Saturday, November 22, 2014

Thanksgiving Banquet

"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. 

One week to the day before Thanksgiving, on Thursday evening, November 20, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Thanksgiving Banquet of Central Baptist Church in Carthage. I’ve been a member of this church for 43 years but I’ve never had the privilege of providing a program for this particular event. I was invited by Associate Pastor Paul Gwinn who requested, since I am State Historian of Texas, if I could talk about Thanksgiving in an earlier Texas, perhaps even a little something about Thanksgiving in East Texas. 


Several years ago I wrote a book for fourth-grade Texas history students entitled Before the Pilgrims: The First Thanksgiving – El Paso del Norte, 1598. In 1595 Juan de Oñate was appointed by the Viceroy of Mexico to establish a northern colony called Nuevo Mejico. Early in 1598 Governor Oñate assembled his colonists – more than 400 men, women, children, and soldiers, along with 11 priests. There were 83 wagons and carts to haul baggage and provisions. Thousands of horses, cattle, oxen, sheep and goats comprised a vast livestock herd. On the trail the expedition stretched for four miles. 
More than 60 were in attendance at the
Panola College Ballroom.


Governor Oñate intended to blaze a new route northward. But on the deserts of northern Mexico the expedition ran low on food, water, and shoe leather. As the situation grew perilous, Governor Oñate sent eight men ahead to find water. After five days without water, the scouting party came upon the Rio Grande. They fished and hunted ducks and geese, and Native Americans from a nearby village brought a supply of fish and told of a passage to the northwest that would become known as El Paso del Norte. 


Associate Pastor Paul Gwinn
By April 26, 1598, the entire expedition was encamped beneath cottonwood trees beside the river. Governor Oñate proclaimed that before the column crossed the river to march into New Mexico, there should be a celebration to God for safe delivery. A feast was planned, which would include the friendly Native Americans. On April 30 everyone dressed in their best clothing. Soldiers donned polished breastplates and helmets. Priests wore vestments laced with gold. Governor Martinez was resplendent in full armor. At a candlelit altar, the priests sang High Mass, and Father Alonso Martinez preached an appropriate sermon. 
Showing my State Historian cap

A captain from Spain put together a pageant about the expedition, with soldiers playing the various parts. At the end of the play the Native Americans knelt in the sand and were baptized. Trumpets were sounded as Governor Oñate stepped forward to claim New Mexico for Spain. Finally a bonfire was started, and fish and venison and ducks were roasted. A feast ended the first Thanksgiving – 23 years before the Pilgrims feasted and prayed at Plymouth. This momentous event took place on the south bank of the Rio Grande, but later the river changed course. Now the site is at San Elizario, Texas, where North America’s first Thanksgiving is commemorated and celebrated. An annual celebration also is held upriver at El Paso. 
Talking about leather helmet days

At the Central Baptist Church Thanksgiving Banquet, I told about the Pilgrim experience at Plymouth in 1620 and 1621, as well as later Thanksgivings in New England and Virginia, during the Revolution in 1777, during President Washington’s first term in 1789, and during the Civil War by the proclamation of President Lincoln. Then I related in detail the Thanksgiving of 1598, stressing the Texas connection, as I had been asked to do.

But I also had been asked to make a Thanksgiving connection to early East Texas. I talked about how – and why – schools and colleges did not begin classes until the second week of September, at the earliest. There were no activities before the start of school, so football teams of the leather helmet era (I held one up) did not organize until mid-September. A game or two would be played late in the month, followed by four games in October and a couple in November. The seven- or eight-game football season traditionally ended on Thanksgiving Day. At the college level in Texas, the most famous Thanksgiving game was the Texas Longhorns vs. the Texas Aggies. In our part of East Texas for years there was a Thanksgiving rivalry pitting the leather-helmeted Carthage Bulldogs against the Tatum Eagles. 
Cathedral at San Elizario - click to see historical
marker at right.


Happy Texas Thanksgiving from San Elizario to Carthage!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

TSHA and Regions 13 and 17

"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. 

