Into the Far, Wild Country: True Tales of the Southwest.

Into the Far, Wild Country: True Tales of the Southwest. – book reviews

William L. Richter

Both then and now, the campaigns of the trans-Mississippi theater of the Civil War have always been somewhat neglected, even though there was more territory in the Confederacy west of the Big Muddy than east of it. The balance has improved a bit of late, but the appearance of two more volumes of reminiscences will be a welcome event for buffs and researchers alike.

The first memoir is the life of Wilburn Hill King. Born in Georgia, King found himself in Missouri in 1861 and fought with the Missouri State Guard at Carthage and Wilson’s Creek. Convinced that the pro-Southern Guard would never receive full recognition, King resigned his commission and drifted south to Jefferson, Texas. There he joined the 18th Texas Volunteer Infantry as a private, but he would eventually hold every rank up to acting major-general. He was present at the battles on the Teche and the Red River campaign. A wound King received at Mansfield kept him from the Camden campaign. King left the South after the surrender of the trans-Mississippi, was an “observer” in Mexico, and wound up in Central America for a few years before the death of his wife caused him to return to Texas. He entered redeemer politics becoming the state adjutant general in the 1870s and 1880s and heading the state militia and the Texas Rangers. He died at Sulphur Springs after his retirement from politics in 1910, probably from the complications of diabetes.

King’s memoirs are full of acerbic comments about the commanders of the trans-Mississippi, most of which modem historians would second and expand upon. The problem with King’s memoirs is that they were essentially written fifty years after the fact, and one wonders how much of it was hindsight and how much his view at the time. Some form of roman type would be easier to read than the italics used to adequately distinguish Norris’s comments from King’s own memoirs. The are a few minor errors. Footnote 49 is incorrectly hidden inside footnote 48; Roy O. Hatton, the fine biographer of Prince Camile de Polignac, is incorrectly listed as “Batton”; and William Arceneaux’s book on Louisiana general Alfred Mouton ought to be titled “Acadian General,” not “Arcadian.” But beyond that, editor Norris does an able job filling the gaps between events and keeps the story moving, creating an able and interesting little volume.

Serving in the same general area as King was George Wythe Baylor, whose reminiscences on the last half of the nineteenth century have been edited by well-known historian of the Civil War west, Jerry D. Thompson. A well-researched introduction, Thompson presents Baylor to the reader. He was the younger brother of John R. Baylor, the Baylor whom most modem readers know of. His early adulthood was essentially following his brother into the conflicts with Native Americans and his early campaign to establish the Confederate territory of Arizona. Meeting Albert Sydney Johnston at Mesilla, George accepted his offer to accompany his party east as a staff officer. This brought George Baylor to the Battle of Shiloh, where Sydney Johnston died in his arms. Transferring back to his old unit, Baylor not only became lieutenant colonel of the Arizona brigade’s second regiment, but he got married as well. He fought in the Teche and the Red River campaigns. Then Baylor came to loggerheads with Maj. Gen. John A. Wharton, whom he shot dead in a Houston hotel. The surrender of the Confederacy prevented a scheduled court martial, but the murder case dragged on in a civilian criminal court until Baylor was finally acquitted in 1868. But the incident would haunt him the rest of his life and condemn him as a hothead.

Baylor spent Reconstruction in seclusion on his own place near Uvalde. Appointed in 1879 to the Texas Rangers, he was sent to the El Paso region where he would spend the next twenty years fighting outlaws and Apaches, much of it under the tenure of Texas adjutant general Wilburn Hall King. By the 1890s his flirtation with the People’s party had cost him his political clout. Upon the death of his wife and his brother John, George moved to Guadalajara, Mexico, where he spent his later years helping his daughter run a prep school. The onset of the Mexican revolution caused Baylor to leave Mexico in 1913, and he moved to San Antonio where he died three years later.

Baylor was an avid newspaper correspondent for El Paso dailies, and his tales of the Civil War and his life in the West are the stuff that journalistic dreams are made of But as with the materials presented by Wilburn Hill King, they need to be taken with a grain of salt. Editor Thompson ably assists the reader in this with footnotes at the end of each selection to keep the account straight. Not all of the tales concern Baylor as an active participant — many of them were legends he had heard or stories told him by the original participants. Suffice to say that they are related in the usual western manner — if they did not happen as told, they should have. As with Norris’s account of King, a fine bibliography and index assist readers in finding their way to specific events.

COPYRIGHT 1997 Kent State University Press

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