Wednesday, December 13, 2017

A Corsicana Christmas

This is my sixth Christmas blog since becoming State Historian in August 2012, and it has been grand fun finding Texas places or events suitable for the Yuletide Season. As I drove back to Carthage from Colleyville following a wonderful Thanksgiving with my four daughters, seven grandchildren, and sons-in-law, my mind turned to where I should go, what I should do for a 2017 Christmas blog?

Entrance sign to downtown at South Beaton Street
As I drove through Corsicana, where I was born and raised, workers and volunteers were putting up a towering Christmas tree on Beaton Street, the primary downtown thoroughfare. The 1905 Navarro County Court House grounds always are decorated, and so is Community Park, and there are a few special neighborhoods. A Christmas Parade is held after Thanksgiving, as well as a lighting of the Beaton Street tree. I promptly decided to use my home town as a typical subject for my Christmas blog for 2017.
Towering tree in the middle of Beaton Street
Downtown park in a vintage commercial building
I did not have my camera with me, but the Christmas decorations were not yet in readiness. I phoned my daughter, Shellie O'Neal, who lives in Corsicana and heads the Drama Department at Navarro College. I told her about my Christmas blog plans, and enlisted her help as photographer. She was an eager recruit, and we discussed various photo possibilities. 
Numerous displays are all over the grounds of the 1905 courthouse
Shellie recently sent her photos to Dr. Berri O'Neal Gormley, another daughter who lives in Colleyville and who regularly handles the photo insertions after I send her my blog texts and images. On this occasion Berri e-mailed the images to me, I added some captions, and together the three of us put together a Christmas blog. So Santa Blog O'Neal is grateful to his two Blog Elves, Shellie and Berri, and we three wish you all a Merry Texas Christmas!


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Four Appearances in Four Days

On Monday through Thursday, November 6, 7, 8, 9, I had the pleasure of presenting four State Historian programs in four days at four different locations. It proved to be a delightful experience, filled with history-centered events and kindred spirits and old friends.

I was born and raised in Corsicana and I graduated from CHS and Navarro College. My paternal grandparents and great-grandparents were rural pioneers of Navarro County during the 1880s and my father was born and raised on a Navarro County cotton farm. So I grew up with Navarro County history and legends, and I am a longtime member of the Navarro County Historical Society. I have spoken at Society events through the years, but I was especially pleased when I was invited to address the Society's annual banquet. My sister and brother, Judy O'Neal Smith of Lampasas and Mike O'Neal of Carrollton, both decided to attend, because they too were born and raised in Corsicana and graduated from local schools. We arrived on Monday afternoon and spent three hours together, we were seated at the same table at the banquet, and each of us saw old friends and schoolmates.
Members of the Navarro County Historical Society

Introduction by Carolyn Taylor

Holding an antique CHS Tiger jersey, one that I wore 60 years ago
during the 1957 season.

My topic was how Corsicana and Navarro County have been deeply involved in the mainstream of Texas history. Navarro County was organized in 1846, the year that Texas became the 28th state. Cotton was king in Texas at that time, and Navarro County, situated in the rich Blackland Prairie of Texas, was an important part of the Lone Star State's cotton economy for more than a century. When the Frontier Battalion of Texas Rangers was organized in 1874, the commander was Major John B. Jones, a Confederate veteran - and a Navarro County horse rancher. In 1895 the first oil field and oil refinery west of the Mississippi River were developed in Corsicana. The Corsicana Oilers, 1904 champions of the Texas League, set records that still stand in professional baseball. The Corsicana High School, Jackson High for colored students, and Navarro College football teams won state and national championships, and longtime CHS coach Johnnie Pierce became the Father of the Texas High School Coaches Association, the best such organization in the nation. Governor Buford Jester was a native of Corsicana, and so was Country Music legend Lefty Frizzell. "Big Tex," an icon of the Texas State Fair, began as "Big Santa" in Kerens, east of Corsicana. There was much else, and it was fun for me to put together this program for the Navarro County Historical Society.
With my brother and sister, Mike O'Neal and Judy O'Neal Smith

I drove home late that night, because on Tuesday morning I was scheduled to deliver a presentation about Sam Houston on the Panola College campus. Bill Offer, a jovial and highly energetic history instructor, had asked me to visit his Tuesday-Thursday Texas history class, and to take the entire hour and fifteen minute period talking about "Old Sam Jacinto." The class was held in the room where I had taught for many years, and I had a terrific time interacting with the young men and women of his Texas history class.

