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Weekend Reading: The Spirit of Texas by Winston Menzies

November 25, 2011

The Book: Is The Spirit of Texas (2011, Creative Publishing Co.) the story of Texas told in the history of one family or the story of one family told in the context of Texas’ history? Actually, it’s a little of both. Several years ago author Winston Menzies received in the mail a copy of a relative’s obituary clipped from a local newspaper. He realized that his family’s story was being lost with the passing of each aging relative and he decided to begin collecting his family’s history. What began as a collection of random facts about the family turned into a book that took about four years to write.

William Menzies, Sr. was born in 1855 in Scotland. He moved with his parents to Canada then to New York. At age 21, Menzies caught a boat to Galveston. He had learned the carpentry trade from his father but had a hard time finding work, and moved on to Karnes County and took up ranching. In July 1887, he came to Ballinger by train and took the stage coach to Menard and purchased his first land, about 1,280 acres. He settled there, married, and raised a family on the ranch that is still in the family today.

But The Spirit of Texas is not just the story of the Menzies family. It is the story of those who pioneered Texas. It is the story of those resourceful Texans who came from all over the country and even around the world to establish this great state.

The Point: Menzies repeatedly makes the point that these were strong, hearty individuals who teamed this part of Texas. He also says there are still strong, hearty individuals and they should use that strength to tame America’s future like they did its past. His own family certainly fits that description. He describes his forebears as balancing a rugged individualism and a faith in and reliance on God. He also wants to give the reader a picture of what it took to establish the frontier areas of this country, especially west Texas.

The Result: I am a Texan. I am proud to be a Texan. This is true of most Texans that I know. That is what made this book so interesting to me. An added bonus is the vast collection of photographs. I really enjoyed this book. I do have a few critical remarks:

  • My overall impression is that Menzies longs for “days gone by”. He laments the shortage of hard working individualists from the days his family settled west Texas. I don’t disagree that those individuals seem harder to find. I think there has always been a shortage of those individuals. We are just aware of the ones who made their mark and unaware of those who didn’t. I think future generations will see us that way.

  • The author spends several pages being critical of the current political situation in the United States. In fact, he seem very Tea Party-like in his criticisms. I am not saying I disagree or agree with him. It just seemed very out of place in this book.

  • Menzies is clearly not a professional writer. The book is does not simply follow a pattern of starting with the subject’s birth and ending with his death. It meanders quite a bit. It is more like a collection of stories. This is not necessarily bad. In many ways, it almost made it endearing.

I would generally recommend this book for Texans and those who are interested in Texas’ history and culture. It was a good break from the topics I generally read. Let me know what you think!

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