Jeff Davis County Library wraps up Lonn Taylor Week with Literary Landmark celebration

Dedie Taylor honors her late husband, author and historian Lonn Taylor, at the Jeff Davis County Library “literary landmark” celebration. Photo by Mary Cantrell.

FORT DAVIS — Bookworms from all over Texas gathered last Friday at the Jeff Davis County Library to celebrate the life of Lonn Taylor, the late historian, writer and bon vivant best known locally as “the Rambling Boy.” Representatives from the Texas State Libraries and Archives Commission were present to bestow Taylor’s local library with its new Literary Landmark designation, which marks special places around the state of note to “tourists, book lovers, and history buffs.”

The celebration was a fitting end to what the Jeff Davis County Commissioners Court had proclaimed “Lonn Taylor Week.” In keeping with Taylor’s larger-than-life persona, there was nothing solemn about the remembrance of his life and scholarship. “Lonn would be mortified,” Taylor’s widow Dedie said, drawing laughter from the crowd. 

Dedie Taylor remembered her husband as “eternally curious.” “When he died, he had 12 books by his bed, and he was reading all of them at the same time,” she recalled. 

He was also a prolific journal-keeper. “He left over 60 years of journals,” she said. “And the difference between our journals — his were legible.” 

The Taylors met in Washington D.C., when Lonn was director of public programs at the Smithsonian Museum of American History and Dedie was working for the Chronicle of Higher Education. They moved to Fort Davis in 2002. “Of the little towns in the Big Bend, he felt it was the most real,” she said.

Lonn, who could trace his family roots back to the Texas Revolution, had encountered the small town as a young man. His father was sent out to the Davis Mountains for work, and brought a 17-year-old Lonn out to stay with him at the old Fort when it was still open as a hotel. 

The place kept a hold on his imagination, and the Taylors settled down there for the last two decades of his life. Taylor’s “Rambling Boy” columns, which covered everything from Big Bend folk history to anecdotes from childhood years spent in the Philippines, were delivered weekly with his distinctive whistle on Marfa Public Radio. 

Their home at the base of Sleeping Lion Mountain was rarely quiet — a rotating cast of historians, writers, local politicians, friends from church and kind strangers kept the dinner table a lively site for conversation and debate. 

Marfa Book Company’s Tim Johnson was a regular on the Taylors’ screen porch. At Friday’s ceremony, Johnson shared a remembrance of his late friend’s life, praising his “rigorous approach to scholarship and epicurean, bohemian approach to life.” Johnson was responsible for publishing Marfa for the Perplexed, which the Texas State Library and Archives Commission chose as this year’s “Texas Great Read.”

Beyond their many shared interests, Johnson felt preserving and proliferating Taylor’s work was important because his project as a historian was to “expand the scholar’s sense of acceptable sources” — as a historian at the Museum of American History, Taylor had once argued for the inclusion of a low-rider as a cultural artifact. 

Johnson pointed to Taylor’s work securing an accurate historical marker at Porvenir, the site of a massacre of 15 Mexican men and boys at the hands of Texas Rangers in 1918. Controversy over the marker — and more broadly, who gets the final word in the historical record — flared in Presidio County during the last years of Taylor’s life. 

Taylor’s “Rambling Boy” columns are still available and archived online through the Big Bend Sentinel and Marfa Public Radio, for those wishing to revisit his musings on local history and life.

“His mind was a phenomenal resource,” said Elaine Harmon, representing the Friends of the Jeff Davis Library at the ceremony. “Each week was a magic carpet ride and I’d wonder, ‘Where are you taking us this week, Lonn?’”