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Carlos E. Castaneda (Historian)

THE OLD MAIN BUILDING of the University of Texas stood out in broad relief that late September afternoon, its Gothic towers piercing the blue sky, tipped by the gold of the sunset. For four years I had dreamed of this moment. It was not until my second year in high school that I had begun to think of it, but when I graduated I had to work a year to get enough money to begin to realize my dream.

Mother dicd when I began high school and father died the next year. With four sisters, two older and two younger than myself, it was hard sleighing. I worked after school hours and studied nights. Then came graduation. But taxes were in arrears on the old homestead. I had to wait a year to help payoff the debt. As a teacher with only a second grade certificate, I taught in an ungraded rural school-six grades by myself, children as old or older than the teacher. In self defense I allowed my mustache to grow. Horrors! It came out flaming red. Imagine the combination: black hair, hazel green eyes, and a red mustache. I never allowed it to grow out again.

The year's teaching netted a very modest sum after other obligations were paid. But off to the University I went, full of hope and ambition. There I was at last, before the castle of my dreams, the main building of the University. Late that afternoon I called on the pastor of St. Austin's Chapel, the chaplain of the Newman Club. I had not met him before. He was a man in his early thirties. Understanding and sympathy radiated from his eyes. His voice was rich and resonant, with a note of warmth in it. Father J. Elliot Ross was a man who invited and inspired confidence. I told him my situation. I had little money; I needed to find a room; I was willing to work to help pay the rent. I wanted to get a college education at any cost.

He listened with interest. Then he took me over to the chapel, up the back steps, to a small room in the garret. It had a cot; no water, no heat. We improvised a washstand, got an old table and a couple of chairs, and there I was.

For four years I lived in that room while at the University. I studied in my bathrobe, and sometimes in my overcoat. In the spring of my senior year, late one evening, Father Ross came to my room. He had a knowing smile that played about his mouth as he stood in the open door. "I want to be the first to tell you and to congratulate you on your election to Phi Beta Kappa."

Frankly, I had not even given a thought to the possibility of such a thing. I had studied hard and I had made good grades in most of my subjects, but I had never dared to dream that my record was good enough for this coveted academic distinction.

As Providence would have it, three years later I went to teach at the old College of William and Mary in Virginia, where Phi Beta Kappa was founded, and in December, 1926, when the sesquicentennial of the Society was celebrated, I had the rare privilege of being on the official program to read a paper on "Modern Language Instruction in American Colleges, 1776-1800." On that program, attended by President Coolidge and John D. Rockefeller, were Henry Van Dyke, John Erskine, and many other distinguished scholars from the outstanding universities of this country, Canada, and England. Rockefeller became deeply interested in the old College of William and Mary and the old city of WilIiamsburg. His interest aroused at that time has made available to all America a reconstructed colonial capital, where Patrick Henry had delivered his famous oration in the House of Burgesses.

But Father Ross, dear to so many students of the University of Texas, did more than give me a room over the chapel. He was the first to suggest that I write and the first to encourage me in this pursuit. My interest in history dated back to high school days. At the University, in working my way through school, I was thrown into close contact with Dr. Eugene C. Barker, foremost Texas historian. I began to try my hand at historical writing. "The Indian Problem in Mexico" was my maiden effort, published in America in 1921. Next I wrote a longer article on "The Earliest Missionary Activity in Texas," published by The Missionary, in Washington. I had definitely launched my frail bark on the endless stream of historical writing. My field was to be Texas, Mexico, and Latin America.

I am not what you call a professional writer. My writing has been a sideline, a hobby I indulge in after my day's work is done. As a teacher and librarian I earn my living during the day. At night, on holidays, during vacations, and in spare time, I read and write history. At different times I have done research in the rich archival collections of the University of Texas, the University of California, the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, the Newberry Library, the National Archives of Mexico, and numerous state archives in this country, Mexico, Cuba, and Central America. The old musty records, covered with dust frequently, are not as dry or as uninteresting as they appear. They are full of human interest, countless and unexpected details that help to revive the past, to live again the days gone by. In this fashion I have gathered materials for my books on the history of Texas, the Southwest, and Mexico, from sources scattered far and wide.

Only those who have had a book published know the thrill of having the first child of one's mind, the fruit of endless nights of vigil, at last appear in print. My first book was The Mexican Side of the Texan Revolution, published in 1928 by the Southwest Press of Dallas, Texas. I shall never forget seeing the first copy of the finished book.

Since 1928 I have written fifteen books on historical and educational subjects in addition to numerous articles. Which of them do I consider my best, or the most important? It is like asking a father which is his favorite son. Yet, if I had to say which, in my opinion, has made the greatest contribution to the history of the Southwest, I would name OUf Catholic Heritage in Texas, of which five volumes have been published to date. In these I have tniced in detail the history of Texas in all its aspects from the time its shores were first explored and mapped by Pineda in 1519 to 1810. I began writing this work in 1935, but I had put more than ten years of research in this country and Mexico in preparation, besides the countless hours I spent still finding new materials. The work was undertaken under the auspices of the Knights of Columbus of Texas, who planned this publication as part of the Catholic contribution to the Texas Centennial in 1936. There remains one more volume for me to write in the series to bring the story up to 1845, from where an abler pen will undertake the modern era.

It was the writing of the first four volumes that I believe brought me the highest honor I have received. On October 12, 1941, in Gregory Gymnasium, at the University of Texas, I was made a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem by Bishop Kelley of Oklahoma and Tulsa in a solemn ceremony I shall never forget. Election to membership in this, the oldest Order of Christian knighthood, is one of the high honors which the Pope may confer. Almost twenty-four years to the day from that afternoon in September, 1917, when I first arrived at the University of Texas, within the very shadows of St. Austin's Chapel in whose garret I had lived four years, I was dubbed Knight of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem in a solemn Pontifical High Mass.

EDITORS NOTE: Dr. Cataneda was proffesor of Latin American history at the University of Texas at Austin until his death in 1958.

Originally published by Walter Romig in The Book of Catholic Authors Volume Three, copyright 1945

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