July 4, 2019 618 PM
FORT DAVIS – West Texas was in mourning last Thursday morning as news spread that Lonn Taylor, most known in West Texas as the Rambling Boy, had passed away the previous evening, Wednesday, June 26, in his Fort Davis home.
“He was eccentric,” said Daniel Hernandez. “Nobody will be able to replace Lonn Taylor and the being that he was. He was a unique individual.”
Lonn was the go-to local historian for the Far West Texas area. He wrote a weekly column, The Rambling Boy, for The Big Bend Sentinel, which he read the following morning on Marfa Public Radio. Each column shared stories about Texas, filled with details and enthusiasm, no matter the topic.
Lonn loved to research, his wife, Edith “Dedie” Taylor, said. Despite technology advancement, Lonn would rather turn to a book than use Google to research his articles.
“He’d find errors,” said Dedie. “Wikipedia made him crazy.”
He wanted to get the story right, according to Tim Johnson, of the Marfa Book Co. Johnson shared a story about a teenaged Lonn writing a letter to a historian about an error he found in a book, which resulted in the author replying with his appreciation as well as a thank you in the second pressing of the corrected book. That attention to detail also applied to Lonn’s articles. He would correct his own columns.
“History is very much a living thing and I think that makes a great historian,” said Johnson. “He did that in a beautiful way.”
Johnson said Lonn would only write about things that interested him, even though he would constantly receive suggestions.
“He was interested in a lot,” said Johnson. “He wasn’t going to run out of stories.”
Every room in the Taylors’ house has at least one full bookshelf. The books are categorized by subject from art to poetry to memoirs and more. Every wall of Lonn’s study is covered by books.
“You want to see how many books we have? Let’s walk through the house,” Dedie said earlier this week at her Fort Davis home.
To give an idea, The Taylors were told before their move to West Texas in 2002 that their books outweighed everything else they were moving, including the car. They didn’t have as many then as they do now, but at the time, their literary collection weighed 14,000 pounds.
The Taylors were fixtures in the West Texas community. It was common to see them at cultural events whether it was in Alpine, Marfa or Fort Davis. Being an only child, Lonn adored people and his friends were his life.
“We like to entertain,” said Dedie. “Lonn’s idea of a good time is sit around and tell stories with strangers or friends.”
That enthusiasm for storytelling stayed with Lonn into his final days. His last Rambling Boy column, about the late-writer Bill Wittliff, was published last week in The Big Bend Sentinel. Even as his health declined, he continued to share his love of a good story and aspects of history he felt people had overlooked.
When Johnson worked with Lonn on the historian’s most recent book, Marfa for the Perplexed, Lonn shared that his memory was going in the midst of telling a story filled with details.
“I would have to stop him and tell him it’s remarkable that he could remember that,” said Johnson.
The book––filled with essays about Marfa and Presidio County events and characters––was published in 2018 through the Marfa Book Co. Johnson said it was a gift that Lonn would choose to publish his book through the bookstore.
“He would support the community with individual things and that’s just amazing,” said Johnston.
Hernandez has been on the receiving end of that support. In 2009, The Big Bend Sentinel wrote about Hernandez’s fundraising efforts to embark on an 18-day adventure in Europe. After the article was published, he found a check In his mailbox for $100 and a note of encouragement from the Taylors for his trip. That act of generosity meant a lot to him.
“At the time I had not met Lonn or Dedie Taylor, but to feel like there were people out there that wanted me to experience the world and to go as far as giving me a donation just spoke volumes to me,” said Hernandez.
One of his favorite memories was watching Lonn appear on Comedy Central’s TV show, The Colbert Report in 2014. Lonn chatted about his book, The Star-Spangled Banner: The Flag That Inspired a National Anthem, with the show’s host, Stephen Colbert, for the 200th anniversary of Francis Scott Key’s poem that would become the national anthem.
Marfa residents gathered at various local businesses to watch Lonn’s TV appearance. Hernandez wasn’t living in Marfa when the episode aired, but he still tuned in. “It was so delightful to see him interact with Stephen Colbert,” he said.
Naturally, Lonn wrote about the experience for his Rambling Boy column. He titled it “Six and a half minutes of fame.”
In that column he wrote, “On September 11, I was famous for six and a half minutes, so I still have eight and a half-minutes coming to me.”
Those eight and a half minutes have now turned into a lifetime.