Bill with Bill Offer, Panola College History Instructor


With the Panola College Texas History class

Demonstrating the San Jacinto Battle Flag

That afternoon I drove toward Austin, where I had been asked to speak at a gathering of Texas history teachers at the Bob Bullock Museum of Texas History. The two-day event was organized by the Texas State Historical Association as part of the "Experiencing Texas" Workshop Series, and 60 teachers attended.  Charles Nugent, TSHA Adult Program Organizer, lined up programs and speakers for two days on the time period 1836-1900.  He asked me to speak after lunch on Wednesday on "The Regulator-Moderator War of Old East Texas."
The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum

Four key TSHA officials: Esther Rivera, MK Marshall, Charles Nugent, 
Steve Cure

The Regulator-Moderator War was the first blood feud of Texas, where more blood feuds were fought than in any other state or territory. The Regulator-Moderator War was part of a tradition of Regulators vs. Moderators that dated back to the troubled period before the American Revolution, and the four-year backwoods clash in the Republic of Texas resulted in the death of 31 participants.

I drove home from Austin after the meeting, because the next morning at 8:30 I was scheduled to speak in Center at a day-long Conference of the Shelby County Junior Chamber of Commerce. The JCC is comprised of students from every secondary school in Shelby County, and almost 200 young ladies and gentlemen crowded into the Civic Center in Center. I was invited to deliver the opening address by Deborah Chadwick, Interim Director of the Shelby County Chamber of Commerce.  My topic was the same as the day before, "The Regulator War of Old East Texas." Of course, the subject was especially pertinent because so much of the conflict was fought in Shelby County that it was often called "The Shelby War." I tried to emphasize to the young students that their home area was the site of one of the most important events in the history of early Texas. The program was well-received, and later in the day the keynote address was presented by State Representative Chris Paddie, who administered the oath of office to me for my second term as State Historian. A special pleasure for me was a gracious introduction by a former student of mine, Allison Sanford.
John D. Windham Civic Center in Center
Introduction by Allison Sanford, Conference Chair
and a former student of mine

Almost 200 members of the Shelby County JCC gathered in the Civic Center

Everyone stood for the Pledge of Allegiance

With Deborah Chadwick

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

From Texas Rangers to Confederate Veterans

On Tuesday, October 17, I met Casey Eichhorn at the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame in Waco. Casey is the Education Coordinator at the Ranger Hall of Fame, and it's been my pleasure to work with Casey on several previous occasions on Ranger programs. Casey had invited me to be one of the speakers at a four-week series with a Lifelong Learning group sponsored by Baylor University. The topic he asked to speak on was "Reel Rangers," based on a book I had written by the same title. I had a PowerPoint from previous presentations, and Casey - an accomplished techie - agreed to operate the PowerPoint. Indeed, he located an important image I never before had found and inserted it in the PowerPoint.


Members of the audience responded with familiarity to many of the Texas Ranger movies I talked about, as well as the memorable TV mini-series Lonesome Dove, based on Texas author Larry McMurtry's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Of course, one of the co-stars was another Texan, Tommy Lee Jones, who later starred as a Texas Ranger in the movie Man of the House.

Holding up an authentic silver bullet

Every Western movie star, from Tom Mix to John Wayne, at least once played a Texas Ranger - except for Randolph Scott, who was the exception that proves the rule. I talked about the most famous of all fictional Rangers, the Lone Ranger, who was the star of a radio series for 20 years, as well as a TV series, two movie serials, and several motion pictures. I mentioned the Ranger treatment by novelists, from Zane Grey to Larry McMurtry to Elmer Kelton. Ranger statues also are important to the public reservoir of memory about Texas Rangers. After I fielded a few questions, Casey led the group through the Texas Ranger Museum, a magnificent cultural reflection of the iconic Texas Rangers.

Casey Eichhorn in his office with the Lone Ranger
The following week I drove to Tyler at the invitation of Johnnie Holley, who recently stepped down as national commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Johnnie's lovely wife, Norma, also has served as leader of the Order of the Confederate Rose, and she remains active in the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Johnnie and Norma have traveled incessantly around the nation in support of their volunteer duties. Johnnie still acts as commander of the Tyler chapter of the Military Order of the Stars and Bars. Almost all of the members also belong to the Tyler camp, or chapter, of the SCV. The Tyler SCV chapter is exceptionally active, and a few months ago was recognized  as the Number One SCV camp in the nation - for the second time in the past three years.

