Wednesday, February 20, 2013

West Texas Cattle Kingdom

"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 February 11, Arcadia Publishing Co. of South Carolina released my latest book, West Texas Cattle Kingdom. Arcadia has more than 8,000 titles in print. Each book is 128 pages long, with one page devoted to Acknowledgements and a two-page Introduction, which serves as an outline or overview of the story. There are 200 or more photographs, with captions not to exceed 75 words. Total wordage may not exceed 18,000 words, counting the Introduction. The story in an Arcadia book is told through photos and captions -  it is fortunate that an image is worth 1,000 words! When I began buying Arcadia books, the price was $19.99; now it has increased to $21.99 for any title.

Most Arcadia books have been about cities, towns, or counties. My first Arcadia book was about Carthage, where I have lived and taught for more than 40 years. Carthage was published in 2009. It was a different kind of book for me to write, and I enjoyed the process and the results. Since I did not anticipate writing about another town, I assumed that Carthage would be my only Arcadia title. But soon I received a call from Luke Cunningham, editor of Carthage, informing me that Arcadia had an unexpected publication opening later in the year, and he inquired if I had any ideas for a title. For more than 30 years I had taught Texas History every semester at Panola College, and one of my favorite lectures was "Texas in World War II." Texas and Texans made extraordinary contributions to the war effort, both in combat and on the home front, and I thought that the subject was ideal for the Arcadia approach. The Arcadia sales department, accustomed to local promotion, asked that the topic be narrowed to East Texas in World War II. I agreed, defining East Texas to myself as the entire eastern one-third of the state, and permitting myself forays outside of even that vast region into Fredericksburg, for Admiral Chester Nimitz, and into Sweetwater, for Avenger Field, the only all-female training base in the United States. There was a pressing deadline to make the publication slot, but I knew what I wanted to write, and I immediately began field trips to collect the necessary photos. East Texas in World War II was published on time in 2010. 
A year or so later, in a casual conversation with acquisitions editor Kristie Kelly, she mentioned to me that she had long dreamed of producing a book about the range cattle industry in Texas, and would I be interested? Would I - wow! For decades, in books and magazine articles, I've written about cowboys, ranchers, trail drives, cattle towns, range wars, great ranches, and other elements of this iconic Texas story. The Arcadia treatment would allow me to highlight compelling and little-known aspects of this popular adventure.

In an Arcadia book, in order to write about a person or place or event, there must be a representative photo. I have a large collection of photos of cowboys, ranches, etc., but there were things I wanted to write about that required special images. My wife Karon and I drove in search of needed images. At the Frontier Times Museum in Bandera, for example, we found examples of artful cowboy lariat knots. On the State Capitol grounds a recently unveiled Tejano statue group offered photo ops of a mounted vaquero. In the Visitor Center at Fort Griffin, a can of condensed milk, invented by Texan Gail Borden, was on display. Cowboys loved "canned cow," and invented a ditty: 

"No tits to pull, 
No hay to pitch.
Just punch a hole 
In the son-of-a-bitch."  

We had a fine time roaming through West Texas on our image hunt, and putting the book together was a deep pleasure. I'm grateful for the opportunity to revisit a favorite subject, and I hope that readers will enjoy Arcadia's version of this colorful Texana heritage. 

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