Sunday, June 23, 2013


"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. 

One of my favorite Hill Country towns is Mason. More than four decades ago I carefully researched Fort Mason and crafted a scale model of the frontier outpost. The model still is displayed in the Mason County Museum, which is housed in the community's two-story rock school, built in 1887. I also brought my Traveling Texas History classes to Mason, principally to show them the superb 19th century architecture produced by German-Texan settlers.
Fort Mason was established in 1851 atop a rocky hill, and a community named Mason developed below the hill to the north. Fort Mason was a makeshift outpost until 1856, when it became regimental headquarters for the newly-organized Second Cavalry. Col. Albert Sidney Johnston brought six companies of the Second Cavalry to Fort Mason, while the other troops of the regiment were scattered at smaller outposts. Permanent construction at Fort Mason placed stone buildings around a square military parade ground. The lieutenant colonel of the Second Cavalry was Robert E. Lee, who later was promoted to colonel of the regiment. Colonels Johnston and Lee inhabited the commanding officer's quarters, which has been reconstructed on the original foundation.

Mason County Museum, housed in 1887 school
Patrols from Fort Mason saw considerable combat against Comanche war parties. But when the Civil War began the post was abandoned by Union troops. Fort Mason was regarrisoned after the war, but the army left for good in 1868. The deserted buildings provided construction materials for the growing town down the hill, including the school which now houses the county museum.

During the 1870s the county was wracked by the vicious Mason County War, also known as the Hoo-Doo War. The end of frontier violence brought steady but slow growth as a ranching center. Skilled German masons erected solid handsome churches, homes, and commercial buildings, many of which still stand as  tangible connections to the community's past. The town's large square features shops and restaurants, as well as the Odeon Theater, the oldest continuously-operating movie house in Texas. On the south side of the square is the quaint 1882 jail. The picturesque courthouse was built in 1909.

The Mason County Historical Society hosts an annual symposium on some aspect of frontier history. Three years ago, for example, I was privileged to be one of the speakers at a symposium on early Texas Rangers. Noted author Fred Gipson is from Mason, and the Mason County M. Beven Eckert Memorial Library has a fine exhibition on Gipson and his classic novels, Old Yeller and Savage Sam. An Old Yeller statue stands outside the library. There is a new museum on the square, as well as numerous historical markers around town. Mason offers much to be savored by Texas history buffs.
"Old Yeller" statue in front of library

For more information :
The 1909 courthouse is undergoing renovation
through the Texas Historical Commission.

1882 jail

Early stage stop and hotel

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