Sunday, May 21, 2017

Wiley College Honors Convocation

On Monday evening, April 10, I was on the campus of Wiley College in Marshall for the Annual Honors Convocation. More than 140 students were designated to receive certificates recognizing their academic achievements as President's Scholars (3.80 to 4.00 GPA) or Dean's Scholars (3.79 to 3.50 GPA). I was present at the invitation of Dr. Bernadette Bruster, Academic Dean and Chair of the Honors Convocation Committee. Dean Bruster asked me to address the Convocation, and a full page of the 12-page program was devoted to the credentials and a color photograph of the State Historian.

The event was held in the Julius S. Scott, Sr., Chapel. We entered the auditorium in a formal processional, accompanied by organ music played by Dr. T. Bernard Clayton, Professor of Music. Following an invocation, we were entertained by a magnificent organ selection from Dr. JuYeon J. Lee of the music faculty.

I was introduced by Dr. Raquel Henry, Assistant Professor of History. My remarks related highlights of Wiley College, which was established in 1873 and is the oldest African-American college in Texas. The students were unaware, for example, that the Wiley Wildcats won three national football championships, one each in the decade of the 1920s, the 1930s, and the 1940s. More familiar was the triumph of the Wiley debate teams under English professor and poet Melvin B. Tolson, portrayed by Denzel Washington in the 2007 motion picture, The Great Debaters. Along with anecdotes and facts about their institution, I told the honorees about my admiration for higher education students who are academic achievers.

A professional photographer was present to record the moment when, as each honoree, having been presented his or her certificate, ascended the stage and shook hands with Dr. Bruster. As the first student walked toward Dean Bruster, I was surprised when I was summoned from my chair to help welcome each student. I was informed that the honorees wanted the Texas State Historian to shake their hands and offer words of congratulations and pose with Dean Bruster and each fine student. I was immensely proud to be included in the ceremony in this unexpected manner.

Afterward we repaired to the nearby Freeman P. and Carrie E. Hodge Building, where refreshments and a reception had been prepared. Wiley College could take pride in the memorable occasion that had been staged to honor their best students.   

Dr. Bruster presented a plaque to me commemorating the State Historian's participation in the 2017 Honors Convocation.


In 1907 Wiley President Matthew Dogan obtained a Carnegie Grant to erect a public library on the Wiley campus. Thirteen of the 33 Carnegie library buildings in Texas still stand, and four are still used as libraries. During the 1970s the Carnegie structure on the Wiley campus was converted to an administration building.

Following the devastating campus fire of 1906, a new President's Home was built, utilizing student labor.


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Chisholm Trail at 150

I spent the first weekend in May representing Texas at the 150th anniversary celebration of the Chisholm Trail, held in Caldwell, Kansas. Caldwell, located just above the Kansas-Oklahoma  line, became known as the "Border Queen."  For more than a decade the Border Queen was a wild trail town, the first place since leaving Texas that cowboys had access to liquor and other recreational possibilities. Before driving their herds farther north to a Kansas railhead, drovers could drink and cavort with sporting women in Caldwell. Where liquor flowed so freely there were brawls and shootouts, along with lynchings, and violence continued after Caldwell became the Chisholm Trail railhead. Indeed, the casualty list in and around the Border Queen was greater than that in Abilene or Wichita or Dodge City. 
On the approach to Caldwell from the South, these silhouettes were erected
by volunteers in 1995.
This arch overlooks the principal intersection of Main Street.
When I was invited as State Historian to represent Texas at the Caldwell Chisholm Trail Festival, it was explained to me that there would be dignitaries from Kansas and Oklahoma. Of course, I felt that there SHOULD be a Texas representative, since both the cattle and the cowboys came from the Lone Star State. I was asked to make an address about frontier Caldwell and to sign copies of a book I had written, Border Queen Caldwell, Toughest Town on the Chisholm Trail. Through the years I had written articles about the Border Queen, as well as a biography about the murderous city marshal, Henry Brown, and I donated to the Border Queen Museum a scale model of Caldwell in the 1880s. Through all of these projects I was aided by a remarkable Caldwell historian, Karen Sturm. Karen has energy, enthusiasm, and organizational gifts, and she has put together a number of heritage events for the Border Queen, including the Caldwell Chisholm Trail Festival.  

