Thursday, February 26, 2015

British Flying Training School

"Lone Star Historian 2" is a blog about the travels and activities of the State Historian of Texas during his second year. Bill O'Neal was appointed to a two-year term by Gov. Rick Perry on August 22, 2012, at an impressive ceremony in the State Capitol. Bill is headquartered at Panola College (www.panola.edu) in Carthage, where he has taught since 1970. For more than 20 years Bill conducted the state's first Traveling Texas History class, a three-hour credit course which featured a 2,100-mile itinerary. In 2000 he was awarded a Piper Professorship, and in 2012 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wild West Historical Association. Bill has published over 40 books, almost half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine. In 2013 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by his alma mater, Texas A&M University - Commerce. 

BFTS plot at Oakland Memorial Cemetery
A few years ago I toured the BFTS (British Flying Training School) Museum in Terrell, while researching my book East Texas in World War II (Arcadia Publishing, 2010).  I first visited this museum when it housed exhibits on the U.S. Military Glider Program and its role during World War II. But this collection moved to Lubbock, where it may be toured as the Silent Wings Museum. Meanwhile, Terrell converted its airport museum to a local story, the 1941-1945 activities of the British Flying Training School, headquartered at Terrell’s Municipal Airport east of town.

With Museum Curator Mike Grout
BFTS Cemetery Memorial
Early this month my wife Karon and I, while returning to Carthage from a trip to Dallas, revisited the No. 1 British Flying Training School Museum and Terrell’s Oakland Memorial Cemetery, where a military plot is maintained for the English cadet pilots who were killed in training mishaps. I wanted to feature in my blog this little-known story of World War II. By 1941 Great Britain was standing virtually alone against Germany’s Nazi war machine. The United States began providing material assistance to the British while building up U.S. Armed Forces. To facilitate assistance to the increasingly cash-strapped British, Congress gave President Franklin D. Roosevelt the Lend-Lease Act in March 1941, which authorized “loaning” or leasing war materiel to the embattled Brits. 

It was under Lend-Lease that the British Flying Training School program took shape, and the principal training base would be No. 1 BFTS in Terrell, Texas. Facilities were erected under Lend-Lease, and two of the wartime hangars still stand. Royal Air Force pilot cadets were transported by ship from England to Canada. The first cadets arrived in 1941, before the United States entered the war. The cadets changed into civilian clothes (until after Pearl Harbor) before traveling incognito by train across the United States to Terrell. After arriving at the new training field, the cadets were issued BFTS uniforms.

There were 28 “Courses,” or Classes, of cadets between 1941 and 1945. Out of more than 1,400 RAF cadets (and 138 U.S. Army Air Force pilots) who earned their wings at No. 1 BFTS, 19 were killed in training, one died of natural causes, and three flight instructors also were killed. During each 28-week training period, cadet pilots spent far more time in the classroom than in the air. Ground-school courses included meteorology, mathematics, navigation, maps, airplane engines, and airplane identification. The Link Trainer was a flight simulator, a key element to pilot training. The cadet pilots progressed from biplanes to the AT-6 Advanced Fighter Trainer. More than 4,000 of these excellent planes were manufactured in Dallas, and the AT-6 began to be called the “Texan.”

Link Trainer
When off-duty, the RAF cadets organized a soccer league, and a championship trophy is part of the rich collection at the No. 1 BFTS Museum. The cadets were permitted to go into town on Wednesday evenings and Saturdays and Sundays, and often they were hosted by ladies of the Terrell War Relief Society. Romances sometimes developed, and after the war several Terrell women traveled to England for marriage. A few of the couples later returned to Terrell.

Karon and I were hosted at the museum by Curator Mike Grout, a retired Air Force pilot. There is an introductory film, and exhibits – ranging from log books to BFTS uniforms – are displayed in a large hangar. There are class photos of each of the 28 Courses. The No. 1 BFTS Museum stages a number of events, including WW II-style hangar dances, featuring the music of the Terrell High School Jazz Band. The BFTS chapter of Texas history is largely unknown, and a trip to the No. 1 BFTS Museum offers a rich experience for history buffs.
There are photos of all 28 BFTS Courses.

