Tuesday, September 11, 2012

El Paso

"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 (www.panola.edu) 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.

At Concordia Cemetery, the map of noted gravesites is decorated with
large photos of Wes Hardin (right) and John Selman.

Karon and I ended our trip to far West Texas with a day in El Paso. It had  been nearly 20 years since my last visit to El Paso's Concordia Cemetery, and I knew that improvements had been made to the gravesite of Concordia's most famous tenant, John Wesley Hardin. Just inside the north gate a map directs tourists to Hardin's nearby grave, as well as to the final resting place of other notables.

The grave of John Wesley Hardin is enclosed by a stone and metal fence,
complete with a state historical marker,
the initials "JWH," and the image of a brace of sixguns.
Hardin's grave now is protected by a fence which is decorated by his initials and fittingly, the representation of sixguns. The son of an East Texas Methodist preacher, Hardin was named after denominational founder John Wesley. But he was far less attracted to the Bible than to cap-and-ball revolvers. Incessant practice made him a crack shot and an expert handler of pistols. At 15 Wes Hardin killed his first man, and he gunned down a succession of officers who tried to arrest him. Hardin liked to drink and gamble, which caused a number of other altercations, and Wes always tried to be the first to open fire. He was imprisoned at Huntsville for 17 years, and after his release he gravitated to wide-open El Paso. Soon he clashed with another veteran gunfighter, John Selman, who sought out Hardin one night in the Acme Saloon. This time Selman opened fire first, and Wes Hardin died at the age of 42.

Several months later, in the spring of 1896, Selman was shot to death in El Paso by peace officer George Scarborough. Selman was interred at Concordia Cemetery, which is a major attraction for gunfighter buffs.

Security officer George Lopez cordially guides tourists to the gravesites of 
Hardin, Selman (shown here),
and other noted El Pasoans.

On past trips I visited the El Paso Museum of History in a single-story building that also served as a Visitor Information Center, located on the western edge of town. Four years ago the museum moved to a 44,000-square-foot facility in El Paso's downtown cultural district. Karon and I were shown every courtesy by staff members Susan Taylor, Rudy Chavez, and Director Jennifer Nielsen. There is much more room to present the 400-year history of El Paso, and to host the parade of school classes which are brought to this impressive institution.

Bill and Karon with Susan Taylor, Senior Education Coordinator
of El Paso's busy Museum of History.

Several blocks away we visited the Magoffin Home, a state historic site. Built in 1875 by a prominent merchant, the adobe Magoffin Home is beautifully preserved, with authentic furnishings and art, and a handsome central courtyard.

By that time we needed to proceed toward Arizona. But the El Paso Museum of History invited me to participate in a December event as State Historian, so in a few months it will be my pleasure to return to far West Texas.

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