Caldwell's first Opera House was saved and restored by volunteers.
The scale model of early Caldwell that I researched and built is still displayed by the Border Queen Museum.
The most famous of all cattle trails, the Chisholm Trail, opened in 1867, and during the next 18 years more than 4 million longhorns were driven up the historic route to Kansas railheads. The first railhead was developed by cattle buyer Joseph G. McCoy at Abilene, where Texas drovers enjoyed raucous sprees after months on the trail. By 1871 tracks were laid toward the south, and Abilene became nearly deserted, while Newton had one season as railhead before the tracks moved on to Wichita, which remained end-of-track for the Chisholm Trail during the rest of the decade.

 Historical markers have been placed all over downtown Caldwell. This one quotes me from a book I wrote, "Border Queen Caldwell: Toughest Town on the Chisholm Trail."
 But a farmers' quarantine law blocked the Chisholm Trail, even though business was too lucrative to abandon. So in 1880 railroad tracks were extended 49 miles southwest to Caldwell, then another three miles to the state line, where a large stockyard was erected. Texas steers entered the stockyard through gates in Oklahoma, before being driven onto cattle cars without violation of the quarantine law. Caldwell thus became the last railhead on the Chisholm Trail, until the penetration of Texas by railroads ended the famous Long Drives and closed the cattle trails.

With fellow Texans, David and Rena French

On Friday night a "Ghost Walk" up and down Main Street attracted
an unexpectedly large crowd.
The Caldwell Chisholm Trail Festival began on Friday, May 5, when area fourth-graders, along with early-bird tourists, toured the museums and exhibits and historic sites. The town's first opera house displayed a traveling exhibit, "Chisholm Trail Sesquicentennial: Driving the American West, 1867-2017." At the Border Queen Museum a Western art collection was exhibited, while upstairs a "Robbers Roost" displayed a bordello suite.   

With sporting lady
The original Boot Hill was north of town, and the few remaining markers were moved to Caldwell's permanent cemetery.
Hundreds of people came to town for Saturday's activities, which included stagecoach rides around town, mechanical bull rides, calf roping, longhorn cattle, Chisholm Trail Arts and Crafts Show, a street shootout, a Beard and Mustache Contest, a Chuck Wagon Dinner, an Old West Poker Tourney at a local saloon, and a Saturday night street dance. On Sunday morning all local churches combined for a Cowboy Church Meeting, and later there were two quilt shows. There were other weekend activities, too numerous to mention. It was a splendid celebration, staged by a community of 1,100 people with a deep appreciation of the important and colorful place in history held by their town.
Deputy Sherriff Cash Hollister was fatally wounded in a shoot-out with outlaws outside town.
An impressive G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic) monument at the Caldwell Cemetery


I used a poster showing my great grandfather, Jess Standard, with a trail crew.

Caldwell Mayor Mark Arnold reading a proclamation on our flatbed stage
(Karen Sturm is at left.)

The 150th birthday cake at a private lunch on Saturday

My great-grandfather, Jess Standard, trailed cattle from Lampasas County to Kansas during the 1870s and 1880s. At Caldwell during May 5-6-7 I paid tribute, as State Historian, to Jess and the hundreds of other Texas cowboys who drove cattle herds up the Chisholm Trail. And like the drovers of long ago, I had a grand time in the Border Queen.  

With Karen Sturm, the dynamic Boss Wrangler of the Caldwell celebration
With Jesse Chisholm, great-great-grandson and namesake of the pioneer who blazed the Chisholm Trail

Signing books for a long line at the Border Queen Museum
Sporting ladies at the entrance to the upstairs Bordello replica

Sporting ladies in the Bordello parlor

Monday, May 1, 2017

Descendants of San Jacinto

One of the most memorable events of a busy State Historian spring schedule was the annual meeting of the Descendants of San Jacinto, held at Brady's Landing Restaurant on Saturday, March 25. I first met a large number of these Descendants on April 21, 2013, when I delivered the keynote address at the San Jacinto Monument. These men and women gathered for a group photo on the monument steps, and I was deeply impressed. During the ensuing years I've renewed several of these acquaintances at State Historian appearances during chapter meetings of Sons of the Republic of Texas and Daughters of the Republic of Texas.

With President General Fred Mead

At an SRT meeting in Conroe I encountered Fred Mead, currently serving as President General of the Descendants of San Jacinto. Two of Fred's ancestors played a key role in capturing Santa Anna following the Battle of San Jacinto. Fred and I have kept in touch, and he was kind enough to invite me to speak at the 2017 meeting of the Descendants of San Jacinto. He specifically asked me to talk about the Battle of San Jacinto, a program he had heard on a couple of previous occasions.    

