By LARRY M. JONES
On July 31, Somerville County lost a longtime resident, and Texas lost what may be one of her most beloved and respected authors.
A literary icon and the revered “Dean of Texas Letters,” John Alexander Graves III passed away at his home near Glen Rose.
I was still in high school when I first heard of John Graves. In 1960, my parents purchased his first and most-acclaimed literary work, “Goodbye to a River,” an epic tale about a 175-mile canoe trip down the Brazos River. Excerpts of his award winning essay were first printed in Holiday magazine, and then later released as a book by Knopf Publishing in 1960.
Embarking Nov. 11, 1957, on his famous adventure, he put in just below Possum Kingdom Dam, with his route passing by the “Pore Farm” in late November or early December 1957. Plans were in place to build a series of dams along this stretch, and he wished to visit this beautiful part of the Brazos River one last time.
Having grown up on the beloved Brazos, I scrutinized every word in his book. Although I’d never paddled a canoe nor owned a dachshund puppy (his companion for the trip), I identified with every detail he described with his eloquent literary style. Mr. Graves’ unique writing is a bit difficult for the average person to appreciate. As my wife Helen, an English and speech major in college, remarked, “His writing raises the bar to a higher level of sophistication.”
Although “Goodbye to a River” was his first and most-acclaimed book, he wrote 12 others, along with innumerable magazine articles. I’ve read that John lamented that his productivity as a writer was hampered by his devotion to other interests and love for his 400-acre homestead near Glen Rose, where he and his wife of 54 years raised their two daughters.
John Graves was born and raised in Fort Worth. He graduated from Rice University and in 1942 joined the Marine Corps. As an artillery officer he was seriously injured by a Japanese grenade during the battle for Saipan. After the war, he lived abroad following in Hemmingway’s footsteps, earned a master’s degree from Columbia University, but finally found his roots upon returning to Texas to write.
In 2005 at a meeting of Friends of the Brazos, a conservation group active primarily in Hood and Somerville counties, I was fortunate enough to meet and visit with Mr. Graves. He proved to be one of the most charismatic men I’ve known. I later corresponded with him by mail.
During our visit, I told him that I had written several newspaper columns about the Brazos, and he graciously said that he would like to read them. In a letter I received, he later allowed that we were much alike in that both of us were pessimistic about stopping civilization’s encroachment on our watersheds. Yet, he affirmed in his letter of Nov. 23, 2005, that “if he were younger and more active, he’d pile on whole hog …”
What a fitting tribute to name the magnificent stretch of the Brazos flowing through Palo Pinto and Parker counties, the “John Graves Scenic Riverway” in honor of such a kind, humble, and gracious gentleman. May his legacy continue to live on in the hearts of fellow Texans.
Larry M. Jones is a retired Navy commander and aviator who raises cattle and hay in the Brock/Lazy Bend part of Parker County. Comments may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.