Thursday, December 29, 2016

A Texas Christmas

I spent December 23-24-25 in Colleyville with my daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren. Our Texas family enjoyed a grand Christmas, including great food, gifts and more gifts, a wonderful church service and a surprise visit by Santa Claus to the three littlest grandchildren on Christmas Eve night.

With daughter, Lynn Martinez, at the Glenbrook neighborhood in Bedford, Texas



          Early on Christmas Eve Evening, ten of us piled into a couple of vehicles and made a short drive to the Glenbrook neighborhood of Bedford. Twenty-five years ago, the Glenbrook Home Owners’ Association Christmas Committee decided to create a spectacular, Texas-themed decoration throughout their neighborhood. Their theme was based on a children’s book  by Leon Harris, published in 1952 and entitled The Night Before Christmas – In Texas, That Is. Santa, wearing jeans and a ten-gallon red Stetson, is riding in his buckboard toward the cabin of Buddy and Sue:


As he stepped from the buckboard

He was really a sight,

with his beard and moustaches

So curly and white. 

As he burst in the cabin

The children awoke,

And both so astonished

That neither one spoke.

And he filled up their boots

With such presents galore 

[And so on….]


          Some houses in the Glenbrook neighborhood set up story boards with excerpts from the book and pictures of Texas Santas. All yards are lined with bright red lights, and decorations include armadillos and cactus and cowboy boots, along with more traditional Christmas yard art.



          As we drove into Glenbrook Christmas 2016, we were delighted by imaginative decorations, beginning with a Texas Santa in his buckboard flying through the air courtesy of his eight armadillos. The most spectacular yard was a wonderland at the top of a cul-de-sac. Like everyone else, we parked and walked through the magical displays. And when we finally drove away, I knew I had the subject for a truly Texas Christmas blog.

Merry Christmas, y’all!


Grandchildren Nolan and Addison Gormley, enjoying the Glenbrook Christmas display


Monday, December 5, 2016

O.C. Taylor Elementary and State Historian Specialty Tour

On Friday morning, November 18, I appeared as State Historian at O.C. Taylor Elementary School in Colleyville. Three of my grandchildren are students at O.C. Taylor: second-grader Addie Gormley and first-grade twins Reagan and Nolan Gormley. Last year I delivered a program at O.C. Taylor to the combined fourth- and fifth-grade History classes. This year I was asked by the fourth- grade teachers to return with a program on Texas cowboys, cattle drives, cattle ranches – the entire cowboy culture. Learning that I would be on-campus, the second-grade teachers asked me to talk with their combined classes about a number of subjects pertaining to Texas heritage. I was delighted to comply, because this appearance included an overnight stay beforehand with my three youngest grandchildren and their parents, Drew Gormley and Berri O’Neal Gormley. Indeed, that evening a school activity was scheduled for O.C. Taylor students in a gymnasium setting so I enjoyed the bonus pleasure of watching my grandkids cavort around a gym with their teachers, administrators, and fellow students.

The O.C. Taylor school day opens with a closed circuit TV newscast, directed by two youngsters manning the news desk. A weather  girl clad in a rain coat gave the weather forecast, followed by a young lady announcing the lunch room menu. Afterward, I was introduced on camera, clad in cowboy attire and standing proudly with my grandchildren, as a special guest for the morning. Shortly afterward the fourth-grade classes were brought into the library where they were highly attentive to my props and posters and stories about Texas cowboys and longhorn cattle. The last few minutes were devoted to a lively Q and A session which proved that this iconic Texas subject had connected with the latest generation of students.

With the fourth graders at O.C. Taylor Elementary School

Another set of props and posters were set up in a vacant classroom and a few minutes after I arrived, the second-grade students were conducted in by their teachers. The topics requested of me by their teachers worked with these students, and the Q and A which followed underscored the preparation which the teachers had already accomplished in their classrooms. I was strongly impressed by the students, teachers and administrators of O.C. Taylor Elementary, and I was reassured about the future of Texas History instruction in such schools.


Mrs. Archer's second graders and their State Historian autographs




Introduced by Addison Gormley, in the Abraham Lincoln costume I gave for her recent birthday

A few days earlier I had another gratifying State Historian experience with granddaughter Jessie L. Martinez, who is a seventh-grade Texas History student at Danny Jones Middle School in Mansfield. Jessie is named after my mother, Jessie L. Standard O’Neal. Mother was named for her grandfather, Jessie L. Standard, who rode as a trail driver during the 1870s and 1880s out of Lampasas County. Jessie’s father, Rudy Martinez, is a federal banker in Irving, but his Martinez family makes their home in Corpus Christi and Brownsville. Jessie has deeply embraced her Tejano heritage, and she is looking forward to her QuinceaƱera in a couple of years. Jessie was present at the State Capitol when I was sworn in as State Historian by Governor Perry.  With such a deep-rooted Lone Star heritage, Jessie has thrown herself into her Texas History studies this year. Her mother is my oldest daughter, Lynn O’Neal Martinez, an award-winning teacher of Social Studies and Language Arts in the Mansfield ISD. Recently she spoke to me about Jessie’s growing fascination with Texas History, and suggested that I plan a weekend field trip with my granddaughter. Of course I was thrilled, and on Friday evening, November 11 I met Jessie and Lynn in Corsicana, and by 8:00, we had driven to a Huntsville hotel.


