By CLINT FOSTER and LIBBY CLUETT | Lone Star News Group
GLEN ROSE – Author John Alexander Graves III, whose authentic portrayals of rural Texas made him one of the state’s most celebrated and beloved writers, has died at the age of 92.
Graves’ death was announced Wednesday by W.K. “Kip” Stratton, president of the Texas Institute of Letters. Stratton wrote in an email to institute members that Graves died at his home near Glen Rose. He was just six days away from his 93rd birthday and had been in ill health before he passed.
Graves was a towering literary figure, best known for his 1960 book “Goodbye to a River.” Widely recognized as a classic, this memoir depicts a three-week, 175-mile canoe trip Graves took down the Brazos River with his dachshund.
Concerned the section of the Brazos from Possum Kingdom Lake to Granbury would be drowned by a proposed series of several dams, Graves’ set forth on his famous “farewell” canoe trip down the river during the fall of 1957, beginning just below Morris Sheppard Dam at Possum Kingdom.
In his narrative account, Graves shared his childhood memories of the free-flowing river and surrounding country, while mourning the loss of the river as he once new it and lamenting the future as plans to build dams and alter mass areas of land were in place at the time.
“Goodbye to a River” endured as one of the most widely read and acclaimed books about Texas and was nominated for a National Book Award.
Several years ago, after the state closed several mining operations that were damaging the Brazos River, the Texas Legislature passed a bill naming a 113-mile segment of the river, from Possum Kingdom Lake to Lake Granbury, the “John Graves Scenic Waterway.”
Graves also wrote “Hard Scrabble” in 1974 and “From a Limestone Ledge” in 1980. The books became known as his “Brazos Trilogy.”
“I think he and Rattlesnake Annie were instrumental in keeping them from damming the Brazos, between PK and Granbury [lakes],” said Lela Abernathy, a journalist, poet and fifth-generation Palo Pinto County resident.
“He’s a good writer; he says a lot with few words. He’s my favorite Texas author and his narratives were written from scholarly, historical and naturalist points of view – and he was well-versed in all three fields.”
Author Gerald Warfield said Graves is synonymous with other well-known naturalist writers that helped define regions of the United States.
“For me, there are writers that are identified with different parts of the country – John Muir [for California’s Sierra Nevada mountains] and Henry Beston, who painted beautiful word pictures of Cape Cod – but this was our man,” he said. “This was our representative for the natural wonders of this part of the country to the rest of the world.”
“He was the guy who represented us beautifully,” added Warfield, explaining that parts of Texas are “kind of sparse at times and Graves painted the best of this area. The way that he represented the Brazos watershed, he really lifted that out as the jewel of this part of the country.”
Joyce Rochelle is the owner of Rochelle’s Canoe Rental, on the Brazos River, a business started by her late husband Harlan’s grandparents in the 1920s. Although she never met Graves, she recalled Graves “came by here several times and visited with our grandparents, while writing [‘Goodbye to a River’].”
When asked if the award-winning narrative of the Brazos River has impacted her business over the years, Rochelle replied, “Oh, definitely. People buy the book and read about the area and that entices them to come out to the area.”
“His name is a public sentence at this place because so many people are interested in the history of the river – there’s a lot to it,” she said, noting the river’s historical and archeological connection to Native Americans.
“There are hundreds of customers who come out and said they read the book and now they want to see the beauty of the river,” Rochelle added.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.