Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Denison

"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. 

Last week my wife Karon and I were in Denison to put together a blog about the historic sites of this long-important gateway to Texas, Denison’s most notable claim to historic fame is as the birthplace of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The son of David and Ida Eisenhower, “Ike” was born on October 14, 1890, in a rented house beside the railroad tracks. His father worked in a railroad mechanical shop, cleaning steam engines, but when Ike was a year and a half old the family moved back to Kansas, where their other six sons had been or would be born. Ike eventually graduated from West Point, and during World War II he became a five-star general and Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe. Later he was elected President of the United States in 1952 and 1956. 


Denison is justly proud of this outstanding native son. The presidential birthplace is a modest house decorated with antiques representative of a working-class home. A striking statue of General Eisenhower stands near the house in a small park. I’ve visited this site numerous times through the years, but at the visitor center – located in a period home of the neighborhood – I saw a fine collection of Eisenhower items. I met John Akers, Site Manager, and his assistant, Chris Crawley. After learning our plans for the day, Chris provided me with brochures and helpful suggestions. 

With a "conductor" at the RR Museum




Karon and I next drove north about five minutes to the Red River Railroad Museum, housed in the magnificent 1910 Katy Depot. The Katy Railroad Historical Society maintains a treasure trove of railroad artifacts, along with archives. The vast depot is a joy to explore, and there is rolling stock outside. 




Afterward we followed the path of Denison’s Historical Driving Tour, a highly useful brochure from the Chamber of Commerce. It was raining by the time we reached our next stop at Loy Park, just west of U.S. 75 at Loy Lake Road. The exit is marked by a large, excellent bust of Eisenhower overlooking the highway. After photographing this striking statuary, I entered the visitor center to the Grayson County Frontier Village. The visitor center features a large meeting hall and a fine museum. Outside there are 27 structures from the 19th century, many of them built with logs. Despite the light rain, it was exciting to hurry from building to building, peering inside and photographing exteriors. A six-page Tour Guide, complete with map as well as photos and descriptions of each building, is indispensible to the tour. 


















One room log school



Next we drove several miles west to the North Texas Regional Airport – which from 1941-1971 was Perrin Air Force Base. Perrin AFB opened a few months before Pearl Harbor and the Perrin Air Force Base Historical Museum is located in a building on the site of the former Base Exchange.
I walked inside and encountered five volunteer docents, two women and three men, each of whom is a retired Air Force veteran. “My name is Bill O’Neal,” I announced. “I’m the State Historian 
of Texas and – “ 
WW II vet Jim Farris

“We know who you are!” cheerfully exclaimed one of the ladies. “We’ve been expecting you all day!” It seems that Chris Crawley, after my first stop, had called her fellow docents around town. I was promptly introduced to Jim Farris, who graduated from a rural Texas high school in 1941, hitchhiked to San Antonio, and enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. Jim spent World War II at various air bases across the Pacific Theater. He retired in 1967, having served his last six years at Perrin AFB. Remaining nearby in retirement, he became a founding father of the Perrin AFB Historical Museum. Jim began with a single glass display case in the corner of a hangar, and through his efforts the collection expanded rapidly. In time, Ray Davis, principal owner of the Texas Rangers, erected the current building at no cost to the non-profit museum. Today the museum boasts weapons, uniforms, equipment, and memorabilia from both world wars, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, along with a fully-restored T-37 “Tweety Bird” Twin Engine Jet Trainer. It was a pleasure to tour this excellent museum, and a privilege to be in the company of Jim Farris. 
T-37 "Tweety Bird" Twin Jet Trainer

Denison offers a great deal to any history buff, and there was a special treat for Karon and me. One of our granddaughters, fourth-grader Bailey Henderson, was scheduled to play two games (including a make-up contest) in an elementary recreational league at the gymnasium of old Denison High School (today it is a junior high). Karon and I had just enough time to check into a hotel before meeting the Henderson family – Causby, Dusty, and daughters Bailey and Kendall – for an early supper before heading to the gym. It was a delight to spend the evening with the Hendersons, who live half an hour away in Van Alstyne. And Bailey, a little sharpshooter who already has hit a trio of three-pointers in the first five games of this mini-season, nailed a fourth three-pointer to make her grandparents extra proud! 
Karon and I with Bailey and Kendall Henderson

For more information:
www.visiteisenhowerbirthplace.com
www.redriverrailmusum.org
www.graysoncountyfroniervillage.com
www.perrinafbhistoricalmuseum.org


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Feild Ranch

"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. 

