Best Texas books: Who is Homer Thornberry?


“Homer Thornberry: Congressman, Judge and Advocate for Equal Rights.” Homer Ross Tomlin. TCU Press. Sandwiched between Lyndon Baines Johnson and J.J. “Jake” Pickle, Austin’s U.S. Congressman was Homer Thornberry, whose full story begged to be told. That duty was taken up by his grandson, Homer Ross Tomlin, an elegant writer who covers his grandfather’s early years in Austin — the son of deaf parents who taught at the Texas School for the Deaf — his service on the Austin City Council, in the Texas Legislature, as Travis County District Attorney, in the U.S. Navy, as Congressman before becoming a federal judge, whom Johnson nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court. Thornberry was deeply involved in the big stories of the day, including civil rights. There’s also a lot of Austin history here. Expect an interview with the author in the coming months. Tomlin appears at BookPeople on Aug. 27


“Rounded Up in Glory: Frank Reaugh: Texas Renaissance Man.” Michael R. Grauer. University of North Texas Press. We wanted to learn more about Frank Reaugh (pronounced ‘Ray’), the “Dean of Texas Painters.” Best known for his pastel depictions of the West, he straddled the artistic trends of two centuries and two continents, since he trained in Europe and his landscapes owe a good deal to Impressionism and post-Impressionism. In 1890, he settled in the Oak Cliff part of Dallas and he became one of the prime movers of that city’s art scene, mentoring the next generations of painters. He also was an inventor and photographer. The author is a curator at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon and he wrote the companion book to the recent Ransom Center exhibit of Reaugh’s work. This volume fills out the personal canvas.


“Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” Jayme Lynn Blaschke. History Press.” Is there a Texan over a certain age that doesn’t know the outline of this story, retold in magazines, musicals and movies? Sheriff protects longtime country bawdyhouse outside La Grange, run by classy, sassy Madam Edna Milton. It then is closed after a big-city media campaign coupled with some political maneuvering. Enterprising journalist and author Jayme Lynn Blaschke has done some more digging, however, and added some twists to the tale, including an intriguing conspiracy angle. He also thoroughly covers the afterlife of the story, and the ways that it has been misrepresented. Look at this: Former Lt. Gov. William P. “Bill” Hobby Jr. endorses this telling.


“Convict Cowboys: The Untold History of the Texas Prison Rodeo.” Mitchel P. Roth. University of North Texas Press. Running from 1931 to 1986, the Texas Prison Rodeo was like no other show in town. Professor and author Mitchel P. Roth, who teaches criminal justice and criminology at Sam Houston State University, devoted years to research in Austin and Huntsville in order to profile this, the first of the country’s prison rodeos. Some of the events staged in what would become a 30,000-seat stadium were mind-bogglingly dangerous and reflected an extreme prison state of mind. But Roth also looks at the Texas Prison Rodeo as pop culture. It attracted movie stars and pop musicians; it also took on meanings far beyond the Western ranch practices that spawned the first rodeos. By the way, the tradition continues at the Angola Rodeo at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, as recently recorded by American-Statesman writer Pam LeBlanc.


“West Texas Middleweight: The Story of LaVern Roach.” Frank Sikes. Texas Tech University Press. The death of LaVern Roach, a middleweight boxer from Plainview, on Feb. 22, 1950, from injuries incurred — right in front of television audiences — changed what was then one of the two most popular sports in America. But there’s much more to the story. Telling it in his first book is Frank Sikes, whose family has hailed from Plainview — located between Lubbock and Amarillo — for three generations. Roach boxed in the military and rose through the sport’s ranks to be named Rookie of the Year in 1947. He was a top contender for the world championship. Sikes was lucky to land legendary boxing authority Angelo Dundee for one of his key sources. Takes the reader back to a time when boxing was part of everyday life.


“Shooting for the Record: Adolph Toepperwein, Tom Frey and Sharpshooting’s Forgotten Controversy.” Tim Price. Texas Tech University Press. Did Tom Frey play fast and loose when he broke Adolph Toepperwein’s aerial sharpshooting record? The elder marksman (1869-1962), who grew up in the Boerne area and entertained the country with his markswoman wife, Elizabeth, had shot more than 72,000 little wood blocks thrown up in the air, missing only nine. In 1959, Frey missed six out of  100,010, but the conditions were different. Price, a freelance journalist who co-wrote “Texas Sports Trivia,” opens up a world of exhibition shooting that few probably knew existed with his careful exposition of the controversy.

Update: In the item about the middleweight boxer, the last name was wrong in an earlier post.