Rare Book Gets a New Life
Local group funds restoration of a rare book that was the basis for a Larry McMurtry novel
A rare book in Southwestern’s A. Frank Smith, Jr. Library has been restored, thanks to a donation from a local group that is devoted to historical preservation.
Kathryn Stallard, director of Special Collections, received a surprise phone call this spring from the Sage in Bloom Chapter of the Questers, which is one of the Sun City-based chapters of the international Questers organization. The group had visited the library last year for one of its programs and wanted to fund the restoration of a book. They had raised the money for the project by holding a fundraiser at Applebee’s Restaurant in Georgetown.
Stallard said she gave the group a choice of which book their donation would go toward, and they chose the first volume of a two-volume book by George Wilkins Kendall (1808-1867) titled Narrative of the Texas Santa Fe Expedition.
The book details an 1841 expedition from Texas to New Mexico that was billed as a commercial expedition to develop trade links, but was really a military expedition. The participants were captured by the Mexican army in New Mexico and marched to Mexico City, where they were held in prison until the United States secured their release the following year. Kendall was among those caught and imprisoned, as was Thomas Falconer (1805-1882), an Englishman who had gone along on the expedition as an observer.
Kendall’s book was first published in 1844. Southwestern owns an 1856 edition of the book that contains several additional chapters. It also includes a rare map of Texas, which Stallard said “significantly increases its value.” The map shows “herds of buffalo” just north of Austin, which was the starting point for the expedition.
The book is part of Southwestern’s Edward A. Clark Texana Collection. Southwestern also owns several letters that were written by Thomas Falconer while he was imprisoned in Mexico.
“The book and letters are frequently exhibits because it is such an interesting story,” Stallard said. Larry McMurtry used the story as the backdrop for his novel Dead Man’s Walk.
However, Stallard said, the book was in very poor condition. The binding was broken and the map had several tears in it. “It was really falling apart,” she said.
The timing of the Quester’s donation was perfect, Stallard says, because she had sent more books to the conservator that she had funds for. “I was going to have to hold back one piece,” she said.
The library received the restored book back in May. The second volume of the book was restored at the same time, so the entire set has now been restored.
A few members of the Questers got to see the restored book when they came to the library this spring to present their check.
“It looked quite different,” said Martha Knight, who serves as the group’s treasurer. “They did a marvelous job.”
Knight said her group will visit the library again next year to see the book.