At reconstructed sentry post
For more information:  www.bftsmuseum.org

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Margaret Houston

"Lone Star Historian 2" is a blog about the travels and activities of the State Historian of Texas during his second year. Bill O'Neal was appointed to a two-year term by Gov. Rick Perry on August 22, 2012, at an impressive ceremony in the State Capitol. Bill is headquartered at Panola College (www.panola.edu) in Carthage, where he has taught since 1970. For more than 20 years Bill conducted the state's first Traveling Texas History class, a three-hour credit course which featured a 2,100-mile itinerary. In 2000 he was awarded a Piper Professorship, and in 2012 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wild West Historical Association. Bill has published over 40 books, almost half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine. In 2013 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by his alma mater, Texas A&M University - Commerce. 

A few of the UDC ladies
On Thursday afternoon, February 19, I drove to Henderson to meet with Centennial Chapter 2321 of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Texas Division. I shared a program with the UDC ladies about Margaret Lea Houston, wife of Sam Houston. It was the second program on Margaret that I had given in five days. My wife was out of town during the weekend, and I filled in as substitute teacher for her Sunday School class of senior ladies at Central Baptist Church in Carthage.

Margaret as a newlywed
The Sunday School Quarterly prescribed a lesson entitled, “Ready When Homosexuality Devastates.” I felt less than comfortable with presenting such a lesson to a devout group of Baptist ladies, one of whom is my mother-in-law. Instead I offered the story of Margaret Houston, whose father, Rev. Temple Lea, was a pioneer Baptist circuit rider in Alabama. Margaret’s mother, Nancy Moffette Lea, was just as devoted to the Baptist church as her husband, who died in 1834. Margaret was deeply religious, and in 1854 she persuaded her famous husband to be baptized. A large crowd assembled at Rocky Creek, near the Houston home in Independence, to watch Rev. Rufus Burleson – President of Baylor University in Independence – baptize “Old Sam Jacinto.” (After Burleson announced that Houston’s sins were washed away, Sam famously remarked, “God help the fishes!”). The ladies enjoyed learning about a fellow Baptist woman, and about the romance between Margaret and Sam.

The Lea home in Marion
But for the ladies of the UDC, I shifted the focus from Margaret’s religion to her life as a Southern belle, as a wife and mother in the fastest-growing slave state in the nation, as the first lady of Texas during the secession crisis, and as the mother of a teenaged Confederate soldier – Sam Houston, Jr. – who was severely wounded at Shiloh and thereafter became a prisoner of war.

Houston's boarding house across the street
Margaret was born in 1819 near Marion, Alabama. Her mother’s family was prosperous, owning land and slaves, and Nancy Moffette Lea had a good head for business. Indeed, Nancy sometimes lived with Margaret and Sam in Texas, and ran the Houston household, since her daughter preferred other activities. Margaret was educated at two academies for young ladies, and after her father’s death she and her mother lived with her brother in Marion. In his handsome Greek revival home Margaret was married to Sam Houston in 1840. The couple owned slaves throughout their 23-year marriage, including Aunt Eliza, Margaret’s devoted and lifelong companion/servant. Margaret bore eight children, four boys and four girls, and she created a warm family home for her prominent husband.  (Their last child, Temple Lea Houston, was the first baby born in the Texas Governor’s Mansion.) During the troubled years preceding the Civil War, Houston was an outspoken Unionist, an unpopular position which resulted in his ouster as Texas governor in 1861. He died in 1863, and Margaret lost her mother the next year. Sadly, Margaret died of yellow fever at the age of 48 in 1867. But the UDC ladies agreed with me that Margaret Lea Houston was a remarkable woman of the Old South.

Margaret in her forties
A couple of hours after returning to Carthage, I went with my wife to the annual Panola County Chamber of Commerce Banquet, which was held in the large community room of the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame. I was asked to stand to be acknowledged as State Historian, a Panola County citizen with a statewide office, and the applause was most gratifying.  In 1988 I was presented the Panola County Citizen of the Year Award, which was established in 1953. I’ve always been enormously proud of that handsome and meaningful award. Little did I know that Karon had nominated me again, pointing out that as State Historian I have represented Panola College and Carthage all over Texas. At the banquet tonight I was utterly astonished to become the first person ever to receive this award twice. Without question the 2014 honor was granted because of my service as State Historian of Texas, another of many, many wonderful reasons that I treasure this position.
Receiving the Citizen of the Year Award from
Bill Holder, last year's recipient
Holding the 2014 and 1988 Awards


