Saturday, June 2, 2018

Ladonia's Historic Architecture

Historic architecture is our most tangible link with the past, and Ladonia in southeastern Fannin County is rich in vintage structures. The farm community began to form in the early 1840s. The first merchant was Frank McCown, and the little town was known as McCownville for several years. But about 1857 La Donna Millsay passed through town on a wagon train from Tennessee, and she enthralled the population with her singing. Citizens began to call the town "La Donna," and when a U.S. Post Office was established in 1858 the misspelled name "Ladonia" was submitted.

Bird's Eye View of bustling Ladonia in 1891,
four years after the railroad arrived.

Located in a fertile farming area, Ladonia incorporated in 1885 with a population of 350, two cotton gins, a bank, a school, and several churches. Two years later, enticed by a bonus from Ladonia, the Gulf, Colorado, and Santa Fe Railway built tracks through town. Ladonia immediately boomed as a shipping point for cotton, corn, oats, and wheat. Within a decade the population soared to 2,000 with 100 businesses.

McFarland family members were among the original pioneers
of the community during the 1840s.


Victorian houses sprang up throughout Ladonia.
Ladonia's commercial district clustered around a large town square, and today a number of brick buildings still exist from the 1890s. A three-story city hall with a large upstairs auditorium dominated the square until it was razed in 1955. Victorian houses were erected around town, and many still stand, although some are in disrepair. Indeed, like many other agricultural communities Ladonia was hit hard by the Great Depression. The population declined steadily, and today the reported population is 612, barely one-fourth of the total of Ladonia in its prime.
Commercial buildings on the west side of the square
date from the late 1890s.

But this very decline meant that the existing commercial and residential structures - and churches - continued to be used, and today offer a visual treat for history buffs. In 1893, for example, the First Baptist Church built an impressive frame Victorian sanctuary with a massive steeple tower. But this edifice burned in 1911, and a brick replacement opened in 1912 and still is used by the congregation.
The First Baptist Church opened in 1912.

Presbyterians organized a congregation in 1850, and in 1910-12 a magnificent church was built for $6,400. The building featured 18 stained glass windows, and a pipe organ was installed for $2,587. Unfortunately, the shrinking congregation dissolved in 1976, but the building was converted to "Heritage Hall," and the organ went to the First Presbyterian Church of Mesquite. In 1992 a ferocious storm damaged many of the beautiful windows.
The First Presbyterian Church also opened in 1912.

During the same period that the Baptists and Presbyterians were erecting new brick edifices, the First Methodist Church built a large sanctuary for $10,000. This excellent church served the congregation for a century, but fell into disrepair in recent years. The Methodists, reduced in numbers, built a smaller, more modern building next-door to the still-impressive  structure from 1910.

The First Methodist Church was built for $10,000.


The First Christian Church organized in 1865 and built a superb brick sanctuary in 1906. Attendance on Sundays averaged 300, but this church was destroyed by fire early in 1917. The church rebuilt immediately, but in time, like the Presbyterians, the congregation disbanded, and the big church stands empty today.

The First Christian Church was built in 1917.

A number of downtown commercial buildings are still in use, and there is a modern school plant. But the history buff who enjoys studying antique structures will be rewarded by a visit to Ladonia.    
The three-story City Hotel was built in 1906.


Saturday, May 19, 2018

The State DRT Convention and More

On Friday evening, May 18, it was my privilege to present the banquet address for the 2018 annual meeting of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. The three-day DRT Convention was held at the Dallas/Addison Marriott Quorum by the Galleria. A few years ago I delivered the keynote address when the statewide DRT Convention was held in Killeen, and during my tenure as Texas State Historian I have presented programs to numerous DRT chapters. So it was a special pleasure to participate in the 127th Annual Convention of the DRT.

Registration desk
Vendor table
The program chair for this 2018 Convention was a longtime friend and Panola College colleague, Liz Hedges. She asked me to provide a light-hearted program, and we decided on "Musical Traditions of Texas," which has been received through the years with laughter and interest by numerous audiences, especially those that are predominantly female. I arrived at mid-afternoon, and immediately encountered friends and acquaintances from other DRT meetings. More than 500 members were in attendance. There are 7,000 DRT members. Next year's meeting will be in Austin.
With Historian General Liz Hedges

With longtime Panola College colleague Carl Hedges
I was delighted to see Amber Friday Brown, whom I first met as a freshman student in a US History class at Panola. I quickly learned that Amber was an enthusiastic Civil War re-enactor, and when I had her bring her antebellum clothing to class, I also learned that she was a talented presenter. During her two years at Panola I helped arrange appearances for her with Sons of Confederate Veteran groups. She spent her summers working at a Civil War coastal fort in North Carolina. Amber earned bachelors and masters degrees in Arkansas, where she and her husband - also a re-enactor - live and work. A transplanted Texan, Amber enlisted the assistance of the Texas State Historian in establishing an Arkansas chapter of the DRT with other native Texan ladies. Amber also leads the United Daughters of the Confederacy organization in Arkansas. It was a great pleasure to visit and catch up with this good friend and accomplished historian.
With Amber Friday-Brown

