Wednesday, November 13, 2013

State Historian Tour

"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.

On Wednesday, November 6, I left Carthage for a State Historian Tour across much of Texas: seven days and five programs  from Dallas to Blanco to El Paso. On Thursday morning I entered the fourth floor of "Old Red," the 1892 Dallas County Courthouse which now houses a superb museum. Stephen Cure and JoNeita Kelly of the Texas State Historical Association have organized several conferences across the state, designed to offer hard information - rather than methodology - about Texas history to teachers. These fourth- and seventh-grade teachers form the front line of Texas history instruction for public school students. Steve and JoNeita bring a great number of speakers together for each conference, and participants may choose from an impressive variety of sessions. The overall focus was on the Republic of Texas period, and I was privileged to offer the keynote address: "Leadership Roles of Sam Houston." More than 130 teachers were present, and they received professional development credit for participating in the two-day event, which was jointly sponsored by the Texas State Historical Association and the Region VII Educational Center. My remarks opened the event, and when the participants split up to attend group sessions, I offered my thanks to Steve and JoNeita, then I departed for Mansfield. 
My brother Mike attended my address.

My oldest daughter, Lynn Martinez, teaches at the Mary Lillard Intermediate School in the Mansfield ISD. During her two decades as a teacher I have appeared with Lynn at each of her schools, and from time to time she has returned to Panola College to assist me, most notably at a day-long conference on our campus for Region XIII social studies teachers.  Lynn is quite innovative and has won many teaching awards, including Teacher of the Year at Lillard last year. It was my pleasure to present to her, in front of her colleagues and students, a Certificate of Excellence for "Exceptional Classroom Performance." 
With my daughter, Lynn Martinez

The Mary Lillard Intermediate School instructs more than 1,000 fifth- and sixth-grade students, and Lynn arranged for me to present a program on "Texas Cowboys" to the student body. This program utilizes a great many props, from saddles to spurs to branding irons, and emphasizes Hispanic contributions to the range cattle industry, as well as the great Texas ranches, epic trail drives, and the lifestyle of frontier cowboys and cowgirls. 
With Lynn and her teaching partner, J.T. Roe 

After arriving from downtown Dallas I made a quick change from suit and Texas tie to cowboy garb, and at 1:30 delivered the program to 500 well-behaved but enthusiastic sixth-graders. At 2:30 more than 500 Lillard fifth-graders - equally well-behaved and even more enthusiastic - formed the audience. The students asked many questions, and teachers and administrators were most complimentary  As State Historian I wish that I could reach 1,000 impressionable students several days a week with a colorful program on Texas history

Interior of the one-room schoolhouse

After spending Thursday night with Lynn and her family, on Friday I drove southwest, heading toward a Saturday engagement in Blanco. I stopped in Cleburne, where soon the centennial anniversary of the impressive Johnson County Courthouse will be celebrated. In the courthouse a county museum is maintained  and I had a delightful visit with the ladies in charge. A few miles out of town, on Highway 67, is the ghost town of Wardville, the first county seat. Today Wardville features a handful of buildings, some original and some rebuilt. A one-room school is completely furnished and equipped. Randolph Garner, president of the Johnson County Historical Foundation, frequently conducts classes for 4th-graders from area schools. I had missed him on a previous visit months ago, but on Friday he was present and in costume. Randolph had hosted students during the first three days of the week, and he eagerly shared with me what he tries to accomplish in his 19th-century classroom

Randolph Garner behind his teacher's desk
The Blanco courthouse

On Saturday I arrived early enough in Blanco to enjoy a repeat tour of the Victorian courthouse erected in 1885. Although the county seat later was moved 12 miles to Johnson City, the Blanco town square still is dominated by the handsome old structure  After the seat of government moved, the one-time courthouse served as a school,  a hospital, and a  bank. Today it is Blanco's Visitor Information Center, as well as a museum. When True Grit was remade starring Jeff Bridges, the courthouse scenes were filmed here, and on the Saturday that I visited,  a lovely young lady was having her bridal portrait photographed in the old courtroom. 
Courthouse interior
With Wayne Calk

Last year I spoke at a weekend writer's conference at Fort Davis, where I had the pleasure of meeting Wayne Calk, president of the American Chuck Wagon  Association. Wayne invited me to speak at the national meeting of the Association, scheduled to be held in Blanco. The meeting was conducted at the Buggy Barn resort on the outskirts of town. I encountered Wayne amid the rustic charm of the resort  and I introduced myself to as many of the chuck wagon cooks and their wives as I could reach. I had a fine time putting together a program suitable to the occasion, and it was an enjoyable meeting. 
ACWA members at the Buggy Barn resort

With Berri
It is 560 miles from Blanco to El Paso. At El Paso the annual meeting of the Texas Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (TACRAO) was held from Sunday through Wednesday morning, November 10-13. There are more than 1,100 members of TACRAO, and 600 came to El Paso. Last year's meeting was in Dallas, and the president was one of my daughters, Dr. Berri Gormley. When one of her presenters unexpectedly withdrew, she asked me to fill the slot on short notice. For more than three decades in my Texas history classes I had lectured on "Education in Texas." I tweaked this lecture for the occasion, and attendees seemed to enjoy a program which provided background and perspective for educators (as contrasted with the methodology of collegiate record-keeping, which quite properly dominates the program menu). 
Sunday evening dinner at El Paso Convention Center

A few months ago I was asked to repeat the program, entitled "History of Education in Texas," at the 2013 TACRAO convention in El Paso. When I expressed surprise, I was told that a number of members had heard about the program and wanted to experience it, while others expressed a desire to hear it again. Of course, I was deeply gratified that non-historians wanted to attend a history program! I accepted with gratitude  and on Monday, November 11, I had the pleasure of again addressing a receptive TACRAO audience. 

Afterward I drove east out of El Paso. It is over 800 miles to Carthage, but I had a great many pleasant memories of the past week to savor. And I knew the long journey home would include occasional stops at historic sites. 




No comments:

Post a Comment