Saturday, December 6, 2014

Larry McNeill

"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. 

Tenaha Depot
1925 Tenaha championship basketball team
Old First Methodist Church

Dave McNeill Sr. and Jr. in front of drug store
Larry McNeill is a prominent Austin attorney whose long service to the Texas State Historical Association included a term as president in 2005-6. A major goal of President McNeill was to establish the office of State Historian of Texas. Utilizing his contacts and legal expertise, Larry maneuvered a bill through the Legislature which created a Texas State Historian. A key element in the statute was that the State Historian would be sworn in at the State Capitol, hopefully by the Governor. There are about 3,500 state appointees in a given year, and most swear and sign the oath of office before a notary public and mail it into the Texas Secretary of State. Thus the swearing-in ceremony for the State Historian at the Capitol was a special element inserted by Larry into the statute. The State Historian enjoys a two-year term. 


Drug store interior
Larry was raised and schooled in Houston, where his father, Dave McNeill, Jr., was an attorney. But Larry’s parents, Dave and Lois Parker McNeill, both grew up in Tenaha in the Piney Woods of East Texas. Founded as a railroad town in 1885, Tenaha was named after Tenehaw Municipality, which became Shelby County. Within a decade of its founding, Tenaha boasted a population of nearly 700, a score of businesses, three churches, and a school. During the 20th century Larry’s paternal grandfather, Dave McNeill, Sr., owned and operated a drug store in a long brick building on the east side of the town square. As mayor of Tenaha, in 1942 McNeill was responsible for the installation of the city water system. In the rear of the drug store, Dr. James M. Parker operated his medical office. Two blocks south of the square, the McNeills and the Parkers lived in Victorian houses across Center Street from each other. 
Dave McNeill, Sr., in his buggy

Dr. James Parker
Larry and his older brother Dave spent more than half of each summer in Tenaha. Larry attended movies at the Queen Theater, two doors north of the drug store. Summer visits also included trips to the farm properties owned by the two families. Larry became steeped in the family lore in and around Tenaha, and fascinated by the history of the little town. 

Dave and Frances McNeill

Anna Baldwin Parker
The population of Tenaha stabilized at just over 1,000 and a modern school plant has been built. But like so many other small towns, Tenaha’s business section has dwindled and deteriorated. The Queen Theater and the other two commercial buildings north of the McNeill drug store have been razed, and three decades ago the handsome Parker home, built in 1905, was destroyed by fire.




Larry's parents -
Dave and Lois McNeill
But Larry McNeill has done his part to maintain the heritage of Tenaha, home town of his parents, both sets of grandparents, and numerous other ancestors. The old drug store, long vacant, has been restored during the past year by Larry. Advertising signs from the 1930s and 1940s prime of the business have been applied to windows. Amid a deteriorating downtown square, the old drug store looks ready for business. Three decade ago Larry’s mother renovated the 1903 McNeill home, shortly after the 1905 Parker home burned. Larry recently donated land north of the drug store that will become part of a downtown city park. 


One of Tex Ritter's biggest hits -
"Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo and Blair"
Larry and I climbed into his four-wheel drive vehicle to tour the wooded parcels of family land that he now owns or partially owns. It was a terrific field trip through rugged countryside that includes spring-fed Parker Lake. On one of his parcels, several miles outside Tenaha, Larry and his wife Rose are building a hilltop retirement home, to be called “MacRose.” The house has been framed, and so has the library, a separate two-story facility which will house Larry’s vast book collection, as well as a large office. A dumb waiter will hoist books up or down, and there will be a reading area on the second floor. This library will excite envy among book-lovers, and Larry – who is in the process of closing out his Austin law practice – is eager to re-settle the region of his family heritage. 
Larry at the 1903 McNeill home
Larry's Library
Larry on the second floor of his
library  for the first time
Bill at Parker Lake
Larry at the restored drug store




Sunday, November 30, 2014

Veteran's Day 2014

"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 Tuesday morning, November 11, at 11:00 o’clock – the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, which originally was the celebration of Armistice Day, the end of World War I combat – it was my privilege to address a Veteran’s Day crowd in Carthage. The event was conducted at the handsome Memorial Park beside the Old City Jail Museum. Honored in the large crowd were members of American Legion Post 353 and VFW Post 5620. Members of the local Knights of Columbus Honor Guard were present in their formal attire, and a few veterans proudly wore their uniforms and medals. A large audience was present, despite cold, windy weather. The event was broadcast live over KGAS Radio.
 
