Local woman writes novel about Texarkana defense history

TEXARKANA – Former Texarkana-area native, teacher, and author of current historical fiction, Dr. Janet Brantley revisited Texarkana last year – just like 80 years ago.

She completed her second self-published novel titled “Leaving Dixon’s Crossing” in September 2021.

In it, Brantley takes readers back to a period in the Twin Cities between mid-spring 1941 and early 1943. There, a fresh 18-year-old high school graduate, Mae Johnson, leaves her fictional hometown (Dixon’s Crossing, Arkansas) seeking better work prospects in Texarkana—something that would surely beat the grueling and unpromising life of post-Great Depression sharecropping.

Although she was optimistic about her future at first, the attack on Pearl Harbor soon torpedoed Johnson’s hopes of all hospitality jobs and replaced them with the manufacture of bullets, grenades and bombs at both centers. newly built war production sites from Texarkana: Red River Arsenal and the Lone. Star Army Munitions Factory.

Faced with the added societal challenge of young men going overseas and women having to produce the ammunition, Johnson finds her ability to cope in serious doubt, although she appears to be coping.

As for what prompted her to write this novel, Brantley freely admits that the extensive research she had to do to complete her dissertation gave her an advantage.

“This book actually started 30 years ago when I chose a topic for my doctoral dissertation at the University of North Texas at Denton,” she said. “The topic I decided to focus on for my research was what I titled ‘Defense Industries in Northeast Texas 1941-1965: The Social and Economic Impact on Bowie County’ At the same time, I joined the doctoral program at the University in 1991.”

From then on, Brantley said she interviewed people from Bowie and Miller counties who had worked at the two defense plants during World War II.

“These interviews introduced me to some fascinating people and it also gave me insight into other people I’ve known all my life, including my own father, Noah Brown,” she said. .

Besides the interviews, Brantley said she also searched for records from the two defense factories — enough records to fill about four dozen boxes.

“In total, it took about a year and a half to write the thesis,” she said. “I also went through census records, war records and military records. My thesis indeed inspired me to write this novel.”

Raised in Fouke, Arkansas, Brantley graduated from Fouke High School, class of 1967.

“We had 22 graduates that year, 11 boys and 11 girls,” she said. “Three weeks later I was married and soon had my own children.”

Ten years after his marriage, Brantley decided to go to college, first at Texarkana College and then at East Texas State University-Texarkana, which at the time still consisted of one building on campus. from TC.

As his quest for education grew, Brantley would first earn an associate’s degree at TC in social studies before earning a bachelor’s degree in the same field, followed by a master’s degree in special education. From there, she embarked on a career in public education in 1983.

“I first taught middle school special education at the Hosston School District, Louisiana, for about two years, then went on to teach history and geography at Atlanta, (Texas) High School , as well as special education for the McLeod (Texas) School District,” she said. “Special education was rewarding, but not as fun, so I finally quit after six years.”

However, Brantley’s years in public school continued to fuel his hunger for more personal academic achievement as well as his desire to teach higher education. This led her to continue her studies at the university in 1991.

“Once I stopped teaching in public school, I went back to college at North Texas State University (later renamed the University of North Texas),” she said.

After earning her doctorate in August 1995, Brantley returned to Texarkana to teach history and geography at TC as well as Texas A&M University-Texarkana—what ETSU-Texarkana had become.

Brantley said it took about three years to write the novel. She hopes to continue the story in two more books, turning it into a trilogy.

As for this volume, “it was something that had been close to my heart for years and I just had to get it written,” she said. “I also want to thank my late husband, Bill Brantley, because without him my journey as a writer may never have started.”

Irene B. Bowles