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A Single Star and Bloody Knuckles

A Single Star and Bloody Knuckles
A History of Politics and Race in Texas

A new look at the last 150 years of Texas’s contentious political history, told decade by decade through the prism of the state’s famous, infamous, and unsung figures.

Series: The Texas Bookshelf

May 2021
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392 pages | 6 x 9 |

For John Nance “Cactus Jack” Garner, there was one simple rule in politics: “You’ve got to bloody your knuckles.” It’s a maxim that applies in so many ways to the state of Texas, where the struggle for power has often unfolded through underhanded politicking, backroom dealings, and, quite literally, bloodshed. The contentious history of Texas politics has been shaped by dangerous and often violent events, and been formed not just in the halls of power but by marginalized voices omitted from the official narratives.

A Single Star and Bloody Knuckles traces the state’s conflicted and dramatic evolution over the past 150 years through its pivotal political players, including oft-neglected women and people of color. Beginning in 1870 with the birth of Texas’s modern political framework, Bill Minutaglio chronicles Texas political life against the backdrop of industry, the economy, and race relations, recasting the narrative of influential Texans. With journalistic verve and candor, Minutaglio delivers a contemporary history of the determined men and women who fought for their particular visions of Texas and helped define the state as a potent force in national affairs.

  • Prologue
  • Chapter One. Remain Quietly: The 1870s
  • Chapter Two. Our Defective Plan: The 1880s
  • Chapter Three. Elites and Aliens: The 1890s
  • Chapter Four. The Bosses: The 1900s
  • Chapter Five. Legislative Rest: The 1910s
  • Chapter Six. The Second Coming: The 1920s
  • Chapter Seven. Black Blizzards: The 1930s
  • Chapter Eight. Beautiful Texas: The 1940s
  • Chapter Nine. I Have a Plaintiff: The 1950s
  • Chapter Ten. The Mink Coat Mob: The 1960s
  • Chapter Eleven. Bitten by the Political Bug: The 1970s
  • Chapter Twelve. The Sands Have Shifted: The 1980s
  • Chapter Thirteen. Reality Day: The 1990s
  • Chapter Fourteen. Smear Tactics: The 2000s
  • Chapter Fifteen. Total Command: The 2010s
  • Epilogue
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Photo Credits
  • Index

Bill Minutaglio is the author of several nonfiction books, including the first biography of George W. Bush, an account of the greatest industrial disaster in US history, and biographies of former attorney general Alberto Gonzales and writer Molly Ivins. He received a PEN Center Award for his coauthored book Dallas 1963, a chronicle of the events preceding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. His work has also been honored by the National Association of Black Journalists, and he was inducted into the Texas Institute of Letters. Minutaglio is a former clinical professor of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and reporter, columnist, and editor for the three largest newspapers in Texas. A former columnist for the Texas Observer, his writing has appeared in the New York Times, Esquire, Newsweek, the Washington Post, Texas Monthly, and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, among other publications.


“Smoothly tackling this near-herculean research task, [Minutaglio] keeps the sweat stains from showing and writes in prose as cool as a trout stream.”
New York Times

“What's striking about [A Single Star and Bloody Knuckles] [Minutaglio's] ability to resurrect not only the marquee names we would expect to find in a history of Texas politics (famous and infamous) but also fascinating names that have faded into the fog of history.”
Houston Chronicle

“[Minutaglio] delivers a vibrant political history of Texas from the 1870s to the 2020 presidential election...Minutaglio packs his brisk history with entertaining anecdotes...and keeps a close eye on the ways that Black and Latino voters have been marginalized by Texas power brokers. This is a rollicking and richly detailed portrait of the Lone Star state.”
Publishers Weekly

“A readable, even rollicking survey of a century and a half of political conflict...A Single Star and Bloody Knuckles does the vital work of presenting to a general audience a powerful argument for the centrality of race in the past, present, and future of Texas politics.”
Texas Monthly

“[An] engaging new work... A Single Star and Bloody Knuckles is a noteworthy, timely, and well-written addition to the continuing debates over politics and race in Texas.”
Lone Star Literary Life

“Bill Minutaglio is the ultimate spirit guide through the chaotic, raw, eternally grasping but occasionally semi-uplifting struggle for dominance in Texas. He has lived through and reported on many of the wild events and personalities that he has so elegantly depicted in this book. In the years to come A Single Star and Bloody Knuckles will be the go-to volume for readers who dare to peek under the hood of Texas politics to have a closer look at the driving pistons of money, power, and race that keep this infernal engine running.”
Stephen Harrigan, author of Big Wonderful Thing: A History of Texas

“Texas is a Southern state and a Western state, a populist state and a business state, an intolerant state and a diverse state. Nobody is better equipped to make sense of Texas in all its largeness and complexity than Bill Minutaglio. A Single Star and Bloody Knuckles is the best guide we have to the history of politics and race in Texas.”
Nicholas Lemann, Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, The New Yorker, and author of Transaction Man: Traders, Disrupters, and the Dismantling of Middle-Class America

“Ever hear of Jovita Idar, the young South Texas newspaper publisher who faced down a contingent of Texas Rangers? How about Norris Wright Cuney, the astute African American political activist from Galveston? Or the women’s rights activist Ellen Lawson Dabbs? Or Robert L. Smith of Waco, the last African American state legislator until Barbara Jordan was elected to the state senate nearly three-quarters of a century later? In this deeply researched, immensely readable history of race and politics in Texas, Bill Minutaglio resurrects these and other memorable Texans who deserve a more prominent place in the annals of the state. Minutaglio has always been an engaging writer, whether exploring the birth of the blues in Texas or re-creating for his readers the horrific 1947 dockside explosion in Texas City. In A Single Star and Bloody Knuckles, his masterpiece, he shifts history’s kaleidoscope, bringing to vivid life a revisionist view of the Lone Star State, a Texas most of us never knew.”
Joe Holley, author of Sutherland Springs: God, Guns, and Hope in a Texas Town

A Single Star and Bloody Knuckles may be the best book written about the intersection of race and politics throughout Texas history, an intersection in which racism put ambitious white politicians on the road to wealth and power while relegating Black and Mexican American Texans to second-class citizenship—or death. Bill Minutaglio knows where all the bodies are buried in Texas, the Black and Brown bodies victimized by the violence of lynching or by the Texas Rangers. He also knows Texas’s buried history, that history of racial exploitation, exclusion and, yes, execution that isn’t mythologized and burnished into legend.”
Cary Clack, San Antonio Express-News


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