Wednesday, May 27, 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 ( 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. 

Last week my wife Karon and I were in Denison to put together a blog about the historic sites of this long-important gateway to Texas, Denison’s most notable claim to historic fame is as the birthplace of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The son of David and Ida Eisenhower, “Ike” was born on October 14, 1890, in a rented house beside the railroad tracks. His father worked in a railroad mechanical shop, cleaning steam engines, but when Ike was a year and a half old the family moved back to Kansas, where their other six sons had been or would be born. Ike eventually graduated from West Point, and during World War II he became a five-star general and Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe. Later he was elected President of the United States in 1952 and 1956. 

Denison is justly proud of this outstanding native son. The presidential birthplace is a modest house decorated with antiques representative of a working-class home. A striking statue of General Eisenhower stands near the house in a small park. I’ve visited this site numerous times through the years, but at the visitor center – located in a period home of the neighborhood – I saw a fine collection of Eisenhower items. I met John Akers, Site Manager, and his assistant, Chris Crawley. After learning our plans for the day, Chris provided me with brochures and helpful suggestions. 

With a "conductor" at the RR Museum

Karon and I next drove north about five minutes to the Red River Railroad Museum, housed in the magnificent 1910 Katy Depot. The Katy Railroad Historical Society maintains a treasure trove of railroad artifacts, along with archives. The vast depot is a joy to explore, and there is rolling stock outside. 

Afterward we followed the path of Denison’s Historical Driving Tour, a highly useful brochure from the Chamber of Commerce. It was raining by the time we reached our next stop at Loy Park, just west of U.S. 75 at Loy Lake Road. The exit is marked by a large, excellent bust of Eisenhower overlooking the highway. After photographing this striking statuary, I entered the visitor center to the Grayson County Frontier Village. The visitor center features a large meeting hall and a fine museum. Outside there are 27 structures from the 19th century, many of them built with logs. Despite the light rain, it was exciting to hurry from building to building, peering inside and photographing exteriors. A six-page Tour Guide, complete with map as well as photos and descriptions of each building, is indispensible to the tour. 

One room log school

Next we drove several miles west to the North Texas Regional Airport – which from 1941-1971 was Perrin Air Force Base. Perrin AFB opened a few months before Pearl Harbor and the Perrin Air Force Base Historical Museum is located in a building on the site of the former Base Exchange.
I walked inside and encountered five volunteer docents, two women and three men, each of whom is a retired Air Force veteran. “My name is Bill O’Neal,” I announced. “I’m the State Historian 
of Texas and – “ 
WW II vet Jim Farris

“We know who you are!” cheerfully exclaimed one of the ladies. “We’ve been expecting you all day!” It seems that Chris Crawley, after my first stop, had called her fellow docents around town. I was promptly introduced to Jim Farris, who graduated from a rural Texas high school in 1941, hitchhiked to San Antonio, and enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. Jim spent World War II at various air bases across the Pacific Theater. He retired in 1967, having served his last six years at Perrin AFB. Remaining nearby in retirement, he became a founding father of the Perrin AFB Historical Museum. Jim began with a single glass display case in the corner of a hangar, and through his efforts the collection expanded rapidly. In time, Ray Davis, principal owner of the Texas Rangers, erected the current building at no cost to the non-profit museum. Today the museum boasts weapons, uniforms, equipment, and memorabilia from both world wars, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, along with a fully-restored T-37 “Tweety Bird” Twin Engine Jet Trainer. It was a pleasure to tour this excellent museum, and a privilege to be in the company of Jim Farris. 
T-37 "Tweety Bird" Twin Jet Trainer

Denison offers a great deal to any history buff, and there was a special treat for Karon and me. One of our granddaughters, fourth-grader Bailey Henderson, was scheduled to play two games (including a make-up contest) in an elementary recreational league at the gymnasium of old Denison High School (today it is a junior high). Karon and I had just enough time to check into a hotel before meeting the Henderson family – Causby, Dusty, and daughters Bailey and Kendall – for an early supper before heading to the gym. It was a delight to spend the evening with the Hendersons, who live half an hour away in Van Alstyne. And Bailey, a little sharpshooter who already has hit a trio of three-pointers in the first five games of this mini-season, nailed a fourth three-pointer to make her grandparents extra proud! 
Karon and I with Bailey and Kendall Henderson

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