans anyway, the best television miniseries of all time.

McMurtry grew up on a ranch in Archer County, Texas, where there’s about five people per square mile. It is interesting that another famous American writer owned land in Archer County. That was Mark Twain. He didn’t live there, but he did own land there, as an investment. This 320 acre plot is still known locally as “the Twain property.”

So these two great writers, Twain as perhaps America’s best and McMurtry as perhaps Texas’ best, both owned land in Archer County, Texas. Small world. Both were Southerners. Both grew up in small, rural, agrarian towns. Both wrote classic books about the American West and about the cowboys and pioneers that inhabited those vast, rugged, haunting landscapes.

Now let me stop here to tell you an interesting story about Twain and the land he owned in Archer County. One day he received a letter from the County Clerk of Archer County saying that his land was in danger of being repossessed due to unpaid taxes. Twain had a man in Texas who was supposed to pay those taxes but he had failed to do so. So, Twain immediately paid the back taxes and saved the land. He was quite angry about the whole affair. He explained in a now somewhat famous letter to his friend William Dean Howells that he had had a man in Texas who was supposed to take care of those taxes, but that man had taken the money and run, so to speak. He wrote that if he ever caught up with him he would suffer on a Biblical scale. Twain said that “he shall beg for brimstone, he will beg in vain.” Now there’s beautifully worded threat even the mafia could be proud of.

Many years ago I sent a copy of the Twain letter to McMurtry. I had stumbled across it in the Twain papers at Vassar University. I told him that he might be pleased to know that he wasn’t the only famous author to have owned land in Archer County. He wrote back in his straightforward, modest style. He said
that he didn’t know about that, but he was glad to know and that he would check into it to see if maybe they had owned some of the same land. I guess they didn’t. I never heard any more about it. But the day I received that letter from the great man himself – that was a mighty fine day.

As a teenager, I used to lie awake at night reading McMurtry. I felt a special connection with him because we lived on the same road, U.S. 281. Six hundred miles apart, it is true, but on the same road. He lived a mile off of U.S. 281 in north Texas and I lived a mile off of U.S. 281 in south Texas. He could hear the trains where he was and I could hear them where I was.

He and I were both lovers of books and of Texas. We both grew up in ranch country. He played the trombone. I played the trombone. And as the years passed, the similarities continued. He went to North Texas State and so did I. He wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, and I… I read it. He now lives in Tucson, where I went to doctoral school, and wrote my thesis – on Mark Twain.

McMurtry is now in his 80s. Given the parallel nature of our lives,
I’m praying he has many beautiful years ahead of him.


Episodes

September 13, 2023

Texas is God’s Country

“Everything’s bigger in Texas” may be one of the most famous sayings about Texas. “Don’t mess with Texas” probably comes in a close second. Texas Standard commentator WF Strong has been looking into another well-known saying about Texas.

Listen

August 16, 2023

How the railroad saved Fort Worth

When we’re speaking of the North Texas metroplex — Dallas always gets first billing. It’s DFW… not FWD. But Texas Standard Commentator WF Strong says, at one point, the slightly smaller large city was at risk of disappearing altogether.

Listen

August 3, 2023

The Historical Accuracy of Lonesome Dove

“Lonesome Dove” is one of the most popular Texas novels of all time — with many millions of copies sold since it was first published in 1985. The miniseries that followed in 1989 was the second most popular mini-series of all time, behind “Roots.” But Texas Standard commentator WF Strong says author Larry McMurtry was […]

Listen

July 19, 2023

Texas Spelling Bee

Are there words that just trip you up every time you try to spell them? For the producer writing this script it’s allegience — allegiance — so many vowels. You know it’s bad when Word or Google can’t even make a guess at what you’re going for. Texas Standard commentator WF Strong explores the most […]

Listen

July 5, 2023

The Second Sacking of San Antonio

Most Texans believe that the Battle of San Jacinto settled everything. Once Mexican President Santa Anna was decisively defeated, he famously signed a treaty guaranteeing Texas independence and he would never again set foot on Texas soil…Right? Well, commentator WF Strong reminds us that’s not what happened.

Listen

June 22, 2023

The 50th anniversary of ‘The Time It Never Rained’

It’s been 50 years since the publication of Elmer Kelton’s now classic Texas novel, “The Time it Never Rained.” Kelton wrote 50 books and said this was his favorite — he called it his signature work. It won him both the Spur Award and the Western Heritage Award. Many Texas literary critics consider “The Time […]

Listen

May 24, 2023

Farmer Logic

If you’ve spent any time around farmers — you may have noticed a similar, pragmatic approach to life many share. Texas Standard Commentator WF Strong says it’s something he’s long observed.

Listen

May 10, 2023

Things Redneck Dave said to me on the drive across Texas

Technology has a role in helping us remember the past. Whether it’s a Facebook memory or a similar push from your photos app. But milestones have long played the same role — anniversaries, holidays, big changes in life. Maybe it’s a relationship or your last great vacation. Texas Standard commentator WF Strong has been recalling […]

Listen