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Recollections of a Rogue Revisited

By Susan L. Ebert

In 1846, at the age of 17, a young theology student named Samuel E. Chamberlain forsook his Boston home for points west. He became a 1st Dragoon in the Mexican War and later a deserter and a reluctant scalp-hunter with the demonic Glanton’s Gang. What’s remarkable is not that he did so, but that he created an astounding portfolio of writings and paintings to tell his life story in vivid, embellished detail. Passionate, chivalrous, combative, ribald and irreverently humorous, Chamberlain used his pen, his brushes and his wit to create a deft and rich feast for any student of the Mexican War, self-importantly titling his portfolio My Confession: Recollection of a Rogue.

This portfolio of illuminated manuscripts and vivid watercolors, created between 1855 and 1861, was found languishing in a Connecticut antique shop in the 1940s by a Baltimore collector. A Life magazine correspondent, working with the collector on another assignment in 1955, convinced the Life editors to buy the entire collection. Excerpts from this find were published in a series in Life magazine, and in 1956, the Life editors compiled Chamberlain’s tale, along with 55 of his illustrations, in a modestly bound hardcover book.

This year, the Texas State Historical Association published a gloriously illustrated version of this cult classic, (My Confession: Recollections of a Rogue, Texas State Historical Association, $60) annotated and with an introduction by Chamberlain historian William H. Goetzman. This 10" x 13" clothbound, expanded version contains more than 150 of Chamberlain’s delightfully energetic paintings, plus full-page facsimiles of his illuminated manuscripts. Fans of novelist Cormac McCarthy will recognize the passages on Glanton’s Gang as the basis for McCarthy’s blood-chilling portrayals of John Glanton and the Judge in Blood Meridian.

Although Chamberlain’s original manuscript now resides at West Point, 140 of his original watercolors are in the permanent collection of the San Jacinto Museum of History in Houston. Call the museum at (281) 479-2421 to find out what’s on display before visiting.

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