Friday, May 23, 2014

Sam Houston Research Trip

"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.

Where Houston and Margaret courted and married
During my first year as State Historian I was invited by Joan Marshall, director of the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, to deliver a lecture on Sam Houston as a leader. Leadership in history always has fascinated me, and I developed the lecture carefully. The leadership qualities of Houston were extraordinary, and the reaction to my program was so gratifying that I presented it on a few other occasions. Several months ago I was asked by the director of a university press to develop the topic into a book. Since then I’ve read widely in Houston’s writings, and within Texas I’ve traveled extensively to Houston sites. 
Marion's Eagle Hotel

With the end of the spring semester at Panola College, my wife was free to travel with me to out-of-state locations. We drove first to Marion, Alabama, and found the stately home where Houston courted and married Margaret Lea, his third wife and the mother of his eight children. Nearby was the Eagle “Hotel,” a boarding house where Houston stayed. We also visited Judson Female College, which Margaret attended, although there are no buildings from her time on campus. About 100 miles away is the Horseshoe Bend Battlefield Park, where Houston, a young officer, distinguished himself. Houston was wounded three times while leading charges, attracting the attention and admiration of General Andrew Jackson, who became his mentor. Jackson’s 1814 victory at Horseshoe Bend was a key event of the War of 1812, shattering an Indian confederacy that long had blocked the westward movement of settlers in the South. 
Gun Hill at Horseshoe Bend

The next day Karon and I were at the “Historic Sam Houston Schoolhouse,” a Tennessee State Park a few miles outside Maryville. There is a fine Houston museum at the visitor center, and the one-room school is a sturdy log structure built in 1794, the year after Sam was born. When he was 18 Sam taught a couple of terms in the school, earning money to pay off personal debts. Inside are student desks typical of two centuries ago. A unique feature extends along two walls. A narrow window with no glass is almost the length of each of the two walls, and each of the two long shutters is hinged at the bottom to let down inside. Each shutter thus forms a long writing platform, where older students could stand to perform arithmetic or composition exercises. 
Sam Houston Schoolhouse
While we were in the vicinity, Karon and I drove to the other side of Maryville to photograph the site of the Houston homestead. The site is distinguished by a trio of flagpoles and a marker. Sam was the fifth of nine children, but when he was 13 his father died. Before his death he already had purchased land near Maryville, so the family moved from Virginia to Tennessee. Mrs. Houston attended a Presbyterian church a couple of miles away, and her grave is just behind the current church building. 
Shutter/writing desk

We proceeded north to Lexington, Virginia. A few miles away was the Houston plantation, where Sam was born and raised. The site is marked by the “Sam Houston Wayside,” a local highway turnoff with explanatory markers, including one attached to a slab of Texas pink granite. While in the area there were other historical places to see, and in Lynchburg we visited our nephew, Dr. Chris Smith, a professor of history at Liberty University, and his wife Margaret. 
Sam Houston Wayside marker
Houston's mother's grave
Houston homestead near Maryville
We next drove to Nashville, passing near Andrew Jackson’s splendid home, The Hermitage. Sam Houston was a familiar visitor at The Hermitage, but I have toured this impressive presidential site numerous times in the past, and we were pressed for time. In Nashville we visited the Tennessee State Historical Museum, then across the street to the Tennessee State Military Museum, and across another street to the Tennessee State Capitol which displays a bust of Houston. Before we reached Texas we stopped at Historic Washington State Park in Arkansas, where Houston stayed before venturing into Texas in 1832. 

Fort Loudon

Of course, on such a sweeping trip – 2,400 miles – I could not resist stopping at nearby historical sites unrelated to Sam Houston. Less than half an hour before reaching Maryville we toured Fort Loudon, a picturesque stockaded British outpost during the French and Indian War. (I had seen Fort Loudon in 1972 with a group of Panola College students, but I decided I had better not wait another 42 years between visits.) Driving through Lexington after visiting the Sam Houston Wayside, we stopped off at two adjacent institutions of higher learning: Virginia Military Institute and Washington and Lee University. At VMI I photographed the parade ground statue of Stonewall Jackson above four cannons. Jackson taught artillery tactics at VMI before the Civil War, and he named the four guns “Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.” At Washington and Lee we toured the Lee Chapel and Museum, featuring Lee’s office and his family vault. 

Near Memphis I encountered Texan Tom Montgomery
headed to an antique car rally. Tom  was a WWII Seabee.

After leaving Lynchburg we stopped at nearby Bedford to see the National D-Day Memorial. In 1944 Bedford, Virginia, had a population of 3,200. When nine Bedford men were killed during D-Day operations, it was the highest per capita loss of any town or city in the United States, and the magnificent National D-Day Memorial was built there. We especially enjoyed touring the sprawling monument only a week before Memorial Day, and just three weeks before the 70th anniversary of D-Day. In celebration of that anniversary, Panola College will provide a public lecture, which I will be privileged to deliver. 

For more information: (There were too many web sites to list, but they are easy to discover online.)

Stonewall Jackson overlooking Matthew, Mark, Luke,
and John at VMI
Karon beside the Lee Chapel and Museum

National D-Day Memorial at Bedford

Bill will present a program at Panola College on the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

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