Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Adventure with John Chisum

A couple of months ago I was contacted by Dana Joseph, editorial director of Cowboys & Indians magazine.  He had learned that I had two books nearing publication that could be of interest to readers of Cowboys & Indians: a biography, John Chisum, Frontier Cattle King (scheduled for release by Eakin Press in February 2018), and Frontier Forts of Texas (Arcadia Publications, with a release date of the first week in March 2018). Dana wanted to include an interview with me in Cowboys & Indians about those two books and my duties and Texas State Historian. I was thrilled, of course, at the opportunity.
John Wayne played the title role in the most famous movie about Chisum.

Dana assigned Chuck Thompson, a noted travel writer and humorist who lives in Oregon, to interview me by telephone. It was a privilege to have an extended conversation with such a successful author. The interview took place on the last day of January. Chuck had done a lot of homework, and early in our interview I realized I was in gifted hands. I know that Chuck is going to make me and my books look good, and I can't wait to read his interview in the next issue of Cowboys & Indians.
Chuck Thompson

The Cowboys & Indians interview was the latest of my adventures with cattle king John Chisum. I first researched and wrote about Chisum for my book, Historic Ranches of the Old West (Eakin Press, 1997). I visited the site of his famous ranch headquarters near Roswell, as well as his home town of Paris, where he is buried. I realized that I had only scratched the surface of this famed rancher of the Old West.
John Chisum

The leading researcher of Chisum was Harwood Hinton, who investigated the cattle king for half a century. Dr. Hinton wrote a masterful article about Chisum, which I found highly beneficial. When I was program chair of a spring meeting of the East Texas Historical Association in Paris, I invited Dr. Hinton to present our keynote on Chisum. His presentation was superb, but he never wrote a full-length biography.

After Dr. Hinton passed away in 2016, his Chisum papers were donated to the Southwest Collection at Texas Tech University. I contacted Tai Kreidler at the Southwest Collection, and he told me that the Hinton papers were not yet catalogued, but that Monte Monroe was in charge of the project. Monte graciously invited me to work with the Hinton materials. I flew to Lubbock, and was met at the airport by Monte and Tai, and at the Southwest Collection reading room Monte had set out the 18 boxes of papers, trial documents, old newspaper clippings, articles, books, and other materials collected by Hinton. I worked all day, and the staff produced a great many copies for me. From time to time during the day Monte brought history students over to meet the Texas State Historian, and I was delighted to interact with these bright young men and women. At the end of the day Monte and Paul Carlson and their wives took me to dinner, before Monte drove me back to the airport. It was a wonderful day with Monte and Tai and Paul - and John Chisum.

Chisum Gravestone in Paris

Prior to working at the Southwest Collection, I had revisited the Aikin Regional Archives and gravesite in Paris. I went to the headquarters site of Chisum's first ranch headquarters in Denton County, and to Trickham in Coleman County, where he located his second ranch. At the Haley Memorial Library in Midland I was introduced to a treasure trove of Chisum material. In New Mexico I examined collections in Santa Fe and Roswell, and I enjoyed a second visit to the famous South Spring ranch headquarters site south of Roswell. I also made a research trip to Eureka Springs, where Chisum died.
With Billy Huckaby, who published my book, Sam Houston, A Study in Leadership, in 2016, and who currently is producing John Chisum, Frontier Cattle King

I finished the book manuscript in December, and Billy Huckaby, owner/director of the Wild Horse Media Group, is producing the biography under the Eakin Press banner. My experiences with Chisum have been a grand adventure, and I hope I've done justice to the great cattleman who launched his remarkable career in Texas.   

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