Thursday, March 5, 2015

Happy Birthday, Texas!

"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. 

With KCYL broadcaster Jeff Golemba
More than a year ago I was invited by the Oran Milo Roberts Chapter of the DRT to participate in their 2015 celebration of Texas Independence Day. The Daughters of the Republic of Texas is the Lone Star State’s oldest patriotic women’s organization. After efforts at formation in Houston in 1891, in April 1892 the DRT organized and adopted their name in a meeting at Lampasas, which was famous as a resort town known as the “Saratoga of the South.” Mrs. Anson B. Jones, widow or the last president of the Republic of Texas, was elected first president of the DRT.

Reporter David Lowe seated at front
The ladies of Lampasas were active as hostesses, and soon organized the fourth chapter of DRT, naming it the Sam Houston Chapter. Later this chapter became inactive, and the Belton DRT chapter adopted the Sam Houston name. About two decades ago Lampasas reorganized a DRT chapter, and among their activities has been a birthday party – open to the public – on Texas Independence Day. A few years ago, before I was appointed State Historian, I was invited to provide a March 2 program on the Alamo. The crowd was large and enthusiastic, and I had a delightful time.

Presented a State Historian brick by Carol Wright
For 2015 I was asked to present a program on Sam Houston – a perfect subject for March 2, because Houston signed the Texas Declaration of Independence on his 43rd birthday. During the ensuing six weeks, Major General Houston led a controversial strategic retreat which climaxed in spectacular victory at San Jacinto. Houston became a Texas icon, twice being elected President of the Republic of Texas, serving 13 years as U.S. Senator from the State of Texas, and winning election as Texas Governor (as former Governor of Tennessee, he became the only man ever to serve as governor of two states). Houston’s early life was adventurous (and so was his romantic life), and he was a complex, fascinating individual.
Being introduced by my sister
Early on Monday morning, March 2, I joined DRT President Carol Northington Wright at Lampasas Radio KCYL. Broadcaster Jeff Golemba conducted a lively interview with us, generating good publicity for our upcoming program. The Lampasas Dispatch Record had published some welcome PR pieces for us, and that night the program was covered by reporter David Lowe. It was a special pleasure for me to meet David, because during the 1960s, as a young teacher-coach in Lampasas, I was privileged to work with his father and uncle, Jim and Fred Lowe.

During the afternoon my sister, DRT member Judy O’Neal Smith, helped me to set up for the program and book-signing during the afternoon. At 6:30 Judy provided a fine introduction for me, but before I began speaking Carol Wright came forward to present me with a red brick inscribed: “Bill O’Neal/ Texas State Historian / 2012-2016.” This brick will be part of the walkway to the Hostess House, an historic building which the DRT chapter maintains at great cost. I am enormously proud that a State Historian brick with my name will be in place at the Hostess House.

There was a crowd numbering more than 80, and they were a most receptive audience. Afterward the DRT ladies served punch and Texas-shaped cookies, while I signed books. Then everyone was handed a candle. When the candles were lit we all sang “Happy Birthday to Texas,” followed by “Texas, Our Texas.” The Lampasas DRT staged a memorable and enjoyable Texas Independence Day celebration for Lampasas, and it was a treat for me to participate.
Brandishing lighted candles we sang "Happy Birthday to Texas!"

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