Tag Archives: Texas History

The Whole Damn Cheese – My Book Review

Genre: Biography / Texana 
Publisher: Texas Christian University Press
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 – My Book Review


“After being invited to dinner with his wife and new husband to sort things out, Levi shot the man dead. Problem solved-frontier style.”

First – this book has high recommendations from my one of my mentors, Dr. Paul Carlson and a new favorite author, Ben English.

Second – there is a mountain lion in this story.

Third – The book has lots of historical photos.


The Whole Damn Cheese is so much more than just a biographical, memoir of Maggie Smith. I read the history of how Big Bend National Park came into being with the scary side of how much history was destroyed because of lack of Federal funds on the National Park side. By reading this book I now know a more intense history on the candelilla wax trade. Plus, I learned something about blocking when it comes to cattle brands, along with typhus.

At first, I thought the story was a tad slow in going over so much history, but at the end, without that detailed background, I would’ve not completely understood Maggie’s life or the roots of where she came from.

Maggie was a woman after my own heart. She gave where she could, always did the right by people whether along the Texas border or in Mexico, and she saved a mountain lion cub. Bill Wright told her story so convincingly at times that I found myself either laughing or crying. How many people can say they met the actual Pancho Villa?

“We called their melons ‘mush melons’ because they were big like watermelons but real yellow.”

My one major complaint about history books is jamming of all the photos into the middle of the book. That never does a history book justice. Thankfully, the old historical photos in this book were nicely distributed throughout and as a bonus, they each look like they had been restored.


“I don’t go to church. There’s no church to go to.”

I’d like to interpret with this quote that Maggie indeed did not have to attend church. The outside world was her church and she did more for her fellow man than most people going to church every Sunday. The testament to her influence and kindness was the Mexican people were buying flowers for her funeral. We all should be so lucky to have that kind of love and respect. By reading this book you’ll find out how Maggie earned that kind of admiration.

“…it’s what’s inside the person that counts. It’s not the blood, or skin, or anything.”




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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Remarkable History of Two Historical Markers in a Small Texas Town

Holy Family Cemetery Historical Marker
Holy Family Cemetery Texas Historical Marker, Nazareth, Texas. 


Home Mercantile Historical Marker
Home Mercantile Texas Historical Marker, Nazareth, Texas. 


It’s hard to believe that it was four years ago when I was working on two Texas historical marker applications for the small Texas German town known as Nazareth. Time really does fly.

With any historical marker application, extensive research must be conducted to prove the history of the subject, the building, or the cemetery.  Both markers in Nazareth fell into the category of a subject marker and a cemetery marker.

Learning how the local mercantile store brought in oysters and had weekly boxing matches was quite revealing. Who would’ve thought in the middle of nowhere in the Texas Panhandle oysters were shipped in for the residents as a staple? Who would’ve thought that boxing matches held in the middle of the store gave the boys a much-needed outlet besides school and farming to vent their frustrations? Or that gingersnap cookies were sold from big barrels that you could grab them by the handfuls?

Back then it was not considered dangerous to store arsenic, mouse poison, calcium cyanide right across from bulk flour in the store. At least cyanide was in quart jars labeled as rat poison with skull and crossbones on the jars.

Researching the cemetery history revealed how the small German community did not escape TB, smallpox, typhoid fever, whooping cough, diphtheria, measles, or dysentery. Some men died in WWII. Some women died during childbirth. Remarkably, there were no deaths in 1918 in Nazareth even as the Spanish Flu swept through the community and later claimed one-half million lives in the U.S. I discovered that lightning caused four deaths.

I walked amongst the tombstones of that cemetery many times often with a great horned owl opening its eyes occasionally to see what I was up to. I came to see the names in a different light. Discovering how each person left this world gave me the understanding that no matter what – people endure and survive. Some of the tombstones gave me a little bit more – I had to learn some German.

I’m humbly proud of these two historical markers for the history they represent.  I’m eternally grateful for the getting to know Father Ken Keller (who passed earlier this year), Mary Helen Flores, and other people in this little community.  I think a little part of my heart will always be tied to Nazareth.


Photographs: ©Christena Stephens