Mystic Sails, Texas Trails by Robert Davant with Mickey Herskowitz

This review was written by Dr. Diane Dowdey and was originally published in the Journal of the American Studies Association of Texas.

Mystic Sails, Texas Trails tells the story of Captain Richard Grimes and his descendants who created one of the first great cattle operations in Texas.  Richard Grimes, born in

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Mystic Sails, Texas Trails

1790 in Connecticut, was a sea captain trading between the east coast of the United States and the Caribbean islands and Mexico. He moved his family from Connecticut to Matagorda County, Texas in 1837.  When his son, William Bradford, finished his education and moved to Texas in 1847, the Grimes cattle empire began. In 1850, the Grimes family’s WBG ranch branded 5,500 free ranging cattle.  The WBG had the only beef canning facility in Texas during the post-Civil War era, and during the cattle trail period, they moved millions of cattle from the Gulf coast to railroads in Kansas. One of the most significant range wars in Texas involved the Grimes family and their former ranch hand, Abel “Shanghai” Pierce.

The source of information for the book are the diaries and letters of many members of the Grimes family, which are excerpted throughout the book. The Captain’s daughter, Fannie, brought to Texas at the age of two, left several diaries and many letters written to her Connecticut relatives and Texas friends. She survived the 1854 hurricane that destroyed much of Matagorda and Indianola, writing vivid descriptions of the storm and her ordeal. The book provides insight into the lives of women in Texas and the tasks they undertook with letters from several generations of Grimes women. This New England family adjusted to slavery as a necessity. The book makes clear the economic devastation the Civil War had on Texas. There are many examples of the hardships and hard work of the cattle drives. Bradford remembered spending thirty-nine hours in the saddle searching for water for seven hundred head of cattle. Family members set up ranches and banks in Kansas and continued ranching in Texas through the twentieth century.  The narrative contextualizes the excerpts. Rather than a completely chronological narrative, various chapters discuss different topics, so there is movement back in time as a new aspect is introduced. An index would have been helpful.

Dr. Diane Dowdey is an associate professor of English at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville.

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