Monday, May 2, 2016


"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. 

McFaddin-Ward House
 Late in April I was privileged to deliver addresses at two elegant history events in Beaumont. The history department at Lamar University was involved in both events, and the department provided my lodging and numerous other courtesies. I arrived in Beaumont on Wednesday afternoon, April 27, and Ken Poston of the Lamar history faculty escorted me to the Holiday Inn. A couple of hours later another member of the Lamar history faculty, Robert Robertson, picked me up at the hotel and regaled me with Beaumont points of interest on our way to the magnificent McFaddin-Ward House, a three-story, 12,800-square-foot mansion built in the Beaux-Arts Colonial Revival style in 1905-1906. 

Socializing beforehand.
A major historical attraction, the mansion and grounds are entered through a spacious welcome center. The auditorium of the welcome center is the site for the monthly meetings of the Texas Gulf Coast Historical Association. The Association was organized in 1955, and since 2011 there has been a formal affiliation between the Association and Lamar University. Since my appointment as State Historian in 2012, I’ve had the privilege of addressing the Texas State Historical Association, the East Texas Historical Association, the West Texas Historical Association, the South Texas Historical Association, the Texas Oral History Association, and numerous county and local history societies. But I had never even attended a meeting of the TGCHA, and I enjoyed a most pleasant meeting with the Association and its members. 

The evening opened with a social period featuring wine and cheese and other refreshments. The members were congenial, and several had anecdotes to share about Beaumont ancestors or San Jacinto veterans. At seven o’clock President Ben Woodhead called the meeting to order and Chaplain Marilyn Thornton Adams provided an invocation. A business meeting followed, which included a report by Dr. Mary Kelly Scheer, chair of the Lamar University history department.

I was introduced by Vice President Judith Linsley.  Since the 180th anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto was only six days earlier, my topic was “Old Sam Jacinto,” an account of the campaign of March and April 1836 and the climactic battle. Certainly these events were appropriate for a group of Texas Gulf Coast historians, who were quite receptive and who later shared more anecdotes about their ancestors who participated in the Runaway Scrape or the Battle of San Jacinto.
At Spindletop Park with Richard and
Mary Scheer  and Ken Poston.

The next day I was taken to lunch by Dr. Scheer, her husband Richard and Ken Poston. Afterward they took me to the little historic park which marks a major historic event: the Spindletop oil discovery of 1901. I’ve visited most of Beaumont’s museums and historic sites through the years, and I’ve delivered programs at the excellent Gladys City restoration. But I had never seen the original site, which is not easy to find, and I’m indebted to my hosts for providing a long overdue visit. 
Information boards. The original Spindletop well
was in the distance above the right-hand board.

That evening Ken Poston and his lovely wife Brenda drove me to the Lamar campus, where we went to the eighth floor of the impressive Mary and John Gray Library. This top floor features a ballroom and dining rooms. One of the dining rooms was handsomely appointed for an annual university occasion: the Phi Alpha Theta Spring Initiation and History Department Banquet. Phi Alpha Theta is the national history honor society, and there are more than 900 chapters. A crowd of 50 was on hand to celebrate the initiation of five new members: Taylor Blount, Grayson Meek, Jacob Melancon, Karli Pittman, and Courtney Rhodus, a graduate student who already had assumed the duties of chapter president. Other Phi Alpha Theta members were present, along with family and friends, faculty members, and ranking administrators. 

Dr. Mary Scheer welcomes the crowd
to the banquet.
Dr. Mary Scheer, a noted Texas historian and author, conducted the induction ceremony, and she provided gracious words of introduction for me. The introduction was concluded by President Courtney Rhodus. I responded to Courtney with a personal recollection from more than half a century ago, when I was inducted into Phi Alpha Theta at East Texas State College (now Texas A&M University at Commerce), and that same evening was asked to serve as chapter president. My remarks were entitled, “Texas: Laboratory and Playground for Historians.” I recounted personal experiences with Texas history, starting with boyhood but focusing on my years as State Historian. I described a number of grassroots historians, and made the point that with its rich history, Texas is a fertile laboratory for authors and a delightful playground for history buffs. My two days in Beaumont underscored the remarks I made on my last evening in a historic Texas city.  

The five inductees.

Ken Poston begins the
induction ceremony.
At right Mrs. Nancy Isaac, widow of a longtime Lamar
history faculty member, Mrs. Isaac created a
substantial cash award for an exemplary
senior history student - Judith Nelams (center).

With President Courtney Rhodus.

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