Thursday, August 6, 2015

Texas Ranger Hall of Fame

"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 Saturday afternoon, August 1, I was privileged to present a public lecture at the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame, one of the most popular museums in the Lone Star State. Several months ago I was contacted by Bob Alexander, a retired U.S. Treasury agent and a superb researcher/writer about lawmen and outlaws of the Old West. A few years ago Bob staged a Friday-Saturday conference at the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame about outlaws and peace officers and shootouts of frontier Texas. With the cooperation of the Ranger Hall of Fame, Bob was able to offer this conference free of charge. There was a large, enthusiastic crowd, and it was my pleasure to be one of the speakers. (Bob is planning another one of these conferences for next April 29-30, and I’m scheduled to speak at the Saturday night banquet.)
With Bob Alexander and Doug Dukes
Working in concert with Casey Eichorn, Education Director of the Museum, and with Museum Director Byron Johnson, Bob created an event that could feature the State Historian of Texas. I was delighted at the opportunity to provide a public lecture at this prestigious venue, which I have visited regularly for four decades. The Ranger Hall of Fame opened in 1968, and a few years later I began conducting Traveling Texas History classes twice each summer across the Lone Star State.  On our seventh and final day on the road, we explored Waco, with our final stop at the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame. For several years I often encountered Gaines De Graffenreid, a nationally famous gun collector, as well as curator of exhibits for the Ranger Museum, who told me how he had traded for this or that historic firearm. After we left the museum, we drove to Fort Parker, then loaded up for the last time to head for Panola College in Carthage. Among other things, I always asked the students to list their three favorite places, and most of them included the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame.
With my sister and brother, Judy Smith and Mike O'Neal

Casey Eichorn felt that the most attractive program for the Ranger Museum crowd would be “Gunfighterology.” Since the December 2014 publication of my book on Texas Gunslingers, I have been asked to provide a number of programs on “Gunfighting in Texas.” But “Gunfighterology” covers gunfighters and shootouts across the Old West – Wild Bill Hickok and Billy the Kid and Wyatt Earp, as well as such deadly Texans as Wes Hardin and Killin’ Jim Miller and Ranger Captain John Hughes. I also demonstrate the evolution of revolving pistols and gun rigs with replica weapons and various holsters and gunbelts. I told Casey that I lacked a Patterson Colt five-shooter and a big Walker Colt, and he graciously loaned me the needed weapons from the vast collection of the museum. My props were arranged on a table beside the speaker’s stand in the big, new assembly room.
Casey Eichorn welcoming the crowd
Bob Alexander
Casey arranged excellent publicity, including a Waco Tribune interview by telephone with journalist Carl Hoover. Carl’s story, complete with photos, came out on Saturday morning, and a number of attendees told us they came to the museum because of the story. There were 220 chairs in the room, but as the parking lot overflowed another 100 seats were set up. I got to talk with former students, old friends, and fellow authors, as well as many new acquaintances. My brother Mike came from Carrollton, and my sister Judy and her daughter Molly, drove over from Lampasas.

Bob Alexander welcomed the crowd of 300-plus, then he introduced Doug Dukes, retired police lieutenant from Austin and an expert on frontier firearms. Doug spoke for 15 minutes, before Bob introduced me. I had been asked to speak for more than an hour, and the audience remained attentive and responsive. The life and death conflicts of men of the West, clad in big hats and boots and wielding sixguns and Winchesters, continue to generate compelling appeal.

The museum gift shop had stocked up on my first book, Encyclopedia of Western Gunfighters, and on Texas Gunslingers, and I signed books for more than an hour. During the signing I enjoyed many animated conversations. As Karon and I finally drove out of Waco, I told her how grateful I was to the people who arranged the event and to those who attended. It was a grand day for the State Historian.

For more information:
Doug Dukes
Brandishing a Walker Colt
Book signing line

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