Monday, February 20, 2017

ETHA Spring Meeting

On Saturday, February 18, the East Texas Historical Association held a one-day spring meeting in historic Marshall.  ETHA President George Cooper called the conference to order.  There were three morning programs. ETHA Executive Director Scott Sosebee spoke on, "The Five Most Transformational Events in Texas History, According to One Texas Historian."  Lila Rakoczy presented the research project which she heads:  "No Man's Land: East Texas African Americans in WWI." And Jessica Wranosky delivered, "Regulating the Personal: A Texas Legislative Tradition."

Our morning programs were held at the Marshall Visual Arts Center.

Following a lunch break we assembled again at the Marshall Visual Arts Center.  A great many well-published historians were attendees, along with four San Jacinto College students brought by Eddie Weller. Eddie has been a San Jacinto Webb Society advisor since 1989, and he regularly escorts history students to ETHA and to TSHA meetings.

Eddie Weller (rear), Webb Society sponsor at San Jacinto College since 1989 with four of his students he brought to the meeting.

With Chris Gill, the ETHA's efficient and cordial Secretary/Treasurer.

With Scott Sosebee, Executive Director of the ETHA, presented the opening program.

George Cooper, President of the ETHA, concurrently is serving as President of the South Texas Historical Association.

Ty Cashion, professor of history at Sam Houston State University, is a distinguished Texas historian and author.


Barbara Judkins, site manager of the Starr Family Home State Historic Site

With Robert Hall, a fellow member of the West Texas Historical Association. Robert recently has assumed the role of Executive Director of West Texas Trails.


Active in the program (L to R): Perky Beisel, Jessica Wranosky, Scott Sosebee, Lisa Rakoczy, George Cooper

Barbara Judkins, site manager for the Starr Family Home State Historic Site, offered a PowerPoint presentation, "They Don't Build Them Like They Used To." Dr. James Starr, a prominent figure in the Republic of Texas, along with his son Frank, established the first bank in Marshall in 1870 and acquired 52 acres on the southwest outskirts of town for a family home complex. The centerpiece of the Starr family complex was - and is - Maplecroft, a two-and-one-half-story frame house built by Frank and his wife Clara in 1871. At Maplecroft Frank and Clara Starr raised six daughters (four other children died young). A tall cistern tower at the rear of the home provided water for the household. One of the buildings, a single-story frame structure, was used as a school, with the Starrs employing a series of well-educated tutors for their children. The six Starr daughters married and most of the couples made their homes at the family complex.

Maplecroft, built in 1871

Tutors were employed to teach the Starr children and grandchildren in this little school on the grounds.

 A large tower at the rear of Maplecroft supported a cistern which provided water for the household.

Eventually the site was donated to the state of Texas and was opened to the public in 1986. By that time I was teaching night classes in Marshall for Panola College, and one evening each semester I arranged a field trip to the Starr Home. The furnishings and decorations at Maplecroft are original, and restoration work is conducted regularly.

Central Hallway

Front Parlor

Upstairs Front Bedroom

Historian Debbie Liles in the spacious suite added to Maplecroft for the Starr mother-in-law

Dining Room

After Barbara Judkins concluded her PowerPoint, our ETHA group was invited to tour the Starr Family Home Site, about one mile away. I had not been to Maplecroft in years, and eagerly joined the tour. It was a most enjoyable climax to a fine day with ETHA friends.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Representing Texas at the Border Queen

I've recently been invited to represent Texas at the 150th anniversary of the founding of Caldwell, Kansas, on the first weekend in May. Caldwell began in 1867 as a wild trail town on the Chisholm Trail, before later becoming the last railhead on the most famous of all cattle trails. The ramshackle community grew up just above the Kansas-Oklahoma border. Caldwell was the first town the Texas trail drives reached after crossing through Oklahoma. With liquor outlawed in Indian Territory, Caldwell offered drinking, gambling, and sporting women - along with brawls and gunplay. Longhorn herds were driven through early Caldwell north into Kansas heading toward Abilene, the first railhead on the Chisholm Trail. Five years later a railroad began construction to the south, toward Texas and the advancing trail herds. For one season Newton prospered as the Chisholm Trail railhead, before the rails reached Wichita. But by 1880 Kansas farmers succeeded in protecting their livestock with a quarantine law which blocked Texas longhorns from crossing Kansas lands. The hardy longhorns carried ticks which infected farm animals with a deadly blood disease, "tick fever" or "Texas fever."

