Skip to Content

Dick Reavis

A Guide to the Dick J. Reavis Papers
ca. 1956 - 2007
Collection 086
103 boxes (51 linear feet) plus oversize

Complete inventory available in PDF

Biographical Sketch:

Dick J. Reavis was born in 1945 in Elk City, Oklahoma, the eldest child of Dick and Kathleen (Johnson) Reavis. The family lived in many small towns as Reavis grew 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 when he came across pamphlets in the student union cafeteria recruiting for civil rights workers. Reavis 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, 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 philosophy bachelor’s degree from UT-Austin 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.
Reavis was hired as a reporter at his father’s newspaper, Moore County News Press, in Dumas, Texas, in November 1974. 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 the University of Texas at Austin 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 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 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, Dallas Observer. It was during this time that the standoff at Mount Carmel near Waco happened.
Recognizing the raid, siege and burning of the Branch Davidian center as a major story that was being covered by the press only from the government’s perspective, Reavis spent the next two years reporting and investigating the incident, its players, causes, and immediate implications. Simon and Schuster published the resulting book, The Ashes of Waco, in 1995, making Reavis one of the few impartial experts on the subject. That same year he was called to testify before Congress in renewed hearings about what happened at Mount Carmel and why.
Thinking he would go into teaching, Reavis enrolled in an English MA program at University of Texas at Arlington, and received his degree in 1998. First, 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 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 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). He continues to write freelance for the on-line publication, and occasionally returns to the pages of Texas Monthly, most recently for a feature on the 2006 election in Mexico. In February 2010 Simon & Schuster published his latest book, Catching Out: The Secret World of Day Laborers.
Sources: Dick J. Reavis Papers (Collection 086); Donor Biography File (Dick Reavis); Reavis correspondence with Joel Minor
Scope and Content Note
The papers of journalist, activist and professor, Dick J. Reavis, 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. Overviews of each series follow.
Series I: Waco Investigation, 1962-2000, n.d. (bulk: 1993-2000) Boxes 1-65, 90
The first series documents Reavis’ research into the raid, siege and burning of the Branch Davidians’ Mount Carmel Center near Waco, Texas by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) and the FBI, as well as background on the Branch Davidian religious sect who lived there. Most materials arrived in one accession and have been arranged in Reavis’ original order.
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.
There are 12 sub-series, described below. Please note: all audio and video materials and computer disks pertaining to the Waco investigation and book are in Series IX and X, respectively. Supplemental published materials on Waco that Reavis donated and that have been cataloged are also available. Search the Alkek Library on-line catalog or ask an archivist to see the printed list of these resources.
A. Subject Files (boxes 1-9): These files are titled and arranged (alphabetically) according to Reavis’ titles and arrangement. As a result, not all folder titles are entirely indicative of their contents. This sub-series is comprised of general subject files whose contents mostly pertain directly to research for The Ashes of Waco. However, some documents post-date the book, as Reavis continued his research work in the years that followed. The sub-series is dated according to when Reavis is likely to have accumulated the copies, not by the dates of the original documents. The sub-series encompasses a wide variety of documents, including correspondence, legal documents, reports, transcripts, clippings and publications.
B. Research Notebooks (boxes 10-17): Also titled and arranged alphabetically by title, according to how we received them, the research notebooks are additionally very similar to the subject files in that they pertain directly to Reavis’ research for his book. Most files are photocopied books that were bound with plastic comb binders and plain covers, with the titles written on the front. This sub-series is dated according to when Reavis is likely to have accumulated the copies, not by the dates of the original documents.