This fall I've had the deep pleasure of addressing two large groups of Texas history teachers at conferences organized by the Texas State Historical Association, in conjunction with regional education centers. TSHSA executives Steve Cure and JoNeita Kelly have formulated one- and two-day conferences for fourth-grade and seventh-grade teachers. These conferences provide the teachers with professional development credit, while stressing content over methodology. Steve and JoNeita line up an array of presenters who are experts in various fields of Texas history and culture.

Steve Cure and JoNeita Kelly
Not long after my appointment as State Historian of Texas in 2012, I began to be invited by JoNeita to participate in these conferences. I usually open the meeting with a 45-minute address related to the general topic of the conference. A 30-minute break follows, in which teachers peruse a large collection of vendors. The TSHA always sets up a booth, distributing materials and selling books published by the Association. Next breakout sessions begin, featuring Texas historians sharing their expertise with smaller groups of teachers.

During the current fall semester, Steve and JoNeita have put together conferences in Lubbock, at the Region 17 Educational Center, and in Austin with Region 13, at the Bob Bullock Texas History Museum. The Lubbock conference was a one-day event, held on Tuesday, October 21. I arrived early to visit with as many teachers as possible (an even 100 had registered). My presentation was based on my book, The Johnson-Sims Feud: Romeo and Juliet, West Texas Style (UNT Press, 2010). This tragic conflict between two prominent ranching families was the last old-fashioned blood feud in Texas, involving murders and street shootouts and the assassination of Judge Cullen Higgins, the widely-respected oldest son of rancher-trail boss-feudist Pink Higgins. This feud occurred in 1916-1917-1918, and it took place in the region south of Lubbock – in the back yard of the teachers who signed up for the conference.

The TSHA office suite is across the hall from the suite of the UNT Press on the campus of the University of North Texas. JoNeita Kelly brought a large number of copies of The Johnson-Sims Feud to Lubbock, and for half an hour following my presentation I autographed and personalized copies purchased from the TSHA by teachers. During this period I had the pleasure of meeting the new Executive Director of the TSHA, Brian Bolinger.

With Brian Bolinger
Steve and JoNeita at the Bob Bullock
Teachers at the Bob Bullock Museum
In Austin the TSHA and Region 13 staged a two-day conference, Thursday and Friday, November 13 and 14. I can think of no better venue to hold a conference for Texas history teachers than at the magnificent Bob Bullock Museum, and 110 participants registered. In between sessions, participants were free to visit the rich, informative displays throughout the Bob Bullock Museum, including the reconstruction of the long-sunken French colonial ship LaBelle.

For my lead-off program, JoNeita requested that I discuss “Texas: Gunfighter Capital of the Western Frontier,” including events in Austin during this period. There is nothing more dramatic than life and death conflict, and when such conflicts take place in an Old West setting, a special appeal is generated. Far more shootouts occurred in Texas than in any other state or territory. More gunfighters were born in Texas, and more died here. There were more blood feuds in Texas, along with violent clashes between cattlemen and sheepherders. The revolving pistol evolved in Texas, which I demonstrate with replica period revolvers and with holsters and gun rigs. The West’s first gunfighter grew up in Austin, where he had his initial fights, found a bride, shot her brother, and – following his sudden demise in San Antonio from 13 bullet wounds – was buried in Austin’s Oakwood Cemetery.
Members of the Aransas County Historical Society

After leaving the Bob Bullock Museum I drove to Rockport, where I presented an evening program to the Aransas County Historical Society. My host was David Murrah – former director of the Southwest Collection at Texas Tech University, past president of the West Texas Historical Association, and longtime museum consultant. David arranged excellent publicity, and there was a receptive crowd of fellow history buffs for my program on “Musical Traditions of Texas.” Afterward David and his lovely wife Anne took me for delicious meal at a seafood restaurant. It was a delightful close to a wonderful day of history. 
David Murrah

Dr. Marsha Hendrix, Director of the
Fulton Mansion State Historic site
and president of the Aransas County
Historical Society


