Denton Bryant delivering a memorial for recently deceased Sam Houston IV

Brady's Landing Restaurant is located adjacent to the townsite of Harrisburg. Standing beside Buffalo Bayou at a site only a few miles west of San Jacinto Battlefield, Harrisburg was burned by General Santa Anna shortly before the famous battle, and Sam Houston's army saw the charred ruins on their way to San Jacinto. My program on the Battle of San Jacinto concludes with a dramatic incident that occurred a few hours after the battle, late on the afternoon of April 21, 1836.

Fred Mead and Judge Sharolyn Woods

With Marianne Messenger, Educator of the Year from Conroe ISD

I arrived early on the morning of the Descendants of San Jacinto luncheon. I found historical markers describing early-day Harrisburg, along with the pioneer cemetery and the homesite of Mr. and Mrs.  Harris, founders of the town. By the spring of 1836 Mrs. Harris was a widow, and she opened her home to David G. Burnet, interim president of the Republic of Texas, and his cabinet. They were on the run from Mexican forces, and when Santa Anna arrived only to find that they had escaped, he ordered the town destroyed. It was in these ruins on April 21 that a band of Texian refugees came, trapped, they thought, and soon to be captured by Mexican troops. But at the height of their desperation, a horseman suddenly galloped into sight . . . . 

Site of the Harris Home (founders of Harrisburg)

Venerable Glendale Cemetery

 When I entered Brady's Landing Restaurant Fred Mead was conducting the annual business meeting.  The lunch was excellent, and the State Historian's description of the battle produced a standing ovation. Afterward the Descendants presented several awards, inducted new officers, and offered a memorial to Sam Houston IV, who had passed away the previous week. Following a benediction the meeting adjourned, but a number of members wanted signed copies of my biography of Sam Houston, and it was a pleasure to visit with the Descendants and hear the stories of their illustrious ancestors.

Historical Marker at the Frost Bank


Monday, April 24, 2017

Gunfight at the First Baptist Church

The First Baptist Church of Mount Enterprise holds an annual Men's Night.  Men and boys (and a few wives) prepare a pot luck supper, and afterward there is a program. Last year I was invited to present the program by the pastor, Rev. Joe Orr. Mount Enterprise is only 27 miles from my home in Carthage, and I was pleased to accept. I had driven past the church countless times through the years, and I arrived early so that Reverend Orr could show me the plant. The Sunday School rooms are adjacent to the Sanctuary, but the spacious Fellowship Hall is separate, located across a driveway to the rear (which would prove to be a factor in a 2017 program at FBC).
FBC Mount Enterprise

In 2016 I presented a program on Texas cowboys, which seemed appropriate for a male audience. Someone asked about my books on gunfighters and frontier feuds, and I responded that on occasion I presented programs on "Gunfighterology."

Rev. Joe Orr

Several weeks ago I was called by Rev. Joe Orr, who told me that the men of First Baptist had requested that I return for their 2017 evening social, and this time they wanted a "Gunfighterology" presentation. I asked Joe if he was certain he wanted me to bring Western guns and rigs to his church and talk about killers and shootouts. But we reasoned together that Fellowship Hall was a separate facility from the church, and we rationalized that it might not get us in too much divine trouble.

Chow line
Several of the men had been students of mine at Panola College as far back as the 1970s and 1980s. I had a great time reminiscing with them and meeting their sons. A long table had been set up for my props, and they enjoyed examining the heritage weaponry. The meal was excellent and the program seemed to meet expectations. A number of men bought signed copies of my book on Texas Gunslingers, including a few intended as gifts. Overall I had another fine evening with the men of FBC in Mount Enterprise.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Carthage Book Club

On a Friday afternoon in March I drove to the house of Jean Bunyard on Lake Murvaul, less than 20 miles from Carthage. The Carthage Book Club was holding its March meeting and wanted some sort of program pertaining to the Texas Revolution from the State Historian. I responded to their invitation by pointing out that Sam Houston was a key figure of the Texas Revolution, but instead of talking about the Runaway Scrape and the Battle of San Jacinto, I suggested that they might prefer a program on Sam's three wives, as well as other romantic interludes.

