the author | the book | the papers | the grant
the digital collection | the southwestern writers collection
Born in 1945, journalist, activist and professor Dick J. Reavis lived in many small towns while growing up--mostly in Texas, but also Oklahoma and South Carolina. His father managed newspapers in these towns, so Reavis had an early exposure to the journalism profession, though he preferred the company of the printers to that of the reporters. From age 13 until he left for college, he worked part-time in the "back shops," learning a variety of printing skills.
Reavis was attending Panhandle A & M College in Oklahoma in the spring of 1964 when he came across pamphlets in the student union cafeteria recruiting for civil rights workers. He had had some experience with civil rights activism by this time: in high school he and a friend helped integrate a restaurant in Littlefield, Texas; in college at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, he joined the local chapter of the NAACP and refused to print racist fraternity songs at the student print shop where he worked, making the incident into a scandal.
Against his parents' wishes, Reavis left for Alabama to join the Southern Community Organization and Political Education (SCOPE) project run by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He spent that summer of 1965 mainly in Demopolis, Alabama, registering black voters, organizing boycotts, bailing fellow activists out of jail, and pursuing other activities for the cause. He was one of only two white Southerners in SCOPE, so he was a valuable resource for the organization as a spy, posing as a local white to get information out of the courthouse and jailhouse.
Returning to school at The University of Texas at Austin (UT), Reavis soon joined Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and recruited other members for a trip back to Demopolis and more civil rights work in the summer of 1966. He formed the Demopolis Project Committee, mostly with fellow SDS members. Even though he was ordered by the authorities not to return to Demopolis, he preferred this to being relocated by SCLC as part of their "Local Failure, National Success" tactics, which brought communities to a crisis point for media attention, then moved on.
Reavis earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy from UT in 1968 and attended the UT law school for one year following graduation. While at the university he helped the founders of the infamous, independent student newspaper, The Rag, get started, and he contributed cartoon drawings and about 20 articles over a two-year period. He was active in various leftist causes (i.e., "The Movement") during the late '60s and early '70s, and by 1974 figured journalism was a profession with potential for adventure, as well as relevance and honesty.
In November 1974, Reavis was hired as a reporter at his father's newspaper, Moore County News Press, in Dumas, Texas. He reported on police, courthouse and civic affairs, but small-town newspaper work and the atmosphere of Dumas did not suit him for long. He returned to UT in 1976 to pursue a master's degree in philosophy.
Reavis took advantage of the journalistic outlets and opportunities in Austin, and on June 3, 1977, wrote a cover story about the Kickapoo Indians for Texas Observer, which led to freelance work at Texas Monthly. He wrote for the "Reporter" section of the magazine for a number of months before editor Bill Broyles unexpectedly gave him the opportunity to write a feature, which became "The Smoldering Fire," about Mexican leftist guerillas, in the March 1978 issue.
By this time Reavis had quit school to focus on reporting and writing. He worked freelance for Texas Monthly until 1981, when he was put on staff. He also published his first book, Without Documents, in 1978, about the experiences of illegal immigrants from Latin America and the complex issues surrounding their plight.
On October 15, 1978, while riding his motorcycle, Reavis was hit by a drunk driver and nearly killed. Reavis had been assigned a Texas Monthly story on the Bandido bikers and had befriended them and become a biker himself, which he took up again after recovering from the accident. He tried his hand at fiction and photography for biker magazines during this period, and worked on an autobiography for Texas Monthly Press that was never published.
Reavis wrote 37 features for Texas Monthly in 12 years, often about Mexico or the underclass of Texas. On January 1, 1987, he set out on a year-long journey to drive every road on the official map of Texas, and report his experiences in a series for Texas Monthly. It was a chance for him to escape for a year and see his home state in its entirety. Not long afterwards he spent 12 months in Veracruz, Mexico to research his book, Conversations With Moctezuma, a study of and meditation on Mexican history and culture, published in 1990.
Displeased by changes at Texas Monthly, he resigned as a senior editor in the summer of 1990. The following year he joined the now-defunct newspaper San Antonio Light as a Mexico correspondent, stationed in Monterrey, Mexico. For about 18 months between 1992 and 1993 he reported for the independent newspaper, The Dallas Observer. It was during this time that the standoff at Mount Carmel near Waco happened.
After over two years investigating, writing and promoting The Ashes of Waco (see "the book" section below and the "author interview" page for more details), Reavis decided to go into teaching, and enrolled in an English MA program at The University of Texas at Arlington, receiving his degree in 1998. Before teaching, however, he found himself returning to journalism, most notably as a senior investigative reporter for the San Antonio Express-News, from 2000-2003. He also served as a reporter and senior editor for the magazine Texas Parks and Wildlife. Since the fall of 2004, he has lived with his wife Miriam in Raleigh, North Carolina, and is an assistant professor of journalism in the department of English at North Carolina State University.
