Tuesday, September 13, 2016

National Cowboy Symposium

The 28th Annual National Cowboy Symposium and Celebration was held in Lubbock on September 9-10-11, 2016. Alvin Davis, founding father of the Symposium, began inviting me to present programs during the 1990s. I greatly enjoyed the Symposium in the various years in which I was invited, and this weekend I had the pleasure of visiting with Alvin.
With Monica Hightower, Boss Wrangler of the Symposium

Exhibitors and Vendors in the Lubbock Civic Center

For the last several years, the Boss Wrangler of the Symposium has been the efficient and lovely Monica Hightower. When I became State Historian of Texas in 2012, Monica suggested that I present a series of programs on Cow Country Violence. I was delighted at the possibilities, and during the past few years, I’ve delivered programs on range wars of West Texas and on gunfighter cowtowns of the Lone Star frontier. There has been enthusiastic response – large crowds, lots of questions, impressive book sales – to this series of programs.

When Monica contacted me about appearing me at the 2016 Symposium, I suggested the West’s most famous – or infamous – range feud: the Johnson County War. Of course the Johnson County War took place in Wyoming, not Texas, but this is the NATIONAL Cowboy Symposium. Besides, the great hero of the Johnson County War was a courageous Texas cowboy, Nate Champion, and the great villain was a cold-blooded assassin from Texas, Joe Horner (alias Frank Canton). And at the climax of the range war, 22 well-paid gunmen from Texas were brought in to spearhead the action. The cultural impact of the Johnson County War was immense, inspiring the wildly popular novel The Virginian, which spawned motion pictures, made-for-TV movies, and the first 90-minute TV series. Shane, another classic novel and motion picture, also was derived from the Johnson County War. One of the non-fiction works about the famous conflict was my effort, The Johnson County War, which was named Book of the Year by the National Association for Outlaw and Lawman History in 2005.

Cathy Whitten, one of many talented performers at the Cowboy Symposium

As I drove into Lubbock on Friday morning, September 9, the commercial for the 2016 Symposium came over my car radio, and I was thrilled to hear my presentation and my official position featured. After I arrived, I thanked Monica for the State Historian publicity, and she told me that the Facebook ad had enjoyed more than 100,000 hits.  The handsome magazine-style program described in detail: “The Most Infamous Range War in the U.S. – The Johnson County War, by Texas State Historian Bill O’Neal.” Friday afternoon I presented the program to a large crowd. Saturday morning I repeated the program to an audience which, while not quite as large was most receptive.
As State Historian I was interviewed for a news cut by Elizabeth Pace of KLBK-TV Lubbock, a CBS Affiliate.
Part of the large crowd for my Friday program on the Johnson County War

In addition to the range war program, I also was part of a Friday authors’ panel. The panel was chaired by Dusty Richards, former president of the Western Writers of America. Panelists included Karen Fitzjarnell, Nathan Dahlstrom, and the Texas State Historian. The panel was well-attended, and panelists fielded numerous questions from aspiring authors.

Immediately following my Friday program, in the same banquet room we conducted an author panel. L to R: Nathan Dahlstrom, Dusty Richards, Karen Fitzjarnell, Bill

In the Exhibitors' Hall, I visited with Nathan Dahlstrom and his son, and I bought personalized books for three of my grandchildren.

Throughout Friday and Saturday, on two stages – indoor and outdoor – there was constant entertainment from an impressive array of musical artists and cowboy poets. There were horse-training demonstrations, farrier demonstrations, the annual Parade of the Horse, and dazzling shopping opportunities from vendors. Saturday featured the National Championship Chuck Wagon Cook-Off, and on Sunday morning there was a delicious Chuck Wagon Breakfast prior to the annual Cowboy Devotional Service.

Presenting the Johnson County War Program on Saturday

A pleasurable bonus for me was encountering and visiting with old friends. Every year in Lubbock, I count on seeing “regulars” at the Cowboy Symposium, and this year, as usual, I saw friends that I did not expect to meet here. The greatest surprise of all was James Prater from Dawson. Jamie and I met while attending Navarro College in Corsicana. We participated in athletics together, and we both entered the field of coaching. Jamie spent a long career in Lubbock, where he and his wife are enjoying an active retirement. He saw one of the advertisements that mentioned my name, and graciously he paid a surprise visit to my Saturday program. We had not seen each other in more than half a century, and we had a grand time catching up. Such encounters have been one of the deep pleasures of my four years as State Historian.