But rather than close the lucrative Chisholm Trail, the railroad was extended 52 miles from Wichita to Caldwell. Stockyards were built on the south edge of town, and herds were driven through the gates into the yards, then loaded directly onto cattle cars. During the railhead years Caldwell became known as the "Border Queen," boasting two three-story brick hotels, a superb opera house, and three blocks of saloons and substantial commercial buildings. Indeed, the Border Queen was a more impressive town during its heyday than Abilene, Wichita, Dodge City, or any other frontier railhead.


But the gunplay continued, and Caldwell was the scene of more shootouts than any other western cattle town. A final frontier adventure came in 1889 and again in 1893, when the Border Queen was the launch site for the spectacular land rushes into newly-opened Oklahoma farm lands. Thereafter Caldwell settled into a quieter existence as a farm town, but a number of 19th century buildings stand as reminders of the Border Queen. There is an excellent museum, gunfight victims reside in the old cemetery, and historical markers are all over town.

I first visited Caldwell in 1968, while exploring each of the Kansas cattle towns. One of my early books was a biography of Henry Brown, Caldwell's two-gun marshal who turned outlaw after taming the raucous Border Queen, and I wrote articles about Caldwell for western magazines. I built a scale model of Caldwell during the 1880s and donated it to the Border Queen Museum, where it remains on display. In 2008 Eakin Press released my book about frontier Caldwell: Border Queen Caldwell, Toughest Town on the Chisholm Trail. During the publication activities, I was given a key to the city mounted on a piece of timber from the old opera house and I was designated "Border Queen Laureate of Letters."
During my research efforts I was greatly aided by local historians Karen Sturm and Rod Cook. (Sadly, Rod passed away last week.) Karen is a dynamic community leader who skillfully spearheads heritage celebrations, and her plans for the Border Queen at 150 are exciting. She has invited various political dignitaries from Kansas and Oklahoma, and for a representative from Texas she asked the State Historian to come. I will be representing the Texas drovers of the 1860s-1870s-1880s (one was my great-grandfather, Jess Standard, who trailed cattle to Caldwell from Lampasas County), and I look forward to providing a program during the anniversary festivities in May.

A related appearance will be a public address at the Longview University Center at 6:30 on the evening of March 21. Dr. Van Patterson was appointed director of the LUC at about the time I received my appointment as Texas State Historian. He invited me to offer a public address at the Longview University Center, and with Van providing excellent publicity, we drew a fine crowd. The State Historian lecture has become an annual event in the years since 2013, and this year's topic will be "Texas Cowboys, Longhorns, Ranches, and Trail Drives." The public is welcome without charge.          


Sunday, January 29, 2017

First Appearance of 2017

On Thursday, January 12, I drove to Tyler for my first appearance of 2017 as State Historian. During the fall of 2016 I was contacted by a former student, Neashia Simpson, with a request to appear at King’s Academy Christian School, where she has taught for 9 years. King’s Academy is a K-12 school which has operated for 12 years, renting classroom and recreational space from Colonial Hills Baptist Church in Tyler.


I was delighted to hear from Neashia. It had been more than 20 years since we had last seen each other, when she was a student in one of my Traveling European History courses conducted through Panola College. It was a pleasure to catch up with her, and of course I was delighted to arrange a program at King’s Academy. I was asked to address grades 7-12 during the weekly chapel assembly, 8:55 - 9:40 on Thursday mornings. We decided that a program on the iconic Texas cowboy would appeal to such a broad range of students. Among Neashia’s teaching assignments is journalism, and I gladly agreed to stay after chapel for a student interview.

With Neashia Simpson

Thursday, January 12 was the first chapel assembly of the New Year. There was an opening prayer, announcements were made, and I was introduced by Neashia. The assembled students were highly attentive as I portrayed the color and deep appeal of the cowboy culture which developed in early Texas and spread throughout the West.