The theme of my remarks was "Military Traditions of Texas." Two weeks earlier I was at the State Capitol to conclude the inauguration activities for my second term as State Historian. Afterward, with the upcoming Veteran’s Day program in mind, I walked around the Capitol grounds with camera in hand to inspect and photograph the military monuments on the grounds surrounding the State Capitol. There are 22 acres of beautifully landscaped grounds around the Capitol, and on that 22 acres are 17 monuments. The most recent monument is a Hispanic grouping on the front lawn. There is a fine statue of a Texas cowboy and of a pioneer woman, along with a monument to fallen peace officers. But most of the monuments celebrate the rich military traditions of Texas. 

Our magnificent State Capitol building opened in 1888. Just three years later the first monument was placed in front of the Capitol - an impressive piece honoring the men of the Alamo, who established an unforgettable Texan military memory. The commemoration of Texas heroism and sacrifice in others wars is expressed in ten more monuments around the Capitol grounds.

There are three monuments honoring Texas in the Civil War. The Census of 1860 listed over 92,000 Texans between the ages of 17 and 45 - ages of likely soldiers. Indeed, as many as 70,000 men served the Confederacy, along with a few thousand others who joined Union forces. Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston was killed at Shiloh, and Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood suffered terrible combat wounds. In addition to these soldiers of high rank, three Texans served as major generals and 32 as brigadier generals. And I can never talk about the Civil War without mentioning the Battle of Sabine Pass, in which 42 Texans manning an artillery battery turned back a Union invasion force of 17 ships and 5,000 soldiers.

The World War I monument commemorates nearly 200,000 Texas men - and 449 nurses - who served, and who represented Texas superbly in heavy combat. There are three monuments honoring the extraordinary Texan role in World War II. The Pearl Harbor monument recalls Doris Miller of Waco, whose heroism aboard the sinking U.S.S. West Virginia earned him the Navy Cross, the Navy's highest award for valor (the Medal of Honor, of course, is awarded by Congress). The first Navy Cross ever awarded to an African-American was presented to Miller (who was killed aboard an escort carrier in 1943) by Adm. Chester Nimitz of Fredericksburg, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet. 

Another WW II monument honors the 830,000 Texans, including 12,000 women, who served in uniform. Texan Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier of the war, was awarded 33 medals for valor.  Submarine commander Sam Dealey from Dallas was the most decorated sailor of the war, receiving the Medal of Honor posthumously. More than 22,000 Texans lost their lives. Texas A&M, an all-male military college, sent 22,229 Aggies to war, including 14,123 officers - more than any other American college or university, including West Point. Seven Aggies won the Medal of Honor. 
Another monument honors the 36th Division, a Texas National Guard unit that was federalized in both world wars. Known as the "T-Patch Division," the "Texas Division," and the "Texas Army," the 36th engaged in 19 months of combat. T-Patchers earned 15 Medals of Honor and captured 175,806 enemy soldiers. The 36th Division suffered 27,343 casualties: 3,974 killed, 19,052 wounded, and 4,317 missing in action. 

There are other monuments to other wars around the grounds, as well as one honoring disabled veterans. Statuary is a major element of the public reservoir of memory about Texans at war. Such statuary abounds at the Capitol grounds as well as at courthouses and other locations around the state. This statuary and the Veteran's Day ceremonies held across Texas provide strong expressions of public pride in the heroic service exhibited by generations of Texans.

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