With Jamie Prater, an old friend from college days

For more information, visit www.cowboy.org.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Interview with Johnny D. Boggs

Several months ago Greg Lalire, editor of Wild West Magazine, asked me to write an article about the murderous East Texas desperado Cullen Baker. I also was privileged to provide two short features, "9 Western Film Stars From Texas" and a list with descriptions of "Books and Videos About Frontier Texas." Furthermore, Johnny D. Boggs, a gifted and prolific Western author whose work has earned him six prestigious Spur Awards from the Western Writers of America, included a review of my most recent book, Sam Houston: A Study in Leadership. Best of all, Johnny interviewed me for the magazine,"Bill O'Neal Talks Texas," emphasizing my role as State Historian of Texas.

Johnny D. Boggs
These five features are in the October 2016 issue of Wild West, which is still on the magazine racks. There was room in the issue for only half of the original interview, so the entire interview comprises the remainder of this blog. I'm deeply grateful, of course, to Greg Lalire and to Johnny D. Boggs.

 Longtime Western historian Bill O'Neal keeps very busy. Appointed Texas State Historian by Governor Rick Perry in 2012, O'Neal has taught at Panola College in Carthage since 1970 and blogs weekly (lonestarhistorian.blogspot.com and lonestarhistorian2.blogspot.com) about his revelations regarding Texas history. He has written more than 40 books, including Sam Houston: A Study in Leadership (2016) and the forthcoming Frontier Forts of West Texas, for Arcadia Publishing. O'Neal recently made room in his packed schedule to speak with Wild West.

What led you to write about Sam Houston?
In 2012, shortly after being appointed State Historian, I was asked to present a lecture at the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin and was assigned the topic "Leadership Qualities of Sam Houston." I've been fascinated by "Old Sam Jacinto" all of my life, and I lectured about him for more than 30 years in my Texas history classes at Panola College. So it was a pleasure to develop my ideas about Houston as a leader, and the audience response was so strong that I used the topic on other occasions. It was a particular thrill to deliver the keynote at the San Jacinto Monument on San Jacinto Day 2014. This was a subject that needed to be developed into a book.

What were his best qualities and worst flaws?
In combat Houston exhibited raw physical courage. He led from the front and suffered severe wounds leading charges at Horseshoe Bend and at San Jacinto. Sheer physical size is an asset for a military leader, and with his imposing physique Houston commanded instant respect from other soldiers. He was an extraordinary orator, a useful gift in both military and political leadership. Houston held powerful convictions, and he readily assumed responsibility for his actions. Although he made friends easily, when crossed, he would excoriate his adversaries ruthlessly, thus developing bitter enemies. And he drank heavily, a trait noticed by the public and proclaimed by his enemies.

What prompted your book on west Texas forts?
Texas has seen more combat, civilian as well as military, than any other state or territory. The U.S. Army built more forts in Texas than in any other state, but by the time we became a state, the conflicts between Anglo settlers and American Indians had ended in east Texas, and the military frontier had shifted westward. Many of these forts have been wonderfully preserved, while others are in ruins. But at all of these sites the 19th-century ghosts may be felt. In Texas the Army learned to utilize cavalry against horseback warriors, and "forts" were not fortified - they were military towns, bases from which to launch patrols and pursuits. The U.S. Camel Corps operated in Texas, and so did all four regiments of buffalo soldiers. There is a rich story to tell, and these photogenic old outposts (the book will feature some 200 photos) provide a great starting point for a writer.

Do you have a favorite West Texas outpost?
I've been traveling to these old forts for almost 60 years, and I love 'em all. But for 20 years I conducted a "Traveling Texas" history course twice per summer, covering 2,100 miles and including camping in Big Bend and the David Mountains. The students reacted most to sprawling Fort Davis, a regimental post superbly restored and maintained by the National Park Service. John Wayne, John Ford and their "cavalry trilogy" would have been right at home at Fort Davis. 

What does being the State Historian mean to you?
I was astounded when notified of my appointment. I'm in my second term now. I'm pretty much allowed to freelance, so I function as an ambassador for Texas history. I speak at historical events and for every type of group in the Lone Star State. It's been one of the most delightful and meaningful gigs in my career as a historian.

So does being State Historian open any doors?
My official status has opened many historical doors, including ones to the basements or attics of museums, where I get to see and handle great stuff not on public display.

Does any particular historic Texas figure stand out for you?
Old Sam Jacinto, of course. He is the iconic Texas figure of the 19th century, which is saying a lot, considering the ranchers, gunfighters, soldiers, war chiefs and other colorful types of that era.

