Sunday, August 26, 2012


"Lone Star Historian" is a blog about the travels and activities of the State Historian of Texas. Bill O'Neal was appointed to a two-year term by Gov. Rick Perry on August 22, 2012, at an impressive ceremony in the State Capitol. Bill is headquartered at Panola College ( in Carthage, where he has taught since 1970. For more than 20 years Bill conducted the state's first Traveling Texas History class, a three-hour credit course which featured a 2,100-mile itinerary. In 2000 he was awarded a Piper Professorship, and in 2012 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wild West Historical Association. Bill has published almost 40 books, half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine.

A few months ago I was contacted by Larry McNeill, an Austin attorney and a past president of the Texas State Historical Association. A major goal of Larry's TSHA presidency was the creation of the position of State Historian of Texas. After all, there is a state climatologist, a state photographer, a poet laureate -- certainly there should be a state historian. In 2005 Larry succeeded in having a statute adopted which established the position.

Dr. Frank de la Teja of Texas State University in San Marcos was selected as the first State Historian of Texas. He was succeeded by Dr. Light Cummins of Austin College in Sherman. Both professors are distinguished historians who established a high standard for the office.

Larry McNeill served as chairman of the selection committee, and when he contacted me about being a nominee, I expressed serious reservations that my qualifications were far short of those of the first two state historians. Larry told me that I was recommended by a longtime friend, Dr. JoAnne Stiles, retired professor of history at Lamar University and a member of the selection committee. During a two-hour interview at my home, Larry calmed some of my doubts, and I began the application process.

Early in this process I visited Dr. Gregory Powell, president of Panola College. A year earlier I had ended a lengthy career as a faculty member at Panola, but Dr. Powell enthusiastically insisted that I accept an office and an institutional affiliation with the college, should  I be selected. Since the position of state historian was established when the State of Texas was undergoing financial cutbacks, the office is unfunded, even though a great deal of travel is expected. Dr. Powell therefore offered travel funding from the Murphy-Payne Foundation, generously established by Foster and Mary Payne Murphy to finance a lecture series and other historical activities at Panola College.

In July I was surprised -- and immensely honored -- to learn that my application had been accepted. There are approximately 3,000 state appointees to boards and miscellaneous other positions. Many of these appointees sign the oath of office in front of a notary public, then mail the papers to the Texas Secretary of State. But the statute creating the State Historian of Texas required that each appointee should take the oath at the governor's office, hopefully with the governor present. Through the assistance of the Governor's Appointments Office, a date and time were arranged when Governor Perry could administer the oath.

At 11:30 on Wednesday morning, August 22, a large gathering of family and friends entered the Governor's Public Reception Room adjacent to his office on the second floor of the State Capitol. In addition to my family members, my lifelong mentor and friend, Dr. Joe Parks, was there. Dr. Greg Powell came from Carthage. Fittingly, Larry McNeill was present, and so was Kent Calder, Executive Director of the Texas State Historical Association, Steve Cure, Director of Educational Services of the TSHA, and Mark Wolfe, Executive Director of the Texas Historical Commission.

We were told that Governor Perry could only be with us for a few minutes, but we enjoyed his company for well over half an hour. He spoke engagingly with everyone there, including my small grandchildren, and he called us each by name throughout the event. My wife Karon is a graduate of Texas A&M, and Governor Perry talked with her about their alma mater. I presented him with inscribed copies of two of my books which involved him or his interests, and he dispatched an aide to bring me a copy of letters from a World War II Aggie officer who was killed only days before the surrender of Germany.

Governor Perry showed us a Bible used for these ceremonies, and indicated to us the signatures of many notables who had used this book. Karon held the Bible and I placed my left hand on it, while Governor Perry administered the oath of office. Then he signed the oath document, and so did I. He presented me the pen, and at his invitation I also signed the Bible.

Governor Perry genially posed for photos with each group present before finally departing for his office. As we were ushered out of the reception room, my family and friends talked excitedly about what a warm occasion it had been.

Bill, Governor Perry, Dr. Greg Powell

Steve Cure, Kent Calder, Bill, Governor Perry, Mark Wolfe, Larry McNeill

So now I have a dream job: State Historian of Texas. Texas has the richest and most colorful history of any state in the Union. I fell in love with Texas history as a boy. As an adult I've been privileged to teach Texas history on the college level for decades. Half of the books I've written have been on a variety of Texas history subjects. I've presented programs on Texas history to groups all over the state. For the next two years it will be a deep privilege -- and an even greater pleasure -- to serve as statewide ambassador of Texas history.

No comments:

Post a Comment