Sunday, September 25, 2016

Constitution Week

On Saturday, September 17 – the 229th Anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution – I had the privilege of addressing a DAR Constitution Luncheon at River Crest Country Club in Fort Worth. Members of several chapters of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution were in attendance, along with a number of husbands, including several who are members of the Sons of the American Revolution. There were 106 reservations.
River Crest Country Club

As I entered the club building, I was greeted by patriotic music from the South Hills High School Orchestra. Decorations in the dining hall followed the patriotic theme, and I chatted with several ladies I had met last April, when I addressed the Fort Worth DAR at Shady Oaks Country Club. I had come at the invitation of Mary Holland Yamagata, a native of Carthage. Mary’s father, a physician and history buff, was the long-time president of the Panola College Board of Trustees. Mary’s mother was a local historian and strong supporter of all of our college programs. My wife Karon and I had a delightful time at the April meeting, and I was most pleased to be asked back for the Constitution Luncheon.
South Hills High School Orchestra
With Mary Holland Yamagata
Opening ceremonies included an invocation, Pledge of Allegiance to the Stars and Stripes, a group reading of the American’s Creed and of the Preamble to the Constitution, and the Pledge to the Texas Flag. The National Anthem was played by the Southwest Christian High School Band, which continued a patriotic serenade that continued throughout our lunch.

Mary Yamagata, a Regent of the Fort Worth DAR Chapter provided a gracious introduction for me. My program was, “The U.S. Constitution – Rule Book for American Freedoms.” I traced the almost accidental accumulation of our freedoms throughout the colonial period, and I explained how the Constitution was an outgrowth of our personal liberties and of our free enterprise economy.

Southwest Christian High School Band
The presiding officer was Vicki Andrews, Regent of the Fort Worth DAR Chapter
In my U.S. History lectures I always emphasized that the American story is exceptional in the history of the world, and there is no better example of American Exceptionalism than the remarkable document by which we have governed ourselves for more than 227 years.

A few days later I brought “The U.S. Constitution – Rule Book for American Freedoms” to Corsicana, my hometown. On Wednesday, September 21, I drove to the Kinsloe House, the home of women’s clubs in Corsicana since 1938. The James Blair Chapter of the DAR held its monthly meeting at the Kinsloe House on Wednesday of Constitution Week. It has been a rich pleasure for me to deliver programs to various groups at Kinsloe House through the years. I always see old friends and, on occasion, relatives. Indeed, one of my daughters, Dr. Shellie O’Neal, is head of the Drama Department of Navarro College in Corsicana. Shellie has performed on a number of occasions at the Kinsloe house, and she joined us for lunch.
Kinsloe House

With Mary Lou McKie

With Dr. Shellie O'Neal
Mary Lou McKie who had arranged my appearance at the Kinsloe house, prevailed upon Shellie to introduce me.  Shellie’s introduction followed opening ceremonies that included an invocation, the National Anthem with piano accompaniment and the Pledge of Allegiance. The crowd numbered more than 80, and I had a grand time sharing a program with so many long-time friends. For me, Constitution Week was especially rewarding in 2016. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

National Cowboy Symposium

The 28th Annual National Cowboy Symposium and Celebration was held in Lubbock on September 9-10-11, 2016. Alvin Davis, founding father of the Symposium, began inviting me to present programs during the 1990s. I greatly enjoyed the Symposium in the various years in which I was invited, and this weekend I had the pleasure of visiting with Alvin.
With Monica Hightower, Boss Wrangler of the Symposium

Exhibitors and Vendors in the Lubbock Civic Center

For the last several years, the Boss Wrangler of the Symposium has been the efficient and lovely Monica Hightower. When I became State Historian of Texas in 2012, Monica suggested that I present a series of programs on Cow Country Violence. I was delighted at the possibilities, and during the past few years, I’ve delivered programs on range wars of West Texas and on gunfighter cowtowns of the Lone Star frontier. There has been enthusiastic response – large crowds, lots of questions, impressive book sales – to this series of programs.

