Terry Gilbert Jordan, geographer and university professor, was born on August 9, 1938, in Dallas Texas. He was the second child of Gilbert John Jordan and Vera Belle (Tiller) Jordan. A professor of German literature, Gilbert Jordan taught at Southern Methodist University (SMU) from 1930 to 1968. As a child, Terry Jordan developed a fascination with maps after his father gave him an atlas. Jordan’s interest in geography and travel was further inspired from a family road trip to Colorado and his observation of Capulin Mountain and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. He grew up in the Dallas suburb of University Park near the SMU campus. Although he attended Methodist Church services with his parents, Jordan expressed no personal faith in any religion as an adult and stated on one occasion that geography was his religion.
After graduating from Highland Park High School in 1956, Jordan enrolled at SMU where he majored in German and geography. Several professors had a profound influence on him, including Edwin Foscue, a geography professor and native Texan of German heritage whose engaging lectures and writings made a powerful impression. A sixth-generation Texan, Jordan took pride in his family’s German heritage and was secure in his decision to devote his life to a career in geography and higher education. Elected to Phi Beta Kappa, Jordan graduated with honors and received his B.A. from SMU in 1960.
As a student, Jordan was drawn to cultural, historical, and settlement geography. He entered the University of Texas at Austin in the fall of 1960. His master’s thesis, “The German Element of Gillespie County, Texas,” was directed by political geographer George W. Hoffman. Jordan received his M.A. degree in August 1961. Before beginning work on his doctorate degree, he took a year off. On August 18, 1962, he married Marlis Anderson. She supported her husband as a typist, fact checker, and proofreader. They also translated German documents and contributed a paper, “Letters of a German Pioneer in Texas,” in The Southwestern Historical Quarterly (April 1966). Although the marriage did not last, they had three children: Tina, Sonya, and Eric.
Jordan entered the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1962. Although he was awarded a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, he rejected it in favor of a $7,000 Southern Teaching Career Fellowship for three years of graduate study for the Ph.D. Andrew Hill Clark, one of the nation’s foremost historical geographers, served as his dissertation director. At Madison, Jordan wrote two articles published in Agricultural History: “Windmills in Texas” in 1963 and “Between the Forest and the Prairie” in 1964. After finishing his dissertation, “A Geographical Appraisal of the Significance of German Settlement in Nineteenth-Century Texas Agriculture,” Jordan was awarded his Ph.D. in 1965.
During his academic career, Jordan held positions at Arizona State University (1965–69), North Texas State University (now University of North Texas, 1969–82), and the University of Texas at Austin (1982–2003). At North Texas State, Jordan served as a professor of geography and the chairman of the geography department. There, he worked at strengthening the department and making it more visible. In 1982 he returned to Austin as the Walter Prescott Webb Professor of History and Ideas in the geography department at the University of Texas.
As a scholar, Terry Jordan’s list of publications was one that very few could match in quality and quantity. Writing came easy for Jordan. He authored or coauthored fifteen books or textbooks during his career. He published a revised version of his dissertation, German Seed in Texas Soil: Immigrant Farmers in Nineteenth-Century Texas (1966). Jordan’s other works included: Trails to Texas: Southern Roots of Western Cattle Ranching (1981); Texas Graveyards: A Cultural Legacy (1982); North American Cattle-Ranching Frontiers: Origins, Diffusion, and Differentiation (1993); with Bella Bychkova, Siberian Village: Land and Life in the Sakha Republic (2001); and The Human Mosaic: A Thematic Introduction to Cultural Geography (1976, tenth edition 2006), a popular textbook.
In academic circles, Jordan received much recognition for his scholastic work. The Agricultural History Society (AHS) awarded Jordan the Everett E. Edwards Memorial Award for “Between the Forest and the Prairie” as the best article in Agricultural History by a graduate student in 1964. Jordan’s “Forest Folk, Prairie Folk: Rural Religious Cultures in North Texas” in The Southwestern Historical Quarterly (October 1976) won the Texas State Historical Association’s (TSHA) H. Bailey Carroll Award for best article in 1976. In 1979 he was awarded the Coral Horton Tullis Memorial Prize for best book on Texas history by the TSHA for Texas Log Buildings: A Folk Architecture (1978). The American Association of Geographers (AAG) awarded Jordan with its Honors Award and Distinguished Scholar Award in 1982. Jordan also served as the president of the AAG (1987–88). The AHS awarded the Theodore Saloutos Memorial Award for the best book in agricultural history to Jordan and coauthor Matti Kaups for The American Backwoods Frontier: An Ethnic and Ecological Interpretation in 1989. The TSHA named Jordan a Fellow in 1979. The Texas Institute of Letters inducted him as a member in 1996.
By the end of his career, Terry Jordan could claim many successes. Around the world, he had conducted field research on five continents in sixty-five countries. Jordan’s scholarship derived from much of his travels. He was admired for his work by his friends, family, students, and the academic community—as evidenced by the comments of Duane Nellis, president of Ohio University and a former president of the American Association of Geographers. Nellis recalled, “Terry Jordan was a leading edge historical/cultural geographer. Through his work he provided unique and important perspectives on folk architecture, cultural legacy and landscape interpretation.” Jordan was also known for his congenial manner, wit, jokes, quirks, and storytelling. Terry Jordan married Bella Bychkova on March 8, 1997. To honor his wife, he took the name Terry Jordan-Bychkov.
At the age of sixty-five, Terry Gilbert Jordan-Bychkov died at his home in Austin on October 16, 2003, from pancreatic cancer. He had battled the disease for more than two and a half years. At the time of his death, he was survived by his wife, his children, and three granddaughters. In a tribute to the geographer, a memorial ceremony was held at the Main Building at the University of Texas and was attended by members of the academic community and his family. In accordance with his wishes, his body was cremated and his ashes were scattered in locations close to him.