Monday, April 24, 2017

Gunfight at the First Baptist Church

The First Baptist Church of Mount Enterprise holds an annual Men's Night.  Men and boys (and a few wives) prepare a pot luck supper, and afterward there is a program. Last year I was invited to present the program by the pastor, Rev. Joe Orr. Mount Enterprise is only 27 miles from my home in Carthage, and I was pleased to accept. I had driven past the church countless times through the years, and I arrived early so that Reverend Orr could show me the plant. The Sunday School rooms are adjacent to the Sanctuary, but the spacious Fellowship Hall is separate, located across a driveway to the rear (which would prove to be a factor in a 2017 program at FBC).
FBC Mount Enterprise

In 2016 I presented a program on Texas cowboys, which seemed appropriate for a male audience. Someone asked about my books on gunfighters and frontier feuds, and I responded that on occasion I presented programs on "Gunfighterology."

Rev. Joe Orr

Several weeks ago I was called by Rev. Joe Orr, who told me that the men of First Baptist had requested that I return for their 2017 evening social, and this time they wanted a "Gunfighterology" presentation. I asked Joe if he was certain he wanted me to bring Western guns and rigs to his church and talk about killers and shootouts. But we reasoned together that Fellowship Hall was a separate facility from the church, and we rationalized that it might not get us in too much divine trouble.

Chow line
Several of the men had been students of mine at Panola College as far back as the 1970s and 1980s. I had a great time reminiscing with them and meeting their sons. A long table had been set up for my props, and they enjoyed examining the heritage weaponry. The meal was excellent and the program seemed to meet expectations. A number of men bought signed copies of my book on Texas Gunslingers, including a few intended as gifts. Overall I had another fine evening with the men of FBC in Mount Enterprise.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Carthage Book Club

On a Friday afternoon in March I drove to the house of Jean Bunyard on Lake Murvaul, less than 20 miles from Carthage. The Carthage Book Club was holding its March meeting and wanted some sort of program pertaining to the Texas Revolution from the State Historian. I responded to their invitation by pointing out that Sam Houston was a key figure of the Texas Revolution, but instead of talking about the Runaway Scrape and the Battle of San Jacinto, I suggested that they might prefer a program on Sam's three wives, as well as other romantic interludes.

At the Bunyard lake house

They liked the idea of a Sam Houston soap opera. I enjoyed lunching with the ladies, most of whom were longtime friends. And they seemed to enjoy the program about Houston and his wives. His first marriage, while he was governor of Tennessee, proved to be a disaster. His bride, much younger than Governor Houston, soon left for home. Eliza Allen Houston was not ready for marriage, and rumor held that she was pushed into the union by her politically ambitious family. In any event, Houston responded to the public furor by resigning the governorship and returning to the Cherokee tribe with which he had lived for three years as a Tennessee teenager.

By now the Cherokee had been forced to Indian Territory (now the state of Oklahoma). Known to the tribe as the Raven, Houston was welcomed back and urged by the Cherokee and other tribes as an intermediary with Indian agents and with tribal delegations to Washington D.C. Houston opened a trading post near Fort Gibson in I.T., but it was operated primarily by his Cherokee wife, Diana Rogers Gentry Houston. When Houston decided to try his luck in Texas, he left the trading post to Diana. She died in 1838 and is buried in Oklahoma's only national military cemetery, at Fort Gibson.

After Houston became a national military hero following the spectacular victory at San Jacinto, he was overwhelmingly elected president of the new Republic of Texas. The Texas Constitution did not permit consecutive presidential terms, and while visiting Alabama in an effort to recruit colonists, he was introduced to lovely Margaret Lea. For both Sam and Margaret it was love at first sight. Like Sam, Margaret had lost her father while she was a teenager. Her father was a minister, and she was a devout Baptist. He returned to Texas and a year of courtship ensued, mostly through courtship. Houston wanted to bring her to Texas for their wedding, but Margaret's mother, a formidable and highly capable woman, insisted that he return to Alabama for a wedding in their home.

