Synopses & Reviews
Before he became America's foremost landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) was by turns a surveyor, merchant seaman, farmer, magazine publisher, and traveling newspaper correspondent. In 1856-57 he took a saddle trip through Texas to see the country and report on its lands and peoples. His description of the Lone Star State on the eve of the Civil War remains one of the best accounts of the American West ever published. Unvarnished by sentiment or myth making, based on firsthand observations, and backed with statistical research, Olmsted's narrative captures the manners, foods, entertainments, and conversations of the Texans, as well as their housing, agriculture, business, exotic animals, changeable weather, and the pervasive influence of slavery. Back and forth from the Sabine to the Rio Grande, through San Augustine, Nacogdoches, San Marcos, San Antonio, Neu-Braunfels, Fredericksburg, Lavaca, Indianola, Goliad, Castroville, La Grange, Houston, Harrisburg, and Beaumont, Olmsted rode and questioned and listened and reported. Texas was then already a multiethnic and multiracial state, where Americans, Germans, Mexicans, Africans, and Indians of numerous tribes mixed uneasily. Olmsted interviewed planters, scouts, innkeepers, bartenders, housewives, drovers, loafers, Indian chiefs, priests, runaway slaves, and emigrants and refugees from every part of the known world—most of whom had "gone to Texas" looking for a fresh start. He also observed the breathtaking arrival of spring on the prairie and the starry nights that seemed to prove the truth of the German saying “The sky seems nearer in Texas.”
“One of the 50 best books of all time on the American West.”—True West True West
“The peculiar institution was more peculiar in Texas than in other states, and Olmsteds eye for the weirdness makes Journey, a page turner. So does his use of sprightly travelogue to make the serious argument that slavery was ruining Texas. . . . Olmsteds word portraits of mid-19th-century Texas are as good as the best modern travelogues.”—Debbie Nathan, Texas Observer Debbie Nathan
“Olmsteads appeal was attributable to his readable and unvarnished reportage of places and events to which few Easterners had direct access. . . . [It] provides a credible glimpse of life in Texas in the mid-1850s, as well as insights into the contemporary debate over the institution of slavery. . . . The late A.C. Green found Olmsteads account sufficiently engaging to include it in his original 50 Best Books on Texas in 1982, and it remains a basic source for historians of the region and the period.”—Southwest Book Views Southwest Book Views
About the Author
Witold Rybczynski is the Meyerson Professor of Urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania. His books include the J. Anthony Lukas Prize winner A Clearing in The Distance: Frederick Law Olmsted and America in the Nineteenth Century and The Perfect House.