Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Busy Weekend

"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.

With the History Club of East Texas
Thursday evening, September 12, marked the first meeting of the year for the History Club of East Texas. The club began years ago as a Civil War Roundtable in Kilgore. I was privileged to speak to the Kilgore group a couple of times, and I was immediately drawn to this gathering of history buffs. Within a few years the group had mostly exhausted available Civil War speakers and topics, and it was decided to expand the subject base. "Civil War Roundtable" was dropped in favor of "History Club of East Texas," and the meeting place was changed to Longview.

For years we have met at Jason's Deli, which provides a free meeting room along with appealing supper possibilities. Monthly meetings are held from September through May. Modest annual fees are collected to provide an honorarium for speakers. A large crowd gathered to begin the new year, and it was good to talk with longtime friends and kindred spirits. Several months ago Joan Marshall, director of the Bob Bullock Museum of Texas History asked me to deliver an address on "Sam Houston as a Leader." I enjoyed developing and presenting this subject, and because of Houston's iconic status I felt that the History Club of East Texas would enjoy the topic. It was a most pleasant session, and for the State Historian a good warmup for a busy weekend. 

On Saturday morning I drove to Marshall, 30 miles from Carthage, to participate in the reopening of the Harrison County Museum in the renovated 1901 courthouse building. This imposing structure served as the county seat of government for 63 years, until a larger and more modern courthouse opened on the west side of the square. But the 1901 courthouse remained in service as the home of the county museum. Museum exhibits filled 13 rooms, so a visit to the museum offered a bonus of touring a picturesque and historic old building. Construction materials featured yellow brick, carved limestone, marble, and pink granite columns. Atop the impressive dome is a statue of the goddess of justice, holding a sword of justice in one hand and the scales of justice in the other. 

After the aging courthouse passed the century mark, the building had fallen into serious disrepair. The museum was moved to the historic Ginnochio Hotel building, where many exhibits still were displayed and archival collections remained open to researchers. (Prior to the move I had researched the 1879 shooting in Marshall of Maurice Barrymore and a fellow actor, as well as Marshall's minor league baseball team. But when the archives were transferred to the Ginnochio, I found ready access to files on the Regulator-Moderator War.) The empty courthouse was the beneficiary of renovation through the Texas Historical Commission's Courthouse Program. The refurbished courthouse was rededicated in 2009. 

Now the Harrison County Museum has been reestablished in the 1901 historical gem. The second week of September was declared "A Celebration of Local History: The Reopening of Our NEW County History Exhibits in the 1901 Harrison County Courthouse." Early in the week members of the Museum enjoyed preview tours, and there were other events. On Saturday the museum was opened to the public from 10 AM until 7 PM. I was invited to speak at 10:15 AM on historic events in 19th-century Marshall.

At 1:15 PM Dr. Ivan White, Director of Administrative Services at Wiley College, delivered an address on "Wiley College, Celebrating 140 years." At 2:30 PM  Dr. Randolph Campbell, Regents Professor of History at the University of North Texas and Chief Historian of the Texas State Historical Association, spoke on "Texas Confederate Pensions." Utilizing Harrison County as a sample, Dr. Campbell has performed groundbreaking research on slavery and other antebellum topics. We enjoyed appreciative audiences, and everyone was impressed with the superb new museum exhibits.

The Heart of Texas Museum is housed in the old county jail.

I drove from Marshall to Brady. Brady is near the geographical center of the Lone Star State, and freely uses the term "Heart of Texas." In recent months the local chapter of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, the Heart of Texas Historic Museum, the Heart of Texas Writers Group, and the Heart of Texas Historic Commission united forces to inaugurate a new community event, "Heart of Texas Historians and Storytellers " Modeled after an annual event in nearby Mason, the Brady activity was scheduled for Sunday afternoon, September 15, and there would be three programs. 

Gary Sutton, a local rancher who is an enthusiastic member of the Heart of Texas Historic Commission, invited me to present the historical programs. Marilynn Johanson, a retired educator and pioneer descendant, agreed to be the storyteller. A large number of volunteers from the four different groups resourcefully handled arrangements - and treated me with great hospitality. Shelly Perkins produced a professional program of events. These efforts were rewarded with a crowd exceeding 150, and I led off with a program on "Gunfighterology," which included demonstrations with old weapons and holsters. During a break members of the audience purchased large numbers of inscribed books, and my sister, Judy O'Neal Smith from Lampasas, was an invaluable aide at my book table. Afterward Marilynn Johanson charmed the crowd with an account of her great-grandmother, "The Pioneer Woman's Story." 

Tracy Pitcox is a Brady native who has been a mainstay of radio station KNEL for more than a quarter of a century. Tracy has transformed Brady into a center of Country Western Music, and he provided his events center for our Sunday afternoon program. Therefore,for the closing presentation I described the "Musical Traditions of Texas," focusing on the enormous Texas contributions to C&W Music. 

My sister, Judy O'Neal Smith (at left), drove
to Brady from Lampasas.

That evening I was hosted by a dozen of the volunteers at a celebratory dinner. They were elated by the turnout and response to the event they had created. And it was deeply gratifying that I had played a part in launching a community event - there can be no more important role for the State Historian of Texas. 
Members of the Brady High School History Club
with their sponsor, Jim Griffin

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