Wednesday, August 9, 2017

A Weekend of Museums and the Texas Rangers Heritage Center

Several months ago I was invited by Dr. Jody Ginn, Board Member and Historical Consultant of the Former Texas Rangers Association, to present a program at a day-long conference on Texas Rangers on Saturday, August 5. The conference was to be held at the new Texas Rangers Heritage Center, a work in progress on the eastern outskirts of Fredericksburg. I was delighted to add the presence of the State Historian to a conference on the iconic Texas Rangers.

On my way to Fredericksburg, I spent Thursday night in Lampasas, visiting with my sister, Judy O'Neal Smith, and other relatives in the area. Judy is an active member of the local DRT chapter and of the Lampasas County Museum Board. I've visited the museum on numerous occasions - Lampasas was the home town of our mother and grandparents - and there are many historical treasures on display there. But the museum has been closed for the past several months, undergoing renovations by museum professionals. When Judy and I entered the recently re-opened museum, which is housed in a venerable commercial building in downtown Lampasas, I was astonished at the transformation. Always worth seeing, the Lampasas County Museum now is markedly improved and is a treat for history buffs and other visitors.
Lampasas County Museum

Museum Gift Shop


With my sister, Judy O'Neal Smith
Departing Lampasas for Fredericksburg, I reached Llano at mid-day. I stopped to tour the superb courthouse, built in 1892. Indeed, on the Traveling Texas History Courses I conducted for 20 years out of Panola College, I always toured my students through Llano, so that they could see the courthouse, the impressive old jail, and other excellent examples of historic architecture. As I looked around the courthouse, I examined the historic photographs displayed along the walls of the main floor. A security guard, who turned out to be a native of Llano, cordially inquired about my visit. When I told him I was the Texas State Historian, he immediately marched me into the office of the County Judge, Mary S. Cunningham, introducing me as a visiting state official.
JoAnn McDougall, Director of the Llano County Museum
Pioneer cabin on the museum grounds
Historic Llano jail

The Llano County Courthouse boasts a fine collection of historic photos

Encouraged by my reception, I next drove to the Llano County Museum, which I had never before visited. I introduced myself to Museum Director JoAnn McDougall, who proudly showed me various highlights of the displays. I asked questions about local history, and JoAnn responded with enthusiasm and a great deal of information. Llano is fortunate to have such a charming and knowledgeable native daughter in charge of the community's historic repository.
After arriving in Fredericksburg later on Friday afternoon, I paid a quick visit to a fine local museum, Fort Martin Scott, which is the only one of the original line of Texas frontier forts which still stands. Established in 1848, the fort is well-maintained and stands just west of the Texas Rangers Heritage Center.  

Entrance to Fort Martin Scott
Company Barracks
Officers' Quarters
Guard House
 On Saturday morning, when I drove into the spacious parking lot of the new Texas Rangers Heritage Center, a splendid Ranger group statue immediately caught my eye. Nearby, Ranger re-enactors from every historic period had erected an encampment, complete with displays from a 19th-century cannon to a Thompson machine gun (the famous "tommy gun" of the Bonnie and Clyde era).
Texas Rangers Heritage Center Pavilion

Other impressive weapon collections were displayed beneath the handsome pavilion where the conference took place. More than 120 attendees included retired Rangers, Ranger descendants, and current Texas Rangers, and it was a privilege for me to meet these men and women.

Fellow presenters Donaly Brice and Chuck Parsons

Jody Ginn introduced the first of six speakers, Donaly Brice, retired state archivist and author of The Great Comanche Raid. Each speaker was allowed 40 minutes, and Donaly spoke with great authority on the dramatic 1840 event. I was up next, presenting a program on "Texas Rangers and the Evolution of the Revolving Pistol." I focused on the period from 1844 through 1875, when Rangers were defenders of the Texas frontier. During this era Texas Rangers served as horseback warriors against Comanche and Kiowa raiders, as well as against Mexican bandidos along the Rio Grande border. Not until the frontier was secured did the Texas Rangers become a law enforcement body. I used a number of replica pistols and gun rigs to illustrate this program. The audience was ideal for my topic, and I greatly appreciated the response during and after my presentation.

Celebrated Texas Ranger Ray Martinez and Joe Davis,
President of the Former Texas Rangers Foundation
Ranger Re-enactors
With Dr. Jody Ginn
I was followed by Dr. Richard McCaslin with a program on famed Ranger leader John S. "Rip" Ford. After a delicious catered lunch of Bar B Q, programs were presented by Chuck Parsons on Ranger Captain John Hughes, by Dr. Harold Weiss on Captain Bill McDonald, and by Dr. James Kearney on the Stanford-Townsend Feud. A panel concluded the conference.  