Saturday, November 8, 2014

Fort Griffin

"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 Saturday, October 11, the new visitor center and museum at Fort Griffin was opened with a public ceremony. I first saw the ruins of Fort Griffin in 1964. The site was undeveloped, and there was no visitor center. A few years later the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department began to develop the site, stabilizing the remains of the stone buildings: headquarters, bakery, magazine, and sutler’s store, along with the big well in the center of the parade ground. Walking paths were laid out, markers designated the identity of stone foundations, and a visitor center was erected. On January 1, 2008, Fort Griffin was turned over to the Texas Historical Commission. Among the improvements planned by the THC was a new visitor center, which opened last month. THC Executive Director Mark Wolfe was present to address the crowd, and a number of other THC officials and members were there.
Visitor Center (new construction at right)

I’ve been to Fort Griffin numerous times through the years, but I was unable to attend the opening. Two days later, however, I drove from Carthage to Lubbock to participate in a teacher instruction event sponsored by the Texas State Historical Association at the Region 17 Education Center. I took a detour to Fort Griffin so that I could see the new visitor center. It has been built alongside the old center, and the architectural styles are similar so that the two centers combined offer a great deal more space. The new exhibits are excellent, and include interactive displays. I was given a tour through the facility by Jane Lenoir, a longtime employee at Fort Griffin State Park.

Jane Lenoir
Texas military forts were abandoned by the U.S. Army at the start of the Civil War. With little military resistance, Comanche and Kiowa raiders struck hard during and after the war. Although the Union Army returned to Texas when the war ended, they came as occupation troops, not as frontier soldiers. Finally in 1867, the military moved back to the frontier. A number of the old forts were reoccupied and expanded, and three new outposts were built: Fort Concho, Fort Richardson, and Fort Griffin.
On July 31, 1867, Lt. Col. Samuel D. Sturgis and four companies of the Sixth Cavalry established the new post on a high plateau above a bend of the Clear Fork of the Brazos. Fort Griffin was placed beside a Comanche war trail which war parties followed all the way into Mexico. The troops at Fort Griffin saw considerable action, and during the 1870s there were campaigns against the warlike tribes. The army’s best Indian fighter, Col. Ranald S. Mackenzie, campaigned out of Fort Griffin, and Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman was a visitor.

Interactive Display
Meanwhile, a town named after the fort boomed on the “Flat” below “Government Hill.” Buffalo hunters used the stores – and saloons – on the Flat as a jumping-off place to venture onto the range of the southern bison herd. Also the Western Trail, by which cattle herds were driven to Dodge City, passed through Fort Griffin. Buffalo hunters, cowboys, gamblers, soiled doves, troopers, rustlers, and gunfighters contributed to a wild and colorful frontier town. Doc Holliday and his consort, Big Nose Kate Fisher, were in Fort Griffin, and so were Wyatt Earp, John Selman, Bat Masterson, and Lottie Deno,“The Poker Queen.”  There were shootings in the saloons and gambling halls, and sometimes off-duty soldiers from Fort Griffin were among the combatants.
Mess Hall

But the Comanches and Kiowas were confined to their reservations by the mid-1870s, and the buffalo herds disappeared about the same time. By the mid-1880s the Western Trail was abandoned. In 1881 the military left Fort Griffin. The ramshackle structures on the Flat slowly disappeared, and the buildings on Government Hill deteriorated. There had been an experiment in military architecture at Fort Griffin. Most of the troopers were housed not in barracks but in small frame huts with a stone fireplace and bunks for six men. When the planks warped, wind and rain penetrated the cabin. In recent years two of these little structures were rebuilt on foundations. More recently frames were put up on a few other foundations, and a mess hall was rebuilt. I shot photos of everything, and the hike across Government Hill was a welcome respite in a long day of driving. As I drove off the hill to the highway, I faced the Clear Fork of the Brazos. Also on the park property is part of the state herd of longhorns. It was a pleasure to see the new visitor center – and to have an excuse for an outing at Fort Griffin.

