Monday, February 29, 2016

Last Weekend in February

"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. 

With Tom Keener and Steve Seale
During the last weekend in February I was delighted to participate in a trio of exciting Texas history events. On Thursday evening (which is weekend eve!), February 25, I was at the Allen Public Library to speak about the work of the WPA and the CCC in Texas during the Great Depression. Under the leadership of Tom Keener, the library maintains a busy schedule of programs open to the public. Indeed, when this handsome library was built, a civic auditorium was included. But Tom was stymied when he tried to find a speaker on Texas during the Depression. Tom’s colleague, Steve Seale, had heard me speak at a library conference held at Texas A&M University at Commerce, and I received a call asking if the State Historian could provide an address on the WPA in Texas.
Allen High School students

I was happy to accept, but I asked that the Civilian Conservation Corps be discussed as a part of the topic. Tom Keener provides excellent publicity for the library programs, and a fine crowd assembled at the auditorium. In addition to Allen residents who regularly take advantage of the variety of programs presented by the library, there were a number of students from Allen High School. I had lectured about the Great Depression for more than four decades at Panola College, and my parents grew up in Depression Texas, which provided me with personal details. The lecture was well received, and there was an active Q&A session afterward. My final duty was to verify the presence of the high school students. I expected to sign my name to a stack of forms. Instead, the students photographed themselves with me on their cell phone cameras. Once again I was reminded that we are in the second decade of the 21st century.
Proof of attendance

Boarding the Panola College super van in 1986
There was a memorable bonus to the Allen event. Thirty years ago I was persuaded to conduct one of my Traveling Texas History classes with a band of Allen teachers. My course featured a 2,100-mile itinerary to historical sites around the Lone Star State, following two full classroom days at Panola College. For 20 years I conducted this course twice per summer, taking 18 students in two college vans and, on two nights during the week of travel, camping in the Davis Mountains and in Big Bend. We decided that there would be no camping on our teacher trip, and that we would travel in the college’s “super van.” Carol Pierson, an Allen elementary teacher, arranged for professional development credit – as well as the usual three hours’ credit in Texas history – and signed up a total of 25 teachers. These ladies drove to Carthage for a [slumber party] night in a dorm, and back-to-back lecture days in the classroom. A couple of days later I picked up the ladies in Allen, and for the ensuing seven days we rambled across Texas. The teachers pumped me for information, and they collected classroom materials at every stop. We had a grand time, and it was the most rewarding teaching experience of my 42-year career. I told them so at a reunion dinner arranged to precede my appearance at the Allen Library. Carol and another dynamic lady, Jo Long, arranged our reunion at the Allen restaurant. Photos from 1986 were placed on posters, and a dozen of us reminisced happily for two hours. It was icing on my reunion cake when they attended the library event in a group.

Allen teachers at the Governor's Mansion

To see Allen program:

With Chapter President Teresa Johnson and VP Pat Jackson
With John Murray, a descendant of Margaret Houston
I drove from Allen to New Braunfels, where I met with the Ferdinand Lindheimer Chapter of the DRT at mid-morning on Saturday, February 27. The occasion was the chapter’s annual scholarship brunch, which was catered at the McKenna Events Center. I had not visited New Braunfels in several years, and I enjoyed checking out the town’s splendid old buildings. Arriving early in the McKenna Events Center, I was greeted by chapter vice-president Pat Jackson, who had arranged my appearance. The room boasted superb Texas decorations, and a crowd of 120 began to gather. Pat had urged me to bring books, because many of the members like to purchase inscribed volumes about Texas. Indeed, that proved to be the case, and I was pleased to sign books before and after the meeting. It was a special treat to see John Murray, a direct descendant of Margaret Houston. He had an excellent portrait of Margaret, and my program was about the First Lady of the Republic and of the State of Texas. The audience was most receptive, and I was given a large basket overflowing with Texas gifts from New Braunfels. A great deal of scholarship funding was raised during the event, and the Ferdinand Lindheimer Chapter is one of the finest in the state.
Brunch at New Braunfels

Texas flags at the boundary marker
I drove home on Saturday afternoon. After church on Sunday I traveled 23 more miles to the stone marker in southeastern Panola County which is the only existing international boundary marker in the United States. There is a little park on Highway 31 where this historically unique treasure stands. The marker was placed in 1841, as a result of the work of a surveying party and of commissioners from the United States and the Republic of Texas. Elizabeth Hedges, president of the John Tilley Edwards DRT Chapter and a former colleague at Panola College, arranged for a medallion placement at the stone marker. Various DRT officials, including President General Betty J. Edwards, were in attendance, along with Sarah Funderburk, state president of the CRT (and granddaughter of Hedges). I was asked to present a brief program about the history of the marker. There was a large crowd at this remote park, and everyone was invited to a reception in Carthage at the Old Jail Museum. These last few days in February provided a lively lead-in to Texas Independence Week.

"R.T." (Republic of Texas) on west side
of marker - "U.S." on opposite side

With DRT officials

Crowd at Medallion ceremony

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