What drew you to a career in Western history?
I fell in love with the Old West watching Western movies when I was growing up. I started reading history books about the real-life characters and events that were part of these films. By the time I was in college, I had a list of places that I needed to visit, and I've been attacking that list for more than half a century. And since there was not a book on the Arizona Rangers, I wrote one. I've written many other books I wanted to read, and fewer than half of my books have been about Texas.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Texas State Cemetery

On Monday, June 6, I was due to arrive at mid-afternoon at the offices of the Texas State Historical Association to "livestream" a "webinar" about the Alamo and San Jacinto. I drove into Austin early so that I could tour the Texas State Cemetery. I had not visited this historic burial ground in a great many years, and I realized that I was long overdue for an update. 

The 9-11 Monument features a twisted piece of the tower

The Texas State Cemetery experienced its origin in 1851, when Gen. Edward Burleson - veteran of San Jacinto and Vice President of the Texas Republic - died and was buried in an isolated plot just east of Austin. Three years later the Texas Legislature marked Burleson's grave with a handsome monument and began to purchase surrounding land for a cemetery. During the Civil War Confederate officers were buried near General Burleson. Indeed, nine Confederate generals are interred in the Texas State Cemetery: General Albert Sidney Johnston and Major General John Wharton have the most striking monuments. Because the Texas Confederate Men's Home and the Confederate Women's Home were located in Austin, more than 2,000 Confederate veterans and widows are buried at the Cemetery.

During the Texas Centennial in 1936, numerous Texas patriots were reinterred in the Cemetery. Today the Texas State Cemetery encompasses 22 hilly acres. The short paved roads though the Cemetery are designated State Highway 165 (the shortest State Highway in Texas). But when I first saw the facility it was unkempt and overgrown. In the 1990s Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock was appalled at the condition of the Cemetery, and he commenced a renovation beginning in 1994, climaxed by a formal rededication and reopening in 1997.
Close to 900 notable Texans rest on the scenic hill that comprises the southwest corner of the Cemetery. The monument for Stephen F. Austin appropriately towers above everything. Other Texas patriots include Big Foot Wallace and 15 signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence. 

I was born and raised in Corsicana, where a large statue of Texas patriot Jose Antonio Navarro is in front of the Navarro County Courthouse. So I was compelled to stand beside his monument at the Texas State Cemetery!


 Gifted chroniclers of Texas are present, including J. Frank Dobie, Walter P. Webb, T. R. Fehrenbach, Tom Lea, Larry L. King, and Fred Gipson of Old Yeller fame. 

There are 13 Texas governors, along with 16 Texas Rangers and Navy Seal Chris Kyle.


The striking monument to Gen. A. S. Johnston 

Championship football coaches Tom Landry and Darrell Royal rest beneath eye-catching monuments.

The Texas State Cemetery is a 22-acre Who's Who of the Lone Star past, and it is not to be missed.  For more information see www.cemetery.state.tx.us

Thursday, August 11, 2016


On Thursday, August 4, I drove to Clarksville to address the Red River County Historical Society during its monthly meeting. Several years ago I served as program chair when the East Texas Historical Association held a spring meeting in historic Clarksville, where we were treated with warm hospitality. One of the friends I made during that experience was banker Jim Clark, who serves as Treasurer of the Red River Historical Society. Jim's roots in Clarksville go back several generations and his enthusiasm for local history is boundless.  A couple of months ago he called with an invitation to provide a program for the Red River County Historical Society. We quickly agreed that a program on Sam Houston would be appropriate, since Houston first entered Texas at a nearby crossing of the Red River.

The Lennox House was built in 1897

The ornate Red River County Courthouse was erected in 1885.

I had not yet been appointed State Historian when I served as ETHA program chair in Clarksville. Since Clarksville had not been the subject of one of my blogs, I arrived in town on August 4 in time to take photos of several historic buildings. The 1897 Lennox House is a superb Victorian home built by a prominent family. Today it is operated by the Red River County Historical Society, which also has converted the castle-like 1889 county jail into a museum. I enjoyed walking through the restored 1885 courthouse. Downtown there are numerous Victorian commercial structures around the square.   

During the renovation sponsored by the Texas Historical Commission, the courtroom was returned to its original configuration and appearance.

The 1889 jail has been converted to a museum.

The statuesque First Presbyterian Church was built in 1905. We used this fine old structure for an ETHA dinner and for programs. At the church on August 4 there was a board meeting at 5 in the afternoon, conducted by President Pam Bryant. 
The First Presbyterian Church was built in 1905.

