Texas Myths and Legends
Guilford: Lone Star Books, 2016.
200 pp. $15.99 paper.
Bigfoot, chupacabra, buried treasure, ghosts and more are investigated in Donna Ingham’s Texas Myths & Legends: The True Stories Behind History’s Mysteries. Using interviews, historical documents, and oral traditions, Ingram combines fourteen of the most prevalent myths and legends in Texas history and not only tells the stories, but attempts to explain what is actually occurring or disprove them completely. The stories span the entire state, ranging from the Gulf Coast with tales of treasure buried by Jean Lafitte, to West Texas and the famous Marfa lights, and from a love story in the Texas Panhandle to South Texas and the execution of Chipita Rodriguez.
As with most stories passed down from generation to generation, many of the tales in Texas Myths & Legends have evolved through the years, taking on new meaning depending on the group telling the story or the lesson the storyteller is attempting to convey. Ingram does an exceptional job in compiling multiple versions of each tale in an effort to tell not only the most popular versions of these myths, but to give readers a sense of the stories’ origins. This is particular evident when examining ghost stories passed down through various Native American tribes, each culture adding its own meanings and lessons to the same legend. For example, when writing about Enchanted Rock, Ingram leads with the most common tale regarding how John Coffee Hays singlehandedly held off a band of Comanche warriors for nearly three hours because they were afraid to climb to the summit of the mountain out of fear of the spirits living inside. She then goes into detail recounting alternate versions of the same tale. These stories span multiple cultures and feature various spirts who inhabit Enchanted Rock, speak of the magical powers of the rock itself, or tell tales of heroes saving captives from human sacrifice. Others focus on the numerous haunted locations around Texas from the herds of gigantic ghost buffalo that roam the plains to the countless haunted buildings in San Antonio and across the state.
Although not a historian, Ingram does well explaining or dispelling each myth by using historical records and (when applicable), news stories and eyewitness accounts. This research can be seen throughout, but are especially obvious during the sections on bigfoot, chupacabra, and the Marfa lights. These three tales have grown so popular that studies on them is in no short supply. Several news stations have run stories about the chupacabra and have even solicited DNA testing from Texas A&M on samples taken from a suspected creature to determine exactly what the chupacabra is. Research from the Texas Bigfoot Research Conservancy (TBRC) has examined stories and eyewitness accounts in an attempt to determine if bigfoot really exists in the forests of Texas, and investigations have been conducted by the U.S. Air Force trying to disprove the Marfa lights. Most of the time Ingram has done a thorough job in researching the possible explanations of these legends, but occasionally the information seems lacking. It could be due to a general absence of scientific evidence explaining away ghost stories, but more care was certainly taken to disprove some of the stories than others.
Overall the book is reminiscent of a collection of episodes from the popular 1990s TV show Unsolved Mysteries; some of them, such as the Marfa Lights, were even featured on the show. The myths are presented in sufficient detail to engage readers and keep them interested in the story, while the explanations are largely well researched and seem plausible enough to be satisfying. The book is well written and reads easily. It is certainly not a history book as far as the research is concerned, but it is accessible to anyone interested in the spooky side of the Lone Star State. Texas Myths & Legends is a fun book that is sure to challenge anyone’s preconceptions of hidden treasures, mythical beasts, or the supernatural.
Adam Clark recently earned his MS in geography from Texas State University, where he focused on environmental geography and the various lasting implications tropical storms have on the Gulf Coast region. He is also the web master for Texas Books in Review and has helped bring the journal online.