It seemed appropriate to close with the story of “The Cowboy Preacher.” L.R. Millican was a gun-toting teenaged cowboy in Lampasas County during the 1870s. But he experienced a religious conversion at a camp meeting, and he began preaching the gospel. Reverend Millican’s work took him across West Texas, where he pastored – and often founded – Baptist churches in San Angelo, Pecos, Midland, Big Spring, El Paso, Fort Davis, Toyah, Van Horn, Odessa, Sierra Blanca, Clint, Fort Hancock, Presidio and other communities. Reverend Millican ranged to the far corners of West Texas to distribute Bibles and Baptist literature. “In the early part of my ministry I went always on horseback, sometimes breaking in a bronc for its use in my work, making many long trips over the plains and through the mountains, sometimes with nothing but my saddle blanket for a bed, saddle for a pillow and the heavens for a covering.  Have worn out several pairs of saddle bags during my early ministry carrying good books and tracts to give away or loan.” Millican was instrumental in organizing the famous Paisano Baptist Encampment near Alpine, conducted among cowboys and ranchers for decades by the legendary George W. Truett, who pastored First Baptist Church of Dallas for 47 years.

Interviewed by Gyna Troscrier

Following the assembly, Neashia led me to the journalism room, where I was interviewed by Gyna Troscrier. Gyna and I were taped by Logan Sewell, and after the interview we took photos. I had a most enjoyable experience with the students of King’s Academy – it was a pleasant start to 2017.



Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Lone Star Diamonds

The Daughters of the Texas Revolution organized in 1891, and the first president was the widow of Dr. Anson B. Jones, final president of the Republic of Texas. Today there are 7,000 members and 107 chapters. Aside from the Elisabet Ney Chapter in Washington D.C. – where there are always numerous patriotic ladies from Texas – all of the chapters are located in the Lone Star State. Indeed, during the past five years I’ve had the privilege of addressing a number of DRT chapters across Texas.
But now there is a unique new DRT chapter: Lone Star Diamonds, based in Little Rock, Arkansas. Of course, because of proximity there are many Arkansas women with deep patriotic roots in Texas. During the latter part of 2016 several of these women worked to form a DRT chapter, and the organizational meeting was held in Little Rock on December 17. I was invited, as State Historian of Texas, to address the organizational meeting of the Lone Star Diamonds Chapter. To my great regret I had inescapable schedule conflicts. I especially wanted to post a blog on the spread of the DRT into Arkansas, and to my good fortune, just two weeks after the organizational meeting, I have the opportunity to put together this blog.
Membership of the newly chartered Arkansas chapter of the DRT
A driving force behind the organization of the Lone Star Diamonds Chapter is a dynamic young lady named Amber Friday-Brown. I met Amber Friday when she enrolled in one of my freshman history courses at Panola College in the fall of 2000. Amber was a recent graduate of Winnsboro High School who attended Panola on a band scholarship. But her passion was history.

Amber Friday-Brown

She approached me after my opening class session with the news that she recently had joined the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and she told me of the various antebellum costumes she already had accumulated. She announced that she could hardly wait until I began to lecture on the Civil War. I asked her to develop a presentation on antebellum women, clothing, and manners. Her program was so good that I asked her to present it to other classes of mine, and I realized that she had a talent for presentation. During Amber’s two years at Panola College I helped arrange several appearances at UDC and at Sons of Confederate Veterans chapters. She always was well received.

Kay Tatum UDC Division President 2014-2016 and Amber Friday-Brown
Amber transferred from Panola College to College of the Ozarks at Point Lookout, Missouri, where she earned a BA in history and music. She spent her summers at Fort Macon State Park in Georgia, re-enacting antebellum females for the tourists. Periodically the fort staged an artillery demonstration. A cannon crew requires several “men,” so as a staff member Amber donned a Confederate artillery uniform and served the cannon.
Amber has remained active in UDC through the years, serving as chapter president for four years. Currently, she is president of the Arkansas Division of UDC, and she is recording secretary of the President’s Council of UDC. In 2013 Amber married J.T. Brown of El Dorado, Arkansas. J.T. is an enthusiastic Civil War re-enactor, and he is highly supportive of the travels required of Amber as a national officer of UDC.

