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.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Lufkin and Nacogdoches

On Tuesday evening, October 11, I met with the Lone Star Defenders Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in Lufkin. This SCV group meets at Lufkin Barb-B-Q, a local favorite where we enjoyed a terrific meal. A couple of years ago membership in the camp had declined badly, and monthly attendance was no more than six. But new Camp Commander Thomas Anderson has worked hard to recruit new members and to provide appealing programs, and attendance has blossomed. Meanwhile, Larry Cawley has taken charge of program arrangements. Larry lined up my appearance, and nearly 30 members attended.

Thomas Anderson and Larry Cawley, brandishing Civil War replica pistols
which I brought for the program
I spoke on “Texas During the Civil War,” pointing out the enormous contributions made to the war effort by the Lone Star State. In addition to cotton production and manpower (Texas men fought on every front of the Confederacy), Texas was the sole Confederate state to fight a two-front war – Comanche and Kiowa war parties hammered the frontier of the Lone Star State throughout the Civil War. Otherwise, Texas successfully defended its borders from Union troops, most spectacularly at Sabine Pass, where 42 Texans led by Capt. Dick Dowling turned back an invasion force of 17 ships and 4,000 men with a barrage of artillery fire. Also, a month after Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Texas troops commanded by Col. John S. “Rip” Ford defeated a force of Union occupation troops in a running fight near Brownsville. Thus Texans enjoyed the satisfaction of a victory in the final battle of the Civil War.
Holding the Stars and Bars. Texas was the seventh – and final – state admitted to the Confederacy before the war, and was represented within the field of stars.Four more states joined the CSA after war erupted.
On my drive to and from Lufkin I passed through Nacogdoches, and a little later in the week I returned for the fall meeting of the East Texas Historical Association. The ETHA customarily meets each fall on the campus of Stephen F. Austin State University, although tradition will be broken next fall when we meet in Galveston, which has been a popular destination for several of our spring meetings.
Scott Sosebee and Kenneth Howell, executive directors of the East Texas Historical Association (Sosebee) and of the recently organized Central Texas Historical Association
Ron Chrisman, director of the University of North Texas Press in the Exhibitors’ Room
Program sessions began on Thursday afternoon and continued until Saturday noon, covering a vast array of topics from “Black Cowboys During Slavery” to “Soldado: A Chicano Veteran Tells His Story.” A session of programs was presented by the West Texas Historical Association, and by the Texas Folklore Society, the Central Texas Historical Association and Houston Community College. There was a Black History Breakfast on Friday and a Women’s History Breakfast the next morning. On Thursday evening the annual Max and Georgiana Lale Lecture Series featured the Texas Secretary of State, Carlos H. Cascos.
Light Townsend Cummins, presider of  “The Stafford/Townsend Feud Session,” with presenter James Kearney, who is the author of an excellent new book about the feud
Chuck Parsons (left) and Donaly Brice, presenters in “The Stafford/Townsend Feud Session”
I participated in a session on Sam Houston: From Virginia to San Jacinto. My nephew, Dr. Chris Smith, presented “Young Sam Houston.” Chris is a member of the History Faculty at Liberty University in Virginia, Houston’s native state. I followed with “Old Sam Jacinto.” A special session marked the publication of Archie P. McDonald: A Life in Texas History, based upon oral interviews conducted and edited by Dan Utley and recently released by Texas A&M University Press. Archie served as Executive Director of the ETHA for 37 years, and a packed house listened to this program about the beloved leader of the Association.

Fellows at the ETHA Fellows Reception: (L to R) Donaly Brice, Dan Utley, State Historian, JoAnn Stiles, Cary Wintz, Bruce Glasrud, Gwen Lawe

On Friday evening the Fellows of the Association Reception honored current Fellows of the ETHA and introduced three new Fellows: Mary L. Scheer, Mary Jo O’Rear, and Kyle Wilkison. This event was followed by the Presidential Address Banquet, featuring a program by ETHA President Wilkison.

Dan Utley presents Mary Jo O’Rear as a newly appointed Fellow
Utley with new Fellow Mary Scheer
The fall conference closed with the ETHA Awards and Business Meeting Luncheon. I was privileged to present the Ottis Lock Awards. The Book of the Year was a unanimous selection of the Lock Awards Committee: Seeds of Empire: Cotton, Slavery, and the Transformation of the Texas Borderlands, 1800-1850, by Andrew Torget. The Joe Atkins Public School Educator of the Year was Stephen Wright of McMichael Middle School in Nacogdoches. Patricia Richey of Jacksonville College was named Higher Education Educator of the Year, and she also was awarded a $750 Lock Research Grant.
Utley with new Fellow Kyle Wilkison
With Chris Smith and Judy O’Neal Smith. A long-time DRT officer, Judy served as presider of our session on Sam Houston

Scott Sosebee with Chris Gill, who is Secretary/Treasurer of the ETHA and who provides exceptional efforts each year for our Fall and Spring Meetings
The new slate of officers was headed by George M. Cooper of Lone Star College. George put together an outstanding fall program, and his first act as ETHA President was to announce that the spring meeting will be held in Marshall, an East Texas city with a rich history that has hosted several successful spring meetings in the past. 

ETHA President Kyle Wilkison presents the gavel of office to incoming President George Cooper

Presenting the Lock Award for Educator of the Year to
Dr. Patricia Richey of Jacksonville College

Monday, October 10, 2016

MOAA at Fort Sam Houston

Last February I provided a program in New Braunfels for the local DRT chapter’s annual scholarship fundraiser. There was a large crowd, and one of the men I met (a number of husbands attended the event) was Mac McDonald, a retired Air Force officer. Mac is a member of the Alamo Chapter MOAA, the Military Officers Association of America. Mac soon offered an invitation for me to present a program to the Alamo Chapter at one of their monthly luncheons, and we agreed upon Thursday, September 22. 

The John J. McCarthy Golf Clubhouse
Dining Hall
 MOAA originally was called the Retired Officers Association. Founded in 1929 to provide advice and assistance to military officers throughout the United States, the association headquartered in Los Angeles. In 1944 the association moved to the Washington, D.C. area. At that time association membership was 2,600. The name was changed to the Military Officers Association of America on January 1, 2003. Membership today is open to active duty, retired, and former commissioned officers and warrant officers, and currently there are more than 380,000 members. Members enjoy numerous benefits and discounts, education and career events, MOAA publications, and an annual meeting.

With Lt. Col. Rhonda Richter, a native Texan who has served for 20 years.  We are standing beside the Alamo Chapter of MOAA flag.
Presiding Officer, Maj. James B. Cunningham

On Wednesday, September 21, I delivered a luncheon program to a DAR chapter in Corsicana. Afterward I drove to New Braunfels, where I spent the night only half an hour from my Thursday destination. As the name indicates, the Alamo Chapter of MOAA is based in San Antonio. The monthly meetings are held at the Fort Sam Houston Golf Clubhouse. 

Introduced by Mac McDonald

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Demonstrating a replica battle flag of San Jacinto
I felt that a program about Sam Houston’s military campaign in the spring of 1836, including the spectacular Texan victory at San Jacinto, would be of interest to an audience of officers. I also enjoyed speaking about Sam Houston at the base which bears his name. The program was well received, and afterward I was asked a number of insightful questions. It was a deep privilege to meet with men and women who dedicated their careers to military service.