Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Texas Mountain Trail Writers

"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 Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, April 12-14, I was one of the presenters at the 22nd annual retreat of the Texas Mountain Trail Writers. The 2013 retreat was held in Fort Davis, “Where Wild Things Write.” I was initially contacted by the president of the organization, Reba Cross Seals. A retired teacher, Reba is an avid writer, and she is highly organized. Other members also are former teachers who played important roles in setting up the event. Reba’s key assistants were the two “Retreat Jefes” and the seven members of the “Retreat Posse.” For weeks before the event, I was frequently contacted by Reba or one of her capable assistants. Everyone was enthusiastic and helpful, and every detail was carefully planned.

I arrived at Fort Davis early enough to spend a couple of hours at the fort, which I first visited as a college student in 1963. A decade later I began bringing students from Panola College to the Davis Mountains and Big Bend as part of my Traveling Texas History Course, and the East Texans always enjoyed the old fort and two nights of camping in this magnificent country.
Officers' Row

Post Hospital

1910 Courthouse
1904 Presbyterian Church
Our retreat headquarters was the Mountain Tails Lodge, located just east of Fort Davis on a hill overlooking the town. I was surprised and elated to learn that the owner is Scott Turner, a friend from the Wild West History Association. Scott and his lovely wife Jenny have operated the lodge for less than a year, along with a river rafting service along the Rio Grande through the towering canyons of Big Bend. Scott and Jenny were gracious hosts,  providing excellent meals and looking constantly to our needs.

Checking in on Friday afternoon, I soon drove through the mountains to Alpine, where an opening reception was held at the Front Street Book Store. It was a delightful evening, with delicious refreshments and warm company. More than 40 men and women attended the retreat. Many were from Alpine or Fort Davis, but some came in from other parts of the state, and others came from Colorado, New Mexico, and California. There were fiction writers, poets, and non-fiction writers.
Bookstore reception
At mid-morning on Saturday, Juan Perez was the opening speaker, and he would conduct another session during the afternoon. Tall and handsome and charming, Juan is a military veteran and a history teacher. He writes poetry, often with a horror twist, and two years ago he was voted Poet Laureate of the San Antonio Poets’ Association. Nina Amir, a non-fiction writer and editor from San Jose, California, also presented a session on Saturday, and another on Sunday morning. On Saturday morning I spoke about “An Author’s 3 R’s: Reading’, `Riting, and Research,” emphasizing nuts and bolts of writing techniques. On Saturday evening I was the after-dinner speaker: “An Author’s Journey Through Texas History.” Audience members were responsive to all of the sessions, and I enjoyed numerous lively conversations with attendees seeking tips on how to write and how to publish those writings. I had the pleasure of autographing a number of books, and of making many new friends.
Reba Cross Seals opening the first session

Juan Perez
On the drive back I stopped to stretch my legs at historic Presidio de San Saba, just west of Menard. My most recent visit was last August, as I described in my second blog. But I wanted to see again the recent improvements, and I had the grand fortune to be welcomed by Jim Goodall, the new supervisor of the park. Jim enthusiastically pointed out to me the letters “BOWI” carved into a stone at the main entrance. Jim Bowie visited this site in 1831 in his search for a lost Spanish silver mine, and I had walked through the gateway many times without noticing his carved name. Jim Goodall took me to the San Saba River, just beyond the remains of the south wall. Spanish soldados reportedly dug a tunnel from the wall to the river, and when they departed buried a cannon in the tunnel. Jim showed me his recent discovery of the likely exit of the tunnel along the riverbank, and told me of the arrangements he is making to explore the site properly. It is an enormously exciting prospect!
Nina Amir
Jim Goodall
Tunnel opening

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