When Monica contacted me about appearing me at the 2016 Symposium, I suggested the West’s most famous – or infamous – range feud: the Johnson County War. Of course the Johnson County War took place in Wyoming, not Texas, but this is the NATIONAL Cowboy Symposium. Besides, the great hero of the Johnson County War was a courageous Texas cowboy, Nate Champion, and the great villain was a cold-blooded assassin from Texas, Joe Horner (alias Frank Canton). And at the climax of the range war, 22 well-paid gunmen from Texas were brought in to spearhead the action. The cultural impact of the Johnson County War was immense, inspiring the wildly popular novel The Virginian, which spawned motion pictures, made-for-TV movies, and the first 90-minute TV series. Shane, another classic novel and motion picture, also was derived from the Johnson County War. One of the non-fiction works about the famous conflict was my effort, The Johnson County War, which was named Book of the Year by the National Association for Outlaw and Lawman History in 2005.

Cathy Whitten, one of many talented performers at the Cowboy Symposium

As I drove into Lubbock on Friday morning, September 9, the commercial for the 2016 Symposium came over my car radio, and I was thrilled to hear my presentation and my official position featured. After I arrived, I thanked Monica for the State Historian publicity, and she told me that the Facebook ad had enjoyed more than 100,000 hits.  The handsome magazine-style program described in detail: “The Most Infamous Range War in the U.S. – The Johnson County War, by Texas State Historian Bill O’Neal.” Friday afternoon I presented the program to a large crowd. Saturday morning I repeated the program to an audience which, while not quite as large was most receptive.
As State Historian I was interviewed for a news cut by Elizabeth Pace of KLBK-TV Lubbock, a CBS Affiliate.
Part of the large crowd for my Friday program on the Johnson County War

In addition to the range war program, I also was part of a Friday authors’ panel. The panel was chaired by Dusty Richards, former president of the Western Writers of America. Panelists included Karen Fitzjarnell, Nathan Dahlstrom, and the Texas State Historian. The panel was well-attended, and panelists fielded numerous questions from aspiring authors.

Immediately following my Friday program, in the same banquet room we conducted an author panel. L to R: Nathan Dahlstrom, Dusty Richards, Karen Fitzjarnell, Bill

In the Exhibitors' Hall, I visited with Nathan Dahlstrom and his son, and I bought personalized books for three of my grandchildren.

Throughout Friday and Saturday, on two stages – indoor and outdoor – there was constant entertainment from an impressive array of musical artists and cowboy poets. There were horse-training demonstrations, farrier demonstrations, the annual Parade of the Horse, and dazzling shopping opportunities from vendors. Saturday featured the National Championship Chuck Wagon Cook-Off, and on Sunday morning there was a delicious Chuck Wagon Breakfast prior to the annual Cowboy Devotional Service.

Presenting the Johnson County War Program on Saturday

A pleasurable bonus for me was encountering and visiting with old friends. Every year in Lubbock, I count on seeing “regulars” at the Cowboy Symposium, and this year, as usual, I saw friends that I did not expect to meet here. The greatest surprise of all was James Prater from Dawson. Jamie and I met while attending Navarro College in Corsicana. We participated in athletics together, and we both entered the field of coaching. Jamie spent a long career in Lubbock, where he and his wife are enjoying an active retirement. He saw one of the advertisements that mentioned my name, and graciously he paid a surprise visit to my Saturday program. We had not seen each other in more than half a century, and we had a grand time catching up. Such encounters have been one of the deep pleasures of my four years as State Historian.

With Jamie Prater, an old friend from college days

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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Interview with Johnny D. Boggs

Several months ago Greg Lalire, editor of Wild West Magazine, asked me to write an article about the murderous East Texas desperado Cullen Baker. I also was privileged to provide two short features, "9 Western Film Stars From Texas" and a list with descriptions of "Books and Videos About Frontier Texas." Furthermore, Johnny D. Boggs, a gifted and prolific Western author whose work has earned him six prestigious Spur Awards from the Western Writers of America, included a review of my most recent book, Sam Houston: A Study in Leadership. Best of all, Johnny interviewed me for the magazine,"Bill O'Neal Talks Texas," emphasizing my role as State Historian of Texas.

