Thursday, September 25, 2014

Battle of the Neches

"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. 

Chief Bowl
Sam Houston
Last week Karon accompanied me to Van Zandt County, where we sought out the site of the Battle of the Neches. Since the 1970s I had taught Texas History classes about the Cherokee in East Texas under Chief Bowl and about the Cherokee War. Through the years I have seen several historical markers about the Cherokee, Chief Bowl, and the Battle of the Neches. A visit to the climactic battle site was long overdue.


Gen. Edward Burleson
Gen. Thomas J. Rusk
Born in 1756 in North Carolina, Chief Bowl led his Cherokee band west of the Mississippi River in 1810, seeking better hunting grounds and attempting to escape the encroachments of white settlers. Bowl’s Cherokees were in Missouri for a time, then northwestern Arkansas, before moving into East Texas above Nacogdoches in 1819. Soon there were several Cherokee villages in the area, represented by Bowl as their peace chief. Chief Bowl tried to negotiate for a large land grant from the Spanish government in 1827 and from the Mexican government in 1833. With the outbreak of the Texas Revolution in 1835, Mexican agents tried to incite the Cherokee to war against the Texans. But in February 1836 General Sam Houston, an adopted Cherokee son, led negotiations with Chief Bowl, a longtime acquaintance. Houston presented Bowl a sword, and promised lands from the new Republic of Texas. Now safe from a war with the Cherokee in the north, General Houston took up action against Santa Anna in the south.

Vice President David G. Burnet
Secretary of War Albert S. Johnston

After Texas won independence from Mexico, President Houston could not persuade the Senate of the Republic of Texas to ratify the treaty. Houston was succeeded in December 1838 by President Mirabeau B. Lamar, a lifelong Indian hater who ignored the 1836 treaty and ordered the Cherokee and other nearby tribes to leave Texas. Negotiations toward this goal were arranged by the government with Chief Bowl in July 1838. Intending to negotiate from strength, Chief Bowl gathered the Cherokee, as well as allies from smaller tribal bands, in a large encampment. There were more than 700 warriors.


A Texas army of 500 soldiers, led by Generals Thomas J. Rusk and Edward Burleson camped nearby. Chief Bowl, now in his 80s, dressed in a silk vest, military hat, sash, and the sword presented by Sam Houston. The Texas government offered to compensate the Cherokee, who were industrious farmers, for whatever property was lost during the move, but not for the land they had worked for two decades. Negotiations broke down and Chief Bowl led an evacuation of the encampments on July 15, heading north on the west side of the Neches River.

The Texas army soon organized a pursuit, and late in the day caught up with the Indians in northeast Henderson County, several miles west of present-day Tyler. Chief Bowl established a defensive position on what became known as Battle Creek, while the women and children were sent to the north. Rusk and Burleson launched attacks at the front and rear of the warrior position, but the action was indecisive. Darkness soon fell, and Chief Bowl fell back to a position in a wooded ravine, near the headwaters of the Neches in Van Zandt County.

The Texas force pursued at dawn, and when the Indian position was located, a three-pronged attack was launched. Among the Texan leadership were David G. Burnet and Albert Sidney Johnston, serving the Republic respectively as vice-president and secretary of war. Cherokee raiders nearly succeeded in stampeding the Texas horse herd, before another major assault dislodged the warriors, who scattered into the woods. Chief Bowl was the last Cherokee to leave the field, riding away with a wound in the thigh. But his horse was shot down, and when Bowl tried to limp away, he was struck in the back. Defiantly he sat up to face his attackers. An officer walked over to give a merciless coupe de grace, firing a pistol ball into the back of his head. The rationale of the attacker was that the twice-wounded old man had not surrendered nor asked for quarter, and he was still armed – with the sword that was a gift from Sam Houston.

