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“Unique Among Pioneer Chronicles” (Dobie)

229. WILBARGER, J[ohn] W[esley]. Indian Depredations in Texas. Reliable Accounts of Battles, Wars, Adventures, Forays, Murders, Massacres, etc., etc., Together with Biographical Sketches of Many of the Most Noted Indian Fighters and Frontiersmen of Texas...Sold By Subscription Only. Austin: Hutchings Printing House, 1889. [i-iii] iv-xii, 672 pp., 38 plates (mostly wood engraved, a few photographic). 8vo, original brown pictorial cloth stamped in gilt and black. Light shelf wear, hinges starting (but strong), text block slightly shaken due to the heavy book block and weak binding, overall very good.  Book plate of James T. DeShields on front pastedown.  Owner DeShields was author of Border Wars of Texas (1912) for which he used Wilbarger as one of his sources. Ben Pingenot commented on this book:  “This work was popular from the date of issue, and most copies were literally read to pieces.”

     First edition (a second edition appeared in 1890). Agatha, p. 58. Basic Texas Books 218.  Campbell, p. 183. CBC 5037. Dobie, pp. 36 & 58. Eberstadt, Texas 162:911. Holliday 1192. Howes W407. Library of Congress, Texas 231. Rader 3653. Raines, p. 219. Tate, Indians of Texas 2450: “One of the most unusual and frequently cited books in Texas history. Wilbarger was scalped by Comanches and had good reason to hold a personal grudge. The book is comprised of a series of biographical vignettes about other pioneers who fell victim to Texas Indians or who fought against them.”

     This work is unique.  Although other works, dating back to the initial settlement of the United States, recount violent encounters with Native Americans, this is the only one to be exclusively composed of such materials in such quantity.  Some of the stories recounted here are taken from secondary sources.  The book’s value lies however, in the over two hundred stories that Wilbarger himself collected personally over two decades:  “During some twenty years I have carefully obtained from the lips of those who knew most of the facts stated in this volume.  For their general correctness I can vouch, for I knew personally most of the early settlers of Texas, and have relied on those only whom I believed to be trustworthy” (p. [iii]).  Very much a product of its own time, the book depicts Native Americans as hopelessly corrupt, violent people with little or no redeeming value.  Wilbarger is extreme, for example, in his depictions of the violence inflicted on Anglos, and despite his assertion of impartiality and truth, some measure of doubt must enter into the reader’s mind at some of the more lurid descriptions.

     The woodcuts, all signed T. J. Owen, were probably done by a young William Sydney Porter, who went on to achieve literary fame as O. Henry.  In some respects, they are as lurid as the prose but have the added drawback of being entirely fanciful since the artist was never an eyewitness to any of the scenes he depicts.  Although he never seems to be credited with the illustration, it appears clear that he must have done the illustration stamped into the front cover, too.  The only entirely trustworthy depictions in the book are the photographic plates of Cynthia Ann and Quanah Parker and Sul and Lizzie Ross.  In some ways reminiscent of the crude woodcuts in earlier New England captivities, O. Henry’s work did little to advance the iconography of Native Americans.  Thank heavens that O. Henry could write better than he could draw.

     The book has proven to be extremely popular and has been reprinted numerous times.  Wilbarger (1806-1892) was a Methodist minister who in 1837 came to Texas, where he spent the rest of his life. These borderlands skirmishes often involved raids and depredations on livestock, as well as incursion by livestock onto Native lands. ($300-600)

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