Saturday, June 21, 2014

Texans in Mississippi

"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.

For more than a decade at Panola College, each spring and fall I conducted an “Old South Tour,” a weekend at Natchez and Vicksburg and points in between. I usually took 24 men and women – occasionally all women – on a Panola College bus through the non-credit division. I lined up antebellum home tours and fine meals, museums and a trip through the Vicksburg Battlefield National Park. Through the years I managed to take each of my daughters, one or two at a time.

Jessie and Chloe at the Bonnie and Clyde markers.
My oldest daughter, Lynn Martinez, has long held a deep interest in the antebellum south. As a teacher in the Mansfield ISD she artfully shares this interest with her students. Lynn and her husband, Rudy, are the parents of two daughters, my oldest granddaughters: Chloe, soon to be a high school junior; and Jessie, soon to be a fifth-grader. Earlier this year Lynn asked if I could provide a private “Old South Tour” for her and her daughters. Of course I was delighted, and a few days ago I set out with Lynn, Chloe, Jessie and my wife Karon (aka “GrandKaron”).

Deputy Sheriff Ted Hinton stands at left,
Frank Hamer is at lower right.
We drove across Louisiana on I-20, turning off to drive south eight miles past Gibsland to the site where Bonnie and Clyde, Dallas area criminals, were slain by lawmen led by famed Texas Ranger Frank Hamer and Dallas County Deputy Sheriff Ted Hinton, who knew both fugitives. The climax to the manhunt came in 1934, 80 years and one month ago. 

We resumed our journey, crossing the Mississippi River into Natchez early in the afternoon. During the rest of the afternoon, evening, and the next morning, we toured the  mansions Rosalie, Stanton Hall, and Longwood, as well as the Grand Village of Native Americans with its burial mounds and reconstructed lodge. There was an evening carriage tour, and a delicious dinner downtown at Biscuits and Blues. I provided a driving tour of Natchez, and whenever possible I made a Texas connection, such as Jim Bowie. 

Jessie, Lynn, Chloe, and Karon stand at the Windsor ruins.
Late the next morning we left Natchez, stopping within a few minutes at the former military school, Jefferson College, now a state historic park. We drove northward on the lovely Natchez Trace, turning off at tiny Lorman to eat a terrific country buffet at the Lorman General Store, which dates from 1875. We continued on to the spectacular, haunting ruins of Windsor, the 23-room home of David Hunt, who owned 20 cotton plantations on both sides of the river, in Mississippi and Louisiana. The splendid mansion was topped by a towering observatory, from which the Mississippi River could be viewed, just four miles to the east. Despite the nearby passage of General Grant’s army in 1863, Windsor survived the war, but was destroyed in an accidental fire in 1890.

Lynn and Chloe at a Texas unit marker at the
Second Texas Lunette, where Union assault
troops approached to within a few feet of
Texas lines before being repulsed.
In 1881 my great-grandparents and their family rode past Windsor, part of a wagon train headed for Texas. My great-grandfather, Confederate veteran George Washington Owen, decided to leave the longtime family holdings in Hinds County and make a new start in Texas. One of his children was seven-year-old Nannie Ophelia Owen, my future grandmother (my father, W.C. O’Neal, was the last of her eight children). The wagon-train trek from Mississippi to Texas was the great adventure of her childhood, and she told me about it many times. My great-grandfather settled in Navarro County and became a prosperous landholder and cotton farmer. 

This statue of Jeff Davis was placed
at the Second Texas Lunette.
Our smaller trek pulled into Vicksburg early in the afternoon of our second day. We toured Cedar Grove, an elegant mansion near the Mississippi River. Cedar Grove was a target of Union gunboats during the siege of Vicksburg, and several solid shot cannon balls are imbedded in the grand house. We visited the excellent museum in the magnificent 1858 court house, before driving through the National Cemetery, where more than 17.000 Union soldiers are buried. Across the road from the cemetery is the impressive restoration of the U.S.S. Cairo, sunk in 1862 and rediscovered a century later. Although near closing time, we rapidly toured the old warship. 

Lynn and Chloe and I exercised in the Vicksburg National Battlefield Park, taking photos of monuments to the Texas soldiers and units. We all enjoyed our family trip together, and happily there was enough Texas material for a State Historian blog! 
Bill at the Texas Monument.

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