Texana Classics III
Books that Matter in Editions That Inspire
Athanase de Mézières.
Athanase de Mézièrs and the Louisiana-Texas Frontier, 1768-1780: Documents Published for the First Time, From the Original Spanish and French Manuscripts, Chiefly in the Archives of Mexico and Spain. Edited and Annotated by Herbert Eugene Bolton. Cleveland: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1914. Two volumes: 351; 392 pp. Folding map. Two illustrations. Six facsimiles. Twenty-four cm. Cloth.
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Nowadays, few people, other than professional historians, are familiar with Athanase de Mézières (1719-1779) and Herbert Eugene Bolton (1870-1953). Yet, each man, in his own time and in his own way, made significant contributions to Texas. Although separated by hundreds of years, the two achieved a remarkable symbiosis. Rarely has any historian discovered a more fascinating subject or a richer grove of primary materials; seldom has any historical figure received the attention and interpretation of such an able scholar.
A Parisian by birth, Mézières arrived in French Louisiana in 1733, wed the daughter of trader and explorer Louis Juchereau de St. Denis, and spent the next half century in the frontier trading post of Natchitoches. During that time, he functioned as a soldier, trader, planter, and diplomat. In 1763, following the transfer of Louisiana to New Spain, he offered his services to the new regime and served the Spanish sovereign with the same ability, acumen, and zeal that he had rendered his French masters. No other contemporary knew more about Texas Indians or documented them with more care and sensitivity.
A native of Wisconsin, Herbert Eugene Bolton became one of the most influential American historians of his time. As a young man, he was a student of Frederick Jackson Turner (1861-1932) but came to reject many tenets of his mentor’s “Frontier Thesis.” As director (1916–1940) of the Bancroft Library, he guided it to a position as the principal center for research in Western and Latin-American history. While a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, he stressed the necessity to study the Americas as a whole. In 1932, he summarized this thesis in his presidential address to the American Historical Association under the title “The Epic of Greater America.” Bolton’s teachings heavily influenced many of his students, who regarded him as the “Father of Spanish Borderlands Studies”—now a major field under the umbrella of U.S. and Latin American history. While earning my Ph.D. at Texas Christian University, I studied with Professor Donald E. Worcester (1915-2003), who as a young man had been a Bolton student at Berkeley. Consequently, I consider myself (perhaps presumptuously) as one of Bolton’s intellectual grandchildren.
In 1914, while a professor at the University of Texas, Bolton published Athanase de Mézièrs and the Louisiana-Texas Frontier, 1768-1780 to great acclaim. This groundbreaking study included 252 documents written by or to Mézières that had never before seen the light of day in any language. In Basic Texas Books: An Annotated Bibliography of Selected Works for a Research Library, bibliophile John H. Jenkins said this of the book:
This work provides the best insight into the Indians of Texas during the period, and the Spanish and French activities among them … Bolton’s own contribution as editor included the gathering, translating, and editing of the documents, as well as a book-length introduction of 122 pages, of which J. Lloyd Mecham said: “Dr. Bolton has not only made available valuable documents in this carefully edited work, but he has also made a notable contribution to the literature of the field in his introduction to the documents. His most helpful service has been in the classification and location of the Indian tribes of Texas and vicinity.”
I could not agree more. I only wish that I had been aware of Bolton’s introduction when I was studying for my Spanish Borderlands written exam at TCU. In 1915, he published Texas in the Middle Eighteenth Century: Studies in Spanish Colonial History and Administration, which is also a fine work and one of Jenkins’s Basic Texas Books (BTB 20). Nevertheless, most general readers find his introduction in Mézières more accessible and concise.
In 1979, Kraus Reprint Company released a version in one combined volume. I own a copy of the reprint and it is perfectly serviceable for research purposes. Yet, there is no question that the 1914 Arthur H. Clark Company imprint is the most desirable edition. The twin volumes feature burgundy cloth boards with the title printed in gold on the spine and rough-textured, deckle edge pages that display a tasteful typeface. Solid and sensual, the book has a satisfying feel in one’s hands.
My set is in almost mint condition; inspecting it one could never guess that the book is more than one hundred years old. Thanks again to David Pratt for offering important volumes in impeccable shape.
Mézières and Bolton remind us that Texas had a rich and vibrant history—one that began long before 1836.