John Graves, R.I.P.

Henry Chappell just emailed to tell me that John Graves, Texas writer and living legend, just died at (I think) 93. John was a true Texan with deep roots, a civilized man, a WWII vet who had lived in Europe but eventually preferred his roots, a conservationist and localist before such things were chic,  and quite possibly one of the few great men I have ever known. We corresponded for over 20 years on just about everything.

He was one of the one hundred writers mentioned in my Book of books, and  the only one of those I ever blurbed, for a late edition of his wonderful The Last Running. My fellow blurbers were the most various company I ever shared a dust jacket with– McGuane, Gordon Lish (who was then fiction editor at Esquire), Verlyn Klinkenborg, William Kittredge–!

The tale is told by an old man, who as a boy witnessed an ancient rancher, who had driven cattle to Montana and fought the Comanche on the Texas plains, allow a few temporarily renegade Comanches to run and kill one of his buffalos. As they ride away, leaving the carcass behind, he turns to the boy and utters the best last line in American literature…*

When I got my copies I lent one to old Leonard Parker, a grandson of Quanah Parker and something of an old renegade himself (search the blog for his whole story). He was so touched by the tale that he asked if I could get him a signed copy. Below, John’s reply and a recent pic of Leonard and me in Magdalena, where he had been visiting from Oklahoma. (Right or double click to enlarge).

* “Damn you boy”, he said. “Damn you for not ever getting to know anything worth knowing. Damn me, too. We had a world, once.”

UPDATE: Great long essay in Texas Monthly.


  1. Beautiful post, Steve. John Graves should've been more widely read. As I recall, "The Last Running" originally appeared in The Atlantic and was included in that year's anthology of best American short stories. How times have changed, and not for the better.

  2. "One of the few great men Ive known," exactly what I feel

    I have a box of his letters Ill keep forever

  3. I remember when I found a copy of Goodby to a Rivers at a book sale at the local library. I had never heard of John Graves but the book looked interesting; after the first page I couldn't put it down.

    Years later, traveling through north Texas I came across a small town (may have been Granbury but not sure) with a wonderful book shop and a whole section dedicated to John Graves; I bought a book of his letters and a couple of others.

    RIP Mr. Graves. And thank you.

  4. Believe that Mr. Graves got the basis for "The Last Running" from J.Frank Dobie. Dobie got it from Charles Goodnight – "Buenas Noches" his own self.

  5. From the Washington Post obit:

    "Larry McMurtry, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist who wrote “Lonesome Dove” and “Terms of Endearment,” lauded Graves’ talents in a 1981 essay for the Texas Observer.

    “He is popularly thought to be a kind of country explainer, when in fact he seems more interested in increasing our store of mysteries than our store of knowledge,” McMurtry wrote. “He loves the obscure, indeterminate nature of rural legend and likes nothing better than to retell stories the full truth of which can never be known.”

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