~ West Texas Historical Association ~

WTHA Activities in the News- 2000-2004

Historical Texas justice discussed at association meeting
(By Loretta Fulton, Abilene Reporter-News, April 3, 2004)

Frontier preacher Sumner Bacon had a way with words, but unfortunately they were a little salty for the pulpit. Bacon picked up his colorful language while serving in the United States Army and didnt see any reason to keep it under wraps once he became a Presbyterian minister, according to a speaker at Fridays opening session of the 81st annual meeting of the West Texas Historical Association at Hardin-Simmons University.

Born in Massachusetts in 1780, Bacon made his way south and tried to become a minister with the Cumberland Presbytery in Arkansas. When his superiors insisted he spend two years in college taking off the rough edges, Bacon balked.

Instead, in 1829 he headed west to Texas where he figured folks weren't so persnickety about language. Surely they would let him preach there, he reasoned.

But, according to Barbara Barton in her opening talk Friday, Bacon quickly learned he wasn't any more welcomed in Texas than he had been elsewhere, although for perhaps a different reason.

It wasn't the spicy language that caused offense it was the preaching. An angry mob Bacon encountered in East Texas knocked the preacher off his horse, and gave him a friendly warning.

"We're just going to kill you," they said. "We dont need any preachers in this area."

Barton, an amateur historian who lives in Tom Green County, related that tale and others during a session titled "Religion, Politics and Colt .45 Justice." Sessions on serious and not-so-serious historical topics are being held through today.

Bill Neal of Seymour, who is district attorney for the 50th Judicial District, had a few tales of his own. Neal published several books about early day trials in Texas, including some humorous anecdotes. One involved a Taylor County attorney of the late 19th century named J. F. Cunningham. According to Neal, Cunningham was representing a cattle thief, and the outcome of the trial didnt look promising.

But the wily attorney hit upon an idea. He would hammer home the concept of "reasonable doubt" to the point that the jury couldnt possibly convict his client. He was so persuasive, the man was found not guilty, although the evidence said otherwise.

After the trial, Cunningham asked his client if he really did steal those cows. Apparently, Cunninghams strategy had worked as well on his client as the jurors.

"Well, you know," the man said. "I kind of thought I had. But I heard what you said, and now I sure got doubts about it!"

The West Texas Historical Association was founded on the Hardin-Simmons campus in 1924 by the late Dr. Rupert N. Richardson, a noted historian and former HSU president. The association moved its headquarters to Texas Tech University in 1999.

Abilene's finest acclaim Frontier Texas! as brilliant museum
-Excerpt from Miz Cheevus's article in the Abilene Reporter-News, April 9, 2004. The rest of the article can be read here.

Last weekend Betty Lou Miller Giddens of Fort Worth came home to a seminar sponsored by the West Texas Historical Association at HSU. She particularly came to hear Bill O’Neal, a grass-roots and professional historian par excellence, discuss the assassination of Judge Cullen T. Higgins of Scurry County, a story of retribution as depicted in his book, "The Bloody Legacy of Pink Higgins," (who was one of Betty Lou’s great-grandfathers). Two of her "gunfighter" cousins – Janice Murphy Tiner of Abilene and Bob Terry of Roby also were present at the event.

West Texas Historical Association to Meet in San Angelo April 5-6
(Angleo State University press release, March 20, 2002)

The West Texas Historical Association will hold its annual membership meeting Friday and Saturday, April 5-6, at Angelo State University with a program devoted to the region's history and a banquet speech by Texas author and raconteur Mike Cox, a former San Angelo Standard-Times reporter.

The program will begin at 1 p.m. Friday afternoon with sessions concluding at 5 p.m. in the Houston Harte University Center on the ASU campus. A 6 p.m. reception and 7 p.m. banquet will follow at Fort Concho where Cox will speak on "Scraping the Layers off the Battle of the Paint Rock Story."