They were married - in the Lea home - in 1840. Sam was 47 and Margaret 21, and during their 23-year marriage she presented him with eight children, four sons and four daughters. Their last child, Temple Lea Houston (named after her father) was the first baby born in the new - now the venerable and rebuilt - Governor's Mansion in Austin. Sam was re-elected president, he served the State of Texas for 13 years as a distinguished but controversial member of the U.S. Senate, and he concluded his public career as the only man ever to be elected governor of two states. And Margaret became the only woman to be first lady of the Republic of Texas and of the Lone Star State. 

During their marriage Margaret created a warm home life, in a succession of family residences, for her restless husband. The preacher's daughter prevailed upon Sam to be baptized at the age of 64, to her relief and as a good example for their children. She abhorred his drinking habits and influenced him to cut back markedly, which probably extended his life. He died at 70 in 1863, surrounded by his entire family. Sadly, Margaret died during a yellow fever epidemic only a few years later, at the age of 48. Because of health laws she was buried beside her mother at Independence, the site of her death, instead of beside her illustrious husband in Huntsville. Sam's domestic life was almost as adventurous and interesting as his public career.

Texas Tea Room and Panola County Heritage Museum

A few weeks later I received another invitation from the Carthage Book Club (both invitations were delivered to me by Brenda Giles, a former student of mine who had a distinguished teaching career in Carthage). The Book Club, in conjunction with the Panola College History Club, sponsored an appearance at Panola College of Alison Moore and Phil Lancaster, who were scheduled to present their program "Riders of the Orphan Train" on Thursday, April 6. Alison and Phil have researched the Orphan Train Movement for 20 years. The Orphan Train Movement was begun by a New England minister and social reformer named Charles Loring Brace. While studying theology in New York City, he was horrified that as many as 10,000 homeless orphans and abandoned children were living on the city streets. During the period from 1854 to 1929, the Children's Aid Society, organized by Reverend Brace, transported more than 250,000 homeless children from New York and other eastern cities to western states, such as Texas. The children were met at western train stations by adults who brought them to their family homes. The final orphan delivery occurred at the depot in Sulphur Springs, Texas.

In the Texas Tea Room


With Alison and Phil

Carthage Book Club members wanted the State Historian in the audience to meet the authors and to view their PowerPoint presentation of this little-known historical chapter. Unfortunately I had an out-of-town appointment on April 6. But Alison and Phil were scheduled to arrive in Carthage on Wednesday afternoon, April 5, and several ladies from the Book Club were hosting them for a six-o'clock supper at the Texas Tea Room. I was invited to join the supper party and help greet Alison and Phil, and I was delighted at the opportunity. I did a little homework beforehand, and I was able to ask them pertinent questions. Of course, we are fellow writers and researchers, and that gave us a lot to talk about. I enjoyed sharing another meal with friends from the Carthage Book Club. And after returning to Carthage I learned that the program was a great success, with almost 200 students and townspeople in attendance.  

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

UT Tyler Longview University Center

During my years as Texas State Historian I've been asked to present an annual public address at the Longview University Center. Dr. Van Patterson, Executive Director of the LUC, was a colleague of mine at Panola College. Van has invited me to the Longview University Center for the past four years. Van provides excellent publicity, and the yearly State Historian evening has become a popular event at the LUC. Van placed flyers all over Longview, and he sent  PR pieces to area newspapers. He arranged a 30-minute interview for me with Mark McLain of KWRD Radio in Henderson, and I recorded a news cut that ran for several days over KGAS Radio in Carthage.

With Van Patterson

A nice crowd gathered at the LUC on Tuesday evening, March 21. The program we advertised was about Texas cowboys, longhorn cattle, trail drives, vast Texas ranches, and cattle towns of the Lone Star State. I use a lot of props when talking about this subject - branding irons, spurs, sombreros, felt hats, vests, bandanas, vintage photos blown up to poster size. Earlier that day, at two o'clock in the afternoon, I was at Center to present a program on the Alamo to the Shelby County Historical Society. Following that presentation I drove home 30 miles, changed to cowboy garb, loaded my cowboy props, and drove 35 miles to Longview. Van Patterson thoughtfully had a supper waiting, and after unloading Van and I ate together.