From a visit in the mid-1950s: in front, Mike O'Neal and Andy.
L to R: W.C. O'Neal, Bill, Uncle Mark (with Stetson), Judy,
Jessie O'Neal, Buddy Feild, Aunt LaVerne, Stan Feild
My favorite destination as a youngster was the sheep ranch of my uncle and aunt, Mark and LaVerne Feild. Aunt LaVerne was the older sister of my mother, Jessie Standard O’Neal, and they were born and raised in Lampasas. When Aunt  Laverne and Uncle Mark were married, she moved to the Feild ranch, about 15 miles south of Lampasas in Burnet County. On weekend trips from our home in Corsicana to the Feild ranch, my sister and brother and I enjoyed the company of our first cousins, Stan, Buddy, Lynda, and Andy. We all devoured the feasts that were regular fare at Aunt Laverne’s table and she cooked on a big wood-burning stove. And I always looked forward to riding horseback past cactus and rocks and scrub oaks.
Ranch house, built in 1910, after the 19th century house burned

I was in my late teens when Aunt LaVerne told me the story of an 1889 ranch shootout between an ill-tempered cowboy and Uncle Mark’s grandfather, Andy Feild. The out-of-work cowboy wore a gun rig, but he persuaded Andy to hire him as a sheepherder. Within a few days it became obvious that the cowboy was neglecting his duties. After the second time a neighbor complained that Feild sheep were grazing his pasture, Andy fired the cowboy. Feild added that he could stay the night in his shed room off the kitchen, but must leave the ranch following breakfast. The discharged hand took the news with ominous silence.

Aerial view showing outbuildings and at right,
brick house which replaced the 1910 home

The next morning Feild was dressing when his wife came to tell him of sounds, like the clicking of a revolver, that she had heard from the shed room while she was preparing the morning meal. Feild pulled out a .41-caliber revolver he rarely wore, stuck it in his waistband, then went to the pen to mend harness before breakfast. His nine-year-old son Albert (Uncle Mark’s future father) tagged along. The disgruntled cowboy wolfed down his food, then rode his horse to the pen. He dismounted and tossed his reins over the low fence.

“You son-of-a-bitch,” he spat out, “you’ve fired your last man!”

He jerked out his handgun and snapped off a shot. The slug missed, and Feild whirled around, gun in hand. Feild charged, firing rapidly, and hit the cowboy in the elbow and chest. The man fled on foot, already in shock from his wounds and surprised that Feild was armed. Feild triggered another bullet which caught him between the eyes and hurled him to the ground.

The .41 Colt used in the 1889 killing
Andy and his son Tom
After Feild calmed his family, he saddled a horse and rode into Burnet, the county seat, to tell the sheriff. His sheepdog went to the fallen figure and began to lick the wounds. Suddenly the “corpse” moaned and began to move. Mrs. Feild and Andy loaded him into a wagon, and Andy’s father, Dr. Marcus Feild (who had brought his family to frontier Burnet County in 1856) was summoned. The wounded man lingered through the day and night, but he died just before dawn. Authorities exonerated Andy Feild, and the cowboy was buried in an unmarked grave.

Inside the house, Andy is standing beside the old wall
 phone that was in the hall of the 1910 house.
This spring I visited my cousin Andy and one of his sons, Tom, at the Feild Ranch. Years ago the ranch was designated by the State of Texas as being the property of one family for more than a century. The three of us walked around the old barns and other outbuildings and took photos. Inside the house Andy brought out the .41 Colt revolver that his great-grandfather used against the disgruntled cowboy. Long ago Uncle Mark placed staghorn grips on the weapon. I’ve photographed it for other books, but it was good to handle it again. And it was good, as always, to visit with Andy and Tom at this ranch which holds so many rich memories for me.
With Andy in front of one of the barns

Thursday, May 14, 2015

San Augustine and Chronicle of the Old West

"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. 

I parked in front of the old theater/museum.
On Tuesday evening, April 28, I arrived in San Augustine to participate in the monthly meeting of the San Augustine Historical Society. I took a few minutes to drive by some of the early Texas architectural gems of San Augustine, before parking at the old movie theater that has been converted to a museum and meeting place. I was met by Marshal McMillan, a local businessman and history enthusiast who had invited me to speak at the May meeting. Marshall helped me unload a number of props and he found a table to place beside the speaker’s stand. After arranging my props, I began to greet early arrivals. It was a pleasure to visit with John and Betty Oglesbee, longtime friends from the East Texas Historical Association.

