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.
|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|
For more information, visit www.cowboy.org.