Jessie standing with Big Sam's face

The next morning we visited Sam Houston’s impressive gravesite, then we drove by the State Penitentiary on our way to the Sam Houston Memorial Museum. It was still early so we walked over to the campus of Sam Houston State University to see the oldest college building in continual use in Texas, the handsome ante-bellum structure which opened at Austin College in 1851 and which, since Austin’s transfer to Sherman, has served SHSU in various uses. I also walked them past the ruins of Old Main, burned during the centennial year of 1979. Of course, I had a running commentary of stories. (They asked me, after all!) By then the remarkable Sam Houston Memorial Museum was open, and we took our time. Outside we toured Sam’s beloved Woodland Home and the Steamboat House, where he died in 1863. Next we drove to the towering 67 foot statue of Big Sam, and there Jessie eagerly visited the gift shop.

Jessie and Lynn at Woodland Home

After a quick lunch, we drove to Washington-on-the-Brazos, first touring The Star of Texas Museum, with its student-friendly exhibits. Next we explored Barrington, the plantation of Dr. Anson B. Jones before going to Independence Hall, which Jessie recently had studied. We took the well-marked walking path around the historic old town site and had a stop at the ferry site, before finishing at the excellent Visitor Center and Gift Shop. As we returned toward Corsicana, we made brief stops in Navasota, including the statue of young City Marshal Frank Hamer, and the picturesque 1894 Grimes County Court House in Anderson. We reached Corsicana in time for Lynn and Jessie to drive home.


Jessie and Lynn at the Barrington barn

I spent the night in Corsicana, before driving into the Hill Country for a Sunday visit with my sister in Lampasas. Early in the week I made State Historian appearances at the TACRAO Annual Conference in Marble Falls and at a TSHA Texas History Teachers Conference in Dallas (as described in the previous blog). But I finished the week at O.C. Taylor Elementary in Colleyville. A couple of days later I received from granddaughter Jessie a color brochure that she and her father put together as a memento of our Texas history field trip. Nothing could be more deeply gratifying to a State Historian.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

From Horseshoe Bay to Old Red

On Sunday, November 13, I drove to Marble Falls in the Hill Country and to the nearby Horseshoe Bay Resort. From November 13 through November 16, Horseshoe Bay hosted the annual conference of TACRAO, the Texas Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. TACRAO boasts a statewide membership of 1,300 men and women from the higher education institutions of Texas. Almost 700 members attended the 2016 Annual Conference because the organization was formed in 1916, and the Horseshoe Bay meeting was a celebration of TACRAO’s centennial. There were delightful social activities interspersed throughout scores of professional meetings and presentations.

With TACRAO President, Darla Inglish of Midwestern State University,
at Horseshoe Bay Resort

Horseshoe Bay Resort, site of the Texas Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers 2016 Annual Conference
I was honored by an invitation to provide an appropriate program, “A History of Education in Texas,” with focus upon colleges and universities. I previously had participated in TACRAO Annual Conferences in Dallas (2012) and El Paso (2013), but it was a special privilege to present historical background at TACRAO’s Centennial.

I was introduced by my daughter, Dr. Berri O’Neal, a Past President of the organization and a popular presenter. Indeed, Berri provided three presentations at Horseshoe Bay. I slipped into the back of a packed presentation room to watch her lively PowerPoint program on “EmPOWERing Women TOgetHER.” More than 80 ladies (and a few men as well) took notes and photos and phone recordings as I proudly watched her command an audience of upwardly mobile career women.
With daughter, Berri O'Neal, who is a TACRAO Past President

For my introduction, Berri placed a PowerPoint slide onscreen with my family gathered in the Governor’s Reception Room at the State Capitol with Gov. Rick Perry, who had just sworn me in as State Historian in 2012. The audience broke into applause as they recognized Governor Perry and Berri and me, and the roomful of educators thereafter were highly responsive to my remarks. When I began talking about the origin of sports in Texas I used old leather football helmets and other athletic artifacts. Several audience members afterward wanted photos while they wore the helmets or held up old jerseys and antique hip pads.

With Melissa Gallien of Lamar University, a fellow Texas history buff
and former VP of TACRAO 
My TACRAO program was late on Monday morning, and I soon departed Horseshoe Bay for a 210-mile drive to Dallas. I stayed at a downtown hotel in Big D, because I was scheduled to arrive at Old Red Museum at eight o’clock the next morning. The Texas State Historical Association, Old Red Museum and the Region 10 Education Service Center combined to sponsor one of the Exploring Texas Workshops which are periodically opened to Texas History teachers at locations around the state.  I have provided keynote or luncheon programs at these TSHA workshops throughout my four years as State Historian. We held a workshop at Old Red a couple of years ago, and the former Dallas County Courthouse is a superb location for a history conference. The magnificent Victorian structure, built of red sandstone in 1892, now serves as a county history museum and conference site (and picturesque wedding location).

