Thursday, July 2, 2015

Master Wood Carver

"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. 

With Tommy Williams
Men in early Texas were addicted to whittling. Every one carried knives, from Bowie knives to hunting knives to clasp knives to pen knives. With some sort of personal knife always available, men whittled on sticks or carved their initials on trees or branches or tables. Indeed, after Texas became a state, legislators often carved up their own capitol desks. To preserve the furniture, provision was made to place a stick of soft pine on each desk every day that the legislature was in session. At the end of each day, mounds of pine whittlings were swept up from beneath and around the desks.

Sam Houston was an inveterate whittler. Houston was fond of children, and after meeting a little girl or boy, he would take out his knife and expertly fashion a small doll or toy to present to the delighted child. A great many other Texas men did the same, and some created elaborate carvings. 

This nineteenth-century Texas craft is carried on in the twenty-first century by Panola County native Tommy Gene Williams, 88. Williams was raised on a farm near Beckville, and after he graduated from BHS he enlisted in the army and participated in the Korean War. Returning to Panola County, he served on the Beckville School Board for 13 years, and he has been a deacon at Mount Zion Baptist Church for 59 years. Tommy and his wife Jo have been married for 64 years. And all the while he has whittled, raising the craft of wood carving to the level of art.

As a boy he began sketching. Eventually he began painting in oils, before turning to sculpting and wood carving. “I go to my workshop every day to carve, improve my skills, and enjoy my craft,” related Williams. “Carving keeps my mind off me and keeps me focused on my craft.” Asked about a secret to his skill, Williams said, “Wood carving requires patience and time – lots of time.”

I did not meet Tommy Williams until last week. Recently I encountered one of his sons, Keith Williams, who was a student of mine during my first year at Panola College (1970-71). Keith told me a little about his father, emphasizing that an exhibit of his work soon would go on display in the art gallery at the Panola College Library. Last week Mr. and Mrs. Williams came to the library, where they were interviewed for a newspaper article and for my blog. His work is most impressive, and the display includes some of the knives he employs. I took a lot of photos, and I had a good time talking with Mr. and Mrs. Williams, with Keith, and with another son, Gene. And I couldn’t help but reflect that Sam Houston would have enjoyed the display and the conversation as much as I did.
Keith Williams and Librarian Cristie Ferguson

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Galveston Bookshop

"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. 

My most recent book, Texas Gunslingers, was released by Arcadia Publications in mid-December, less than two weeks before Christmas. Arcadia pushed it as an ideal gift for dads, husbands, and grandfathers, and I had a week-long signing tour that extended as far as Ruby Lane Book Store in Post. Ruby Lane is an independent book store, founded and operated by Rosa Latimer, and authors strongly support Rosa and other remaining independent owners.


Texas Gunslingers proved to be a popular Christmas gift, with many people buying four or five copies for the men on their list. I have been asked to provide programs on “Gunfighting in Texas,” and at such events Texas Gunslingers continues to sell well. The theme is that Texas was the Gunfighter Capital of the Old West, and Texans have responded with considerable interest. 

With owner Sharan Zwick and assistant Paul Randall
And so I was pleased when I was called by Sharan Zwick, owner of the Galveston Bookshop. Sharan had been contacted by the Arcadia marketing department before Christmas, but she had a number of seasonal books to promote, and she wanted a Texas Gunslingers signing that would target Father’s Day. I was delighted, of course, and we settled on Saturday, June 13, eight days before Father’s Day. 



The Galveston Bookshop was founded in 1991, and it is downtown, on the edge of the popular Strand shopping district. Through the years I had been attracted to the Galveston Bookshop during visits to this historic city. I had made a few purchases, but I had not become acquainted with any staff members. Now I’ve learned that owner-manager Sharan Zwick is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and of New York’s Columbia University, where she earned a Master’s of Library Science Degree. She worked as a librarian before her career took her away for a time from the world of books. But in 1999 Sharan purchased the Galveston Bookshop. She constantly hosts signings and other appropriate events, while pursuing an active publicity program.