Friday, February 13, 2015

Sam Houston Regional Library


"Lone Star Historian 2" is a blog about the travels and activities of the State Historian of Texas during his second year. Bill O'Neal was appointed to a two-year term by Gov. Rick Perry on August 22, 2012, at an impressive ceremony in the State Capitol. Bill is headquartered at Panola College (www.panola.edu) in Carthage, where he has taught since 1970. For more than 20 years Bill conducted the state's first Traveling Texas History class, a three-hour credit course which featured a 2,100-mile itinerary. In 2000 he was awarded a Piper Professorship, and in 2012 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wild West Historical Association. Bill has published over 40 books, almost half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine. In 2013 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by his alma mater, Texas A&M University - Commerce. 

On Wednesday, February 11, I visited the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center a few miles north of Liberty. I had visited the Center several years ago while gathering material for Sam Houston Slept Here, A Guide to the Homes of Texas’ Chief Executives (Eakin Press, 2004). There is a cluster of historic buildings at the 116-acre site, which was donated by Governor Price Daniel and his wife, Jean Houston Baldwin Daniel, a great-great-granddaughter of Sam Houston. I needed to search for images of Sam Houston for a book I’m preparing, and I wanted to devote a blog to this excellent but somewhat out-of-the-way historic site. 


Governor and Mrs. Daniel, whose ranch home was just to the west, donated the site in 1973. Four years later the impressive Sam Houston Center was dedicated. The handsome, columned structure provides 17,600 square feet of exhibit space, archival storage, research areas, classrooms, and offices. Archives focus on the 10-county surrounding region, as well as upon Sam Houston. Longtime director Robert L. Schaadt has retired, but I was welcomed and assisted by Darlene Mott, Lisa Meisch, Sandra Burrell, and Kayla Burns. The new director is Alana Inman. 

After finding several images of Sam Houston, I thanked everyone and took a walk around the spacious grounds. Of special interest is the Jean and Price Daniel Home and Archive, built in 1982 and 1983 at a cost of $557,000. The exterior is a replica of the Greek Revival Governor’s Mansion as originally designed by Abner Cook. The 1854 plans included single-story wings connected to the north and south sides, but in order to save money those wings were never built. Although the exterior conforms to Cook’s original design, the interior arrangement is different, except for the entrance hall and the famous curved stairway. The Daniels moved furniture, artifacts, book collections, and family mementos into the 7,318-square foot house. The Daniels occasionally used the house for overflow guests from their nearby home. The “1854” exterior may be examined and photographed by passersby, and tours are available to the public with a two-week advance appointment. 

Several historic buildings have been brought to the park. The Gillard-Duncan House was erected in 1848 by Dr. Edward J. Gillard. The Gillard family moved to Liberty County from Louisiana in 1845. The Creole-style plantation house included an upstairs school room, as well as a traveler’s room with a separate entrance on the right side of the gallery. 
Gillard-Duncan house
Although built in the 1880s, the Norman House exhibits a simplified Greek Revival architectural style popular before the Civil War. St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church was erected in Liberty in 1898 and served the congregation for nearly a century before being replaced by a larger house of worship. The Sam Houston Center today utilizes it as a lecture hall and makes it available for use by civic, historical and nonprofit organizations. Also on the grounds is the 1930 Hull Rotary Club building, a single-room, six-sided structure that will house a Rotary museum. 
Norman house


The Sam Houston Regional Library is an excellent research center, surrounded by a fascinating collection of historic buildings. And any Texas history buff will enjoy the Governor’s Mansion built to its original design. 
St. Stephen's Church


For more information: samhoustoncenter@tsl.texas.gov

Friday, February 6, 2015

A Miscellany of History Activities

"Lone Star Historian 2" is a blog about the travels and activities of the State Historian of Texas during his second year. Bill O'Neal was appointed to a two-year term by Gov. Rick Perry on August 22, 2012, at an impressive ceremony in the State Capitol. Bill is headquartered at Panola College (www.panola.edu) in Carthage, where he has taught since 1970. For more than 20 years Bill conducted the state's first Traveling Texas History class, a three-hour credit course which featured a 2,100-mile itinerary. In 2000 he was awarded a Piper Professorship, and in 2012 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wild West Historical Association. Bill has published over 40 books, almost half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine. In 2013 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by his alma mater, Texas A&M University - Commerce. 