View from the head table
Two days before driving to Dallas for the DRT Convention, I received from the University of North Texas Press the new cover for the reprint of my 2006 book, War in East Texas, Regulators vs. Moderators. This history of the murderous Regulator-Moderator War was the first title in the Bob and Doris Bowman East Texas History Series. The book proved quite popular - I signed 200 copies in two hours in Shelbyville, the village which was the center of conflict. But when the first hardcopy printing sold out, circumstances prevented a second edition. The book was co-sponsored by the Bowmans and the East Texas Historical Association. Sadly, both Bob and Doris passed away during recent years, but ETHA Executive Director Scott Sosebee has been instrumental in arranging a softcover reprint through the UNT Press.

The Director of UNT Press, Ron Chrisman, has focused on feud books and outlaw/lawman titles. Indeed, he published my book on The Johnson-Sims Feud of 1916-1918, the last old-fashioned blood feud in Texas. The Lone Star State was the site of more blood feuds than any other state or territory, and the first of these conflicts was the Regulator-Moderator War of the 1840s. Ron felt strongly that War in East Texas was a suitable entry for UNT Press, and his tireless efforts with the original publishers have placed the book back in print this summer for the first time in more than a decade. I am grateful to Ron and Scott, and I look forward to presenting programs again on the Regulator-Moderator War. 


Thursday, May 10, 2018

24 Hours of History Action

The State Historian enjoyed an action-packed 24 hours on Thursday and Friday, April 26-27. Shortly after returning home from two weeks of travel, I delivered a program on Thursday at noon to the Carthage Lions Club on the Panola College campus. It was a pleasure to be among home town friends, and they responded favorably to my presentation on a fellow East Texan, John Chisum of Paris to our north, who went on to become a famous cattle king of western ranching.
The Carthage Noon Lions Club
 Thursday evening I attended a meeting at a Carthage restaurant of the Gen. Horace Randal Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. We sang Dixie, recited the pledge to Old Glory, the Lone Star Flag, and the Confederate Flag, and announced the names of our CSA ancestors - in my case Leroy O'Neal of Georgia, George Washington Owen of Mississippi, and James Standard of Alabama. My three great-grandfathers were teenagers who fought late in the Civil War to defend their homes from invading armies.

SCV members at dinner

With Mr. and Mrs. Dan Ross. Dan arranged my invitation
to speak to the SCV group.
From my new book, Frontier Forts of Texas, I discussed the pre-Civil War military activities in Texas of such future Civil War heroes as Col. Albert Sidney Johnston, Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee, Maj. James Longstreet, Lt. George Picket, Lt. John Bell Hood, and other ambitious officers. Texas was a combat zone, with US Army troops operating out of nearly three dozen outposts against warriors  of the Wild Tribes, Comanches and Kiowas. Jefferson Davis, a West Point graduate and wounded veteran of the War with Mexico, served as an innovative and resourceful Secretary of War from 1853-57. Secretary Davis organized the Second Cavalry, with Col. Albert Sidney Johnston in command, to combat the horseback warriors of the Wild Tribes. Davis also imported camels as pack animals in the arid Southwest, and he armed infantry regiments with rifles instead of muskets. After the Civil War frontier combat continued in Texas, led by Civil War hero Col. Ranald Mackenzie and his crack Fourth Cavalry, operating out of reconstructed or new forts in West Texas.
The CTHA registration desk, manned by Dagmar Poteet, Executive Director Ken Howell, and Gail Swanlund.
SCV members purchased a large number of inscribed books, and it was after eight o'clock before I departed Carthage for a 240-mile drive to Round Rock, where the Central Texas History Association was scheduled to conduct its 2018 Annual Conference at the Conference Center at the Wingate by Wyndham. I had been invited by Dr. Kenneth Howell, Executive Director of the CTHA, to be the Friday luncheon speaker. I was given a book table in the Vendors Room, and I was joined late on Friday morning by my sister, Judy O'Neal Smith from Lampasas. Judy, an active DRT and museum board member, already knew several of the historians at the CTHA meeting. She sat with me at the head table, and distributed handouts when I began speaking about John Chisum - for the second time in 24 hours.

The Vendors Room. In the foreground are Dan Utley, long a ranking executive with the Texas Historical Commission, and award-winning author Debbie Liles, who has just won appointment to the W. K. Gordon Endowed Chair for Texas History at Tarleton State University.