Dick J. Reavis earned many awards and recognitions for his in-depth reporting and writing over the years: he was a finalist for a National Magazine Award and received three Texas Headliner's Awards and four Katie Awards. He was also a Neiman Fellow at Harvard University.
Reavis edited and translated from Spanish two books: Diary of an Undocumented Immigrant (1991) and Diary of a Guerrilla (1999). He also wrote the guidebook Texas (1995) and the civil rights memoir If White Kids Die (2001). In February 2010, Simon & Schuster published his book on day laborers, Catching Out: The Secret World of Day Laborers.
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During the standoff at Mt. Carmel in 1993, Dick Reavis was working as a reporter for the weekly newspaper the Dallas Observer, but was reluctant to report on the incident unless he could get inside to interview the besieged. He was not interested in being a "stenographer for the government," as he put it in a recent interview. After his plan to get into Mt. Carmel fell through, he told his editors not to send him back the story was "ungettable."
Then came April 19, when the federal government assaulted Mt. Carmel with tear gas and tanks, resulting in a fire that destroyed the building and killed almost all its inhabitants. Less than a week later, Reavis returned to Waco to try to interview the remaining Branch Davidians. He walked the ruins of the Branch Davidians' home with his wife, and he was stricken by how quickly the news media pulled out of Waco after the fire, as if the event had reached a satisfactory conclusion.
In July 1993 he wrote a feature on the surviving Branch Davidians for Dallas Observer, but he soon recognized that this was a major story that required more in-depth reporting. After the publisher of the Observer balked at him covering the story any further, Reavis pitched a book idea to his agent, and after securing a deal with Simon & Schuster, he resigned from his newspaper job to devote himself full-time to the book.
Reavis spent the next two years reporting and investigating the incident, its players, causes, and immediate implications. The resulting book, The Ashes of Waco, was published in the summer of 1995, making Reavis one of the few impartial experts on the subject. He became a kind of unlikely hero to the "Patriots" and "Constitutionalists" still upset about Waco, because he called the government to task for its actions. This stance also got the attention of certain members of Congress, who asked him to be the opening witness at the revived Waco hearings in July 1995.
The narrative of The Ashes of Waco is told in a non-linear fashion, telling a story that goes back to 1935, when Victor Houteff established the first Davidian settlement outside Waco. Reavis traces the beliefs and history of Koresh and the Branch Davidians as a way to understand their behavior and mindset during the events of 1993. He also narrates from the perspective of the federal government (as much as he could anyway; "they wouldn't talk to me," he said in a recent interview), recounting in detail the raid of February 28, the 51-day negotiations, the fire of April 19, and the 1994 criminal trial of the survivors.
In May 1998, Syracuse University Press published The Ashes of Waco in paperback, and the book remains in print today.
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The papers of Dick J. Reavis are a part of the Southwestern Writers Collection at Texas State University-San Marcos. Mr. Reavis has been donating his papers to us since 1997, and they currently measure 51 linear feet. They span the 1950s to the present, although the majority of the materials regard his journalism career from the mid-1970s to the end of 2003.
The papers are arranged into the following series: Waco Investigation, The National Tour of Texas, Published Works, Unpublished Works, Correspondence, Photographs, Financial, Personal, Audio/Video Materials, and Computer Media. Brief explanations of the first two series follow.
Materials in the first series, Waco Investigation, comprise 66 boxes, or about 80% of the entire collection. The main purpose of the investigation was for his book, The Ashes of Waco, and this series reflects that, although Reavis' research went beyond the book's publication, as his role as an investigator/expert expanded. He also inter-filed post-publication documents with those for his book research. For all these reasons, a more overarching series title is used.
Series I has twelve sub-series: Subject Files, Research Notebooks, Tape Transcriptions, Publications, Assorted Research Materials, Notepads, Correspondence, Trials, U.S. House Hearings, Gordon M. Novel Subject Files, and The Ashes of Waco. Supplemental published materials on Waco that Reavis donated and that have been cataloged are also available to researchers.
In 1987, on assignment for Texas Monthly, Dick Reavis traveled every highway mile of Texas, according to the official DOT map (he discovered unmapped roads and stretches of roads during his travels). As a result, he wrote articles about his experience, took slide photographs, gathered postcards and souvenirs, and kept meticulous notes on his travels. All these records and more constitute Series II, The National Tour of Texas, a fascinating snapshot of Texas in 1987.
Refer to the online finding aid for the Dick J. Reavis Papers for further information on the content of each series and for a folder-level inventory.
