Saturday, September 20, 2014

Heritage Day

"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. 

Wednesday, September 15, was “Heritage Day: Leadership Shelby County, 2015 – A Look at the Past, Present, and Future.” Every other year, Center is the focal point of Leadership 2015 – or Leadership 2013, Leadership 2011, etc. Participants are selected from businesses and other Shelby County institutions. Colleen Doggett (Class of 2011) and Diana Tindol (Class of 2013) were the Selection Coordinators for Heritage Day 2015.
Heritage Day is headquartered, appropriately, in the handsome, beautifully maintained 1885 court house. One of the sessions, on which I tagged along, was a tour of the superb old building. Wayne Christian, longtime member of the Texas State Legislature, provided a presentation on Political History of Shelby Country. Vickie Martin (Class of 2007) gave a program on the History of Shelbyville, which was the first county seat. The Shelby County Historical Commission and the Daughters of the Republic of Texas each offered presentations. There was a downtown walking tour.

My presentation was on the Regulator-Moderator War, so closely identified with Shelby County that it often was called “The Shelby War.” I wrote a book, War in East Texas: Regulators vs. Moderators, that was published by the East Texas Historical Association in 2006. The Regulator-Moderator tradition traced back to the pre-Revolutionary War period. With British authority breaking down, “Regulator” groups organized to regulate criminals and troublemakers, at first by flogging, but later by extralegal executions. When Regulators went too far, “Moderators” organized to moderate the Regulators. The Regulator-Moderator War of East Texas was the first blood feud in Texas, and thirty-one men were slain during this backwoods conflict. Texas had more blood feuds than any other state or territory, and the Regulator-Moderator War produced more fatalities than any similar clash – more than the Hatfields and McCoys, more than Arizona’s Pleasant Valley War, more than Wyoming’s Johnson County War.

By 1844, the climactic year of the Regulator-Moderator War, 200 men rode for the Regulators and 100 for the Moderators. No other Texas feud had as many antagonists facing each other, and women rode through the forests of Shelby County as scouts. The killing began in 1840 in Harrison County, and the victims included Senator Robert Potter, who was shot six years to the day after he signed the Texas Declaration of Independence. There were ambushes, assassinations, lynchings, and battles between large numbers of men. Not until 1844, when President Sam Houston and 600 militia volunteers marched into Shelby County, did the hostilities end. Even then the vendettas characteristic of blood feuds claimed more victims, including the woeful tragedy known as the “Poison Wedding.” In 1847 a wedding involving formerly Regulator families was held in southeastern Shelby County. A diehard Moderator named Wilkerson poisoned the wedding cake, reputedly claiming as many as eight to ten victims.

I emphasized to the Leadership conference that the Regulator-Moderator War was historically significant, as part of the long Regulator-Moderator tradition in America and in the level of murderous violence by these backwoods warriors during the dawn of Shelby County. I pointed out to the 21st century leaders of Shelby County that we don’t know who we are until we know who we were, and I left town wishing that more counties would look at their past through a Heritage Day.

Battle site near Shelbyville

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