Sharan asked me to send her a bio and a photo, which she began utilizing in PR releases. I received a phone call from Donna Gable Hatch of the Galveston Monthly Magazine. She interviewed me and Dr. Greg Powell, president of Panola College, where I am headquartered as State Historian. Donna’s article, “Texas Gunslingers, A Story of When Texas Was the Gunfighter Capital of the West,” was published in the Culture Section of the June issue of the Galveston Monthly. The book signing was advertised in this magazine and other venues.

With longtime friend Ida Saunders
The signing was scheduled from two to four o’clock on Saturday afternoon. My wife Karon and I arrived half an hour early at the bookstore, where we were greeted by Sharan and her genial assistant, Paul Randall. Customers already were seeking copies of Texas Gunslingers, and I had a grand time visiting with them and inscribing their books. A former student, Melinda Dixon, came in because she had seen the PR. She purchased books and we had a delightful chat. A longtime friend, Ida Saunders, also had seen the publicity and surprised us. Ida was a board member of the National Association for Outlaw and Lawman History and of the Wild West History Association, organizations in which Karon and I also were active. We enjoyed a fine reunion, and Ida bought several books.


The store sold out of copies of Texas Gunslingers by 3:15. I stayed to talk with customers who continued to arrive, and Sharan took orders for the next week. I had brought copies of my personal bookmarks, and I autographed several for Sharan to place in the books that would come the next week. Karon and I made our goodbyes to Sharan and Paul at four o’clock, and as we drove toward Carthage we talked about the wonderful event at the Galveston Bookshop – and how very pleased we are that Sharan Zwick’s independent store seems to be so healthy.

For more information: galvestonbookshop.com

Thursday, June 18, 2015

From the Carthage Library to Kilgore's Region 7

"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 morning, June 11, I arrived shortly after opening time at Sammy Brown Library in Carthage. I began unloading branding irons, spurs, posters, vaquero gear, broad-brimmed hats, cowboy attire, and other western items. I was assisted by Head Librarian Debbie Godwin and some of her staff members, and by ten o’clock all was in readiness.

Early this year, Debbie had invited me to participate in the Summer Readers’ Program, and I was delighted at the opportunity to engage young readers. Debbie informed me that this summer’s programs would focus on Texas heroes. I settled on “Texas Cowboys – Texas Icons.” Texas cowboys ultimately became the world’s Number One Folk Hero. The Spanish introduced cattle and horses to the Western Hemisphere, and Texans picked up the equipment and techniques of handling cattle from vaqueros. From Texas the Cowboy Culture and the Range Cattle Industry spread across the West and eventually to the world. Texas produced vast ranches, from the King Ranch to the three-million-acre XIT. Legendary ranchers – such as Richard King and Charles Goodnight, Shanghai Pierce and John Chisum – became famous cattle barons. Trail drives radiated out of Texas and captivated the American populace. Rodeos popularized cowboy entertainment, and Texan Bill Pickett originated the event known as bulldogging. Cowboy popularity became even more widespread through Western movies, while Texans Gene Autry and Tex Ritter became two of the top three most successful “Singing Cowboys” (the third, Roy Rogers, was from Ohio, but was married to a beautiful, talented Texan, Dale Evans, the “Queen of the West”).

More than 70 youngsters crowded into the Education Room at the Sammy Brown Library. There was much to share with them, and their eager, enthusiastic response was a testimony to the lasting appeal of the Texas cowboy – riding horseback, roping, eating at chuck wagons, living on ranches. And I made it clear that young ladies born on ranches shared this colorful lifestyle. The boys and girls enjoyed themselves – but the State Historian enjoyed himself even more!




A few days later I brought my cowboy gear and a somewhat longer and more mature version of this program to Kilgore’s Region 7 Educational Services Center. Cheri Hood, the center’s Social Studies Specialist, staged a “Social Studies Summit” for professional development credit for Social Studies teachers throughout the area. Cheri asked me to deliver the keynote program at the start of the day. With such a diversity of teaching levels and courses, Cheri and I decided that a program on Texas Cowboys and the Range Cattle Industry would have the broadest appeal and possibilities for classroom use.