C. Tape Transcriptions (boxes 18-29): This sub-series spans the duration of the raid, consisting of official transcriptions of the 911 calls, FBI negotiations, and government surveillance tapes. The files are arranged chronologically, and end with a folder of notes Reavis took when researching them. Audio copies of the negotiations are in Series IX: Audio/Video Materials.
D. Publications (boxes 30-33, 90): The publications that are originals and not part of the subject files have their own sub-series. They range from mainstream coverage of the siege to government reports to comic books to Branch Davidian literature. Some publication dates predate the series, hence the wider date range of the sub-series.
E. Clippings (boxes 34-37): Starting with photocopies of daily newspaper articles, this sub-series chronicles the siege day-by-day, as well as the events following, including the trial in San Antonio, and it ends in June of 1995. After the chronological files of newspapers articles are alphabetical files of magazines and magazine articles.
F. Assorted Research Materials (box 38-39): Highlights include photocopied correspondence between Davidians, studies of the Seven Seals, and a Fire Development Analysis of the April 19 fire. All documents that were gathered as research but do not fit into the other sub-series are filed here. Some publication dates predate the series, hence the wider date range of the sub-series.
G. Notepads (box 40): Reavis used these spiral-bound pads to jot down notes during his research. The notepads here are either numbered, dated or titled, and are filed accordingly. Those notepads not pertaining to the Waco investigation are filed in either National Tour of Texas series or the Personal series.
H. Correspondence (box 41): Filed alphabetically, this sub-series features Reavis’ personal correspondence with some Mount Carmel survivors and other Branch Davidians, as well as official Freedom of Information Act requests with the U.S. Department of Justice.
I. Trials (boxes 42-58): This large sub-series is composed of legal documents from various trials stemming from the siege. The first trial, when the federal government prosecuted eleven Branch Davidians in 1994, is well documented, with over eight boxes of trial transcriptions. Reavis was a reporter at this trial in San Antonio and wrote about it in his book. Because of his expertise on Waco, Reavis served on the Timothy McVeigh defense team in 2000, and produced more subject files and gathered other legal documents, all of which are in the sub-sub-series McVeigh Defense Team. Miscellaneous other legal documents from additional trials are included in the Trials sub-series as well.
J. U.S. House Hearings (box 59): In July of 1995, Reavis testified at the joint hearings of the Oversight Subcommittee on National Security, International Affairs and Criminal Justice and the Judiciary Committee on Crime, and drafts of his statement are included here. Other House hearings are also detailed, with reports and transcriptions from 1993 and 1997 (in book and microfiche formats, respectively).
K. Gordon M. Novel Subject Files (box 60): Reavis wrote a feature for the San Antonio Express-News on Gordon Novel, a man with a mysterious past and an important figure in the continuing investigations into and conspiracy theories about Waco. Novel put forth the notion, using FLIR evidence, that FBI agents were firing into the Mount Carmel Center as the tanks inserted tear gas on the morning of April 19.
L. The Ashes of Waco (boxes 61-65): Drafts, page proofs, website materials, presentation points, correspondence, financial documents, reviews, contracts and marketing materials all chronicle the writing, editing and marketing of Reavis’ 1995 book.
Series II: The National Tour of Texas, 1985-1988, n.d. Boxes 66-73
In 1987, on assignment from 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. Reavis divided Texas into 48 regions, and organized almost all his documentation of the tour by these regions, including his notes, slides, postcards and maps. This numeric system has been preserved here.
The series is arranged into four sub-series: Documentation of Tour, which includes postcards, slides, logbooks, maps and notes; Materials About Tour, with correspondence, a scrapbook, souvenirs, press clips and articles, and promotional postcards; and Research, containing a book, dissertation and thesis on Texas.
Just prior to and as the trip got started, newspapers around the state covered the story. The Press Clips folder contains these clippings, and the Correspondence folder has letters from readers who want to give advice or extend invitations before his trip. The logbook, maps and handwritten/typed notebooks should be consulted for the most detailed documentation of the trip.
The full-size maps of Texas—one showing the regions he assigned and numbered, one showing the highways he drove—have been separated from the logbook where they were originally kept so they could be stored flat in an oversize document case. Two empty three-ring binders Reavis used for his notes are kept in box 71 as part of the “Documentation of the Tour” sub-series. The notes themselves are now kept in folders.