Officers of the newly formed Arkansas Chapter of the DRT
Through UDC Amber met other Arkansas women with Texas roots. In May 2016 several of these patriotic ladies made application to the DRT office in Texas to establish a chapter in Arkansas. Several of these ladies previously had belonged to DRT chapters in Texas. The fledgling Arkansas chapter benefited from the strong leadership of Martha Batchelor, who agreed to serve as president. By December the chapter received its charter. A clever chapter logo was devised, and a chapter newsletter already has begun publication.

When I learned that Amber and J.T. were going to spend a week at Winnsboro during Christmas, we arranged to meet in Jefferson. We greeted each other at the historic Excelsior House, then proceeded on for our blog photos at the magnificent House of Four Seasons, where Amber and J.T. spent the first night of their honeymoon (before traveling to Natchez and New Orleans). Next we went to Jefferson’s 1903 Carnegie Library – one of only four Carnegie structures in Texas that still serves its original purpose – and sat around a table discussing the Lone Star Diamonds. And so I was able to put together a blog about the first Arkansas chapter of the DRT, while learning of rumors that Texas ladies in at least one other state are working to obtain a charter.

J.T. and Amber Friday-Brown

Thursday, December 29, 2016

A Texas Christmas

I spent December 23-24-25 in Colleyville with my daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren. Our Texas family enjoyed a grand Christmas, including great food, gifts and more gifts, a wonderful church service and a surprise visit by Santa Claus to the three littlest grandchildren on Christmas Eve night.

With daughter, Lynn Martinez, at the Glenbrook neighborhood in Bedford, Texas



          Early on Christmas Eve Evening, ten of us piled into a couple of vehicles and made a short drive to the Glenbrook neighborhood of Bedford. Twenty-five years ago, the Glenbrook Home Owners’ Association Christmas Committee decided to create a spectacular, Texas-themed decoration throughout their neighborhood. Their theme was based on a children’s book  by Leon Harris, published in 1952 and entitled The Night Before Christmas – In Texas, That Is. Santa, wearing jeans and a ten-gallon red Stetson, is riding in his buckboard toward the cabin of Buddy and Sue:


As he stepped from the buckboard

He was really a sight,

with his beard and moustaches

So curly and white. 

As he burst in the cabin

The children awoke,

And both so astonished

That neither one spoke.

And he filled up their boots

With such presents galore 

[And so on….]


          Some houses in the Glenbrook neighborhood set up story boards with excerpts from the book and pictures of Texas Santas. All yards are lined with bright red lights, and decorations include armadillos and cactus and cowboy boots, along with more traditional Christmas yard art.



          As we drove into Glenbrook Christmas 2016, we were delighted by imaginative decorations, beginning with a Texas Santa in his buckboard flying through the air courtesy of his eight armadillos. The most spectacular yard was a wonderland at the top of a cul-de-sac. Like everyone else, we parked and walked through the magical displays. And when we finally drove away, I knew I had the subject for a truly Texas Christmas blog.

Merry Christmas, y’all!


Grandchildren Nolan and Addison Gormley, enjoying the Glenbrook Christmas display


Monday, December 5, 2016

O.C. Taylor Elementary and State Historian Specialty Tour

On Friday morning, November 18, I appeared as State Historian at O.C. Taylor Elementary School in Colleyville. Three of my grandchildren are students at O.C. Taylor: second-grader Addie Gormley and first-grade twins Reagan and Nolan Gormley. Last year I delivered a program at O.C. Taylor to the combined fourth- and fifth-grade History classes. This year I was asked by the fourth- grade teachers to return with a program on Texas cowboys, cattle drives, cattle ranches – the entire cowboy culture. Learning that I would be on-campus, the second-grade teachers asked me to talk with their combined classes about a number of subjects pertaining to Texas heritage. I was delighted to comply, because this appearance included an overnight stay beforehand with my three youngest grandchildren and their parents, Drew Gormley and Berri O’Neal Gormley. Indeed, that evening a school activity was scheduled for O.C. Taylor students in a gymnasium setting so I enjoyed the bonus pleasure of watching my grandkids cavort around a gym with their teachers, administrators, and fellow students.