For years the M. P. Baker Library at Panola College has brought traveling exhibits to the campus. A few months ago Librarian Sherri Baker began working  to obtain “Prohibition in America” through the auspices of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The exhibit recently arrived in 21 crates, the largest display ever to grace the campus.

To introduce this superb exhibit to the college, to Carthage, and to the surrounding area, two events were held. On Saturday evening, January 31, a “Gatsby Gala” was organized by Jessica Pace, Director of Institutional Advancement at the college. In addition to lively entertainment, guests were free to reexamine the exhibit at their leisure.

The other event was a Lunchbox Lecture – a periodic library activity – scheduled for the noon hour on Tuesday, February 2. I was asked to provide a program that would relate our rural East Texas region to Prohibition in America.
During Prohibition and for years afterward, East Texas was a hotbed of moonshine activity. In 1980 I offered special credit to any of my Panola College students who could secure interviews with old-time East Texas moonshiners and/or bootleggers. There were 44 interviews, including three from law officers of the era. Eight of the interviewees insisted upon being listed as “Anonymous.” One young man’s grandparents permitted only the labels “John Doe” and “Jane Doe.” A few others used their old aliases, including one who gave his “pen name.”
Introduced by Librarian Cristie Ferguson

From three first-person interviews, I assembled a treasure trove of recipes for moonshine and home brew, of tips for improving third and fourth and fifth “runs” of sour mash, of prices for `shine and brew, of ways to hide a still. There are delightful anecdotes of the misadventures of moonshiners and bootleggers. All of this ferments (or “rots,” to use a moonshiner’s term) into an entertaining program. There was excellent publicity, and more than 120 people crowded into the library’s community room. Afterward the crowd went across the hall to examine the exhibit. It was an enjoyable college/community event, and this excellent display is open to the public until mid-March.
On Thursday afternoon at three o’clock I was one of 15 members of the Texas State Historical Association to participate in a conference call with Brian Bolinger, Executive Director of the TSHA since October 2014. This conference call was a first-ever event for the TSHA, and it was most interesting. For more than half an hour, Brian reported on 2014, and he offered a look at what’s ahead for 2015. At the start of 2014 TSHA membership stood at about 2,000, but by the end of the year that total doubled to 4,000. And in the first month of 2015 an additional 500 members have been enlisted, for an all-time membership record of 4,500. During 2014 the Handbook of Texas on-line enjoyed a record 13 million views. There were views of the Handbook and of the Texas Almanac from all 50 states and 200 nations. Almost 500 members have already registered for the annual meeting in Corpus Christi. Other exciting results were announced, as well as plans for the future. Brian fielded questions, and the 50-minute conference call offered proof that TSHA leadership is in most capable hands.
With TSHA Executive Director
Brian Bolinger

UCD has expanded into floors 2,3,
and 4 of the brown building at center.
The bridge leads to the Titche's bldg.
The next day Karon and I drove to Dallas for the ribbon-cutting of a major expansion of the Universities Center of Dallas. UCD is the oldest universities center in Texas, and the director is our daughter, Dr. Berri O’Neal. The longtime home of UCD has been the historic Titche's building, which originally housed a famous downtown department store. But the University of North Texas will utilize most of the building for its new law school, and the UCD has expanded into a 20-story building across Elm Street to the north and adjacent to the Majestic Theater. The three floors leased by the center - totaling over 42,000 square feet - have been handsomely renovated.

