Thursday, October 24, 2013


"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 ( 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. 

The rich history of Waco is reflected by a varied collection of venerable structures throughout the city. The Historic Waco Foundation has the stated purpose to collect, preserve, maintain, publish, and interpret the heritage and history of Waco, McLennan County, and Texas. The Foundation owns and operates four historic residential properties: the superb, sprawling East Terrace House; the McCulloch House; the Fort House; and the Earle-Napier-Kinnard House. The Foundation hosts an impressive slate of events, from Christmas on the Brazos to Stained Glass Workshops to a recent exhibit on a History of Baseball in Waco. 
Bill with Brenda Rhoades
Doris Miller
One of many activities is the Annual Meeting, a banquet which was held Tuesday evening, October 15, at the Red Man Museum and Library. A few months ago I was invited to deliver an appropriate address, and I eagerly accepted. During the summer I accompanied my wife Karon, who directs the handbell choir at our church, to a handbell workshop conducted at Baylor University. When we arrived in Waco we stopped at the Historic Waco Foundation headquarters, located east of the Baylor campus in a handsome two-story Victorian house on 4th Street. We visited with Don Davis, the genial executive director of the Foundation. The Foundation is working to create a riverside monument to Doris Miller, Waco’s famous World War II hero. Consequently, it was decided that I would talk about “Texas During World War II,” with emphasis on such Waco wartime notables as Capt. James Connally, Lt. Jack Lummus, Sen. Thomas Connally – and Doris Miller. Miller’s exploits aboard the sinking battleship West Virginia made him the first African-American to be presented the Navy Cross (sadly, later in the war he died when the escort carrier Liscombe Bay was torpedoed and sunk). 

While my wife was involved with her workshop, I drove all over Waco, shooting photographs for this blog. Indeed, when Karon and I met for lunch, she decided that I was having so much fun that she accompanied me during the afternoon. Unfortunately, Karon could not return to Waco during my mid-week banquet trip in October (it was mid-term week at Panola College). She missed an excellent meal and congenial company. The large crowd included Brenda Rhoades, a student of mine at Lampasas Junior High during my first year as a teacher. It was an unexpected and delightful reunion, and I assured Brenda that I improved as a teacher after my rookie year.
East Terrace House

Waco Village was established in 1849 and was designated as the seat of newly-organized McLennan County the next year. In 1837 Texas Rangers established an encampment that came to be known as Fort Fisher beside the Brazos River; today the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum occupies the site, and is one of the finest museums in Texas. The Chisholm Trail crossed the Brazos River at Waco (which became known as "Six Shooter Junction" during the cowboy era), and the world's longest suspension bridge was built to accommodate northbound herds, along with other traffic. The 475-foot toll bridge was built by the Roebling Company, which years later erected the much longer Brooklyn Bridge. In 1886 a local druggist developed Dr. Pepper, and Waco boasts  an excellent Dr. Pepper Museum. Near downtown stands old Waco High School, built in 1911 and home to the Paul Tyson-coached Waco Tigers, the finest high school football dynasty of the 1920s. Tyson and the Tigers are celebrated in the excellent Texas Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. Throughout the city are numerous other historical attractions, enough to occupy any history buff for a couple of days.

Texas Ranger Hall of Fame
Dr. Pepper Museum
Waco High School, 1911
Lover's Leap above the Brazos River

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