The Social Studies Summit attracted more than 150 teachers and the Region 7 Oak Room was packed. I provided a handout I had developed and a lot of materialmost of which could be used in their classrooms. We had a lot of laughs, and the hour passed quickly. I had the pleasure of seeing several former students who now are teachers. Sherry Walker Parker long taught Texas history at Tatum, but she graduated from Carthage High School and she has moved back to CHS as a teacher of economics. Sherry told me that she misses Texas History, and our discipline will be richer if she is able to return to her favorite subject someday. Sherry was kind enough to take my camera and photograph the Texas Cowboy program.

Cheri Hood, Region 7 Social Studies Specialist
I stayed in the Oak Room for the next hour. Cheri Hood persuaded me that, since I was coming to Kilgore anyway, I should remain long enough to present a breakout session. I agreed to talk about “Texas During World War II,” which stresses the extraordinary contributions made by Texas and Texans during the biggest event of the 20h century. A nice segment of the crowd stayed with me. I have a great many World War II artifacts to use during this presentation (which was one of my favorite lecture topics in my Texas History classes at Panola College). I also utilized a PowerPoint which Karon and I had put together. Although Karon could not come with me, Cheri Hood graciously set up the equipment and expertly showed me what to do – and it worked!
With Dr. Charles Taylor, a dynamic presenter and a
former Panola College colleague

Thursday, June 11, 2015

WWII Air Show

"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, June 6 – the 71st anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy – a World War II air show was staged at the Rusk County airport on the outskirts of Henderson. Last year a similar air show – the first at Henderson in 30 years – attracted a crowd of several thousand, and another event was scheduled for 2015.

With Mark McLane of KPXI Radio
Airport manager Ron Franks, a decorated Marine aviator and a veteran of Desert Storm, contacted me with an invitation to present a program for the June 6 air show. I was delighted at the prospect, and when Ron suggested a program on D-Day, I told him that I had made D-Day presentations on numerous occasions in the past. But I pointed out to Ron that a more appropriate program might be “Texas and Texans and the WWII War Effort in the Air.” After all, the U.S. Air Force had its origins in Texas several years before World War I with a small “Aviation Section” (with enlisted men, one officer, and the army’s only airplane) of the U.S. Army Signal Corps was created. The aviators headquartered at Fort Sam Houston, but soon moved to the outskirts of San Antonio to America’s first Military Aviation Base, Kelly Field. As the U.S. Army Air Corps expanded, a larger base, Randolph Field, was erected on a 2,300-acre tract several miles outside the city. Randolph Field was nicknamed the “West Point of the Air,” and until 1938 – when gathering war clouds extended American military aviation training outside of Texas - every military aviator was trained in Texas. During World War II Texas, with its comparatively clear skies and good weather, remained a major training area for aviators. During the war there were 65 training bases in Texas (including Corsicana Field, in my home town). More than 200,000 military air men – including 45,000 pilots, along with navigators, bombardiers, and gunners – were trained in Texas.

The nation’s only all-female training base, Avenger Field, was located just west of Sweetwater, Texas. More than 1,100 patriotic young women – WASPs (Women’s Air Force Service Pilots) – were trained at Avenger Field. At Terrell, the No. 1 British Flying Training School trained Royal Air Force cadets from England. Gen. Ira Eaker, a native Texan, commanded the Eighth Air Force in England and developed the strategy of Daylight Precision Bombing. Another native Texan, Col. Claire Chennault, developed and led the famous “Flying Tigers,” who attacked Japanese airmen while piloting the war’s most distinctive warplanes. Texas airmen performed heroically in combat, earning several Medals of Honor as well as other decorations for valor. Lenses for the top-secret Norden Bomb Sight were manufactured in Tyler, Texas. The contributions of Texas and Texans to the air war were extraordinary.

My wife Karon and I put together a PowerPoint presentation for the program. We drove to Henderson on Saturday morning. Gates to the airport opened at nine o’clock, my program was scheduled for ten, and the air show would take place from eleven until one. Karon and I were met at the gate by my cousin, Albert Richards (our grandmothers were sisters). Al is a native of Henderson and a longtime minister of music at Turnertown Baptist Church. Al served as my intermediary with Ron Franks, and he procured a large screen from First Baptist Church. Inside the hangar where the program was to take place, Al, Karon, and Panola College Librarian Sherri Baker struggled with power cords and outlets to make operable the projection equipment. Meanwhile I did a live radio interview, and took note – and photos – of the superb vintage planes that were arriving or were already on display. A large crowd braved the hot weather, and I encountered several friends. The World War II air show was a memorable event, and as Karon and I drove toward Carthage we agreed it was a splendid way to celebrate D-Day.
With my cousin, Al Richards
The C-47 landed just after my arrival.
The Corsair had folded wings for storage on aircraft carriers.

