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The history of a state as large and diverse as Texas is best understood in terms of its individual historic sites. From the Sabine River in the east to El Paso in the west, and from the Red River south to the lower Rio Grande Valley, Texas has hundreds of sites where important events and developments—wars, migrations, treaties, and inventions—took place. These sites include Native American rock shelters, French forts, Spanish missions, and more recent oil fields and farms. A number of these historic sites—for example, the Alamo—are world-famous, though others are known only to locals. Texans are notoriously proud of their colorful history. They study it from kindergarten through high school, and historic sites such as (again) the Alamo, San Jacinto Battlefield, and the state capitol are popular attractions for Texans of all ages.
In writing this book, however, we also wanted to be sure to include lesser-known sites such as the Alibates flint quarries or the silver mining town of Shafter. We'll wager that few Texans have even heard about, much less visited, several of the remote and little-known places we include in this book; however, their obscurity today does not diminish their importance to state history. In all, we document seventy-three locales, great and small, all across Texas. For each site, we give a brief historical background, offer related images from the past and present, and suggest sources for further reading. Some of these sites, like the Big Bend or Palo Duro Canyon, are normally known as scenic rather than historic sites. Nevertheless, we show that they also have very rich histories indeed.
It wasn't too difficult to write about these seventy-three historic sites thanks to the fine research facilities we were privileged to use, and the many trips we've been able to take to sites scattered around this great state. One thing that would be virtually impossible for most people to do, though, sets Historic Texas from the Air apart from any other book about Texas history. As this book's title implies, we were able to view the sites from the air, and to take photographs from that unique vantage point. We then carefully integrated the information revealed by those often spectacular aerial photographs in order to shed new light on Texas history. To further assist readers, we also included additional views of the sites, including the often overlooked but important historic postcards and maps that we found in archival collections.
To our knowledge, only one other book has explored Texas from the air—Texas—A Salute from Above by T. R. Fehrenbach (1985). Historian Fehrenbach, though, took a different approach than ours. His pictures were mostly of recent history, including suburbs and ranches. We, on the other hand, are solely interested in what aerial photos can tell us about Texas's long history, using them to reveal aspects of that history that are not visible from the ground. Fehrenbach was assisted by four fine photographers, but we have had only one, Jack Graves. He has proved to be not only a skillful aerial photographer, but also a well-informed historian, with an eye for both the facts and for the "feeling" that a photograph can convey about sites.
Fehrenbach's book was an early purchase for historical geographer Richard Francaviglia when he arrived at Texas in 1991. After many trips around Texas by air and on the ground in his role as director of UTA's Center for Greater Southwestern Studies and the History of Cartography, Francaviglia began to imagine a development of Fehrenbach's method like the one in the book that you now hold.
Another intellectual source for our work was material from three classes in the Department of History at UTA that Jack Graves took with Gerald Saxon, now Dean of Libraries at UTA, ten or so years ago. In his papers about Texas forts and Mexican War sites in south Texas and northern Mexico, Jack illustrated his work with remarkable black and white aerial photographs of the forts that he studied.
Jack's papers were thus another partial inspiration for this book, and so, too, was the arrival of Professor David Buisseret on the UTA campus in 1995. David had written the prize-winning book Historic Illinois from the Air in 1992. Now that he had become a Texan, we realized that a similar project would be perfect for the Lone Star State. All four of us met in 2002 to begin working out the details of the project, and were overjoyed that our vision was very similar. We realized that aerial views could help people understand Texas history from a geographical perspective. The photographs, we concluded, would have to be high resolution color images. In a sense, the photographs could be both maps and informative visual records of the landscape from the air. And we knew that supplementing them with real maps—either original historical maps or maps hand drawn for this volume—would help place the photographs in geographical space.
As the project came together, we realized that it was a bit grander, and more spectacular, than we originally envisioned. It called for lots of color and a big, horizontal format. But why not? Texas's size and diversity warrant that kind of ambitious treatment. We were overjoyed when the University of Texas Press agreed with our vision: a full color, coffee table-size book that also contains substantive historical interpretations of dozens of sites. The book you are about to read, then, represents the vision of four people who fervently believe that history and geography are inseparable. Throughout the project, we hope to show that the texture of Texas history varies from place to place and from region to region. We hope that readers enjoy Historic Texas from the Air as much as we enjoyed researching and writing it. More importantly, though, we hope readers learn as much about Texas history from these pictures as we did in putting this book together.
David Buisseret, Richard Francaviglia, Jack W. Graves, Jr., and Gerald Saxon
When Gerald Saxon first approached me about this project in the summer of 2002, I did not fully appreciate the wonderful opportunity or the many challenges that this "journey" would afford. It has been a great honor to work with the three authors—David Buisseret, Richard Francaviglia, and Gerald Saxon—on what is essentially a continuation of David's realization from his distant days in the Royal Air Force that aerial photography was "a field with fascinating possibilities for the historian." This book is a direct descendant of David's previous books, Historic Jamaica from the Air (1972, new edition 2001) and Historic Illinois from the Air (1992), and reflects the shared vision of the authors.