Speaking with Ranger historian Harold Weiss

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Historic Roots of Colleyville

My daughter, Dr. Berri O'Neal Gormley, and her family - husband Drew and my three youngest grandchildren, Addie, Reagan, and Nolan - moved to Colleyville in 2015. Berri minored in history, an interest she has maintained throughout her life, and for the past year she has provided the technological expertise necessary to produce this blog. On previous visits to Colleyville, I asked Berri to show me historical sites and venerable buildings. This summer she went exploring, and when I visited in early July she offered to give me an historical tour of her community.

Old Bedford School
The 1908 Bedford School is on the National Register of Historic Buildings.
 Berri explained to me that into the 1950s Colleyville was an unincorporated village. Today's Colleyville town site long was made up of farms and small rural communities. One of these communities was Bedford, and Berri first took me to the 1908 Bedford School. In the years before the Civil War, the first Bedford area school house was a log building. Soon after the war ended, a frame school was erected. When that school burned in the early 1880s, a citizen named Milton Moore donated land for a school campus. When that building also burned in 1893, an elementary school was erected nearby. In 1908 this structure was replaced by a two-story brick school. When Bedford consolidated with the Hurst-Euless district in 1958, the brick school continued to be used, with a large addition to the rear, until 1969. The old Bedford School has since been handsomely restored and stands impressively on the traditional school site.

Rear addition to the school
Main stairway to second-floor classrooms
Berri and I next visited the Bidault House, which was designed and built by Anthelm Bidault, a farmer and winemaker. The house was constructed of molded concrete blocks during the years 1905-1911. Bidault was noted for cultivating orchards, vineyards, and berry fields on his farm. During World War I French soldiers stationed at Camp Bowie in Fort Worth were entertained at the Bidault home. Two years after the war the Bidault family moved back to France, but their well-built residence is a tangible reminder of their stay in Texas.
Bidault House

Cistern base

Our next stop was at the Webb House, built in 1914 by John R. Webb, a citizen of Bransford. His earlier home in Bransford had burned, but Webb erected a one-and-one-half story house on a T-floor plan, with a spacious front porch and side porches. Webb arrived at rural Bransford from Tennessee in 1897. Webb worked for the Cotton Belt Railroad for 44 years, and he also owned Bransford's last general store. Prominent in community affairs, he was active in the Woodmen of the World lodge, a trustee of the Pleasant Run School, the unofficial mayor of Bransford, and manager of the Grapevine Rabbit Twisters, a popular fiddle band. The Webb House was restored through community efforts in 2002, and fittingly a venerable caboose was placed nearby.

The "Preservation" area is marked.

Webb House
Storm cellar
Caboose reminds visitors that Webb worked 44 years as a railroad man

Rural communities such as Bransford, Pleasant Run, Bedford, and others began to be settled in the 1850s. Dr. Howard Colley moved to Texas in 1880, settled in Bransford, and practiced medicine for the next 40 years. A community grew up near his home and around a store founded in 1914 which took on the name of the beloved country doctor, Coleysville and, later, Colleyville. There were two businesses and 25 people in Colleyville in 1936. Two decades later Colleyville was incorporated, and in 1958 a population of 100 was reported. Growth was slow but steady, and today the population exceeds 26,000. And there is enough interest in local history to preserve remnants of early village life in the vicinity.  
Daughter Berri, a resident of Colleyville, at the Old Bedford School


Saturday, July 15, 2017

10th Anniversary of the WWHA

The Wild West History Association held its 10th Annual Roundup in Fort Worth on Wednesday through Saturday, July 12-15th. More than 150 members from across the nation gathered at the Radisson Fossil Creek Hotel in north Fort Worth. Before the WWHA was organized, men and women with an interest in Wild West History, especially the dramatic events of gunfighting were members of NOLA (National Association for Outlaw and Lawmen History) or WOLA (Western Association for Outlaw and Lawmen History), or the annual meetings sponsored by Wild West enthusiast Michael Hickey in Arizona. I was one of several gunfighting aficionados who participated in all three groups. Robert McCubbin of Santa Fe, a noted historic photograph collector, headed the movement to merge into one organization, “just as long as it doesn’t rhyme with ‘COLA,’” he urged.

