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Texas Cooking Main > Texana > Texana Book Reviews

Through Time and the Valley


Original review by
When John Erickson rode down the Canadian River Valley on the 140-mile journey that was the basis of Through Time and the Valley, the year was 1972 and Erickson was 28 years old. The book was first published in 1978.

The author's preface to this new edition, published in 1995 by University of North Texas Press, is a thoughtful reflection on the effects of the passage of time, both on that piece of the Canadian he rode in 1972, and on himself. If you're like me, you'll read the preface, then the book, and then you'll eagerly reread the preface.

The Northeast corner of the Panhandle, where the counties are laid out in big squares, is a part of Texas that even many Texans haven't visited. It isn't really on the way to anywhere and, unless you were born there, have business there, or are curious and adventurous, it isn't likely you know the terrain. Find Hutchison, Roberts and Hemphill counties on any atlas and, even today, you'll be looking at more white space than lines.

Texas' Most Remote Valley

The big canyon country of the Canadian River Valley has been inhabited since ancient times by prehistoric peoples, Native Americans and, more recently, by the settlers and ranchers who were the forebears of those living there today. Many of those who went before left evidence of their passing, some tangible, like pottery shards and chimneys, and some existing only in the form of stories passed down by the generations. John Erickson thought all of this was worth writing about, and the result has become, in the words of Doris Meredith of The Bookman, "a kind of underground classic."

Notwithstanding the self-criticism in the preface by the mature writer of the young writer's work, this is a carefully crafted book, well-written and researched. The author covers familiar historical territory as the Battle of Adobe Walls, the site of which is an early stop on his trek, and Quanah Parker, as well as undocumented material known only to the locals, like the chapter on moonshining.

When federal Prohibition struck the Panhandle in the early Twenties, it raised hackles on the necks of a people who had already prohibited themselves as far as they cared to, and who more often than not regarded Washington as the seat of Yankee imperialism. One might say that liquor didn't seem quite as odious once the federal government had decreed against it. Those who had always opposed liquor in every form now found themselves caught between hatreds, unsure of which was more deserving of their anger, John Barleycorn or Woodrow Wilson. Those who had always enjoyed their whiskey could enjoy it more than ever now, as every swallow combined the glow of good liquor with an expression of agrarian anarchism.

Whether writing about starved-out ranchers, weary cowboys, pitching mules or grief-stricken women, John Erickson has written with sensitivity, humor and spot-on accuracy. His feel for the land is obvious.

Through Time and the Valley is a good book to own. Once read, it will bob around in your memory, and you'll find yourself wanting to pick it up from time to time in order to retune the vivid pictures created by the narrative.

Texas Rivers
230 pages
University of North Texas Press (October 1, 1995)
Purchase Book on Amazon.Com

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