Monday, October 26, 2015

Alton C. Allen Historical Conference

"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, October 17, it was my pleasure to participate in the Nineteenth Annual Alton C. Allen Historical Conference in Hallettsville. Indeed, it is always a pleasure to visit Hallettsville, with its superb Victorian courthouse and the historical architecture around the square. The annual conference began two decades ago as a genealogical workshop. After a few years attendance remained static, and historian Doug Kubicek spearheaded a move toward a day-long historical conference, featuring speakers on history topics. The annual event is supported financially by the Dickson-Allen Foundation, and it is named for Alton C. Allen, a notable citizen of Hallettsville and a vigorous proponent of this event.

Doug  Kubicek
Doug Kubicek is chairman of the LaVaca County Historical Commission, and he chairs the annual conference. Each year there is a theme. For 2015 the conference theme was “Texas Icons,” and four topics were selected: the Battleship Texas; Flags of Texas; Baseball in Texas; Texas and Western Swing Music. There were four one-hour program segments: two before and two after lunch. Lunch featured an annual staple: homemade chicken noodle soup and chicken salad sandwiches, along with assorted supplementary items. Lunch, as well as snack breaks between the program periods, was prepared by a number of volunteers, while other volunteers set up the spacious American Legion Hall. A small registration fee is charged, and more than 100 attendees customarily are present.

I was invited several months ago by Roger S. Raney, a fellow member of the East Texas Historical Association and fellow attendee of various other history meetings around Texas. Roger and Doug were most gracious in making arrangements for the speakers. Rooms were provided for us at a local Best Western, sound and video systems met our needs, and we were hosted to a Friday night dinner. We each were given book tables, and when I arrived on Friday afternoon I went to the American Legion Hall to set up my table. The next day many in attendance generously bought autographed copies of our books, including numerous volumes for gifts.
The first hour-long session was split by Dr. Kevin Wooten of the University of Houston, and by Kenneth Grubb, who spent a decade working aboard the Battleship Texas moored at San Jacinto. Dr. Wooten gave a presentation of the first U.S.S. Texas, of Spanish-American War fame, while Kenneth Grubb shared his up-close expertise on the 1914 battleship which saw service in both world wars. The second hour of the morning was a beautifully illustrated presentation by Dr. Robert Maberry, author of the superb Flags of Texas.

Roger and Paul Rainey
After lunch I donned a vintage baseball uniform to talk about Baseball in Texas. During the presentation I showed other uniforms and artifacts. Baseball reached Texas before the Civil War, and after 1888 – when the “Texas Base Ball League” was founded – minor league teams have been hosted by over 100 Texas towns and cities, more than any other state. From Tris Speaker to Rogers Hornsby to Nolan Ryan, a parade of Hall of Fame players has come from Texas. There have been incredible exploits and colorful anecdotes. But I left time to dig deep into my prop bag and pull out leather football helmets and venerable jerseys. Football replaced baseball as the most popular sport in Texas, and I felt compelled to offer gridiron lore, along with information about the great female athlete, Babe Didrikson Zaharias of Beaumont, as well as the invention of cheerleading camps in Texas and quick sketches about other sports in the Lone Star State.

The final presentation by Kevin Fontenot, “Texas and Western Swing,” was enhanced by music clips and images – and by lively commentary. Each presentation was well-received, and the audience peppered each of us with questions. It was a terrific day for Texas history buffs. And before we departed the Legion Hall, Doug Kubicek began asking for themes and topics for next year – the Twentieth Alton C. Allen Historical Conference.

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