I’ve only hinted at it before, but you should know that I’m a Texas Girl, through and through. While I may not agree with everything my state has done, I love living here.
I’ve lived in Texas my whole life, having been born and raised in San Antonio before moving on to attend college in Austin and eventually settling in Houston. To me, “barbecue” means brisket and a “cookout” means the event where you eat barbecue. I say “y’all” and I don’t care if you think it’s cute or not. I’ll take Whataburger over any other fast food joint any day of the week. I think winter is two or three weeks in January where the temperature may dip below 40 degrees. There’s nothing I love more than a Texas thunderstorm. I love to go camping under the Texas night sky with plenty of food, beer, and ghost stories.
But of course you already know how much I love ghost stories. Especially Texas ghost stories.
March has always been a big month for Texas. After months of conflict, 1836, Texas officially declared its independence from Mexico on March 2, 1836 (I’m not going to get into the particulars of this conflict because smarter people than me have written tons of books on the subject). This was a momentous occasion; one that the early Texans hoped would be the first step on the path to becoming an autonomous nation.
But things did not go smoothly. On March 6 of that same year, the small group of Texans defending the Alamo fell to General Santa Anna’s forces. On March 11, Sam Houston began his retreat from Gonzales and evacuated the town of Texas settlers in order to get them to safety. On March 27, 400 Texans were executed under orders from General Santa Anna, an event that came to be known as the Goliad Massacre.
Texas eventually won its independence until April 21, 1836, after a long a bloody revolution. But that didn’t help to calm things down. No, the Texas Revolution was just one of many violent, chaotic points in Texas’ past, present, and future.
With all that warfare, all that death and bloodshed, all that upheaval, it’s no wonder that Texas has an expansive tradition of ghost stories. Texas’ eerie folklore is further enriched by the different cultures and conflicts that have defined its long history.
One notable ghost story is La Llorona, the ghost woman who weeps eternally for the children she drowned. Children who have the misfortune of encountering La Llorona will be drowned by the ghost. Another is the story of the train tracks outside of San Antonio, where if you park your car on the tracks, the ghosts of children killed in a crash on that very spot will push your car over and away from the tracks. And then there’s the Texas Governor’s mansion, where the ghosts of a Texan scout and a Comanche young woman roam the grounds. They were forbidden from marrying. The father of the Comanche woman killed the scout to prevent the union, and in her despair, the Comanche woman killed herself so she could reunite with her love.
In order to contemplate and reflect upon Texas’ intricate ghost story tradition, I wanted my month’s reading list to read about the violence that carved much of Texas and the American South West into the states we know them today. I also wanted to revisit the ghost stories that have shaped my identity as a Texan, if only in small ways.
So here are my picks for this month! It’s a shorter list than usual, but that’s mostly Cormac McCarthy’s fault (I’ll explain below).
- Ghost Stories of Texas by Jo-Anne Christensen
I’m so glad I found this book! It has 63 ghost stories ranging from the haunted but luxurious Driskill Hotel to the weirdly acrobatic Marfa Lights. I love how this book covers all of Texas, major cities and small towns included. And it promises to deliver “a wealth of spine tingling stories of the supernatural.”
As I flipped through the table of contents, I recognized a lot of the titles as either established Texas ghost stories or more universal ghost stories and urban legends but with a Texas twist. While I was mostly hoping for the former, I suspect it will be fun to see how the story of “Bloody Mary” gets a Texas twist.
While it doesn’t have any awesome, super-creepy illustrations, I think it will make a great addition to my collection of ghost stories, which includes the Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark series. I hope this book proves to be a great resource for some upcoming camping trips. And for any little kids I want to scare in the future.
- Blood Meridian, or The Evening Redness In The West by Cormac McCarthy
Not all ghost stories have to be traditional ghost stories. The past can be its own ghost story, especially when the present is haunted by the specter of old evils and historic atrocities. To that end, Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, or The Evening Redness In the West does a good job of conjuring up a very different kind of Texas ghost story.
Now, I know some people might get a little testy at the idea that Cormac McCarthy’s iconic novel is a horror novel, but hear me out. Yes, I know that McCarthy is widely regarded as a giant in modern American literature, having one the National Book Award and the Pulitzer, as well as a MacArthur Fellowship for good measure. His work is associated more with lofty ideas about the human condition and less with things that go bump in the night.
However, McCarthy writes about plenty of disturbing, scary topics. Child of God is the excruciating and often sad story of a necrophiliac serial killer living on the edge of society. The Road followed a father and son duo as they struggled to survive in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, flee from bands of baby-eating cannibals, and stumble upon houses where tortured, half-eaten travelers are kept in a locked basement.
In Blood Meridian, McCarthy weaves a dense and lurid tale about how the west was really won—through barbaric, senseless violence. The unnamed protagonist, known only as The Kid for most of the novel, joins a gang hired by the Mexican government to collect Apache scalps. Since the men are paid based on the number of scalps they deliver, the gang decides to begin killing any and all Native Americans they encounter. Led by a massive, oddly hairless, terrifying man named The Judge, the gang stalks the countryside in search of blood and gold, spreading death and depravity. Like a great curse, the men maim and murder their way through Texas all the way to California, leaving literal heaps of dismembered bodies in its wake. They are unstoppable.
And they love it. The more they kill, the more frenzied and wild they become. They are not violent, they are violence. They do not make war, they are war. As McCarthy wrote, “Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner.”
The best part? The Judge may or may not be human. Even after reading Blood Meridian, I wasn’t sure who or what the Judge was other than supremely evil.
If it were ever made into a movie, Blood Meridian would not be a western. It would be a horror film.
I’m a huge fan of McCarthy, and even I had a hard time getting through this book on my first time. The descriptions are vivid and the violence is gruesome. The whole experience is intense. I’ve wanted to read it again for a while now, and now seems like a good time. I fully anticipate Blood Meridian being as dense and challenging a read as before, which is why I have only two books on my list this month.
Happy reading and Happy Texas Independence!