Blessed McGill by Edwin Shrake: A Short Review

On my last visit to Killeen, Texas, Patrick Anderson, of Texas Overlooked Books,  strongly recommended I read a book by Edwin Shrake entitled Blessed McGill.  Respecting the opinion of my well-read, book-loving friend, I ordered the book from Barnes & Noble (J.M. Hardy Publishing). I found this a most enjoyable read, and if you like Texas history, you will too. A.C. Greene (the Dean of Texas Letters ) rated this book as one of the 50 best books on Texas.

The novel is one of those you read that if you didn’t know it was a novel you would swear that it was a true story.  Edwin Shrake is a skilled writer. This novel has an edge to it, with a naturalistic style and strength that reminds me of Cormac McCarthy.  It is written in first person, and if you like chasing words and historical events, people, folklore,  and Native American information–including the border tribes, the Comanches, the Lipan Apaches–the novel is so rich in these details that  you will have a fine and rewarding time as Shrake takes you into terrain–both inner and outer–that you never dreamed existed.  The book is definitely a vocabulary builder. The themes are the eternal ones that never fail to move us, exploring dimensions of death, love, revenge, greed, and adventure that made it hard for me to put the novel down once I started. Shrake himself is a fascinating individual

To close, there are so many great lines in the novel that I don’t know which to list, but here are a few:

“My father told me that birth is real, death is real, and all between is a game.  It is hard to quarrel with that” (3).
“Some time after that I had the pleasure of skinning Chinaman-face, who was alive when I began but of course did not survive the project” (55).
“Boy,” my father said to me, “it is too nice a day to spoil it by beating you for your ignorance and lack of respect” (21).

A Prose Poem by Jody McMaster

Here’s a good poem  of the War Between the States, written by a good friend in the Nicholson (Ruston) SCV camp:

Call to Arms

As my eyes survey the haunting landscape set before me, my ears give a hearing to the late, ancestral cries for freedom. Cries to be liberated, cries for emancipation, and a cry for exemption from the absolution of the oppressive powers that bound once free men.

A whole world interrupted. I see men lying in pools of blood. Their dying words still give cry even today in the hearts of Southerners alike. Deo Vindice! Deo Vindice! It is that blood-drenched soil that gives life to every living, breathing thing birthed from this our native “Dixie.”

“Look there, do you see? Do you see the rebel soldier in his tattered vestments?” His battle-bruised body tired and weary from his seemingly endless journey. Yet victory is the life-blood that fuels his inner man. He can smell it, he can taste it, it is the task that has been set before him.

The sound of the cannons roar past me as I close my eyes for a moment. Johnny Reb falls at my right, he falls at my left, all around me the ghosts of my forefathers once again fall to the lot of their final resting places. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. I remind myself that this grassland is sacred, as I gently step.

Step- over hundreds of lives. Lost to a cause that is dying. The same cause that gave birth to pride. A whole world that wanted only to exist in itself. In the boundless rows of cotton fields,  in the alleyways of the towering Oak trees, and in the life-giving blood that pumped through the veins of every man, woman and child “Dixie” called her own.

I hear a different sound now. Reverberating through the honeysuckle, through the magnolias, and down through the corridors of time. It is “Dixie.” Rendering certain that she now cradles our lost loved ones in the warmth of her fertile, blood bought soil.

It is the sweet sound of “Dixie” that they will forever hear. Resounding in the breeze that blows through the moss in the trees, and down through the hallways of every grand plantation still standing proud in all her glory! For she bore the backbone of this wonderful land; the Southern people.

Let us never forget those whose lives were short-lived. Sacrificed. Lives given for this rich heritage that still runs through my veins, your veins. We are one; you know, me, you, and Johnny Reb? Listen for a moment- to the rebel yell. Can’t you hear it? Loud above all else! May it forever lead us into battle! God bless Dixie!

Here’s a photo of Jody McMaster, the poet.

Jody McMaster

Jody McMaster