A Truly Honest Biography –
Rare Texana and
Review of Unbridled Cowboy
by K.K. Searle
I enjoy an “honest autobiography” more than just about any other type of literature and of course I enjoy real Texana. Joseph B.Fussell gives us just such an autobiography in his memoirs entitled Unbridled Cowboy.
In his forward, Fussell describes most other autobiographies with exceptional accuracy, " In reading memoirs, I find, almost invariably, the writer seems to think he has accomplished something really worthwhile in his life and wants the reading public to know about it." Joseph Fussell does not become the owner of a great ranching syndicate or the president of a railroad company. But, He gives us an incredibly honest history of his life and some amazingly vivid snapshots of Texan and American cultures that existed at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century that no longer exist.
He writes his memoir from the perspective of a young man working as a cowboy on the Texas and Mexico border. Later we find him working undercover for the Texas Rangers (in the era of the mythic Texas Rangers). Still later we find him working as a railroader switching cars and finally as a yardmaster in a railroad career spanning the southwestern and western United States in the heyday of steam. That someone at his level in our society in that day would commit to paper such accurate observations is very unique.
Along the way, he provides detailed descriptions that Mark Twain would have been proud of. In one example he describes a particular honky-tonk this way, "The orchestra was composed of a white man, a white woman, a Mexican, and a Negro. Usually, about two hours after the dancing began, some members of the orchestra would be drunker than a billed owl, but the dance went on even if all four were drunk, for someone was found who played a harmonica."
In another he describes the meals cooked for him by a Mrs. James, "Of all the meals I have ever eaten in any hotel dining room, restaurant, boardinghouse, or private home, I never had anything better than she put before her boarders. I think that lady had an insatiable desire to kill and cook all the chickens in the world. She could think of more ways to cook a chicken than a farmer can to whip a mule."
How honest is honest? A friend of Fussell's is brutally murdered by nine assailants in Mexico and Fussell barely escapes himself. Fussell then gives us the cold, calculated and graphic details of his revenge killings of the nine. Real eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth stuff.
With a Twain like wit, Unbridled Cowboy provides rare glimpses of a Texas and an America that we can now only see through the eyes of Joseph B. Fussell. Whether he thought so or not, Joseph B. Fussell "has accomplished something really worthwhile." Get it. Read it. Enjoy it for all its worth!
E.R. Fussell, Joseph's grandson, deserves some credit here as well. He has shared with us a great memoir that previously was only known to his family. Unbridled Cowboy is published by Truman State University Press, copyright 2008, and is available from Amazon.com.