For more information:  http://www.visitfortgriffin.com
Huts
Headquarters Building
Post Bakery
Powder Magazine
Sutler's Store





Friday, October 31, 2014

A Busy Monday

"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. 
  

Mounted at left, Dyson Nickle welcomes
students to the camp.
On Monday morning of this week I went to Panola College, armed with a camera. I had a little business on campus, but as soon as I finished I walked to the front, or north end, of the campus. There are no buildings at the front of the campus, and this area boasts a great many pine trees. Beneath a cluster of trees stood several tents, along with camp equipage, Confederate flags, and a picket line of horses. There were a dozen re-enactors, both male and female, carrying on a Panola College tradition that goes back three decades. 


During the 1980s a freshman student named Dyson Nickle enrolled in one of my U.S. History classes. When I assigned a history project, an activity of an historical nature, Dyson approached me with contagious enthusiasm. He recently had joined the Sons of the Confederate Veterans, and he had enlisted in a Confederate re-enactment group. Dyson listed for me all of the uniforms, camp equipment, weapons, and accoutrements that he had, including a cavalry horse. When I reached the subject of the Civil War in my lectures, Dyson erected a two-tent, one-horse, one-soldier camp among the trees. He camped out on Sunday and Monday nights, so that throughout the day on Monday and Tuesday we could bring our classes out to look at everything and ask questions of Dyson. 


The next year Dyson was a sophomore history major. We utilized the same format for the Civil War encampment, except there were more tents and about a dozen re-enactors. The re-enactors were able to demonstrate drills and fire volleys. Some years we had a cannon and artillery crew, and we often had a hospital tent. The local SCV chapter provided firewood and supplies for the camp, and Dyson lined up large classes of students from area public schools. Although there were a few years when the encampment did not take place, it continues to thrive today. Panola history instructor Bill Offer worked with Dyson to coordinate this year’s event. When I met Dyson he was an eighteen-year-old Confederate  private, but now he’s an officer of field grade – and he has a new horse. His enthusiasm is undiminished and the Panola encampment continues to attract large numbers of visitors. 

With Panola College History Instructor Bill Offer














That evening my wife Karon and I attended the annual banquet of the Panola County Cattlemen’s Association. I had been asked to provide the banquet program by Terry Holland, PCCA president. Terry was raised on a Panola County ranch, and he became a rodeo star. 
Karon (right) sits opposite Terry, Debbie Jo, and Khakie.

“I fell in love with riding bulls when I was a little bitty boy,” Terry reminisces. “I love them. I love the way they smell. I love the way they think and react. I study them. I just love them.” 

Terry’s bull-riding career took him to major rodeos throughout the nation. Terry was a professional bull rider for 20 years, and he still offers rodeo instruction at his Panola County ranch. Terry and Debbie Jo Holland organize church services at youth rodeos, and he is a motivational speaker. Their daughter, Khakie, is an accomplished barrel racer, and she was a member of the Panola College Rodeo Team when I met her as a freshman student during my last year of teaching. Terry was instrumental in organizing Panola’s Rodeo Team a decade ago. Indeed, rodeo team members were guests of honor at Monday night’s banquet. 
Terry Holland introducing new
Panola Rodeo Team coach Jeff Collins,
World Champion Bareback Rider, 2000

The banquet was held at the Panola County Expo Center. I enjoyed visiting with a number of former students and longtime friends. Karon and I sat with Terry, Debbie Jo, and Khakie, and I learned that she will graduate in December from Stephen F. Austin State University. Harli Cowdin, Miss Panola County Cattlemen’s Association Rodeo Queen, and Hayden Harrison, Miss Panola County Cattlemen’s Association Rodeo Sweetheart, each made a brief presentation to the crowd, and I had the pleasure of meeting these lovely young ladies. We had a delicious steak dinner, I had fun talking about the Texas cowboy culture, and Karon and I had most enjoyable evening. 
Panola College Rodeo Team
With Queen Harli Cowdin and
Sweetheart Hayden Harrison

Friday, October 24, 2014

Launching My Second Term

"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. 