The Texas State Historian with Arizona State Historian Marshall Trimble

My opening progam included a demonstration of a Navy Colt, Model 1851
Mike Cox on the Texas Rangers

It is fitting that the Wild West History Association celebrated its 10th anniversary in Texas, because the largest number of members are from Texas. As Texas State Historian I was asked to provide the opening address, on Wednesday evening. My topic was, "The Panther Roared – and So Did the Guns." The theme I explored – as I have in articles and books and even a Texas State Historical Association Webinar in 2016 – was that Texas was the gunfighter capital of the Wild West. There were more gunfights in Texas than in any other state or territory, more blood feuds were fought in Texas, more gunfighters were from Texas, and more gunfighters died in Texas. As far as “The Panther Roared,” I wanted to explain how Fort Worth came to be called “Panther City,” and I wanted to focus as much as possible on the gunfighters and shootouts of old Fort Worth, our host city.

UNT Press Director Ron Chrisman with co-authors, Bob Alexander and Donaly Brice, 
Texas Rangers: Lives, Legend, and Legacy
Vendors' Tables
WWHA board members Roy Young and Kurt House worked as Co-Chairs of the Program Committee to provide us with an outstanding program. The opening speaker on Thursday morning was Dr. Richard Selcer, an authority on Fort Worth history who spoke on, “Law and Disorder – Texas Style.” Dr. Selcer was followed by Mike Cox, who is a member of the Texas Institute of Letters, the Editor of the WWHA Journal, and who has enjoyed a long association as a writer with the Texas Rangers, an iconic organization which was the subject of his program. Award-winning author Chuck Parsons spoke on the murderous Sutton-Taylor Feud. Chuck was followed by Margaret and Gary Kraisinger, who have performed meticulous field research on the historic cattle trails and who presented an excellent PowerPoint program on the 150th Anniversary of the Chisholm Trail. Indeed, that evening we celebrated the Chisholm Trail – which ran through our host city – with a striking 150th anniversary birthday cake.

Awards Chairman Carroll Moore, John Boesennecker (winner of the Book of the Year Award), and WWHA President Jim Dunham
Six-Shooter Award Winner Paul Andrew Hutton
With Billy Huckaby, Head of the Wild Horse Media Group
and publisher of my recent biography of Sam Houston

The mid-day meal on Thursday was an Awards Luncheon. A Six-Shooter Award for Best Article of the Year was presented to nationally-known historian Paul Andrew Hutton. The WWHA Book of the Year Award went to John Boessenecker for his superb biography, Texas Ranger: The Epic Life of Frank Hamer. The programs after lunch were concluded by Bill Neal, who spoke on his recently released book: Death on the Lonely Llano Estacado, about the assassination of the attorney Jim Jarrott by Killin’ Jim Miller, whose home was in Fort Worth.
Bill Neal, with his lovely wife Gayla at left

Roy Young and Kurt House, Program Co-chairs, Paul Andrew Hutton
and Texas State Historian

Cattle Trails Panel: Gary and Margaret Kraisinger, Tom Weger, and Sylvia Mahoney
Friday was field trip day, and three busses delivered WWHA visitors to the nearby Stockyards, to the Museum District, and to Oakwood Cemetery, final resting place of shootists Luke Short, Killin’ Jim Miller, and Jim Courtright, city marshal of Fort Worth (1876-79) and owner of a detective agency/protection racket. In one of the most famous gunfights in Western history, Short killed Courtright in 1887 in downtown Fort Worth. Cattle barons such as Burk Burnett and W.T. Waggoner also rest in Oakwood Cemetery, along with many other Fort Worth notables. On Friday evening the WWHA was entertained by a Cowboy Poets and Storytellers Session.
National Cowgirl Hall of Fame, a field trip highlight
Luke Short's grave at Oakwood Cemetery


Mausoleum of cattle king Burk Burnett at Oakwood Cemetery

Our last day included Kurt House, “Ten Things You Didn’t Know about John Wesley Hardin,” Chuck Hornung and a program on the New Mexico Mounted Police, and a “Gunfighter's Session” with programs by WWHA President Jim Dunham and by the Texas State Historian. Saturday evening featured the Annual Boots and Spurs Banquet, with a program by Pulitzer Prize Finalist and New York Times Best-selling author S.G. Gwynne. Before we adjourned it was announced that we will meet in Springfield, Missouri, in 2018 and in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in 2019.

Hard-working board member, Paul Marquez with a richly deserved award
Chuck Hornung, authority on the New Mexico Mounted Police
Showing a buscadero gun rig at my Saturday presentation