Larry Jeff McMurtry was born on June 3, 1936, at Wichita Falls, Texas, twenty miles from his parents’ home in Archer City, Texas (the Thalia of his books). McMurtry’s grandparents had moved into Archer County in the 1880’s and established their ranch along a cattle trail in north central Texas. The nine McMurtry boys (Larry’s uncles and father, William Jefferson McMurtry) moved westward to work on the huge ranches in the Texas panhandle.
At family reunions, McMurtry heard his elders talk about the golden age of their youth and about such great ranchers and cowboys as Charles Goodnight, Teddy Blue, and Larry’s own Uncle Johnny. His hard old uncles, withered and crippled by their long years of cowboying, had been present at the birth of the Western myth, and they lived long enough to see it die. The elder McMurtrys knew, as did Larry, that the new generation could not replace the old. He wrote:All of them lived to see the ideals of the faith degenerate, the rituals fall from use; the principal myth become corrupt. In my youth, when they were old men, I often heard them yearn aloud for the days when the rituals had all their power, when they themselves had enacted the pure, the original myth, and I know that they found it bitter to leave the land to which they were always faithful to the strange and godless heirs that they had bred.
McMurtry’s books can be read as a parting wave to Old Man Goodnight, Teddy Blue, and Uncle Johnny.
Larry McMurtry and his family moved from the home ranch into the small town of Archer City. He was an honors student in high school and was active in many school activities, but the bitter love affair with the ranching country of his uncles found its companion in his own disillusionment with the small town. Small Texas towns, too, were dying, he later wrote, losing their bold and energetic people to the cities. McMurtry soon joined the migration to urban America. He graduated from North Texas State University in 1958 and received a master’s degree from...
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