It has been the greatest honor of my life to serve as State Historian of Texas. During the last two years I’ve had a grand time traveling throughout the Lone Star State as an ambassador for Texas history. I’ve had the delightful assignment of visiting – or revisiting – one historical site after another, and of interacting with old and new friends who agree with me that Texas has the richest and most colorful history of any state in the Union.

Dr. Powell opens the ceremony.
My two-year term as State Historian was scheduled to end on August 22, 2014, and I was not eager to lose the position that has brought me so much sheer joy. But in July I was contacted by Larry McNeill, chairman of the Selection Committee, to see if I might consider a second term. I was thrilled and flattered, and after August 22 I continued my State Historian activities while ceremonies were planned for my second investiture.

With Chris Paddie and Karon
My first investiture in 2012 was held in the State Capitol, where I was sworn in by Governor Rick Perry in the presence of my family and friends. Those in attendance included Dr. Greg Powell, President of Panola College, where I joined the faculty in 1970. Although I had retired as a teacher a year before my appointment, Dr. Powell provided an office on campus, so that the State Historian would be headquartered at Panola College. Furthermore, since the office of State Historian is unfunded, Dr. Powell arranged to cover my travel expenses through Panola’s Murphy-Payne Foundation. Years ago Mr. and Mrs. Foster Murphy, who are history enthusiasts, generously established a foundation that would enable Panola College to host a history lecture series each year. Mr. Murphy often mentioned to me that if our history department ever needed additional funding for more activities to let him know. Two years ago, Mr. and Mrs. Murphy readily agreed to provide travel funding for the State Historian through their foundation.

It is fitting, therefore, that the ceremony launching my second term as State Historian be held in the Murphy-Payne Community Room on the Panola College campus.  Our state representative, Chris Paddie, agreed to administer the oath of office. KGAS Radio in Carthage broadcast the event and interviewed participants. The ceremony was open to the public, and close to 200 friends and colleagues and family members were in attendance. My brother Mike drove to Carthage from Denton. My daughter Berri came from Irving. My daughter Causby and her family – husband Dusty and daughters Bailey and Kendall – came from Van Alstyne. My wife Karon teaches math at Panola and already was on campus. Many of those in attendance were former students of mine. Mr. and Mrs. Foster Murphy were honored guests.
With Mr. and Mrs. Murphy and granddaughter Ryan Murphy

At three o’clock on the afternoon of October 22 – exactly two years and two months since I was sworn in at the State Capitol – Dr. Powell began the second investiture with a gracious introduction of State Representative Paddie and State Historian O’Neal. Karon stepped forward with a Bible which my mother gave me more than half a century ago. With my hand on the Bible, Representative Paddie administered the oath of office. I made a few remarks, expressing my gratitude to Representative Paddie, Dr. Powell, and most especially to Mr. and Mrs. Murphy. Afterward a reception was held, featuring a table piece of Yellow Roses of Texas – and appropriate refreshments of pecan pie and peach cobbler – with Blue Bell ice cream.

Receiving a plaque from the History Department
 That evening I drove to Austin in order to conclude the investiture on Thursday morning. The Texas State Historical Commission was in session on October 22 and 23, and half an hour before nine o’clock on the 23rd I was greeted in the Capitol by Vaughn Aldredge, Government Relations Specialist of the THC. Vaughn coordinated my appearance at the THC meeting. August Harris III presided over Thursday’s session, and he provided a generous description of my background, before delivering a public proclamation of my appointment for a second term. Commissioner John Crain, president and CEO of the Summerlee Foundation, is also a member of the State Historian Selection Committee, and he took the opportunity to add extremely kind remarks about my performance in office. I was allowed to offer a brief response, and a photo-op followed. THC members were most cordial to me, and I left Austin almost overwhelmed by events of the past two days. Certainly I’ve been inspired to fully embrace the duties and activities of the historian of the Lone Star State!
Dr. Powell, Mike O'Neal, Causby Henderson, Kendall,
Karon, Bailey, Dusty Henderson, Berri Gormley
John Crain, August Harris, Mark Wolfe
With Mark Wolfe and August Harris