Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Cowboy Symposium

"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. 

Since the 1990s I’ve had the pleasure, in various years, of presenting programs at the National Cowboy Symposium and Celebration, held each September in Lubbock. Each Symposium features the National Championship Chuck Wagon Cook Off. On Sunday mornings, following a Chuck Wagon breakfast, Cowboy Chuck services are conducted.

Cowboy entertainment was available indoors and outdoors.
Monica Hightower, Executive Director of the Symposium, has invited me to provide a program each year that I’ve been State Historian. For 2015, Monica asked me to present programs on both Friday and Saturday, the two days which feature presentations. During the past two years, Monica has asked me to provide programs on blood feuds which involved ranchers or cowboys, and these presentations on range violence have proved popular. This year, therefore, I developed a program on cattle range violence: “Gunfighting Cowtowns of Texas.” Tascosa, known as the “Cow Capital of the Panhandle,” also could have been branded the “Gunfighter Capital of the Panhandle,” with 10 fatal shootouts during the 1880s. Fort Worth, known universally as “Cowtown,” had its share of gunplay, including the classic shootout between former city marshal “Longhair Jim” Courtwright and gambler/gunman Luke Short. Fort Worth’s red light district, known as “Hell’s Half Acre,” was a site of frequent conflict, and the West’s premier assassin, Killin’ Jim Miller, headquartered in Cowtown. Trail town Lampasas was the location of numerous saloon shootings during the 1870s, as well as the Horrell-Higgins Feud of 1877. Pecos, which proudly claims to be the home of the world’s first rodeo, saw street fights featuring Killer Mller, and the Orient Saloon – now a museum – hosted a shootout which produced two fatalities. The most noted gunfights in San Antonio – staging area for countless cattle drives – both involved Ben Thompson of Austin. Waco, adjacent to the Chisholm Trail, saw enough gunplay to earn the nickname, “Six Shooter Junction.” There were many “Six Shooter Junction” in Texas cattle country.
With Alvin Davis, Founding Father of the
Lubbock Cowboy Symposium

Audience for my first two presentations
This presentation took up most of the allotted hour, but many members of the audience lingered to visit or buy books. I had agreed to participate on a “Western Authors Panel” during the next hour, and people interacted in this topic began to enter the room. Dusty Richards, an accomplished author who recently served as President of the Western Writers of America, was scheduled to head this panel. It turned out that Dusty and I were the only members of the panel, and at the last moment I was informed that he was ill and unable to come to Lubbock. So I announced that I would be the only panelist, but that I had presented at many writers conferences in the past and I hoped that I could provide material that would be of interest. Most of those who had attended the “Gunfighting Cowtowns”: program decided to stay, and we had a large crowd. I related my experiences and techniques as a writer. We shared Q and A, along with a lot of laughter, and the “panel” turned out to be a success.
There was a great variety of exhibitors.

The horse training session was held at an indoor arena.

One of those who attended both sessions was Alvin Davis, Founding Father and longtime Executive Director of Lubbock’s cowboy Symposium. Alvin, now 88, first invited me to the Symposium in the 1990s, and I was delighted to see him. Indeed, he provided an impromptu introduction for me at the “Gunfighting Cowtowns” program.

The screen behind me was lowered for my PowerPoint
illustration of the XIT Ranch.
Alvin again was present on Saturday morning, when I presented a program on “The XIT – Largest Ranch of the old West.” The three-million-acre XIT was organized by the Capital Syndicate, which agreed to build a magnificent new State Capitol (completed in 1888) in exchange for vast acreage I the Texas Panhandle. When I suggested this topic to Monica Hightower, I was surprised to learn that the story of the XIT had never been told at the Cowboy Symposium. A large crowd assembled to hear this epic tale of the ranching frontier. Two decades ago, while putting together a book, Historic Ranches of the Old West (published by Eakin Press in 1997), I visited each of the XIT’s eighth division headquarters sites, the XIT Museum in Dalhart, and the XIT finishing range in Montana. It was a privilege to describe the vast XIT ranching operation to the Cowboy Symposium audience. And it was a privilege as State Historian of Texas to play an active role in Lubbock’s 27th Annual National Cowboy Symposium and Celebration.

For more information:
Alvin Davis and I are with Jane Pattie, an author/
photographer who will be inducted into the
National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in November.

Part of the audience at my XIT program

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