Series III: Published Works, 1967-2007, n.d. Boxes 74-82, 90
This series details many of the books and articles that Reavis has published (excepting The Ashes of Waco and “The National Tour of Texas,” which are in Series I and II, respectively) with drafts, correspondence, scrapbooks, research files, receipts, etc. The series is dated according to the publication dates of his pieces, not dates on any research materials he gathered.
The files are titled by title of article and arranged chronologically, though also according to original order of the files. For instance, the large “Anthology Choices” sub-series spans 1978-2004 and was compiled by Reavis for a planned book anthology of his work, so its files are kept together. Although this anthology remains unpublished, all the stories Reavis gathered were published in their time, so this sub-series is included in Published Works.
Series IV: Unpublished Works, 1979-1998, n.d. Boxes 83-84, 90
Highlighted by this series are the unpublished pieces from Reavis’ writing career. Drafts of a planned autobiographical book written for Texas Monthly Press in 1980 is featured. Unlike the previous series, this series is filed by type of project or title of the publication, rather than title of piece.
Series V: Correspondence, 1969-2001, n.d. Boxes 85-86
Submission queries and correspondence with editors or fellow writers constitute the bulk of this series. One exception of note is a file of letters between Reavis and Timothy McVeigh and others regarding an idea Reavis had for a book on the Oklahoma City bombing and the right-wing militia movement.
The first sub-series, Submission Files, preserves the alphabetical filing order and titles of a file box Reavis used for submissions to editors and presses, mainly in the mid-1970s. As a result, not all items in these folders are letters, but they do pertain to submission correspondence.
See the Waco Investigation, The National Tour of Texas or Published Works series for correspondence related to those topics.
Series VI: Photographs, ca. 1950’s-2005, n.d. Box 86
This series offers visual documentation of Reavis’ life from childhood to present day. The photographs are arranged by type: “Of Reavis,” “By Reavis,” “General” and “Assignments,” and chronologically within their respective sub-series.
See the Waco Investigation or The National Tour of Texas series for photographs related to those topics.
Series VII: Financial, 1976-1995, n.d. Box 87
Receipts and expense records constitute the Financial series. Included are the complete expense records of Reavis’ contract work with Harry Hurt and Fortune magazine in 1994-5. As with Correspondence and Photographs, financial records directly related to contents in other series are not included here.
Series VIII: Personal Papers, 1965-2006, n.d. Boxes 87-90
The Personal series chronicles a few of the awards Reavis has won and some of his civil rights work, among other aspects of his life. Publications Reavis collected over the years are included in a sub-series. Reavis’ curriculum vitae, compiled and donated in 2006, is in this series, and includes complete lists of his professional experience, awards won, and books and major articles published.
Series IX: Audio-Video Materials, 1956-2001, n.d. Boxes 91-100, 103
Most of the tapes in the Audio-Video Materials series are related to the Waco Investigation series, but also included are audio tapes from Reavis’ research for his “Politics of Armageddon” article. A database with item-level description is available to researchers, located on the SWWC server. Ask an archivist for details.
Series X: Computer Media, 1994-2007, n.d. Boxes 101-103
Like the previous series, most computer diskettes and discs are related to the Waco Investigation series, except for a few with photographs and correspondence files on them. An item-level descriptive table is included in the container list. A database with item-level description is available to researchers, located on the SWWC server. Ask an archivist for details.
Administrative Information
Access: Open for research.
Preferred Citation: Dick J. Reavis Papers, The Wittliff Collections, Texas State University
Acquisition Information: Donated by Dick J. Reavis, 1997, 2001-2007
Processing Information: Processed by Joel Minor and Amy Cockreham, 2006
Notes to Researchers  In addition to the materials detailed in this finding aid, Mr. Reavis has donated over 100 books, videocassettes, and other items that have been cataloged and shelved on The Wittliff Collections stacks. Most of these items are related to the Waco investigation. See the on-line catalog or the printed list available from the archivist. And check the The Ashes of Waco website and digital collection for information on and digitized items from Reavis' The Ashes of Waco research materials.