@Book{ howell2012,
	editor = {Kenneth W. Howell},
	title = {Still the Arena of Civil War: Violence and Turmoil in Texas, 1865--1874},
	address = {Denton},
	publisher = {University of North Texas Press},
	year = 2012,


Both in the Preface and in the editorial introduction, Howell argues that what followed the Civil War was a “War of Reconstruction” across the South, and that Texas was a particularly “unique” battleground in this war because it was “the most violent place in all the former Confederate states” (ix). “By the end of the Reconstruction era, Southerners were able to achieve through violence what they had not been able to achieve during the Civil War” (p. 1).

Historiographically, the volume follows the insights of George Rable and Allen Trelease about the pervasiveness and motivations for Reconstruction violence in the South, and also agrees with Gregg Cantrell that violence was “closely associated with political developments” (p. 9). The introduction also asserts that these historians have not told the whole story and that they miss “some of the nuances of violence in the state,” but to what extent is not always clear. Howell argues that the questions left unanswered by previous scholars include whether frontier violence affected federal policy, whether all regions of the state were equally affected, and whether there was violence that was not directly related to Reconstruction.

Several generalizations about violence in Texas drawn by Howell:

  1. A “violent political war” was fought between Democrats and Republicans, a conflict “very similar to those in other regions of the South, especially at the county level” (p. 15).
  2. A “violent race war was waged against people of color” (p. 17).
  3. These “hostilities often resulted from economic changes” (p. 21), a point consistent with moneyhon2004.
  4. Outlaw gangs committed much of the violence.
  5. “Frontier violence significantly impacted the Reconstruction process,” particularly becae because conflict between state and national leaders over how to deal with Indian raids drove a further wedge between Texas and federal government.
  6. “The Civil War did not end in 1865,” but instead entered a “second phase … which can be referred to as the War of Reconstruction.”

The most important additions made by this particular anthology, according to the editor, is that it “explains why certain regions in Texas tended to be more violent than others, as well as illustrates that frontier violence made Texas unique among the southern states in the post-Civil War years” (p. 24). It also includes a discussion of white violence towards Mexican Americans along the border. “Andrés Tijerina”reveals that Anglos resumed a war against Tejano landholders that predated the Civil War" (p. 27).


Part I: Representatives of Change

  1. bean2012 - Subassistant Commissioners and regional variations in violence
  2. richter2012 - Murder of Agent William G. Kirkman by Cullen Baker
  3. spurlin2012 - Military Occupation of Victoria and Calhoun, regional variation
  4. mccaslin2012 - William Longworth (no violence?)
  5. baum2012 - scalawag gang leader Ben Brown
  6. brice2012 - Texas State Police

Part II: Insurgents and Allies

  1. smallwood2012 - Klan in Texas
  2. moneyhon2012 - Klan as wing of Democratic Party, “politics of fear”
  3. orear2012 - Texas newspapers and reports on violence

Part III: Victims

  1. goodwin2012 - WPA narratives and memories of violence
  2. tijerina2012 - Anglo violence against Tejanos along the border
  3. kosary2012 - Sexualized violence against black men and women

Part IV: Regional Perspectives

  1. howell2012b - Frontier Violence and Throckmorton
  2. Kubicek and Scogin-Brincefield - LaVaca County
  3. gorman2012 - Violence in Lower Brazos Valley

Review for WHQ

Questions I have at beginning of book:

  1. Are freedpeople presented only as “victims” or also as actors? (see p. 68 and p. 72; 160, 161, 255, 388)
  2. Can the “unique” level of violence in Texas be demonstrated without comparative perspective of other states?
  3. If War of Reconstruction was a continuation of Civil War, is discussion of the Civil War itself in Texas necessary? (see p. 78; Baum also considers war years)

Review Draft

This valuable anthology offers one of the most comprehensive accounts to date of Reconstruction violence in the Lone Star State. Drawing primarily on the records of the Freedmen’s Bureau, newspapers, Works Progress Administration slave narratives, and county public records, fifteen well-researched essays demonstrate that “Texas was one of the most violent places in the South after the Civil War” (28).

The book’s contributors do more than simply catalog the pervasiveness of violence, however. First, they help to specify regional patterns in violent incidents. Christopher Bean, Charles Spurlin, John Gorman, and others explore why some counties were relatively more peaceful than others, pointing to demographic differences, economic conditions, and the strength of white terrorist groups like the Ku Klux Klan. Second, several authors identify significant variations among violent episodes; Rebecca A. Kosary’s excellent article, for example, notes that crimes against black freedwomen committed by more than one individual were frequently sexual in nature.

The anthology also places analyses of white violence against former slaves alongside episodes of frontier violence involving Anglo Texans, outlaw gangs, Tejanos, and Native Americans, revealing that local resistance to federal military occupation was in some places driven by these episodes as much as by hostility towards Radical Reconstruction. Finally, several chapters provide detailed studies of individual Freedmen’s Bureau agents and “desperadoes,” highlighting stories that do not fit easily into existing historiographical frameworks. For example, Dale Baum’s fascinating study of “scalawag” gang leader Benjamin Brown uncovers a man whose vigilante group initially protected freedpeople from white abuse but in so doing contributed to a climate of lawlessness and lynching that more often endangered people of color.

The strengths of the book do call attention to some neglected themes. Although individual chapters refer in passing to political organization by freedpeople and to local black leaders like George E. Brooks, people of color appear in the volume mostly as victims rather than actors with well-developed political visions, networks, and communities of their own. Editor Kenneth W. Howell and contributor James Smallwood also argue that postbellum Texas witnessed a “War of Reconstruction” that deserves to be seen as a virtual continuation of the Civil War, yet few chapters consider the nature of guerilla and organized violence in Texas during the war itself, leaving purported continuities between wartime and postbellum fighting under-analyzed. Similarly, while the preface asserts that Texas was “the most violent place in all the former Confederate states” (ix), more explicit comparisons between Texas and other states are needed to show that patterns of violence there were unique.

Nonetheless, if this anthology does not answer all the questions it raises, it should serve, in the editor’s words, as a “catalyst for future studies” (x).