The O.C. Taylor school day opens with a closed circuit TV newscast, directed by two youngsters manning the news desk. A weather  girl clad in a rain coat gave the weather forecast, followed by a young lady announcing the lunch room menu. Afterward, I was introduced on camera, clad in cowboy attire and standing proudly with my grandchildren, as a special guest for the morning. Shortly afterward the fourth-grade classes were brought into the library where they were highly attentive to my props and posters and stories about Texas cowboys and longhorn cattle. The last few minutes were devoted to a lively Q and A session which proved that this iconic Texas subject had connected with the latest generation of students.

With the fourth graders at O.C. Taylor Elementary School

Another set of props and posters were set up in a vacant classroom and a few minutes after I arrived, the second-grade students were conducted in by their teachers. The topics requested of me by their teachers worked with these students, and the Q and A which followed underscored the preparation which the teachers had already accomplished in their classrooms. I was strongly impressed by the students, teachers and administrators of O.C. Taylor Elementary, and I was reassured about the future of Texas History instruction in such schools.


Mrs. Archer's second graders and their State Historian autographs




Introduced by Addison Gormley, in the Abraham Lincoln costume I gave for her recent birthday

A few days earlier I had another gratifying State Historian experience with granddaughter Jessie L. Martinez, who is a seventh-grade Texas History student at Danny Jones Middle School in Mansfield. Jessie is named after my mother, Jessie L. Standard O’Neal. Mother was named for her grandfather, Jessie L. Standard, who rode as a trail driver during the 1870s and 1880s out of Lampasas County. Jessie’s father, Rudy Martinez, is a federal banker in Irving, but his Martinez family makes their home in Corpus Christi and Brownsville. Jessie has deeply embraced her Tejano heritage, and she is looking forward to her QuinceaƱera in a couple of years. Jessie was present at the State Capitol when I was sworn in as State Historian by Governor Perry.  With such a deep-rooted Lone Star heritage, Jessie has thrown herself into her Texas History studies this year. Her mother is my oldest daughter, Lynn O’Neal Martinez, an award-winning teacher of Social Studies and Language Arts in the Mansfield ISD. Recently she spoke to me about Jessie’s growing fascination with Texas History, and suggested that I plan a weekend field trip with my granddaughter. Of course I was thrilled, and on Friday evening, November 11 I met Jessie and Lynn in Corsicana, and by 8:00, we had driven to a Huntsville hotel.


Jessie standing with Big Sam's face

The next morning we visited Sam Houston’s impressive gravesite, then we drove by the State Penitentiary on our way to the Sam Houston Memorial Museum. It was still early so we walked over to the campus of Sam Houston State University to see the oldest college building in continual use in Texas, the handsome ante-bellum structure which opened at Austin College in 1851 and which, since Austin’s transfer to Sherman, has served SHSU in various uses. I also walked them past the ruins of Old Main, burned during the centennial year of 1979. Of course, I had a running commentary of stories. (They asked me, after all!) By then the remarkable Sam Houston Memorial Museum was open, and we took our time. Outside we toured Sam’s beloved Woodland Home and the Steamboat House, where he died in 1863. Next we drove to the towering 67 foot statue of Big Sam, and there Jessie eagerly visited the gift shop.

Jessie and Lynn at Woodland Home

After a quick lunch, we drove to Washington-on-the-Brazos, first touring The Star of Texas Museum, with its student-friendly exhibits. Next we explored Barrington, the plantation of Dr. Anson B. Jones before going to Independence Hall, which Jessie recently had studied. We took the well-marked walking path around the historic old town site and had a stop at the ferry site, before finishing at the excellent Visitor Center and Gift Shop. As we returned toward Corsicana, we made brief stops in Navasota, including the statue of young City Marshal Frank Hamer, and the picturesque 1894 Grimes County Court House in Anderson. We reached Corsicana in time for Lynn and Jessie to drive home.


Jessie and Lynn at the Barrington barn

I spent the night in Corsicana, before driving into the Hill Country for a Sunday visit with my sister in Lampasas. Early in the week I made State Historian appearances at the TACRAO Annual Conference in Marble Falls and at a TSHA Texas History Teachers Conference in Dallas (as described in the previous blog). But I finished the week at O.C. Taylor Elementary in Colleyville. A couple of days later I received from granddaughter Jessie a color brochure that she and her father put together as a memento of our Texas history field trip. Nothing could be more deeply gratifying to a State Historian.