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Texas Rivers

Texas Rivers

Two Texas artists -- one in words, one in photographs -- create a vibrant portrait of Texas's rivers.

January 2002
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144 pages | 11 x 11 | 80 color photos |

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In Goodbye to a River, John Graves defined what it means to know a river—as a real place, as a landscape of memory and imagination, and as "a piece of country, [that] hunted and fished and roamed over, felt and remembered, can be company enough." Readers who've taken the canoe trip down the Brazos with him have long wished to travel other rivers with John Graves. Those journeys now begin in Texas Rivers.

This book marries the work of two Texas legends. John Graves brings to Texas Rivers his ability to weave history, geography, and culture into a vibrant portrait of a land and its people. Through photographs of rare beauty, Wyman Meinzer reveals the rivers as few will ever see them in person, distilling decades of experience in capturing light on film into a tour de force presentation of Texas landscapes.

In essays on the Canadian, Pecos, Llano, Clear Fork of the Brazos, Neches, and Sabinal rivers, Graves captures the essence of what makes each river unique. While the Canadian is a river of the plains that runs through big ranch country, the Neches is a forest stream heavily impacted by human encroachment. The Llano and the Sabinal remain largely unspoiled, though the forces of change ebb and flow about them. The Pecos shows ripples of its Old West heritage, while the Clear Fork of the Brazos flows through country still living in those times. Meinzer's photographs offer a stunning visual counterpoint to Graves's word portraits, and, together, they show clearly that rivers have been central to the development of the unique character of Texas.

  • Introduction
  • The Canadian
  • The Lower Neches
  • The Pecos
  • The Llano
  • The Brazos Clear Fork
  • The Upper Sabinal
  • Bibliography

John Graves lives and writes in Glen Rose, Texas, in the Hard Scrabble country that has inspired so much of his work. A recipient of many honors for his writing (including a National Book Award nomination for Goodbye to a River), he is a former president of the Texas Institute of Letters and a past holder of a Guggenheim and a Rockefeller Fellowship.

Wyman Meinzer has published numerous books of photographs of Texas and has the distinction of having been named Texas State Photographer by the Texas Legislature. His work appears in magazines nationwide; he is a frequent contributor to Texas Highways and Texas Parks & Wildlife.


This book is not a comprehensive or even a representative study of Texas rivers. Both Wyman Meinzer and I have special interest in the western parts of the state, and five of the six chapters here are concerned with streams on the sunset side of the 98th meridian, which Walter Prescott Webb considered to be the dividing line between eastern and western ways of life. Our one river to the east of that line—nearly as far east as you can get without leaving Texas—is the Neches, which we chose because we both liked it and also, I suppose, in order to show that we knew there actually were rivers and people in other parts of the state....

The chapters, together with many of the photographs, were first published as a series of articles in Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine during a period of about three years. For use in the book, the sequence in which the articles appeared has been changed, and they have all been retitled and somewhat revised to make them fit together more meaningfully.

The main things that these rivers—some of them just sections of rivers—have in common is that they all flow within Texas, and that the country through which each one passes is typical of a distinctive part of the state. Those in the wide and varied region we call West Texas do share some historical memories from the eras of Indian warfare, northward trail drives, and so on, but the lands they drain, like the tone of their people's lives in the past and now, differ significantly, and in pictures and words we have tried to define some of those differences.

All the rivers too have suffered to some extent, often greatly, from modern mankind's manipulation and exploitation of their waters and their basins, and we have tried also to be honest about those matters.

Without the able help of a number of people, we would have had much skimpier knowledge to work with while producing the chapters and pictures in this book. It was heartening to find that every river and basin we chose to photograph and write about had its local enthusiasts, and that among these there was always at least one of scholarly bent who had delved deeply into the region's human and natural history and its lore. Some have written books that are listed in our bibliography. During much of my writing career I have been dependent on the insights of people like these, and I treasure them. They constitute one of the few remaining barriers against the deadly sameness that increasingly infests our world.

These friends willing to impart their knowledge and skills and perceptions to us are listed on the next three pages.

John Graves