There were at least 100 Indian casualties, while five Texans were killed and two dozen wounded.  The Cherokee survivors and their allies retreated beyond the Red River into Indian Territory. The American Indian Cultural Society identified 13 tribes that contributed warriors to the Battle of the Neches: Cherokee, Shawnee, Delaware, Kickapoo, Quapaw, Choctaw, Biloxi, Ioni, Caddo, Alabama, Coushatta, Tahocullake, and Mataquo.

To find the battlefield, Karon and I drove west on Highway 64 out of Tyler. Ten miles past Loop 323 a sign on the right side of the highway indicated that we should turn right at the next road. We followed this blacktop for 2.5 miles, then a sign indicated a turn to the right on a dirt road. At the end of this road is a parking area, and from there we followed a path about 200 yards to the state marker. The wooded path was lined with stones, each of which carries the name of a tribe which participated in the battle. The site is secluded and, for history buffs, well worth a visit.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Heritage Day

"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. 

Wednesday, September 15, was “Heritage Day: Leadership Shelby County, 2015 – A Look at the Past, Present, and Future.” Every other year, Center is the focal point of Leadership 2015 – or Leadership 2013, Leadership 2011, etc. Participants are selected from businesses and other Shelby County institutions. Colleen Doggett (Class of 2011) and Diana Tindol (Class of 2013) were the Selection Coordinators for Heritage Day 2015.
Heritage Day is headquartered, appropriately, in the handsome, beautifully maintained 1885 court house. One of the sessions, on which I tagged along, was a tour of the superb old building. Wayne Christian, longtime member of the Texas State Legislature, provided a presentation on Political History of Shelby Country. Vickie Martin (Class of 2007) gave a program on the History of Shelbyville, which was the first county seat. The Shelby County Historical Commission and the Daughters of the Republic of Texas each offered presentations. There was a downtown walking tour.

My presentation was on the Regulator-Moderator War, so closely identified with Shelby County that it often was called “The Shelby War.” I wrote a book, War in East Texas: Regulators vs. Moderators, that was published by the East Texas Historical Association in 2006. The Regulator-Moderator tradition traced back to the pre-Revolutionary War period. With British authority breaking down, “Regulator” groups organized to regulate criminals and troublemakers, at first by flogging, but later by extralegal executions. When Regulators went too far, “Moderators” organized to moderate the Regulators. The Regulator-Moderator War of East Texas was the first blood feud in Texas, and thirty-one men were slain during this backwoods conflict. Texas had more blood feuds than any other state or territory, and the Regulator-Moderator War produced more fatalities than any similar clash – more than the Hatfields and McCoys, more than Arizona’s Pleasant Valley War, more than Wyoming’s Johnson County War.

By 1844, the climactic year of the Regulator-Moderator War, 200 men rode for the Regulators and 100 for the Moderators. No other Texas feud had as many antagonists facing each other, and women rode through the forests of Shelby County as scouts. The killing began in 1840 in Harrison County, and the victims included Senator Robert Potter, who was shot six years to the day after he signed the Texas Declaration of Independence. There were ambushes, assassinations, lynchings, and battles between large numbers of men. Not until 1844, when President Sam Houston and 600 militia volunteers marched into Shelby County, did the hostilities end. Even then the vendettas characteristic of blood feuds claimed more victims, including the woeful tragedy known as the “Poison Wedding.” In 1847 a wedding involving formerly Regulator families was held in southeastern Shelby County. A diehard Moderator named Wilkerson poisoned the wedding cake, reputedly claiming as many as eight to ten victims.

I emphasized to the Leadership conference that the Regulator-Moderator War was historically significant, as part of the long Regulator-Moderator tradition in America and in the level of murderous violence by these backwoods warriors during the dawn of Shelby County. I pointed out to the 21st century leaders of Shelby County that we don’t know who we are until we know who we were, and I left town wishing that more counties would look at their past through a Heritage Day.

Battle site near Shelbyville

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Classroom and Club

"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. 