At the Bunyard lake house

They liked the idea of a Sam Houston soap opera. I enjoyed lunching with the ladies, most of whom were longtime friends. And they seemed to enjoy the program about Houston and his wives. His first marriage, while he was governor of Tennessee, proved to be a disaster. His bride, much younger than Governor Houston, soon left for home. Eliza Allen Houston was not ready for marriage, and rumor held that she was pushed into the union by her politically ambitious family. In any event, Houston responded to the public furor by resigning the governorship and returning to the Cherokee tribe with which he had lived for three years as a Tennessee teenager.

By now the Cherokee had been forced to Indian Territory (now the state of Oklahoma). Known to the tribe as the Raven, Houston was welcomed back and urged by the Cherokee and other tribes as an intermediary with Indian agents and with tribal delegations to Washington D.C. Houston opened a trading post near Fort Gibson in I.T., but it was operated primarily by his Cherokee wife, Diana Rogers Gentry Houston. When Houston decided to try his luck in Texas, he left the trading post to Diana. She died in 1838 and is buried in Oklahoma's only national military cemetery, at Fort Gibson.

After Houston became a national military hero following the spectacular victory at San Jacinto, he was overwhelmingly elected president of the new Republic of Texas. The Texas Constitution did not permit consecutive presidential terms, and while visiting Alabama in an effort to recruit colonists, he was introduced to lovely Margaret Lea. For both Sam and Margaret it was love at first sight. Like Sam, Margaret had lost her father while she was a teenager. Her father was a minister, and she was a devout Baptist. He returned to Texas and a year of courtship ensued, mostly through courtship. Houston wanted to bring her to Texas for their wedding, but Margaret's mother, a formidable and highly capable woman, insisted that he return to Alabama for a wedding in their home.

They were married - in the Lea home - in 1840. Sam was 47 and Margaret 21, and during their 23-year marriage she presented him with eight children, four sons and four daughters. Their last child, Temple Lea Houston (named after her father) was the first baby born in the new - now the venerable and rebuilt - Governor's Mansion in Austin. Sam was re-elected president, he served the State of Texas for 13 years as a distinguished but controversial member of the U.S. Senate, and he concluded his public career as the only man ever to be elected governor of two states. And Margaret became the only woman to be first lady of the Republic of Texas and of the Lone Star State. 

During their marriage Margaret created a warm home life, in a succession of family residences, for her restless husband. The preacher's daughter prevailed upon Sam to be baptized at the age of 64, to her relief and as a good example for their children. She abhorred his drinking habits and influenced him to cut back markedly, which probably extended his life. He died at 70 in 1863, surrounded by his entire family. Sadly, Margaret died during a yellow fever epidemic only a few years later, at the age of 48. Because of health laws she was buried beside her mother at Independence, the site of her death, instead of beside her illustrious husband in Huntsville. Sam's domestic life was almost as adventurous and interesting as his public career.

Texas Tea Room and Panola County Heritage Museum

A few weeks later I received another invitation from the Carthage Book Club (both invitations were delivered to me by Brenda Giles, a former student of mine who had a distinguished teaching career in Carthage). The Book Club, in conjunction with the Panola College History Club, sponsored an appearance at Panola College of Alison Moore and Phil Lancaster, who were scheduled to present their program "Riders of the Orphan Train" on Thursday, April 6. Alison and Phil have researched the Orphan Train Movement for 20 years. The Orphan Train Movement was begun by a New England minister and social reformer named Charles Loring Brace. While studying theology in New York City, he was horrified that as many as 10,000 homeless orphans and abandoned children were living on the city streets. During the period from 1854 to 1929, the Children's Aid Society, organized by Reverend Brace, transported more than 250,000 homeless children from New York and other eastern cities to western states, such as Texas. The children were met at western train stations by adults who brought them to their family homes. The final orphan delivery occurred at the depot in Sulphur Springs, Texas.

In the Texas Tea Room


With Alison and Phil

Carthage Book Club members wanted the State Historian in the audience to meet the authors and to view their PowerPoint presentation of this little-known historical chapter. Unfortunately I had an out-of-town appointment on April 6. But Alison and Phil were scheduled to arrive in Carthage on Wednesday afternoon, April 5, and several ladies from the Book Club were hosting them for a six-o'clock supper at the Texas Tea Room. I was invited to join the supper party and help greet Alison and Phil, and I was delighted at the opportunity. I did a little homework beforehand, and I was able to ask them pertinent questions. Of course, we are fellow writers and researchers, and that gave us a lot to talk about. I enjoyed sharing another meal with friends from the Carthage Book Club. And after returning to Carthage I learned that the program was a great success, with almost 200 students and townspeople in attendance.