Johnny D. Boggs
These five features are in the October 2016 issue of Wild West, which is still on the magazine racks. There was room in the issue for only half of the original interview, so the entire interview comprises the remainder of this blog. I'm deeply grateful, of course, to Greg Lalire and to Johnny D. Boggs.

 Longtime Western historian Bill O'Neal keeps very busy. Appointed Texas State Historian by Governor Rick Perry in 2012, O'Neal has taught at Panola College in Carthage since 1970 and blogs weekly ( and about his revelations regarding Texas history. He has written more than 40 books, including Sam Houston: A Study in Leadership (2016) and the forthcoming Frontier Forts of West Texas, for Arcadia Publishing. O'Neal recently made room in his packed schedule to speak with Wild West.

What led you to write about Sam Houston?
In 2012, shortly after being appointed State Historian, I was asked to present a lecture at the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin and was assigned the topic "Leadership Qualities of Sam Houston." I've been fascinated by "Old Sam Jacinto" all of my life, and I lectured about him for more than 30 years in my Texas history classes at Panola College. So it was a pleasure to develop my ideas about Houston as a leader, and the audience response was so strong that I used the topic on other occasions. It was a particular thrill to deliver the keynote at the San Jacinto Monument on San Jacinto Day 2014. This was a subject that needed to be developed into a book.

What were his best qualities and worst flaws?
In combat Houston exhibited raw physical courage. He led from the front and suffered severe wounds leading charges at Horseshoe Bend and at San Jacinto. Sheer physical size is an asset for a military leader, and with his imposing physique Houston commanded instant respect from other soldiers. He was an extraordinary orator, a useful gift in both military and political leadership. Houston held powerful convictions, and he readily assumed responsibility for his actions. Although he made friends easily, when crossed, he would excoriate his adversaries ruthlessly, thus developing bitter enemies. And he drank heavily, a trait noticed by the public and proclaimed by his enemies.

What prompted your book on west Texas forts?
Texas has seen more combat, civilian as well as military, than any other state or territory. The U.S. Army built more forts in Texas than in any other state, but by the time we became a state, the conflicts between Anglo settlers and American Indians had ended in east Texas, and the military frontier had shifted westward. Many of these forts have been wonderfully preserved, while others are in ruins. But at all of these sites the 19th-century ghosts may be felt. In Texas the Army learned to utilize cavalry against horseback warriors, and "forts" were not fortified - they were military towns, bases from which to launch patrols and pursuits. The U.S. Camel Corps operated in Texas, and so did all four regiments of buffalo soldiers. There is a rich story to tell, and these photogenic old outposts (the book will feature some 200 photos) provide a great starting point for a writer.

Do you have a favorite West Texas outpost?
I've been traveling to these old forts for almost 60 years, and I love 'em all. But for 20 years I conducted a "Traveling Texas" history course twice per summer, covering 2,100 miles and including camping in Big Bend and the David Mountains. The students reacted most to sprawling Fort Davis, a regimental post superbly restored and maintained by the National Park Service. John Wayne, John Ford and their "cavalry trilogy" would have been right at home at Fort Davis. 

What does being the State Historian mean to you?
I was astounded when notified of my appointment. I'm in my second term now. I'm pretty much allowed to freelance, so I function as an ambassador for Texas history. I speak at historical events and for every type of group in the Lone Star State. It's been one of the most delightful and meaningful gigs in my career as a historian.

So does being State Historian open any doors?
My official status has opened many historical doors, including ones to the basements or attics of museums, where I get to see and handle great stuff not on public display.

Does any particular historic Texas figure stand out for you?
Old Sam Jacinto, of course. He is the iconic Texas figure of the 19th century, which is saying a lot, considering the ranchers, gunfighters, soldiers, war chiefs and other colorful types of that era.

What drew you to a career in Western history?
I fell in love with the Old West watching Western movies when I was growing up. I started reading history books about the real-life characters and events that were part of these films. By the time I was in college, I had a list of places that I needed to visit, and I've been attacking that list for more than half a century. And since there was not a book on the Arizona Rangers, I wrote one. I've written many other books I wanted to read, and fewer than half of my books have been about Texas.