Friday, October 31, 2014

A Busy Monday

"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. 

Mounted at left, Dyson Nickle welcomes
students to the camp.
On Monday morning of this week I went to Panola College, armed with a camera. I had a little business on campus, but as soon as I finished I walked to the front, or north end, of the campus. There are no buildings at the front of the campus, and this area boasts a great many pine trees. Beneath a cluster of trees stood several tents, along with camp equipage, Confederate flags, and a picket line of horses. There were a dozen re-enactors, both male and female, carrying on a Panola College tradition that goes back three decades. 

During the 1980s a freshman student named Dyson Nickle enrolled in one of my U.S. History classes. When I assigned a history project, an activity of an historical nature, Dyson approached me with contagious enthusiasm. He recently had joined the Sons of the Confederate Veterans, and he had enlisted in a Confederate re-enactment group. Dyson listed for me all of the uniforms, camp equipment, weapons, and accoutrements that he had, including a cavalry horse. When I reached the subject of the Civil War in my lectures, Dyson erected a two-tent, one-horse, one-soldier camp among the trees. He camped out on Sunday and Monday nights, so that throughout the day on Monday and Tuesday we could bring our classes out to look at everything and ask questions of Dyson. 

The next year Dyson was a sophomore history major. We utilized the same format for the Civil War encampment, except there were more tents and about a dozen re-enactors. The re-enactors were able to demonstrate drills and fire volleys. Some years we had a cannon and artillery crew, and we often had a hospital tent. The local SCV chapter provided firewood and supplies for the camp, and Dyson lined up large classes of students from area public schools. Although there were a few years when the encampment did not take place, it continues to thrive today. Panola history instructor Bill Offer worked with Dyson to coordinate this year’s event. When I met Dyson he was an eighteen-year-old Confederate  private, but now he’s an officer of field grade – and he has a new horse. His enthusiasm is undiminished and the Panola encampment continues to attract large numbers of visitors. 

With Panola College History Instructor Bill Offer

That evening my wife Karon and I attended the annual banquet of the Panola County Cattlemen’s Association. I had been asked to provide the banquet program by Terry Holland, PCCA president. Terry was raised on a Panola County ranch, and he became a rodeo star. 
Karon (right) sits opposite Terry, Debbie Jo, and Khakie.

“I fell in love with riding bulls when I was a little bitty boy,” Terry reminisces. “I love them. I love the way they smell. I love the way they think and react. I study them. I just love them.” 

Terry’s bull-riding career took him to major rodeos throughout the nation. Terry was a professional bull rider for 20 years, and he still offers rodeo instruction at his Panola County ranch. Terry and Debbie Jo Holland organize church services at youth rodeos, and he is a motivational speaker. Their daughter, Khakie, is an accomplished barrel racer, and she was a member of the Panola College Rodeo Team when I met her as a freshman student during my last year of teaching. Terry was instrumental in organizing Panola’s Rodeo Team a decade ago. Indeed, rodeo team members were guests of honor at Monday night’s banquet. 
Terry Holland introducing new
Panola Rodeo Team coach Jeff Collins,
World Champion Bareback Rider, 2000

The banquet was held at the Panola County Expo Center. I enjoyed visiting with a number of former students and longtime friends. Karon and I sat with Terry, Debbie Jo, and Khakie, and I learned that she will graduate in December from Stephen F. Austin State University. Harli Cowdin, Miss Panola County Cattlemen’s Association Rodeo Queen, and Hayden Harrison, Miss Panola County Cattlemen’s Association Rodeo Sweetheart, each made a brief presentation to the crowd, and I had the pleasure of meeting these lovely young ladies. We had a delicious steak dinner, I had fun talking about the Texas cowboy culture, and Karon and I had most enjoyable evening. 
Panola College Rodeo Team
With Queen Harli Cowdin and
Sweetheart Hayden Harrison

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