The History Press
August 7, 2023
ISBN-13: 978-1467154345; 176 pages
No place on Earth is without flaws, and Texas, as large and as larger than life as it is, is no exception. Texas history is rich and varied. It undoubtedly contains people and events that many Texans would rather forget or probably never learned about in the first place. When the grotesque, illegal, and unjust are purposely forgotten, each generation is presented with an incomplete or distorted history lesson.
Tell-Tale Texas: Investigations in Infamous History by E.R. Bills is an exploration of the seedier side of Texas, both past and present. From post-Civil War lynchings and other slaughters of Texans of color to the ongoing murders, suicides, and sexual harassment at Fort Cavazos (formerly Fort Hood) near Killeen, Texas, this book will leave many readers angry; uncomfortable; and, hopefully, curious enough to initiate their own research. The author has conducted thorough examinations, with notes and bibliography at the end, and holds nothing back when relaying historical facts across each chapter, including several public domain and personal photographs throughout.
Tell-Tale Texas is filled with accounts of racially charged vigilantism and bloodshed; however, some chapters show people simply attempting to obscure nonracial history that portrays them in a less than rosy light. For example, in chapter 8, “The Disinherited,” Bills discusses The Inheritors, written in 1940 by Fort Worth native James Young Phillips under the pseudonym Philip Atlee, “the greatest Texas writer that most Texans have never heard of.” Finding a copy of Atlee’s book today is next to impossible because most have disappeared, are sold for a high price, or are kept under lock and key. Another example is found in Chapter 2; the title “For Whom the Oil Tolls” says it all. It is no secret that oil has always been big business in Texas, but this chapter shines an accusatory light on just how far big businesses have gone and will go to keep that cash cow fat and happy.
While the book is not primarily a political commentary on the Lone Star State, some political views are naturally present. In Tell-Tale Texas and his other works over the years, E.R. Bills never shies away from exposing the sordid and often bloody details, even when they are buried deep in the heart of Texas. If the truth about Texans and Texas is to be found, he will doggedly pursue it. The accounts in this emotionally charged book might be difficult to accept or perhaps even read, especially for those with an abundance of lopsided state pride. However, one thing is crystal clear: As the author presents information about sullied people, places, and events, his compassion for the victims and for Texas at large, and his own activism and dogged quest for the truth, are beacons of hope and a call to action. With the current heated debate over selective history and education, Texas history, in all its famous and infamous glory, should never be forgotten, concealed, or altered to fit anyone’s preferred narrative.
E. R. Bills is a best-selling, award-winning author and freelance journalist. His nonfiction works include Texas Obscurities: Stories of the Peculiar, Exceptional and Nefarious (2013), The 1910 Slocum Massacre: An Act of Genocide in East Texas (2014), Texas Far and Wide: The Tornado with Eyes, Gettysburg’s Last Casualty, the Celestial Skipping Stone and Other Tales (2017), Texas Oblivion: Mysterious Disappearances, Escapes and Cover-Ups (2021), and 100 Things to Do in Texas Before You Die (2022).
Bills has also written for the Austin American-Statesman, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas Co-Op Power magazine, Fort Worth Magazine and Fort Worth Weekly. He currently lives in North Texas with his wife, Stacie.