Next I went out to mingle with early arrivals. There were friends from Carthage, as well as Longview residents who come every year to the LUC lecture.

The cowboy is a Texas icon. I talked about the Spanish and Mexican origins of the cattle culture. In describing the ranching frontier I spoke about colorful ranchers - Richard King, Charles Goodnight, John Chisum, Shanghai Pierce - as well as range wars and the troubles between cattlemen and sheepherders. The cowboy became the world's number one folk hero, thanks to rodeos and Wild West shows, western movies and music. Bill Pickett, a young cowboy from Taylor, invented the bulldogging event and became the first African American performer inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame. Gene Autry from Tioga and Tex Ritter from Panola were two of the top three Singing Cowboys, and Dale Evans from Uvalde and Italy was married to the third (Roy Rogers from Ohio). Red River, starring John Wayne, was the greatest trail driving movie, while The Unforgiven, depicting the conflict between frontier cattlemen and horseback warriors, starred Burt Lancaster and Texas WWII hero Audie Murphy. Giant long was known as the "National Movie of Texas," until Texas author Larry McMurtry's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Lonesome Dove, co-starring Texan Tommy Lee Jones. I also spoke about Cowboy Churches - there are more than 400 in Texas - which feature riding arenas instead of fellowship halls.    

It was a fun hour for me, and afterward I had a busy time socializing and signing books.      

Monday, April 3, 2017

Jacksonville College

In 2013 I was a guest on the campus of Jacksonville College, providing two programs through the Nora Belle Manley Lecture Series. Recently I was invited back to the campus to present an address on Sam Houston at the "Awards Evening" of the Texas History Essay Contest. This contest was sponsored by the award-winning Barnwell Anderson Chapter of the Walter P. Webb Society of Jacksonville College.

I was invited to this event by Dr. Patricia Richey, Chair of the Social Sciences Department and Sponsor of the Webb Society chapter. A year ago it was my privilege to present the Educator of the Year Award to Dr. Richey on behalf of the East Texas Historical Association.

With Dr. Patricia Richey

The Awards Evening was held in the Mary S. Lewis Theater. In recent years a former Jacksonville ISD elementary school, located just east of the college campus, was acquired by Jacksonville College. Mary Lewis, a longtime faculty member and co-sponsor of the Webb Society chapter, raised funds to renovate the elementary auditorium. Among other improvements, Mary had the wooden grade-school seats removed and replaced by cushioned chairs. Fittingly the handsome auditorium was named after Mary Lewis, who has an office suite down the hall, as well as ample storage space for props and costumes of the Jacksonville College Drama Department.

With Mary S. Lewis


With Shelley Cleaver and Dr. Deborah Burkett, leading members of the Cherokee County Historical Commission

Awards Evening was scheduled to begin at seven o'clock, but I was asked to report to the Executive Dining Room at five. I was met by Patricia Richey and Mary Lewis, along with the college president, Dr. Mike Smith, and several faculty members and students. I enjoyed a fine catered dinner and the company of those around the long dining table.

My dinner companions in the Executive Dining Hall

Following dinner I hurried to the auditorium so that I could chat with audience members as they arrived:  college students, men and women of the community, and awardees and their families.

I was especially pleased to talk with David and Rena French of Bullard, who had attended my program two nights earlier at the Longview University Center. David grew up in Jacksonville, and I was delighted to see him and his lovely wife for the second time in three nights.

Dr. Richey presented awards to First- and Second-Place winners in three categories:  grades 3-5, grades 6-8, and grades 9-12. She next provided me a gracious introduction. This diverse crowd proved to be a most receptive audience, and after my presentation I signed a large number of books.

Holding the San Jacinto Battle flag

It was personally gratifying that the next program scheduled for the Mary S. Lewis Theater was my daughter, Dr. Shellie O'Neal of Navarro College. Only five days after my appearance Shellie would present her one-woman play, "This is My Story, This is My Song - An Evening with Fanny Crosby." Shellie has performed this play nearly 100 times, always giving a powerful performance. I was glad that I preceded her on campus - she's a tough act to follow.