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In August 2008 the Texas State Library and Archives (TSLAC) awarded $95,000 in grant monies for fiscal year 2009 to five TexShare member libraries, including Alkek Library at Texas State University-San Marcos, as part of TexShare's TexTreasures grant program. TSLAC awards TexTreasures grant money to libraries around Texas looking to make unique collections more accessible. The staff of The Wittliff Collections at Alkek Library felt the materials in the Dick J. Reavis Papers related to the 1993 Branch Davidian standoff needed to be made more accessible online, since they have been consistently popular with researchers. The grantors at TSLAC agreed, awarding the maximum grant amount of $20,000 to fund the project.
Archivist Joel Minor, who processed the Dick J. Reavis Papers in 2006 and has provided access to them since then, wrote the grant proposal and served as grant manager. Most of the funds were used on purchasing computer equipment and employing two interns. Digital Repository Intern Kurt Johnson created an inventory of the materials, contacted copyright holders, digitized selected items and entered metadata. Web Design Intern Aniket Kulkarni designed the website and customized the CONTENTdm digital collection.
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the digital collection
Early on, Joel decided to use CONTENTdm to both manage our digitized content and to build the online exhibit. There are many choices out there, some of which are cheaper or even free, but this one is operated by OCLC, which means it comes with features archivists and librarians value e.g., controlled vocabulary and metadata standards, formatting for access and archival quality, WorldCat registration, EAD capabilities, etc. Plus, it has comprehensive search features and "favorites" bookmarking.
Because of the volume of materials in the Reavis papers (approx. 60,000 pages of documents, 240 hours of audio and 230 hours of video), we had to prioritize the items for digitization and inclusion in the digital collection. Limited space on our hosted server and limited man hours also factored into our decision to provide digital-surrogate samples of the documents, cassette tapes, video tapes and visual images in the analog collection, rather than trying to include everything.
However, we did create a metadata record for every file folder and tape, and we aimed to digitize a good cross-section of content types. This way, a researcher can view or listen to samples of Bible studies, radio shows, surveillance, negotiations (recordings and transcripts), government reports, personal correspondence, religious publications, or media coverage, as well as browse the descriptive information for all records in the collection.
Also because of space limitations, some of the digitized documents, audio recordings and video recordings are only portions or excerpts of the original records. In these cases we created entries in the digital collection for both the original record and the digitized excerpt. In the cases where the entire record is presented in digitized format, we created only one entry to cover the original analog and digital surrogate record.
Copyright and privacy concerns were taken into consideration when deciding what to digitize and display. All the records created by the federal government are in the public domain, so there are no issues related to them. For the rest, we tried to contact as many copyright holders as possible, with limited success. But since we are a not-for-profit institution, are providing a very limited amount of the copyrighted resources, and are doing it for the purposes of research, we felt this fell within the "fair use" clause of the U.S. Copyright Law.
If you are someone or know someone who may wish to give permission for us to provide online access to certain materials, please contact us. Likewise, if you hold copyright or have privacy concerns over something we have digitized, or something we haven't yet digitized, please let us know.
This digital collection is not complete and probably won't be for some time. This is to say, we will be adding more digitized content to it as we have time and server space to do so. Thus, if you are interested in this topic, you may want to bookmark us or add us to your preferred RSS feed to know when items are added. We also take requests to add certain items--again, as time, server space, copyright concerns and privacy matters permit.
The content in the digital collection is intended for personal and scholarly research only. Please contact us if you wish to use any of the content in any published format, including websites, and/or to request copies of items not currently included in the digital collection.
See the CONTENTdm Help page if you have questions navigating the collection. You can search the collection using up to six metadata fields at a time and bookmark items you wish to come back to later. We hope you have an enjoyable (as much as can be expected, given the subject matter) and productive research experience using the Ashes of Waco website and online exhibit. Please leave us a comment using the Guestbook page or the Contact Us link at the bottom of each page.
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the southwestern writers collection
The Southwestern Writers Collection is a part of The Wittliff Collections at Texas State University-San Marcos. The Southwestern Writers Collection (SWWC) preserves and exhibits the literary papers and memorabilia of the Southwest's leading authors, screenwriters, and songwriters. Manuscripts, research notes and journals, drafts, correspondence, interview tapes, snapshots, movie props, art works, rare books, and personal artifacts are part of the wealth of intriguing resources available to students and researchers on a non-circulating basis.
At the SWWC we welcome research requests via phone, e-mail and in-person. Due to limited space in our reading room, we ask that researchers planning to visit us request a research visit first, whenever possible. For those who cannot travel to research on-site, please be aware we have limited staff resources and so cannot provide in-depth research services. We will be happy to find answers to specific questions about content in the collections, and to provide scans, photocopies or other duplications through the post or by e-mail.
We maintain a Fee Schedule to help researchers understand what services we provide and how much we charge for them. Some fees are negotiable. Typically, we will provide an invoice for duplication services, payable 30 days from date of service. If any materials are to be used in any form of publication, we will negotiate a use fee and bill the researcher separately for that.
See our Policies + Forms page for more on our policies regarding research, duplication and publication.
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