With Marshall McMillan
Following refreshments, a business meeting was held, and I was impressed by the large number of projects the Society is sponsoring in this historic community. I had been asked to speak on “Gunfighting in Texas.” I stressed the role played by San Augustine during the Regulator-Moderator War, the first and deadliest of the blood feuds of Texas.
Betty Oglesbee announcing projects
Just before I began the program, a couple slipped into the audience. I thought the man looked familiar, and when I finished my remarks, he immediately stepped up beside me. Signaling that he wanted to speak, he announced that more than three decades earlier he had been a student in one of my Early Admission history classes offered by Panola College at Marshall High School. He stated that he had no intention of going to college, but he signed up for the Early Admission class “because the prettiest senior girls enrolled.” Later he decided that college work was far more captivating than he ever imagined, and he continued on after high school to a degree. His words, of course, offered the highest praise any teacher could want. When he finally mentioned that his name is Jeff Cox, I immediately remembered the outstanding history project that Jeff and a classmate, Jackie Lloyd (who recently announced his retirement as Athletic Director at Harleton High School), conceived and performed by Jeff and Jackie. They built an outdoor boxing ring and put on an excellent exhibition of 1890s pugilism (I was drafted to referee). I am deeply grateful to Jeff for taking the trouble to attend the meeting and to make a public statement on my behalf.

With Jeff Cox
The following week I taped a half-hour interview about “Gunfighting in Texas” with Dakota Livesay. Years ago Dakota and his beautiful wife Sunny, created Chronicle of the Old West, a monthly publication and an hour-long syndicated radio show. Through the years I’ve provided a large number of interviews for Chronicle, and occasionally, after delivering an address somewhere, a member of the audience will come to me and say, “You’re that radio guy!”
Dakota and Sunny Livesay with Jake

Friday, May 8, 2015

Kilgore - Longview - Beaumont

"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 Thursday, April 16, I drove to Kilgore to participate in an afternoon tea of the Kilgore Women’s Club. The club regularly meets in the Fellowship Hall of the First Presbyterian Church. This Presbyterian congregation was organized in 1850, and the current sanctuary was erected during the 1930s boom of the East Texas Oil Field. The imposing church stands in a highly visible location, and I had driven past it on numerous occasions. So on April 16 I arrived early to tour the sanctuary. It is magnificent, and so is the pipe organ.

Texas table decorations
The members of the Kilgore Women’s Club were beautifully dressed, their company was charming, and the refreshments were delicious. Their program theme for the year is “Bold Texas Women,” and since the speaker for the day was the State Historian of Texas, table decorations featured a Texas theme. A number of the ladies had Texas touches with their attire, and I was glad I had worn a Texas tie and a Lone Star lapel pin.

Kilgore Women's Club members


Margaret Lea Houston was the subject of my program. Born in 1819 in Alabama, she became a lovely Southern belle, well-educated for the day and a devout Baptist (her father, Rev. Temple Lea, was a Baptist preacher). When she met Sam Houston he was a national hero, famous for leading a spectacular victory at San Jacinto. A former governor of Tennessee, he already had completed the first of two terms as president of the Republic of Texas, and later Houston would serve as U.S. Senator and as Governor of Texas. But this remarkable man also twice had been married and was a drinker and carouser. Furthermore, he was 26 years older than Margaret. But when they met, in Alabama in 1839, Sam and Margaret were smitten, and a year later they were married at her home in Marion, Alabama. (Karon and I visited that home, as well as other pertinent sites in Marion, last summer.)

Sam was 47 and Margaret was 21 when they wed in 1840. During their 23-year-marriage Margaret bore eight children, four boys and four girls. (Number eight was named Temple Lea Houston, after Margaret’s father, and he was the first baby born in the Governor’s Mansion.) Margaret created a warm home for Sam, while curbing his drinking and bringing religion to his life. Sam died at the age of 70 in 1863, and his final words were of Margaret and Texas. Sadly, Margaret died of yellow fever just four years later. She was only 48.