Office of the State Historian at Panola College
On Monday morning, September 8, I entered the Panola College classroom of a former student of mine, Brenda Watson Giles. Brenda came to Panola from Tenaha,where her father was superintendent of schools. Her mother was an excellent teacher, and Brenda proved to be an outstanding student, smart and enthusiastic and hard-working. Soon she brought these same qualities to her own classroom. Brenda later joined the Carthage ISD as a teacher of Gifted and Talented students on the elementary level. She specialized in social studies, and she made the past come alive with imaginative and innovative techniques. 

With Brenda Watson Giles
Brenda now is president of the local Retired Teachers chapter, while continuing to teach as an adjunct instructor at Panola College. A few days ago she asked me to visit with freshmen students in her “Panola College Success 101” class. Of course, I told them what a superb student their teacher had been when she was a Panola College freshman from a small high school. I described a complex, difficult – and highly enjoyable – U.S. History project she had put together, one that was so exceptional I had all of my classes see it. I talked to her students about how I came to be State Historian of Texas, and I eagerly met students who were residents of “my” dormitory, Bill O’Neal Hall. And I was most pleased to see that these young college students may benefit from such a capable and experienced teacher. 

My daughter and son-in-law, Drew and Berri
Gormley, generously provided this handsome
bench  for the Panola campus. Berri knows that
my favorite president is Theodore Roosevelt.
Three days later I drove to Longview to address the first meeting of 2014-2015 of the History Club of East Texas. The club is more than a quarter century old, and while a few members are professional historians, most are men and women who share a love of history. But age and illness have taken a toll on the membership. Attendance lagged last year and there was talk of disbanding. Indeed, longtime president Richard Ash passed away just last month. 
Demonstrating a German Mauser rifle

Reporter Alex Byrd
But a number of members were determined to continue this organization that so many of us enjoy. Ed Russ assumed the presidency, and energetically worked to encourage attendance for the first meeting of the new year. It was my privilege to provide the program, and I arrived at Jason’s Deli early last night to greet old friends and visit with new ones. More than 50 club members attended the meeting, a crowd that gratified and excited us. Alex Byrd, a reporter from the Longview News-Record was on hand to cover our meeting, and she interviewed a number of us. There were door prizes, and my program addressed the 70th anniversary of D-Day, with due attention to the Texas connections. This group of history buffs clearly enjoyed the presentation, and we all enjoyed the company of kindred spirits. The History Club of East Texas is off to a thriving start for 2014-15! 







Sunday, September 7, 2014

2014 Cowboy Symposium

"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. 

During the first weekend of September I was in Lubbock to participate in the 26th Annual National Cowboy Symposium. I’ve attended this event from time to time since the 1990s, and it always has been a deeply meaningful pleasure. The cowboy is a Texas icon, and the purpose of the Symposium is to celebrate, preserve, and pass along our cowboy culture.  The event features more than 100 performers and presenters – including the State Historian of Texas – and there are activities for the entire family. Indeed, visitors are drawn from across the United States as well as from other nations.

Visitors are constantly entertained by Western musicians and singers, cowboy – and cowgirl – poets, Native American dancers, and storytellers. A popular activity is shopping, and the vast Lubbock Memorial Civic Center is filled with exhibitors of Western art, books, jewelry, clothing, boots, hats, and leather goods. There is an annual Horse Parade, and this year Chance O’Neal of the Four Sixes Ranch performed astounding horse handling exhibitions.

Featured entertainer Pipp Gillette

A major attraction every year is the National Championship Chuck Wagon Cook-off. Chuck wagons are parked in the large open area north of the Civic Center, and each wagon camp includes tents – or tipis. Each wagon provides a meal (meal tickets are available to the public) featuring chicken fried steak, pinto beans, potatoes, fruit cobbler, and cornbread, sour dough biscuits or yeast rolls. Judges’ scores are compiled to award winners in each of five divisions: Bread, Meat, Potatoes, Beans, Dessert, as well Overall High Food Points. Wagons are also judged on the camp and wagon authenticity, with prizes awarded in the Ranch Wagon and Trail Wagon divisions. Wagon crews compete for trophy buckles, cash awards, and prizes totaling more than $14,000.


