Duval: First Texan of Letters

Dobie’s Favorite Writer: John C. Duval
John C. Duval, First Texas Man of Letters: His Life and Some of His Unpublished Writings. By F. Frank Dobie with sketches by Tom Lea. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1939, 2nd edition, 1965. 105 pages.

John C. Duval, First Texas Man of Letters. By John Q. Anderson. Austin: Steck-Vaughn, 1967. 44 pages. (Southwest Writers Series).
While hardly the first Texan to compose written matter, John Crittenden Duval certainly was Dobie’s favorite in the Anglo tradition of telling the colonial and frontier tradition. His volume includes a biographical sketch, critical notes, a bibliographical essay, and eleven of his previously unpublished writings. He is most remembered now for three books based on his commentary of early times.
Duval (1816-1897) left college and arrived in Texas in 1835 after his rearing in Kentucky and Florida where his father would become judge and territorial governor. The governor was a source for Washington Irving, and Irving’s influence on the son is probable. He followed to Texas his brother Burr who would be killed at the Goliad Massacre although John escaped to tell the tale. Indeed in the summer of 1836, he published a short account in a Mississippi newspaper. He then studied engineering in Virginia and returned about 1845 to Texas to survey land, an occupation he plied for decades. He associated with Rangers Big Foot Wallace and Jack Hays and, although a Unionist, fought for Texas in the Civil War. During the War he began writing while in his 40’s.
Shortly after the War, he developed a sideline as a published writer through his Civil War re-acquaintance with T. A. Burke, a boyhood friend. Duval would publish three serials that eventually became the three books. First he offered Burke a serial “Jack Dobell; Or, A Boy’s Adventures in Texas.” Burke’s firm was the publisher for the Georgia government and the Georgia Methodist Church. “Jack Dobell” first found print in Burke’s Weekly, published from Georgia in 1867-68. “Jack Dobell was followed serially by the “Adventures of Bigfoot Wallace” and “The Young Explorers; Or, Boy-Life in Texas.” Burke issued Adventures as a book in 1870, and it has been re-published several times over the decades. Wallace was himself a noted frontiersman and raconteur of particularly good English, and he, like Duval, had lost family at Goliad.
Among his literary acquaintances were Mirabeau Lamar and O. Henry. His column in Burke’s found issuance as a booklet, Early Times in Texas, or the Adventures of Jack Dobell (Austin: Gammel, 1892 and later by the University of Nebraska Press, 1986). That was then sequelled in the 1890s by The Young Explorers, a fictionalized treatment of various tales intended for young readers. In some book editions Early Times was published (bound with) Young Explorers.
While arcane to more than some, Duval's work also is a genuine point in the development of Young Texana literature. - WH

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