My program was scheduled for 6 o'clock. I parked at the church about 5:15, and Jim Clark came out to help me carry props into the auditorium. Jim told me that the Society had advertised the event, and as I greeted arrivals I met people from Texarkana to Paris. They all were history-minded kindred spirits, and many of the women were DRT members.

President Pam Bryant welcomed the crowd.

President Pam Bryant called the session to order, and I was introduced by Jim Clark. The large crowd was quite responsive to my Houston program, and afterward there was an extended Q and A period. 

Later a long line formed to purchase inscribed copies of my Sam Houston biography, as well as my Texas Gunslingers book. Later that night the 140-mile drive home passed by quickly, as I called up one pleasant memory after another of my afternoon and evening in Clarksville.  

Jim Clark provided my introduction.

Monday, August 1, 2016

A Busy Day

On Tuesday, July 26, I began the day with an opening address at a Texas history teacher conference in Houston. That evening I delivered the keynote at the annual joint meeting of the Tyler chapters of the Sons of the Republic of Texas and the Sons of the American Revolution. By the time I returned home that night I had driven more than 300 miles, while delivering two Texas history programs. But both events were fine history occasions which produced a most enjoyable day for the State Historian.
On Monday afternoon I drove to Houston Aldine. Charles Nugent, Adult Program Manager for the Texas State Historical Association, had arranged a conference for Tuesday and Wednesday at a handsome new facility of the Aldine ISD. These conferences stress content over methodology, and offer needed professional development credit to participants, mostly fourth- and seventh-grade teachers of Texas history. For four years I've been privileged to provide programs at the TSHA conferences, and for this one Charles Nugent arranged an especially fine lineup of presenters.
Comparing the Spanish Chihuahua Spur to a pair of Texas Cowboy Lone Star Rowels

Texas History Teachers Examining the Display Tables
I saw Charles on Monday afternoon at the Aldine ISD conference center. Before going to my motel, I wanted to check in with him and get a feel for the facility. My program was scheduled from 8:30 to 10 AM Tuesday, following a welcome by Charles Nugent. I arrived early to set up my props and to visit with participants. My program was an overview of "Spanish Influence Over Texas." The recorded history of Texas covers five centuries and Spain controlled Texas for the first three of those centuries. Spanish influence over Texas thus is deep and has proved long-lasting. It is a subject I lectured about for more than three decades to my Texas history classes at Panola College, and it was a pleasure to condense these lectures for the opening program at this conference.

I left for home at 10:30 AM and arrived three hours later, just a few minutes before my youngest daughter and her family drove up from their home at Van Alstyne. We visited for three hours before I changed suits (in order to wear my Sam Houston tie) and gathered a new set of props before heading to Tyler. Causby, Dusty and their two daughters began some planned activities, while I drove to a Tyler restaurant to meet with the Piney Woods Chapter of the SRT and the Captain William Barron Chapter of the SAR. These are two of the top chapters in Texas of their respective societies, and a number of men are members of both chapters.
The joint session is introduced by SAR President Dave McLeod (left) and SRT President Sam Hopkins.
For this annual dinner meeting of these two chapters, wives are invited, many of whom are members of the DRT and DAR. The spacious dining room was filled with a fine-looking crowd of lively and patriotic men and women. Following an excellent dinner there were impressive opening ceremonies, led by chapter presidents Sam Hopkins (SRT) and Dave McLeod (SAR). An award and commendation medal was presented to Fireman Matthew Daniel.
Britton Lee, SAR V.P. and Head of the award-winning SAR color guard, presents a medal to fireman Matthew Daniel.

State Historian introduction from John Merritt, who invited me to this annual occasion. 

 For this combined SRT/SAR meeting, I presented a program on Sam Houston. His father was a combat veteran of the American Revolution, serving as a young officer under Daniel Morgan. Young Sam absorbed Revolutionary values from his father, and during the Texas Revolution Houston fashioned his hat into the shape of a tricorn of the American Revolution. By a delicious historical coincidence, Houston signed the Texas Declaration of Independence on his 43rd birthday, March 2, 1836. I emphasized the drama of the campaign of the spring of 1836: the desperate "Runaway Scrape," General Houston's strategic retreat, and the spectacular victory at San Jacinto. The crowd responded with enthusiasm, and as I drove home afterward I reflected that this busy Tuesday was one of the most pleasant and rewarding days of my four-year tenure as State Historian.
Addressing the smiling crowd
Chapter Presidents Dave McLeod and Sam Jenkins present me with a Texas flag which flew over the State Capitol and a U.S. Flag which flew over the National Capitol.