On several occasions during the past few years Johnnie has invited me to speak on a Civil War topic to this remarkable group. It was a privilege to provide another Civil War program in Tyler, and a pleasure to see Johnnie and Norma Holley, two of the most active members in Civil War groups in Texas and the nation.    

With Johnnie and Norma Holley


Sunday, October 22, 2017

East Texas Historical Association Fall Meeting

The East Texas Historical Association held its annual Fall Meeting in Galveston at the luxurious Moody Gardens Hotel and Resort. We met on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, October 12-14, and a crowd of 200 was in attendance.

Chris Gill, the lovely and highly efficient Secretary/Treasurer of the ETHA

Charles Nugent, Adult Education Programs Manager of the TSHA
With Steve Cure, Chief Operating Officer of the TSHA
There were nearly 30 sessions, including joint sessions with the Central Texas Historical Association, the Texas Folklore Society, the South Texas Historical Association, and the West Texas Historical Association. Several graduate students presented papers during various sessions. Four ladies from the Galveston County Historical Commission provided an excellent session on their historic county.
Dan Utley and Milton Jordan
Barbara Holt of the Galveston County Historical Commission
Caroline Castilla Crimm glancing at the camera
On Thursday evening the ETHA was treated to a Welcome Reception at the Bryan History Museum, which is housed in a handsome nineteenth-century structure that was built as an orphanage. J.P. Bryan restored the building and provided 70,000 items  from his superb collection. Bryan's collection especially features artifacts of Stephen F. Austin, as well as wonderful pieces of Western and Texas art. The ETHA presented Bryan the Lucille Terry Historical Preservation Award, and he offered a gracious response. Our visit to the Bryan History Museum was a memorable highlight of the Fall Meeting.

The magnificent Bryan History Museum

Debbie Liles and J.P. Bryan

Friday evening featured the Fellows of the Association Reception, which included the introduction of three new ETHA Fellows: Light Cummins, former State Historian of Texas; James Maroney; and Milton Jordan. The Fellows Reception was followed by the Presidential Address Banquet. The address was delivered by ETHA President George Cooper, who has doubled this past year as President of the South Texas Historical Association.

ETHA Executive Director Scott Sosebee at the Fellows Reception

Fellows Reception crowd
During the weekend I took the opportunity to ride the resort's paddleboat, the Colonel. I love boat rides, and I had a fine time touring our inlet on the comfortable, brightly-appointed Colonel.
The Colonel of the Moody Gardens Resort

On Saturday morning I participated in the West Texas Historical Association Session, along with fellow presenters Leland Turner of Midwestern State University, and Tai Kreidler, Executive Director of the WTHA. My presentation was "Tascosa, Gunfighter Capital of the Panhandle," and the entire session was lively and colorful.
With fellow presenters Tai Kreidler and Leland Turner at the WTHA Session

The Fall Meeting concluded Saturday with the Association Awards and Business Meeting Luncheon. As chairman of the Ottis Lock Awards Committee, I was privileged to present the Best Book Award to editors and contributors Debbie Liles and Anji Boswell for Women in Civil War Texas, a publication of the University of the University of North Texas Press. Jeffrey Littlejohn of Sam Houston State University earned the Higher Education Educator of the Year Award, while Alicia Young of Wylie High School won the Joe Atkins Public School Educator of the Year Award. Research Grants of $500 each were awarded to Richard Orton, Lindsey Drane, and Scot McFarlane.

Awards and Business Luncheon

President George Cooper
James Maroney received the Ralph W. Steen Award from Michael Botson
President Heather Wooten swinging a mean gavel
Michael Botson presented the Ralph Steen Award to James Maroney, while ETHA Executive Director Scott Sosebee presented the Archie McDonald Student Scholarship to Alondra Morillon, an undergraduate at UHD. The Business Meeting featured acceptance of a new slate of officers, headed by Heather Wooten as President. After announcing that next year's Fall Meeting will return to the Fredonia Hotel in Nacogdoches, President Wooten adjourned the meeting with a vigorous swing of the gavel. We all agreed that the Fall Meeting of 2017 was an exceptional event.