Saturday, May 11, 2013

Final Exam Week

"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 over 40 books, almost half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine.

For decades at Panola College I spent Final Exam Week grading Blue Book essays, averaging grades, and attending commencement exercises. This past week, while my wife Karon spent Monday through Friday with these activities in the math department, I left Carthage early Monday morning. By mid-day I was in Van Alstyne, where I unloaded a saddle and miscellaneous cowboy paraphernalia at the elementary school. Librarian Becky Seevers turned over her room to the fourth grade teachers and students, and in costume I presented a program on "Texas Cowboys." Each year the entire fourth grade is bused to Austin, where they tour the State Capitol, the Bob Bullock Museum, the Texas State Cemetery, and other historic sites. One day after my visit, the fourth graders were bused to the famous Mesquite Rodeo. The teacher who has long spearheaded these trips is Rajonia Carnley, and as State Historian it was my privilege to present her a Certificate of Achievement for outstanding service and  commitment to Texas History Education. The event was covered by the Van Alstyne Leader, and the youngsters were primed for their rodeo visit.
Presenting the certificate to Rajonia Carnley

The museum's schoolroom
is enhanced by a school-
marm painted by
Wynell Terry
I left Van Alstyne headed to West Texas. Along the way - and on the return journey to Carthage on Wednesday - I stopped at a variety of historical sites and gathered material for future blog topics. On Tuesday evening I was in Roby, seat of Fisher County, to deliver a program on the Johnson-Sims Feud, which was the last blood feud in Texas. This 1916-18 conflict occurred in the area and local citizens were involved. Years ago I was informed about this feud by Bob Terry, a native of Roby and a highly knowledgeable local historian. His ancestors, lawmen Nath and Frank Terry and Judge Cullen Higgins, were involved in the feud, and Bob was instrumental in my research efforts. I first wrote about these events in my 1998 biography of Pink Higgins, then in The Johnson-Sims Feud, published by the University of North Texas Press in 2011. I came to Roby at Bob's invitation, and the program was scheduled for the Fisher County Museum on the square. Roby is a small town, but the museum offers a rich collection of the community's pioneer past. At the museum I enjoyed renewing old acquaintances and meeting new friends. A large audience gathered to hear my account of the feud, and they purchased a great many books for personal inscriptions.
The museum crowd before the program; Bob Terry
is at center in hat and dark glasses,

I arrived back in Carthage on Wednesday afternoon, and the following evening, I drove to Longview to deliver a program to the History Club of East Texas. The members are dues-paying history buffs who attend monthly gatherings throughout the school year with the sole purpose of enjoying a program on a history topic. I am a longtime member, and I am asked to deliver the leadoff program each year in September. This spring a speaker was unable to make the May meeting, so it was my pleasure to provide another program for my fellow history enthusiasts.
Presenting to the History Club of
East Texas

The next day, Friday, my wife and I welcomed our daughter, Dr. Berri O'Neal Gormley, and her family to Carthage. Berri was a 1995 graduate of Panola College, where for two years she served as the school mascot, Fillis the Fillie; performed in the drama and music departments; was an officer of the student government and of Phi Theta Kappa; and generally had a rousing good time. Today she is the Director of the Universities Center of Dallas and the immediate past president of TACRAO (Texas Association for Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers). Berri was invited to deliver the commencement address at her community college alma mater. Commencement exercises were held in the main gym. There was a packed house, with an overflow crowd that watched the ceremonies on closed-circuit TV from the next-door auditorium. Berri was excited and proud - and so was her father.
The Panola College speaker's podium was at
the far end of this aisle.

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