A Thousand Steps

A Thousand Steps
A Thousand Steps by T. Jefferson Parker

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Whole Damn Cheese


Genre: Biography / Texana  Publisher: Texas Christian University Press  Facebook   Instagram   Twitter Publication Date: October 12, 2018
Number of Pages: 160 pages with B&W photos

Anecdotes about Maggie Smith abound, but Bill Wright’s The Whole Damn Cheese is the first book devoted entirely to the woman whose life in Big Bend country has become the stuff of legend. For more than twenty years, Maggie Smith served folks on both sides of the border as doctor, lawyer, midwife, herbalist, banker, self-appointed justice of the peace, and coroner. As she put it, she was “the whole damn cheese” in Hot Springs, Texas. A beloved figure serving the needs of scores of people in Big Bend country, she was also an accomplished smuggler with a touch of romance as well as larceny in her heart. Maggie’s family history is a history of the Texas frontier, and her story outlines the beginnings and early development of Big Bend National Park. Her travels between Boquillas, San Vincente, Alpine, and Hot Springs define Maggie’s career and illustrate her unique relationships with the people of the border. Vividly capturing the rough individualism and warm character of Maggie Smith, author Bill Wright demonstrates why this remarkable frontier woman has become an indelible figure in the history of Texas.


The Whole Damn Cheese: Maggie Smith, Border LegendThe Whole Damn Cheese: Maggie Smith, Border Legend by Bill Wright
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Whole Damn Cheese by Bill Wright is a 2018 Texas Christian University Press publication.

What an interesting piece of Texas history!!

Texans are familiar with Big Bend National Park, but people travel from all over to visit it, and the storied hot springs, said to have healing powers. However, I must sheepishly admit, I never gave much thought to it’s history or to the frontier days before the park became a popular campground.

Maggie Smith has become a legendary figure and a huge piece of the park’s history. In 1943, all the way up until 1965, Maggie served this area in every way imaginable.

Maggie’s life was certainly an interesting one. She was there for Big Bend’s transition from state to national park. She was especially useful to the NPS due to her ability to speak Spanish. She operated the general store and post office, but she also had a warm relationship with those on the other side of the border. She performed weddings, took candy to the Mexican children at Christmas, cured snake bites, and delivered babies, among many other things. In other words, she was ‘the whole damn cheese’ out there.

The early parts of the book chronicles Maggie’s early life and marriages, etc. While this is important, and necessary, it was a tad bit dry, initially, But, once we got past that and began to learn about her life in Big Bend, the book flowed much easier and it became obvious why Maggie’s exploits became the stuff legends are made of.

The bulk of the book is naturally centered around Maggie’s many adventures, and kind deeds, which are still spoken of today, with much warmth and appreciation. The author, who is a Big Bend photographer, had heard stories about Maggie over time, which gave him the idea for this book.

I think Bill showed great respect for his subject and his enthusiasm shows. Maggie’s spirit is captured through these oft told tales and thanks to Bill, everyone can read about this extraordinary woman, and learn the history of the frontier days in West Texas in the days before Big Bend became the popular tourist spot it is today. I will admit I raised my eyebrows on one occasion, when a snake bite was treated in an extremely unorthodox way. But, amazingly, the victim lived- so, despite my incredulity, it worked!!

The book is very well organized and is utterly fascinating. I would have loved to have met Maggie Smith. She is an inspiration, a person who helped people from all walks of life without complaint, and certainly lived her life with gusto!

For thirty-five years Bill Wright owned and managed a wholesale and retail petroleum marketing company. In 1987 he sold his company to his employees and since then has carved out a remarkable career as an author, fine art photographer, and ethnologist. He has written or contributed to seven books, and his photographs appear in Fort Worth’s Amon Carter Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center of the University of Texas at Austin, and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.

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1 comment:

  1. Wasn't that snake bite remedy bizarre? That it even occurred to Maggie to do that is something! Loved this book. Great review!


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