Karon and I with Dr. Berri O'Neal
Classrooms opened for the spring semester in January, with an enrollment of 1,300 students. A majority of UCD courses are offered by Texas A&M University at Commerce. Remarks were offered by Dr. Dan Jones, President of TAMUC, by Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, and by John Crawford, President of Downtown Dallas, Inc. All three speakers emphasized the exciting possibilities of a downtown university operation in the ninth-largest city in the United States. More than 300 guests assembled for the ceremony. Guided tours of the attractive  facility were conducted, and a catered lunch was provided. It was an important and impressive event in the life of an historical educational institution.
With Wyman Williams, enthusiastic ambassador for TAMUC
Dr. Dan Jones, TAMUC President
John Crawford, President of Downtown Dallas, Inc.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings



Saturday, January 31, 2015

Avenger Field

"Lone Star Historian 2" is a blog about the travels and activities of the State Historian of Texas during his second year. Bill O'Neal was appointed to a two-year term by Gov. Rick Perry on August 22, 2012, at an impressive ceremony in the State Capitol. Bill is headquartered at Panola College (www.panola.edu) in Carthage, where he has taught since 1970. For more than 20 years Bill conducted the state's first Traveling Texas History class, a three-hour credit course which featured a 2,100-mile itinerary. In 2000 he was awarded a Piper Professorship, and in 2012 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wild West Historical Association. Bill has published over 40 books, almost half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine. In 2013 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by his alma mater, Texas A&M University - Commerce. 

San Antonio's Randolph Field, the
"West Point of the Air"
On a recent trip to West Texas, my wife Karon and I visited the WASP Museum a few miles west of Sweetwater. I had toured the museum a few times during the past few years, but Karon had never been, and I decided it was time to draw attention to this unique facility through this blog.

With our clear skies and generally favorable weather, Texas was the training site of all of America’s military airmen until 1938. Indeed, Randolph Field in San Antonio was labeled the “West Point of the Air.” With the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939, air training expanded beyond the Lone Star State. But during the war 65 military airfields, large and small, were established in Texas, and 200,000 pilots, navigators, bombardiers, and gunners received their training at Texas bases. One of those air bases achieved special distinction. 

Sweetwater’s municipal air field went into operation during the 1920s. In May 1942 the War Department leased the airport, which encompassed 920 acres, for military use at one dollar per year. Sweetwater Army Air Field acquired a new label following a newspaper naming contest: Avenger Field. Cadet trainees from the RAF formed the first training class at Avenger Field, followed by more than a dozen classes of American aviation cadets. 

By 1943 the Army Air Corps recognized that women pilots could ferry planes from base to base and test repaired aircraft, thereby freeing male pilots for combat flying. The Women’s Air Force Service Pilots Force was organized, and more than 25,000 adventurous, patriotic female pilots applied for admission to the WASPs. The Women’s Auxiliary Service Ferry Squadron, known as the WAFs, also was formed.

Almost 1,100 young women were selected as WASPs. Even though WASP recruits had to pay their own way to Avenger Field, and although at first there were no uniforms or even cot mattresses, the WASPs overcame all obstacles and became the first American women trained to fly military aircraft. In the spring of 1943 Avenger Field in Sweetwater became the only all-female training base in U.S. history. There were male instructors and support crew members, but noted aviatrix Jacqueline Cochran led the eager WASP trainees. 


During 1943 and 1944, 14 WASP classes braved high winds and heat and rattlesnakes at Avenger Field, and 1,174 pilots earned their wings. WASPs had no official military connection, but operated with civil-service status. WASPs went on to fly 60 million miles in every type of U.S. plane – trainers, fighters, bombers - tested experimental and repaired aircraft, towed targets for ground-to-air and air-to-air firing practice, and accompanied cadet pilots in the air. Thirty-eight WASPs died – in landing or take-off accidents, in mid-air collisions, in airplane failures – died for their country.

The WASPs were disbanded on December 20, 1944, to make room for an exploding number of male cadets. Avenger Field became a training base for P-47 Thunderbolt pilots, before closing in November 1945. After the war the air field reverted to civilian use, although the military again leased the base for a time during the 1950s.

Today the National WASP Museum is housed in one of the old hangars. A training plane is in the hangar and sometimes is flown. There is a Link Trainer, a flight simulator that was a key element to pilot preparation at all training fields. There is a jeep, a barracks room, and superb displays built around enlarged photos. A gift shop leads to an excellent research room, which contains a wealth of interviews, documents, and photos. Funding is being raised to enlarge the facility and to reproduce the old control tower. A series of lively reunions has been held, and my daughter Shellie, a published playwright, has attended a reunion and worked in the research room with an eye to writing a play about the WASPs. 

For more information:   http://waspmuseum.org  
Jacque Cochran
Link Trainer