Old Red Museum, site of the TSHA Conference

Charles Nugent, Adult Program Manager for the TSHA, arranges site locations and speakers. This conference, scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, November 14-15, covered the period 1836 to 1900. Charles lined up more than 30 speakers, including Dr. Stephen Hardin, Dr. Carolina Castillo Crimm, and award-winning author Dr. Andrew Torget. I was asked to provide a program on Sam Houston from 8:30 – 10:00 on Tuesday morning. I was delighted to have enough time to discuss the iconic Houston in detail to a roomful of Texas history teachers. Afterward, it was gratifying when several teachers came to me with their notes and asked for specific information they had missed. Two great audiences in two days at two excellent conferences – a truly rewarding assignment for a State Historian.
With Charles Nugent, Adult Program Manager for TSHA
With Dr. Andrew Torget

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Final (?) Week

My second term as State Historian of Texas was scheduled to end on Saturday, October 22, two years to the day after I was sworn in again. The final four days - Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday - were full and far-ranging.

On Wednesday morning, October 19, I drove to Center to provide the opening program for a day-long leadership conference that is staged by Shelby County every two years. For the past several conferences I have been asked by a longtime friend, Colleen Doggett, to open the conference with a segment on Shelby County's history, with emphasis on the murderous Regulator-Moderator War, which was known in some quarters as the Shelby War. Texas was the site of more blood feuds than any other state or territory, and the Regulator-Moderator War was the first and deadliest of these conflicts. From 1840 through 1844, 31 men were slain, while 200 armed riders operated as Regulators and 100 as Moderators. I wrote a book, War in East Texas: Regulators vs. Moderators, and I'm always eager to share this dramatic and colorful story with groups in Center and elsewhere. On Wednesday morning we met at the historic and handsomely maintained 1885 courthouse, an ideal site for a heritage program about Shelby County.

The historic Shelby County Courthouse was the site of the leadership conference.

The following day I drove through a light rain to Bryan, parking at the campus of Blinn College. I had been invited to the Blinn campus by Chuck Swanlund and Ken Howell, members of the history faculty. There are more than 15,000 students at Blinn College in Bryan. Many plan to transfer to Texas A&M University, nearby in College Station, and a number of students take classes at both Blinn and A&M. Blinn's facilities in Bryan are large and busy - and are growing rapidly.

Chuck Swanlund with his Thursday afternoon Texas History class. Remarkably there are 27 sections of Texas History offered on the Blinn campus.

With Chuck Swanlund in his Texas History classroom

 I was scheduled to lecture on "Texas in World War II" to Chuck's afternoon Texas History class from 2:50 - 4:05 p.m. There were 35 young men and women in the classroom, which is decorated wall to wall with historic Texas flags. It was an ideal atmosphere, and the students were pleasant and attentive. Indeed, I had the pleasure of seeing some of them again a couple of hours later.

The Thursday evening crowd at the Blinn campus exceeded 200.

Chuck and Ken led me to the Student Center Theatre, where I was to deliver a public address on Sam Houston at 6:30 p.m. After checking out the sound system and setting up my program props, I chatted with students, faculty members, and other attendees as they arrived. It was a special privilege to meet with Dr. Mary Hensley, President of Blinn College, who joined the audience. Attendance exceeded 200, and afterward Chuck and Ken took me out to dinner.

With Dr. Mary Hensley, President of Blinn College. Enrollment at Blinn College is almost 20,000,   with nearly 15,000 at the rapidly growing Bryan campus.

Encouraged by Chuck Swanlund and other colleagues, Dr. Ken Howell launched the Central Texas Historical Association in 2015. One year later he scheduled the new organization's third conference for Saturday, October 22, on the campus of the appropriately-named Central Texas College in Killeen. The theme of the conference was Frontier Violence: Depredations, Outlaws, and the Rangers. Almost 60 men and women were in attendance, and the opening program was "The Great Comanche Raid" by Donaly Brice, Senior State Archivist. Museum re-enactor Henry Crawford - in uniform and with an array of artifacts - spoke on "The Buffalo Soldiers." The State Historian presented "Texas Gunslingers," making the point that Texas was the Gunfighter Capital of the Old West. I was followed by Bob Alexander and a colorful, informative account of "The Texas Rangers."

Conference crowd at Central Texas College

We all lunched together, an event catered by the Central Texas College food service. Chuck Parsons then spoke on the kill-crazy gunfighter "John Wesley Hardin," after which Carol Taylor spoke on another Texas desperado, "Ben Bickerstaff."

Ken Howell presented me a certificate noting my last "official" day as State Historian.

Presenters on Frontier Violence: (L to R) Henry Crawford, Bill O'Neal, Carol Taylor, Bob Alexander, Donaly Brice, and Chuck Parsons

Dr. Ken Powell (left), Executive Director of the CTHA, and Larry Watson, President of the Association

At the end of my program, Dr. Ken Howell presented me with a certificate that would mark the final day of my four-year tenure as Texas State Historian. I was greatly touched by this thoughtful gesture. But it seems that my successor has not yet been selected, so for a while longer I will have the rich pleasure of continuing the best gig any historian could possibly want.