My involvement developed through a relationship formed with Gerald during three independent study classes—aerial photographic essays—he directed while I was completing a history requirement for the long delayed completion of my BA from the University of Texas at Arlington. The first two projects documented, from the air, battle sites in southern Texas and northern Mexico of the U.S.-Mexican War of 1846-1848, and the third project focused on U.S. military forts built on the north and central Texas frontier during 1849-1889. All three projects are currently cataloged in the special collections department at the University of Texas at Arlington library.
After several meetings to discuss our options and agree on a course of action, we developed a preliminary concept for the book and began the difficult task of deciding which historic sites to include. The possibilities in a state known for its size as much as for its rich and diverse history, seemed endless. Our list of choices would change numerous times before the project's completion.
One of the many challenges involved with any aerial photography project is capturing the "view" that the clients, or in this case the authors, are looking for. The authors' knowledge and ability to convey their vision of the various sites prior to the actual flight was critical. We developed a form for the authors to complete for each site that noted the description of the proposed photo, location, type (individual building, multiple buildings, landscape, ruins, etc.), orientation, identifying marks, other objects to be included or excluded in the photo, and remarks. In many cases the authors would make sketches and/or provide photos, maps, and drawings to help illustrate and/or define the view they were looking for. In a few instances we tried to replicate the exact view or direction depicted in an existing old photo or sketch. It was a challenging process, and I hope the reader can comprehend and appreciate the combined efforts involved.
The most difficult aspects of aerial photography are the limitations placed on the photographer by the site's fixed orientation on the ground, Mother Nature's influences, and the problems associated with shooting from a moving perch. In a studio environment, the photographer can move the subject, adjust the light, and shoot at ease from various stationary locations. For the aerial photographer, some days are perfect, some days are not, and you must adjust "on the fly" and deal with the unique situations each site and location presents. Heat, cold, wind, thermals, turbulence, smoke, haze, fog, clouds, sun, terrain, ground obstacles (towers, buildings, etc.), and FAA air space restrictions are just a few of the variables that we must deal with. On several flights we could not find the actual site on the first trip and had to do additional research and try again. Some sites no longer existed; others were just not impressive from the air and were eliminated from the final list. We also experienced the usual difficulties that plague personal flight, including weather delays, weather cancellations, and equipment problems.
I took the majority of the aerial photographs in this book between 2004 and 2006. However, several repeat flights were required due to weather problems and/or circumstances on the ground during the original flights that made it impossible to get good photographs. Some of these, and flights to a few additional sites, were not rescheduled until after the original draft of the book was completed in 2007 and early 2008. In all, I photographed 111 sites, some multiple times, to obtain the final 73 used in the book. It took 39 individual photo flights totaling 81.2 hours of flight time and covering approximately 7,846 miles. An additional 10 commercial flights totaling 4,840 miles and 9 road trips totaling 2,760 miles were required to complete the project, bringing the total distance traveled to 15,446 miles. I flew in fixed wing aircraft—Cessna 172 Skyhawks—for travel and photo flights in outlying areas, and Schweizer 300 and Robinson R22 helicopters for photo flights in the congested metropolitan areas of Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston.
I took a total of 4,176 individual photographs using a 35mm Canon EOS 1-N with either a Canon 70-200mm 2.8L zoom lens or a 24-85mm wide angle lens. I mostly used Kodak Professional Extachrome transparency film, E100VS, but on a few occasions I used Fujifilm Fujichrome color reversal film, Velvia 100F. Thanks go out to my good friends Perri Hughes and Stephen Miller at Barron Photografix, LTD in Fort Worth, who handled all film processing and gave valuable advice when needed.
There are a few pilots who can safely fly and take good photographs at the same time, but I'm not one of them. Even though I've been a fixed wing pilot since I graduated from high school, I always take along an experienced pilot to fly the plane while I concentrate on photography. I do not have my helicopter rating, so a pilot is a must when shooting from a helicopter. Most of the photographs were taken "low and slow," from 300-800 feet above the ground and at speeds of approximately 60-70 knots in the helicopters and 90-100 knots in the fixed wing aircraft, making the necessity for a seasoned pilot a critical safety issue.
I was fortunate to have a great friend and mentor, Francis (Frank) X. Cantwell, Lt. Col., USAF Ret., with me on just under half the photo flights. Frank's piloting skills and stamina were instrumental in getting many of these photographs done safely and on schedule. He was a pleasure to have along, and it would have been difficult to complete the project without his help—thanks Frank. Thanks also to pilots Jim Payton, Jordan Wagnon, and Peter Kendig, who were with me on numerous flights, and to those pilots I met and flew with only once: Suzy Azar, Gilbert Barth, Bill Brady, Patrick Davis, Domenick Galindo, Adan Garcia, Kim Hanley, Chris Newby, and Fernando Rodriguez. I would also like to thank State Marine Archeologist Steven D. Hoyt, of the State Historical Commission, for information regarding the Belle and his assistance in locating the actual site.
Again, thanks to David, Richard, and Gerald for the privilege of working with them on this book. The project was a unique opportunity to combine my interests in history, aviation, and photography into what I hope will be an enjoyable book. This was a once in a lifetime experience and an unforgettable way to see the great state of Texas.
—Jack W. Graves, Jr.