Tuesday, April 7, 2015


"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 (www.panola.edu) 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. 

Rock Hotel, with Randall Conner on the porch

For the last weekend in February, I was invited to come to Winters for the celebration of the town’s 125th anniversary. On Saturday morning a historical marker would be unveiled, and that evening the annual Chamber of Commerce Banquet would be held. My invitation came from Winters native Randall Conner, prominent in the field of agriculture and community leadership, who first asked me to deliver brief remarks at the unveiling. Soon, however, Randall called back with word that the Chamber wanted me to provide a more fully developed address for the Banquet. I was pleased with the assignment, and I went to work to put together an entertaining version of the rich history of the West Texas community.

Uniform of the Winters Brass Band
My trip to Winters coincided with a massive ice storm which spread across a vast expanse of Texas. On Friday I drove from Carthage to Waco to Gatesville. My drive was just south of the ice, but by the time I reached Gatesville a light precipitation was turning nasty. I spent the night in Gatesville, and on Saturday morning everything had a light coating of ice. Randall called to inform me that conditions were so bad in Winters that the ten o’clock marker ceremony had been postponed until Sunday afternoon. He advised me to delay my departure, but the afternoon temperatures were to rise above freezing and clear roads and bridges. I took my time and maneuvered to Winters by early afternoon. Randall met me, took me to a guest house, then put me in his pickup for a tour of Winters. 

Drmmers House

I had driven through Winters on other occasions, but a month before my scheduled appearance, I spent a couple of hours in town while on a trip to Lubbock. My orientation self-tour was late in the day, so I was unable to do more than peer in the windows of a cluster of museum buildings. Happily for me, Randall Conner was instrumental in the development of each of these historical centers, and he opened and guided me through each building. The 1909 Rock Hotel Heritage Center is superb. It was built when a railroad finally came through Winters, and hosted travelers for decades. Adjacent to the hotel is a one-room Drummers House, where traveling salesmen could display their wares. More than $300,000 was raised to restore the Rock Hotel, and it is a handsome repository of local history, as well as a center for community events. 

Across the street to the east is another excellent facility, the two-story Z.I. Hale Museum. This donated building long was a medical clinic, and like the Rock Hotel it features room after room of local heritage. Across Dale Street to the south of the Hale Museum is the Gus Pruser Ag Exhibit. Housed in a large one-time commercial building, this exhibit of agricultural equipment and antique machinery is most impressive. One night each month experienced farmers and mechanics gather to perform, restoration work, and various venerable vehicles appear in parades. 

Another historic structure is the log Blue Gap Post Office, built in 1878 16 miles east of Winters. The old post office now stands on Main Street, and the 125th anniversary historical marker has been placed in front of it.

WHS first football team
After Randall’s superb tour, I had time to change clothes at my guest house and report to the Chamber Banquet. The Banquet was held at the Winters High School Special Events Center, which opened in 2010. Last year the Chamber Banquet was attended by 65 citizens, but this year the crowd exceeded 230 – a most impressive response for a town of 2,500. The people of Winters clearly value their heritage. We enjoyed a delicious catered Bar-B-Que meal, annual awards were presented, and I had a grand time discussing the town’s rich past. 
Part of the Gus Pruser Ag Exhibit
Horse-drawn hearse

Banquet crowd
I first became aware of Winters as a baseball-crazy boy when I learned that Rogers Hornsby – the best right-handed hitter in the history of the game – is a native son. Winters was a part of the mainstream of Texas history, from early Spanish expeditions in the area, to Comanche war parties and nearby Texas Ranger camps, to cattle and sheep ranching, to cotton farming and cottonseed mills. Early in the 20th century the Winters Brass Band was one of the best of the Sousa-style  bands in the state. Winters High School organized the first Future Farmers of America Chapter in Texas. The Winters museums highlight these and other aspects of the community's past, and it was a pleasure for me to weave the town’s captivating history into the overall trends and events of the Lone Star State. Any Texas history student would enjoy a tour of Winters (there is an excellent Driving Tour brochure) and its fascinating array of museums. 
With Ruth Cooper, a friend from the West Texas Historical
Association who has authored two Runnels County histories

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