The lovely and efficient boss wrangler of the Symposium is Executive Director Monica Hightower. Last year she scheduled throughout the weekend programs on Texas Range Wars and Blood Feuds. She invited me to present a program on the last old-fashioned blood feud in Texas, the Johnson-Sims Feud, a conflict between two ranching families that took place in Snyder, Post, Sweetwater, Clairemont, and the surrounding countryside. There was considerable interest in the feud presentations, and Monica decided to utilize this feature throughout this year’s program.
Linda Puckett, Curator of the Garza County Museum

In response to Monica’s kind invitation for 2014, I suggested the Horrell-Higgins Feud in Lampasas County during the 1870s. I researched and wrote about this conflict in magazine articles and in my biography, The Bloody Legacy of Pink Higgins, A Half Century of Violence in Texas (Austin: Eakin Press, 1999). Higgins was a product of the Texas frontier who grew up battling Comanche raiders, livestock rustlers, and personal enemies. The Horrell brothers were hard-drinking, quick-triggered lawbreakers who were magnets for trouble. The Horrell-Higgins Feud involved  cattle theft, pioneer Texas ranchers, saloon shootouts, ambushes, a street battle, running fights in the countryside, lynchings, Texas Rangers, and murderous vendettas by night riders. The Horrell-Higgins Feud was cow country drama, and a large and receptive audience was on hand to hear about it. Immediately following my Horrell-Higgins presentation, I participated in a Western Authors Panel, chaired by Dusty Richards, immediate past president of the Western Writers of America.  Norman Brown, non-fiction writer, and I were the other panelists, and we also are members of the WWA.
The Texas Folklore Society booth was manned by
Paul Carlson and Clint Chambers, who also are key
members of the West Texas Historical Assn.

Billy and Ronna Huckaby at their
Cowboy Bookworm booth
Holding an enlarged photo of Pink
(seated far right) and a trail driving crew,
which includes my great-grandfather
(seated second from left)
As I drove into Lubbock on Friday morning, I received a phone call from the genial Gaby Fuentes, Deputy Director of Governmental Appoints, Office of the Governor. I became acquainted with Gaby two years ago, when she handled many details leading up to my investiture as State Historian at the State Capitol, a ceremony administered by Governor Rick Perry. About two months ago I received a phone call from Larry McNeill, chairman of the State Historian Selection Committee, inquiring if I would be willing to accept a second term. Of course I was elated and grateful for the opportunity. Gaby’s call last Friday was to announce the publicity release from the Governor’s Office about my reappointment. The second-term ceremony will be held on the campus of Panola College, which provides funding for my travels and where my office as State Historian is located. The event will be open to the public, and I will post details as arrangements are made. As I parked at the Lubbock Cowboy Symposium, I was grinning ear to ear at the prospect of another two years as statewide ambassador for Texas history!

For more information: http://www.cowboy.org/
Fellow panelists Norm Brown (left) and Dusty Richards

Saturday, August 30, 2014

XIT Ranch

"Lone Star Historian 2" is a blog about the travels and activities of the State Historian of Texas during his second year. Bill O'Neal was appointed to a two-year term by Gov. Rick Perry on August 22, 2012, at an impressive ceremony in the State Capitol. Bill is headquartered at Panola College (www.panola.edu) in Carthage, where he has taught since 1970. For more than 20 years Bill conducted the state's first Traveling Texas History class, a three-hour credit course which featured a 2,100-mile itinerary. In 2000 he was awarded a Piper Professorship, and in 2012 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wild West Historical Association. Bill has published over 40 books, almost half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine. In 2013 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by his alma mater, Texas A&M University - Commerce. 

General office of the XIT in Channing
In mid-summer my wife and I drove through XIT country in the northwest Panhandle. We spent the night in Dalhart, home of the XIT Museum. In Channing we stopped at the one-story brick XIT office, built in 1898 and restored a century later by Dr. W.P. Kirkeminde. We drove through each of the original seven divisions, and on previous trips we have visited all of the division headquarters sites.

