Friday, December 14, 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.

On Tuesday, December 11, my most recent book was released. Lampasas, 1855-1895: Biography of a Frontier Texas Town is the third in a series of studies of the urban frontier. I've long been drawn to the subject of the urban frontier, to the activities of urban pioneers, and in 1995 I enjoyed writing a coffee table book on Western ghost towns for Publications International of Chicago. After reading the brilliant study by Dr. Donald L. Miller, City of the Century, The Epic of Chicago and the making of America, I determined to apply his approach to the formative period of a frontier community. 

In 2006 Eakin Press published Cheyenne, 1867-1903: A Biography of the "Magic City" of the Plains, a study of the formative period of this important Western town. Almost immediately I had the opportunity to explore the formative years of Caldwell, Kansas, the last railhead of the Chisholm Trail. Border Queen Caldwell: Toughest Town on the Chisholm Trail was published in 2008. Eakin Press urged me to write a third book on a frontier town, to complete a trilogy. I knew that for a third book I wanted to examine the frontier past of a Texas town, and soon I realized that the subject should be Lampasas.

Lampasas is my mother's home town, and I have three generations of family roots there. My first three years as a teacher were spent in Lampasas, as an 8th-grade Language Arts  instructor and athletics coach. I've been in and out of Lampasas all of my life, visiting relatives and friends. I've written about Lampasas in other books, including a biography of rancher-gunfighter-trail driver Pink Higgins titled The Bloody Legacy of Pink Higgins: A Half Century of Violence in Texas.

The 19th century experience of Lampasas was rich and colorful. For nearly three decades, the settlers of Lampasas were challenged by frontier hardships and dangers. The isolated Hill Country community was founded in the 1850s amid bubbling mineral springs. During the summer “watering seasons,” hundreds of Texans made their way through the wilderness to “take the waters” at Lampasas Springs. Most of these summer visitors camped for weeks in shady groves beside the springs - enjoying such simple recreations as visiting, singing, communal meals, and preaching services - while children swam and played in large gangs. Lampasas merchants learned to rely upon an annual upsurge in business, as the population doubled and sometimes tripled each summer.

During the town’s formative decades, Lampasans endured Comanche raids, murderous saloon shootouts, a vicious blood feud, stock theft, lynchings, stagecoach robberies, and conflict between cattlemen and sheepherders. Trail drives paused at Lampasas Springs, and area drovers herded cattle up the famous trails as the cowboy culture permeated Lampasas. Trail boss Pink Higgins became a gunfighter of the front rank, the Horrell brothers were notorious cattle rustlers, and the Horrells triggered a saloon fight unique in the annals of frontier violence.

Crowd gathers at the historic
Hostess House.
The long frontier era ended when railroad tracks reached Lampasas in 1882. The magnificent Park Hotel was built as the centerpiece of a 200-acre park, which for a few years became the leading resort of Texas. Statewide political and denominational conventions were held at the “Saratoga of the South.” The Texas Bankers Association organized at the Park Hotel, and the Daughters of the Republic of Texas adopted their name during a Lampasas meeting. The Texas State Guard, forerunner of the National Guard, held its first two statewide encampments on the spacious grounds of the Park Hotel. The urban pioneers of frontier Lampasas enjoyed a Victorian heyday through the glamour of the Saratoga of the South. 

Mayor Grayson presents certificate
and key to the city to Bill.
The Lampasas chapter of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (the DRT adopted its name during an 1891 organizational meeting in Lampasas) arranged and advertised the introductory event for the new book.  A Tuesday evening meeting was held in the Hostess House, an historic building owned and maintained by the DRT at Hancock Springs, the largest of the seven Lampasas mineral springs. A large crowd gathered, but before I was introduced to deliver my program, DRT chapter president Carol Northington Wright summoned Mayor Jerry Grayson to the speaker's stand. Mayor Grayson presented me with a certificate of appreciation - and a key to the city of Lampasas. Then County Judge Wayne Boultinghouse, on behalf of the Commissioners' Court, read a proclamation declaring December 11 Bill O'Neal Day in Lampasas. These honors filled me with heartfelt gratitude, and I wished that my late mother, Jessie Standard O'Neal, could have witnessed the awards. 

Judge Boultinghouse proclaims
"Bill O'Neal Day"
Following my program about frontier Lampasas, everyone was invited to share refreshments, visit, and purchase copies of the new book. I announced that for each copy sold, I would donate $5 to the DRT chapter.As the line formed, two DRT ladies, Diane Davis and my sister, Judy O'Neal Smith, arranged themselves to help with sales. With their efficient assistance, I signed books non-stop for nearly two hours. Many people bought multiple copies as Christmas gifts, and I had a delightful time renewing old acquaintances.  

Carol N. Wright and Bill at the
Keystone Square Museum

At the signing table Bill
was assisted by Diane
Davis and Judy Smith
To accommodate those who could not come on Tuesday night, the Keystone Square Museum was opened for another signing the next morning, from nine until noon. After the enthusiastic turnout of Tuesday evening, we thought that Wednesday morning would be slow. But again we were visited by a large crowd.  The response to the new book was most gratifying, and I'm still glowing because of the warm and hospitable reception of the State Historian. 

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