Friday, May 8, 2015

Kilgore - Longview - Beaumont

"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. 

On Thursday, April 16, I drove to Kilgore to participate in an afternoon tea of the Kilgore Women’s Club. The club regularly meets in the Fellowship Hall of the First Presbyterian Church. This Presbyterian congregation was organized in 1850, and the current sanctuary was erected during the 1930s boom of the East Texas Oil Field. The imposing church stands in a highly visible location, and I had driven past it on numerous occasions. So on April 16 I arrived early to tour the sanctuary. It is magnificent, and so is the pipe organ.

Texas table decorations
The members of the Kilgore Women’s Club were beautifully dressed, their company was charming, and the refreshments were delicious. Their program theme for the year is “Bold Texas Women,” and since the speaker for the day was the State Historian of Texas, table decorations featured a Texas theme. A number of the ladies had Texas touches with their attire, and I was glad I had worn a Texas tie and a Lone Star lapel pin.

Kilgore Women's Club members

Margaret Lea Houston was the subject of my program. Born in 1819 in Alabama, she became a lovely Southern belle, well-educated for the day and a devout Baptist (her father, Rev. Temple Lea, was a Baptist preacher). When she met Sam Houston he was a national hero, famous for leading a spectacular victory at San Jacinto. A former governor of Tennessee, he already had completed the first of two terms as president of the Republic of Texas, and later Houston would serve as U.S. Senator and as Governor of Texas. But this remarkable man also twice had been married and was a drinker and carouser. Furthermore, he was 26 years older than Margaret. But when they met, in Alabama in 1839, Sam and Margaret were smitten, and a year later they were married at her home in Marion, Alabama. (Karon and I visited that home, as well as other pertinent sites in Marion, last summer.)

Sam was 47 and Margaret was 21 when they wed in 1840. During their 23-year-marriage Margaret bore eight children, four boys and four girls. (Number eight was named Temple Lea Houston, after Margaret’s father, and he was the first baby born in the Governor’s Mansion.) Margaret created a warm home for Sam, while curbing his drinking and bringing religion to his life. Sam died at the age of 70 in 1863, and his final words were of Margaret and Texas. Sadly, Margaret died of yellow fever just four years later. She was only 48.

I utilized this same program a couple of weeks later when I addressed the Gregg County Genealogical society at the Longview Public Library. This group meets monthly, and for years I’ve provided a program during their annual schedule, since this genealogical work also spurs a strong interest in history. I’ve made a number of friends in this organization, and I enjoyed visiting with them beforehand. I also enjoyed refreshments with them, while they in turn seemed to enjoy hearing about the love story of Margaret and Sam Houston.
Gregg County Genealogical Society

Elma Ash introducing the program
Just two days after talking about Margaret and Sam to the Kilgore Women’s Club, I drove down to Beaumont for a luncheon address to a regional convention for the Lions Club International. I spoke on “Musical Traditions of Texas,” in large part because the Beaumont-Port Arthur area was home to such renowned artists as Janis Joplin, Harry James, and in the field of Country and Western Music, Tex Ritter, Clay Walker, Mark Chesnutt, George Jones, Tracy Byrd, and Moon Mullican. At the end the room was led to sing, “Deep In the Heart of Texas,” and when I inserted the traditional four rapid claps – clap-clap-clap-clap – everyone laughed and joined in to the end of the song. A deejay added to the atmosphere by playing Lone Star music before and after lunch and the program.
Head table

Introduction by Lion James Browning

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