Vault in the general office


In 1879, following legislative groundwork laid in previous years, the Texas Legislature passed a law appropriating 3,050,000 acres of Panhandle rangeland to finance a splendid new state capitol in Austin. From this legislation emerged the Capitol Syndicate Ranch, better known in western ranching circles as the XIT. The magnificent state house was built from 1885 to 1888 by a Chicago firm designated the Capitol Syndicate. As construction progressed the company received title to their Panhandle lands. The Capitol Syndicate assumed $3,224.593.45 in construction costs, making the price of their land $1.07 per acre, about twice the going rate for well-watered Panhandle rangelands.
The magnificent State Capitol was built by the Capitol Syndicate in return for 3,000,000 acres of rangeland.
The much-photographed Empty Saddle
monument in Dalhart.

The XIT Ranch extended from the northwest corner of the Texas Panhandle south for more than 200 miles along the New Mexico border, covering parts of 10 counties across the sparsely settled Staked Plains. Fencing operations began in 1884, and 300 carloads of materials were purchased at a cost of $181,000. During the next decade the ranch was divided into 94 pastures requiring about 1,500 miles of fence. Some 6,000 miles of wire were used, along with 100,000 cedar posts, five carloads of wire staves, one carload of staples, and an entire carload of hinges for the hundreds of gates. Line riders maintained a constant check on the fencing, and some divisions kept fence wagons in operation at all times. 

Immense herds began to be purchased and turned onto the vast rangelands in 1885. Because of unfavorable weather conditions during the mid-1880s many cattlemen were anxious to sell, and the XIT provided an important outlet, while benefiting from favorable prices during a buyer’s market. After 1887 there were no further major purchases of longhorn herds by the XIT, although a great many Hereford, Durham, and Polled Angus bulls were brought in from eastern states to improve beef quality. During its heyday the XIT maintained herds of 125,000-150,000 cattle.

Las Escarbadas Division bunkhouse, now at the
Ranch Heritage Center in Lubbock.
During the 1890s approximately $500,000 was spent on water facilities, including 335 windmills and 100 dams. Earthen water tanks were dug, and several 200-pound sacks of salt were spread along the bottom of each newly-completed tank. After cattle and horses had crowded in to eat all of the salt, the tank was well-packed and ready to hold water. Each division employed one or two “windmillers” to drive their wagons with the necessary maintenance.

The Hotel Rivers stood beside the General Office building.
At each of the XIT divisions, residences were erected, along with barns, bunkhouses, storerooms, and corrals. When the Fort Worth and Denver Railroad laid tracks across the XIT in 1888, general headquarters was established at Channing, a townsite laid out by the ranch alongside the railroad. A two-story frame hotel, the Hotel Rivers, was erected beside the brick headquarters building. Each Christmas and New Year’s XIT cowboys hosted all-night dances at the Hotel Rivers, providing turkey, deer, antelope and, of course, beef.
Las Escarbadas Division headquarters
North to south the divisions were Buffalo Springs, Middle Water, Ojo Bravo, Rita Blanca, Escarbada, Spring Lake, and Yellow House. The XIT was the nation’s largest ranch under fence, but the long-range financial goal of the Syndicate was to sell the enormous ranges in parcels to settlers as they moved into the region. Alongside the 50 miles of railroad right-of-way across XIT lands, ranch employees planted millet, sorghum, and vegetables, so that travelers could see the farming potential. Toward this end a several-hundred-acre farm was maintained at the Rita Blanca Division.

The Yellow House Division headquarters now form
HQ for the Yellow House Ranch.
When farmers and developers began clambering for land in the Panhandle, the XIT opened a land office and sold off most of its range by 1912. By that time cattle, horses, and equipment had been disposed of, and the remaining 350,000 acres were leased – and eventually sold – to farmers and ranchers. The heyday of the XIT was a scant two decades, but the vast ranch lasted long enough to earn a permanent place in western lore.