Texan Ira Eaker commanded the Eighth
Air Force in England.

WASP color detail at Avenger Field
Norden bomb site in the nose of a B -17

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Fort Gibson and Fort Towson

"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. 


Sam Houston in Cherokee garb
In the last blog I described the day that Karon and I spent at historic sites of Denison. From Denison we intended to launch a long postponed trip to Fort Gibson and Fort Towson in Oklahoma. Last summer we took a multi-state research trip on the trail of Sam Houston, from his birthplace in Virginia to other points of his life before he reached Texas. Our final stops were scheduled for Oklahoma, where Houston spent a couple of years with the Cherokee. But in Tennessee we had an unexpected late-night encounter with a deer on I-40. We were unhurt, but our vehicle was totaled, and we had to finish the trip without getting to Oklahoma.

Officers' Circle at Fort Gibson National Cemetery
During the past year I completed the manuscript, Sam Houston: A Study in Leadership. But I still wanted photo ops, and because it had been many years since I had visited these places, I wanted to be sure that my “feel” for Forts Gibson and Towson was accurate. As an adventurous teenager, Sam Houston had lived for three years with a Cherokee tribe in Tennessee. Two decades later he returned to his tribe, now removed to “Indian Territory.” Houston had resigned as Governor of Tennessee under the cloud of a disastrous marriage and a highly public separation. He opened a trading post near Fort Gibson, which was established in 1824 as the military’s farthest west outpost. Houston took a Cherokee wife, Tiana (or Diana) Rogers, who actually operated the trading post. Houston drank heavily during this period, and he led tribal delegations to Washington, D.C. After two years and perhaps, as rumor suggested, at the urging of his mentor, President Andrew Jackson, Houston decided to try to resurrect his career. In the informal way of the Cherokee, Houston divorced Tiana/Diana, giving the trading post to her as a fair mean of support – in compliance with Cherokee custom.
The stone of Tiana/Diana Rogers, wife of Sam Houston,
bears the incorrect name of "Talahina. "
Tiana/Diana died in her late thirties in 1838 and was buried in the Officers’ Circle at the Fort Gibson Cemetery. In 1868 this burial ground was designated a National Cemetery. As Oklahoma’s only National Cemetery, it stretches across a vast area. We arrived at mid-day on Friday, May 22 – the beginning of Memorial Day weekend. Many people were on the grounds, including family members seeking specific gravestones. There were countless flags, large and small. Karon and I have visited numerous National Cemeteries, but this visit was especially impressive. As Karon pointed out, it was the first time we had been to a National Cemetery on a Memorial Day weekend.
The row of two-story buildings just inside the Fort Gibson
stockade provided quarters for officers and headquarters.
Fortifications at Fort Gibson included a stockade
and blockhouses.
Sam Houston headed south toward Texas, stopping at Fort Towson five miles north of the Red River. Cantonment Towson, later elevated to “Fort” status, was founded in 1824. Fort Towson became a handsome post, but the Army abandoned it in 1854. Towson soon became dilapidated, in part because of “midnight requisitioning” of building materials by civilians. During the Civil War Confederate forces took over the old outpost. At Towson on June 23, 1865, Brigadier General Stand Watie – the highest ranking “Confederate Indian” – surrendered his Cherokee command, the last Confederate band to surrender to the Union.

The new Visitor Center at Fort Towson soon will
be opened to the public.
Fort Towson still was growing when Sam Houston arrived late in 1832. He crossed the Red River to Jonesboro, Texas, on December 2, 1832, destined to become a Lone Star icon. Today Fort Towson features only scattered stone ruins, although a visitor center soon will open. Shortly after leaving Fort Towson, Karon and I drove across a Red River bridge not far downstream from Sam Houston’s 1832 crossing.
Appearance of Fort Towson during Houston's visit
Fort Towson ruins today