Wednesday, August 9, 2017

A Weekend of Museums and the Texas Rangers Heritage Center

Several months ago I was invited by Dr. Jody Ginn, Board Member and Historical Consultant of the Former Texas Rangers Association, to present a program at a day-long conference on Texas Rangers on Saturday, August 5. The conference was to be held at the new Texas Rangers Heritage Center, a work in progress on the eastern outskirts of Fredericksburg. I was delighted to add the presence of the State Historian to a conference on the iconic Texas Rangers.

On my way to Fredericksburg, I spent Thursday night in Lampasas, visiting with my sister, Judy O'Neal Smith, and other relatives in the area. Judy is an active member of the local DRT chapter and of the Lampasas County Museum Board. I've visited the museum on numerous occasions - Lampasas was the home town of our mother and grandparents - and there are many historical treasures on display there. But the museum has been closed for the past several months, undergoing renovations by museum professionals. When Judy and I entered the recently re-opened museum, which is housed in a venerable commercial building in downtown Lampasas, I was astonished at the transformation. Always worth seeing, the Lampasas County Museum now is markedly improved and is a treat for history buffs and other visitors.
Lampasas County Museum

Museum Gift Shop


With my sister, Judy O'Neal Smith
Departing Lampasas for Fredericksburg, I reached Llano at mid-day. I stopped to tour the superb courthouse, built in 1892. Indeed, on the Traveling Texas History Courses I conducted for 20 years out of Panola College, I always toured my students through Llano, so that they could see the courthouse, the impressive old jail, and other excellent examples of historic architecture. As I looked around the courthouse, I examined the historic photographs displayed along the walls of the main floor. A security guard, who turned out to be a native of Llano, cordially inquired about my visit. When I told him I was the Texas State Historian, he immediately marched me into the office of the County Judge, Mary S. Cunningham, introducing me as a visiting state official.
JoAnn McDougall, Director of the Llano County Museum
Pioneer cabin on the museum grounds
Historic Llano jail

The Llano County Courthouse boasts a fine collection of historic photos

Encouraged by my reception, I next drove to the Llano County Museum, which I had never before visited. I introduced myself to Museum Director JoAnn McDougall, who proudly showed me various highlights of the displays. I asked questions about local history, and JoAnn responded with enthusiasm and a great deal of information. Llano is fortunate to have such a charming and knowledgeable native daughter in charge of the community's historic repository.
After arriving in Fredericksburg later on Friday afternoon, I paid a quick visit to a fine local museum, Fort Martin Scott, which is the only one of the original line of Texas frontier forts which still stands. Established in 1848, the fort is well-maintained and stands just west of the Texas Rangers Heritage Center.  

Entrance to Fort Martin Scott
Company Barracks
Officers' Quarters
Guard House
 On Saturday morning, when I drove into the spacious parking lot of the new Texas Rangers Heritage Center, a splendid Ranger group statue immediately caught my eye. Nearby, Ranger re-enactors from every historic period had erected an encampment, complete with displays from a 19th-century cannon to a Thompson machine gun (the famous "tommy gun" of the Bonnie and Clyde era).
Texas Rangers Heritage Center Pavilion

Other impressive weapon collections were displayed beneath the handsome pavilion where the conference took place. More than 120 attendees included retired Rangers, Ranger descendants, and current Texas Rangers, and it was a privilege for me to meet these men and women.

Fellow presenters Donaly Brice and Chuck Parsons

Jody Ginn introduced the first of six speakers, Donaly Brice, retired state archivist and author of The Great Comanche Raid. Each speaker was allowed 40 minutes, and Donaly spoke with great authority on the dramatic 1840 event. I was up next, presenting a program on "Texas Rangers and the Evolution of the Revolving Pistol." I focused on the period from 1844 through 1875, when Rangers were defenders of the Texas frontier. During this era Texas Rangers served as horseback warriors against Comanche and Kiowa raiders, as well as against Mexican bandidos along the Rio Grande border. Not until the frontier was secured did the Texas Rangers become a law enforcement body. I used a number of replica pistols and gun rigs to illustrate this program. The audience was ideal for my topic, and I greatly appreciated the response during and after my presentation.

Celebrated Texas Ranger Ray Martinez and Joe Davis,
President of the Former Texas Rangers Foundation
Ranger Re-enactors
With Dr. Jody Ginn
I was followed by Dr. Richard McCaslin with a program on famed Ranger leader John S. "Rip" Ford. After a delicious catered lunch of Bar B Q, programs were presented by Chuck Parsons on Ranger Captain John Hughes, by Dr. Harold Weiss on Captain Bill McDonald, and by Dr. James Kearney on the Stanford-Townsend Feud. A panel concluded the conference.  

Speaking with Ranger historian Harold Weiss

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