Ice hockey presenters Chuck Swanlund and Michael Miller in action.
Friday Lunch Presentation
During Friday afternoon and on Saturday morning, sessions continued for nearly 100 attendees. The CTHA is entering only its third year and is growing rapidly. One of the most delightful sessions was on Friday morning: Frozen in Time, Ice Hockey in the Lone Star State. Armed with hockey sticks and displaying an array of hockey jerseys, Michael Miller of the Austin History Center and Charles Swanlund  of Blinn College-Bryan spoke respectively on "The Puck Stopped Here: San Antonio and the Birth of Ice Hockey in Texas" and "Mr. Hockey Comes to Texas: Gordie Howe and the Houston Aeros." This innovative session featured perhaps the first studies of ice hockey presented at a Texas historical conference. 
Cary Wintz presenting the Presidential Address on school shootings
Carroll Scogin-Brincefield practicing her presentation
on "The Crash at Crush."
Prior to attending the CTHA Conference, and immediately following the 2018 Conference of the West Texas Historical Association in San Angelo, I flew from DFW to Oregon for an 8-day cruise of the Columbia and Snake Rivers aboard the American Empress. We sailed first to the mouth of the Columbia, viewing the Pacific Ocean and visiting Fort Clatsop, where the Lewis and Clark Expedition spent the winter of 1805-1806 at the western extent of their historic journey. As we moved upriver we viewed sites where Lewis and Clark camped both coming and going. There were other Lewis and Clark sites, as well as the Nez Perce National Park and the Sacajawea State Park. At the Western Aeroplane and Automotive Museum I took a ride in a 1914 Ford Depot Hack. The scenery was magnificent, including towering river bluffs and splendid waterfalls. The State Historian of Texas had a grand time exploring the Pacific Northwest from a riverboat.  


Sunday, April 29, 2018

Ideal Venues for Chisum Programs

On a lovely afternoon in early April the Panola County Retired Teachers Association met at the ranch of Gene and Brenda Giles. Gene and Brenda were Panola College students in my classes during the 1970s, and they later married and made their home in Carthage, raising two beautiful daughters. Gene has enjoyed a successful career as a banker, while Brenda became a master teacher. She long taught Gifted and Talented classes, specializing in social studies.
With Gene and Brenda Giles

When she asked me to present the April program for the Retired Teachers, we decided that I would talk about cattle king John Chisum (an East Texan, raised and buried in Paris) at the Giles Ranch. The ranch was Gene's boyhood home, and the house has been handsomely renovated in recent years. Brenda decorated their country place in Texana. For our ranching program she planned a menu that included jerky and "trail" mix.

Under the pergola

I began teaching at Panola College in 1970, so I knew virtually everyone in the Panola County Retired Teachers group. Chairs were set up within a pergola, with pastures in every direction. Western attire was on display, and I could not have asked for a more suitable setting for a program about my most recent book.

The following week I attended the 95th annual meeting of the West Texas Historical Association. I am a past president and fellow of the WTHA, and I've always enjoyed the historical interests of the membership. For this meeting I became part of a session in which WTHA Executive Director Tai Kreidler spoke on rancher John Hittson, David Murrah delivered a program on legendary cattleman C.C. Slaughter, and I made a presentation on Chisum. Our presider was Debbie Liles, a leading researcher/author on the range cattle industry.

WTHA Executive Director Tai Kreidler
and Associate Executive Director Lynn Whitfield
Eggemeyer's General Store, where I signed copies of my book. Down the street, I also signed books at the famous Cactus Book Shop.

Our meeting was held at the First Methodist Church
in Downtown San Angelo
The historic Cactus Hotel stands just behind the First Methodist Church,    and our Friday night banquet was held on the top floor.

Shortly after arriving in San Angelo, I was greeted by Tumbleweed Smith, who drove over from Big Spring to record an interview for his radio show.

The WTHA meeting was held in San Angelo. In the 1860s Chisum moved his open range operation from Denton and Tarrant counties to Coleman and Concho counties, so I got to present a program at a location where Jinglebob cattle once had roamed. Indeed, our session, "Revisiting Three 'Boss' Cattlemen of West Texas," attracted a large crowd. In all, more than 150 West Texans attended the meeting, and they were rewarded with numerous informative sessions.
Scott Sosebee, Executive Director of the East Texas Historical Association was raised in San Angelo and happily provided a program for the WTHA

The vendors' tables proved of great interest to attendees.

 On Friday evening WTHA President Glen Sample Ely hosted a reception and banquet in the historic Cactus Hotel in downtown San Angelo. The catered dinner and the program were excellent, and we had a splendid view from the 15th floor. At the Awards Luncheon on Saturday, two new Fellows were announced to the crowd: Fredonia Pachal and Tom Alexander. A new slate of officers was approved, headed by Jean Stuntz of West Texas State University. We will be on the WTSU campus next April, as the WTHA will meet in Canyon.
Luncheon crowd on Saturday
President Glen Sample Ely delivering the closing address
at the Saturday luncheon.