Thursday, January 16, 2014

Ladies' Week

"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.

During the past week - Friday, January 10, through Thursday, January 16 - I've had the pleasure of addressing three out-of-town women's groups. Last Friday I drove to the Longview Community Center to participate in a lunch meeting of the Longview Women's Forum. My invitation came from Becky Reid Supercinsky, a retired teacher of Gifted and Talented Students. Becky and I went through school together in Corsicana ISD, where her mother was a teacher. Becky and I were close friends and after lunch she introduced me to the audience. 

Introduced by Becky Supercinski
The Women's Forum is a prominent Longview organization which lends strong support to the arts. As State Historian I've persistently pointed out that Texas has the richest and most colorful history and culture of any state in the Union. I chose to talk about "Musical Traditions of Texas," a program that mixes culture with history. Audience members were knowledgeable about the subject, and they responded especially to the humor I try to inject into this program. My trip to Longview was a great treat for me, especially since I had the pleasure of visiting with Becky and several other longtime friends. 

The following day, Saturday, my wife Karon was able to travel with me to Center, where I had been asked to present a program to the William Carroll Crawford Chapter of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. My invitation came from Judy Lee, a former student and current colleague at Panola College. Karon, also a Panola College faculty member, sat with Judy and other former students of mine. There are 106 DRT chapters, and as State Historian I always feel privileged to meet with DRT members. 

With Judy Lee
Judy Lee has invited me to meet with the Center DRT chapter in previous years. In casting about for a program, I thought of something I put together years ago. Each spring semester since the 1970s I asked my students to interview someone, usually a relative, about the Great Depression or World War II or some other aspect of recent history. In the spring of 1980 and 1981 I urged my students to interview old bootleggers and/or moonshiners, who were especially active in East Texas.  Illegal stills and the telltale smoke (from cooking sour mash) could be concealed in the forests, and distilling corn or rye whiskey was an age-old industry for rural American farmers. In 1980 and 1981 my students collected 44 interviews from former bootleggers and `shiners, and another three from law officers who had  close dealings with the illicit liquor trade. From these interviews I prepared an article for the East Texas Historical Journal, as well as a program that I presented on various occasions. This program included a number of characters and incidents from Shelby County. Shelby County audiences have always identified with this program, and it was fitting that at the close of the meeting Judy Lee presented me with a delicious rum cake. 
Signing books

Henderson UDC members
Early on Thursday afternoon, January 16, I arrived in Henderson for a meeting of the Centennial Chapter #2721 of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The UDC was organized in 1894, and there are almost 70 chapters in Texas alone. The president of the Texas Division of the UDC is Betty Bailey Petruska, while Shelley Rardin is president of the Henderson chapter. Our meeting was held just two days before "Heroes' Day," which is designated as the Saturday closest to the birthdates of Robert E. Lee (January 19, 1807) and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson (January 21, 1824). I was pleased to talk about these two Confederate heroes, and as State Historian I emphasized the services of Colonel Lee of the U.S. Army on the Texas frontier during the 1850s. The UDC members were interested in the topic, and afterward shared refreshments with me. It was a pleasant close to a week shared with committed women's organizations. 

With Shelley Rardin (left) and Elaine Ross of Carthage

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