The Whole Damn Cheese Cover

The Whole Damn Cheese

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Genre: Biography / Texana
Publisher: Texas Christian University Press
Number of Pages: 160 pages with B&W photos
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The Whole Damn Cheese book cover

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.

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B&W photo of Maggie English sitting on ground holding an umbrella, courtesy of Byron Smith
Maggie English, courtesy of Byron Smith
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B&W photo of Maggie and her family standing in front of the Hot Springs, Texas, post office, courtesy of Byron Smith
Maggie and family in Hot Springs, courtesy of Byron Smith
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Clueless Gent’s Rating

4 1/2 star rating

I think The Whole Damn Cheese should be required reading for anyone and everyone who calls Texas home. This book is filled with the lore that helped to make Texas great!

I never heard of Maggie Smith before reading Bill Wright’s book, but after reading it, I’m sure I’ll never forget her. As “legends” go, Maggie is more contemporary than most. But she’s not just a legend. Along the “Big Bend” part of the Rio Grande river, she was the whole damn cheese.

Organizing The Whole Damn Cheese

Bill Wright did a smash up job of conveying the life of Maggie Smith to the reader. I mean that as a high compliment. Wright kept the story chronological, except where a bit of backstory was necessary to make a point. I was fully engaged throughout the entire book.

The thorough annotations throughout demonstrated his commitment to making Maggie’s story accurate. If anything was based solely on heresy, he was quick to point it out. He interviewed a number of Maggie’s direct descendants, and I much enjoyed the colorful way Wright described some of their first hand accounts.

I found this portrayal of Maggie’s life highly entertaining. I’m not sure if it’s because Bill Wright is such a good author, or because Maggie was… well – Maggie! However, for the sake of this review, I’ll say it’s a little of both.

Technically Speaking

If there were any SPAG errors in this book, I certainly didn’t notice them. Kudos to Bill Wright and his editors!

The book was an appropriate length for the story being told, but the included black and white photos really helped to immerse the reader in the setting. The photographs are not nearly as clear as today’s photos, but considering their age, I think they look amazing!

I also think that keeping the story chronological, as well as being thorough, heightened my enjoyment of the book. Further, Bill Wright was also very clear when it came to opinions. If something was just his opinion, he said so. If it belonged to someone he interviewed or read about, he identified the source.

The only negative about this book – and it’s not really anyone’s fault – is the sheer number of characters. It was sometimes hard for me to remember who was who. But I think that’s just because Maggie touched so many lives, from her own children, to the children she briefly cared for, to the Mexican nationals coming across the river. Like I said, Bill Wright was very thorough.

If you consider yourself a Texan, either by birth or by the love you have for this great state, you need to read this book about Maggie Smith. Even if you’re not a Texan, consider this your personal invitation to find out what being a Texan is all about!

I received a free copy of this book from Lone Star Book Blog Tours in exchange for my honest review.
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B&W photo of Maggie behind a small sales counter selling a saddle to a customer. Photo by Glenn Burgess, courtesy of the Archive of the Big Bend.
After losing her lease in Hot Springs, Maggie reestablished her trading post in San Vicente.
Photo by Glenn Burgess, courtesy of the Archive of the Big Bend.
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Bill Wright Author Photo

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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Character Interview
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