The Lonesome Plains

Death and Revival on an American Frontier

978-1-58544-182-2 Cloth
6.12 x 9.25 x 0 in
352 pp. 16 b&w photos.
Pub Date: 05/16/2002
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Loneliness pervaded the lives of pioneers on the American plains, including the empty expanses of West Texas. Most settlers lived in isolation broken only by occasional community gatherings such as funerals and religious revivals. In The Lonesome Plains, Louis Fairchild mines the letters and journals of West Texas settlers, as well as contemporary fiction and poetry, to record the emotions attending solitude and the ways people sought relief.

Hungering for neighborliness, people came together in times of misfortune—sickness, accident, and death—and at annual religious services. In fascinating detail, Fairchild describes the practices that grew up around these two focal points of social life. He recounts the building of coffins and preparation of a body for burial, the conflicting emotions of the pain of death and the hope of heaven, the funeral rite itself, the lost and lonely graves. And he tells the story of yearly outdoor revivals: the choice of the meeting site and construction of the arbor or other shelter, the provision of food, the music and emotionally-charged services, and tangential courting and mischief.

Loneliness is most recognized as a feature of life in the time of the early West Texas cattle industry, a period of sprawling cattle ranches and legendary cattle drives, roughly from 1867 to 1885. But Fairchild shows that it also characterized the lives of settlers who lived in West Texas from the beginning of permanent settlement of the Texas Panhandle (around 1876) through the population shift that occured around the turn of the century, as farmers and their families supplanted ranchers and their cattle.

Fairchild draws on primary materials of the early residents to give voice to the settlers themselves and skillfully weaves a moving picture of life in the open spaces of West Texas during the frontier-rural period of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Published by Texas A&M University Press