I utilized this same program a couple of weeks later when I addressed the Gregg County Genealogical society at the Longview Public Library. This group meets monthly, and for years I’ve provided a program during their annual schedule, since this genealogical work also spurs a strong interest in history. I’ve made a number of friends in this organization, and I enjoyed visiting with them beforehand. I also enjoyed refreshments with them, while they in turn seemed to enjoy hearing about the love story of Margaret and Sam Houston.
Gregg County Genealogical Society

Elma Ash introducing the program
Just two days after talking about Margaret and Sam to the Kilgore Women’s Club, I drove down to Beaumont for a luncheon address to a regional convention for the Lions Club International. I spoke on “Musical Traditions of Texas,” in large part because the Beaumont-Port Arthur area was home to such renowned artists as Janis Joplin, Harry James, and in the field of Country and Western Music, Tex Ritter, Clay Walker, Mark Chesnutt, George Jones, Tracy Byrd, and Moon Mullican. At the end the room was led to sing, “Deep In the Heart of Texas,” and when I inserted the traditional four rapid claps – clap-clap-clap-clap – everyone laughed and joined in to the end of the song. A deejay added to the atmosphere by playing Lone Star music before and after lunch and the program.
Head table




Introduction by Lion James Browning

Thursday, April 30, 2015

TOHA 2015

"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. 

Entrance to Rayburn Student Center
The Texas Oral History Association held its Fourth Annual Conference on Saturday, April 25, on the campus of Texas A&M University at Commerce. Hosts and sponsors for the 2015 Conference were the TAMUC Department of History, Honors College, and the East Texas War and Memory Project. The President of TOHA was Dr. Eric Gruver of the TAMUC Honors College, while his associate, the energetic and lovely Hayley Hasik, served as program chair. Headquarters for the conference was the Sam Rayburn Student Center.
Program Chair Haley Hasik registering an attendee
I was invited to present a program and to provide a short luncheon talk. I was delighted at the opportunity to participate in a TOHA event, and it is always a pleasure to return to my alma mater. During four decades as a faculty member at Panola College, I required my students to interview someone – often a relative (parent, grandparent, great-grandparent) – on some aspect of recent history. During the 1970s I received a number of great-grandfather interviews on the First World War, and there were several hundred personal accounts on the Great Depression and on World War II. Later there were interviews on the Korean War, Vietnam, Civil Rights, and a miscellany of other topics, such as one-room schools and moonshining. East Texas once was a hotbed of moonshining activity, and I collected more than 40 interviews from old-time moonshiners and bootleggers, as well as from a few law-enforcement officers who battled this activity. The program I was scheduled to present on Saturday morning was, “Moonshiners and Bootleggers of Old East Texas.”
TOHA President Eric Gruver and Editor Dan Utley

Nearly 30 programs were presented on Saturday. Presentations were made by college and university faculty members and students, as well as a student delegation from W.A. Meacham Middle School, who provided, “Immigrant Voices from Diamond Hill, Fort Worth: An After-School Oral History Program at W.A. Meacham Middle School.” Refreshment breaks during the morning and afternoon permitted considerable interaction, and so did our lunch hour at the nearby Alumni Center. The meal was catered by an Italian restaurant, and it was my pleasure to share a few remarks with TOHA members about the office of State Historian, about my experiences in conducting and collecting interviews, and about grassroot historians. Highlight of the lunch hour was presentation of the Ken Hendrickson Best Article Award by Dan Utley, editor of the TOHA publication Sound Historian. The award was given to Milton Jordan for his 2014 article, “Civil Rights and College Journalism: Mark Lett and the 1961 Southwestern University Megaphone.”


I was preceded by TAMUC Honors
Student Jaylen Wallace
TOHA had its origins in October 1982, when the Oral History Association held its national meeting in San Antonio’s Menger Hotel. About 40 Texans – college members and students, secondary teachers, librarians, folklorists, local historians – discussed the possibilities of forming a state organization for oral historians. The following year TOHA received a charter from the State of Texas as a nonprofit organization hosted by the Baylor Institute for Oral History. TOHA has led numerous workshops across Texas, and has provided sessions at annual meetings of the Texas State Historical Association, the East Texas Historical Association, and the West Texas Historical Association. In 1993 TOHA inaugurated its journal, Sound Historian. The current annual conference series began in 2012 at Baylor University. In 2013 the conference was held at Texas State University, followed by the 2014 conference at Stephen F. Austin State University. The 2015 meeting at TAMUC was a lively success, and next year’s conference will return to Baylor on Saturday, April 23, 2016. 
Demonstrating diagram of a moonshine still
Lunch crowd
Showing my State Historian cap and socks
Dan Utley presenting the Best Article Award to Milton Jordan