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Texas Tuesday: Joseph A. Altsheler

Posted by Sherry on 10/6/2009 in 1918, 20th Century History Project, General, Projects, Texas Tuesday |

In 1918 Joseph A. Altsheler was voted by the nation’s public librarians the most popular author of boys’ books in the United States.

I had never heard of him. Had you?

Altsheler, who lived and wrote around the turn of the century until his death in 1919, wrote historical adventures stories set during the Civil War and the Westward movement. One of of his adventure series was set in Texas:

The Texan Series
The Texan Star, the story of a great fight for liberty (1912)
The Texan Scouts, the story of the Alamo and Goliad (1913)
The Texan Triumph, a romance of the San Jacinto campaign (1913)

I was able to find the middle book in the series at the library, and so I ordered it and read it. It took a few pages for me to get into the story of a teenaged “scout” and his two adult companions who are scouring the countryside for signs that the Mexican army under Santa Anna is coming to invade Texas. Of course, they find exactly what they’re looking for. Ned, the teen protagonist, accidentally runs across the Mexican army at least six or eight times over the course of the book. He’s captured and escapes three times; he conceals himself in a serape and makes his way through Santa Anna’s army as a spy at least twice. Ned witnesses the fall of the Alamo and the massacre at Goliad. He becomes friends with Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie, and he confronts both Captain Urrea (General Urrea’s nephew) and General Santa Anna multiple times. In short, it’s an unbelievably adventurous tale with barely room to breathe and turn the page between major historical events for all of which Ned has a ringside seat and a major part to play.

Ned is brave, somewhat hot-tempered, but wise beyond his years. Santa Anna and almost all of the Mexican officers are portrayed as courageous, but also cruel, deceitful and vain. The Texans are woefully outnumbered, but they are sure the righteousness of their cause will enable them to prevail. Even Ned’s horse is a heroic figure, responding to Ned’s least command and helping Ned to escape his enemies more than once.

OK, it sounds totally hokey. It is definitely one-sided. The Mexican peasants in Santa Anna’s army are dupes and ignorant cannon fodder. The Texans are all brave and honest and true. Nevertheless, the more I read the more I enjoyed this un-nuanced, bigger than life version of the pivotal events of Texas history. After all, it’s a good thing to know the myth before (if) you start debunking it. And Santa Anna was a villain.

The same, mostly homeschooled, boys and parents who have made a market for G.A. Henty’s historical fiction accounts of boyhood bravado in the midst of historical events would love these books, too. Altsheler’s Texan series is available in paperback reprint editions at Amazon and since it’s no longer subject to copyright it’s also available for various eReaders. His other series set during the Civil War, the French and Indian War, and other places and times on the American frontier are also available.

Especially if you have boys to please, I recommend you check one out from the library and try it. The language is early twentieth century, but not too difficult. Maybe read aloud at first and stop at a strategic moment. (Yes, I have been known to pull such tricks.) You might inspire a boy to become a brave, independent, resourceful (Texan) patriot.

Other Texas-themed posts from around the web this week:
Gautami Tripathy reviews Lonestar Secrets by Collen Coble.
Melissa Wiley on The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly, a juvenile fiction title which takes places on a Texas pecan farm.
Melissa at Book Nut interviews Jacqueline Kelly.
Jen Robinson reviews The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill Alexander.

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