Panel sessions will resume Saturday at 9 a.m. and end at 11:45 a.m. before the concluding luncheon at noon. All panels will be held in the Nasworthy Suites and the Tucker Center adjacent to the Dr. Ralph R. Chase West Texas Collection on the second floor of the University Center. The concluding luncheon will be in the University Center's C.J. Davidson Conference Center.

Corporate sponsors of the WTHA meeting are Wells Fargo Bank of San Angelo, the San Angelo Standard-Times and Shannon Health System. ASU sponsors include the Office of the President, Office of Academic Affairs, Porter Henderson Library, West Texas Collection, College of Liberal and Fine Arts, Graduate School, Department of English, Department of History and News and Information Office.

The meeting is open to the public. Registration fees are $15 to attend the panel sessions, $20 for the Friday reception and banquet and $7 for the Saturday luncheon. Reservations are being handled through WTHA's offices in Lubbock at (806) 742-9076, ext. 248, and are required for the luncheon and banquet. Persons interested in attending just the panel sessions can register at the door.

Panels of particular local interest Friday will include "The San Angelo Polio Epidemic of 1949" and "Stagecoaching in West Texas," both at 1 p.m., and "Ranch People and Military Officers," including a presentation on the Ira G. Yates family's legacy in preserving the Texas Longhorn, at 3:45 p.m. Friday. Saturday sessions of special area interest will include a panel on "Lonely Outposts: Gentlemen Ranchers and Frontier Soldiers" with talks on area pioneer rancher William 'Billy' Anson and on the final years of Fort Chadbourne at 9 a.m. and a panel on "Elmer Kelton's Fiction" at 10:30 a.m.

West Texas Historical Association honors Rathjen
(By Mary Kate Tripp, Editor's Notes, Amarillo Globe News, April 9, 2000)

It is the awards season, and friends, ex-students, and area history buffs can take pride in recognition of Dr. Fred Rathjen of Canyon, honored last week by the West Texas Historical Association.

Dr. Rathjen is author of "The Texas Panhandle Frontier," a revised edition of which was named winner of the Rupert N. Richardson Award. Presentation was made at the recent annual meeting of the association in Midland.

Rathjen's book, first published in 1973, has long been recognized as a ground-breaking exploration of its subject. The revised edition was published by Texas Tech University Press as one of the most successful in its Double Mountain Series of regional histories. Among other books in the series are John Miller Morris's study of the Llano Estacado and Paul Carlson's biography of William Henry Bush, Chicago merchant who contributed largely to the business and civic development of the Amarillo area.

Rathjen, who taught for 34 years in the history department at West Texas A&M University before his retirement as head of the department, is editor of the Panhandle-Plains Historical Review. He is a former president of both the West Texas and Panhandle-Plains Historical Societies.

The award honors the memory of Dr. Rupert N. Richardson, longtime member of the history faculty at Hardin-Simmons University of Abilene and a founder of the West Texas Historical Association.

Among Richardson's books are a Texas history text still in use in the public schools and "The Comanche Barrier," a history of the major factor working against settlement of the Texas South Plains.

 WTHA Activities in the News- 1997-1999

Historical Society sets 76th annual meeting
(Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, March 26, 1999)

The West Texas Historical Society will hold its 76th annual meeting today and Saturday at the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library at Texas Tech.

The WTHS board of directors is scheduled to meet at 11:30 a.m. today at the University Center, and the first history sessions are planned from 2 p.m. to 3:15 p.m. in the Formby Room and Room 111 of the Southwest Collection.

Topics today include "Doctors, Trees, and Historical Markers;" "Indians and Buffalo Hunters;" "Development of Lubbock and West Texas;" and "Brass Bands and Cowboy Songs."

Registration fee, which may be paid at the door, is $15.

Paul H. Carlson, Tech history professor, serves as interim executive director of the association.

Today's program will conclude with a president's reception at 6:15 p.m. at the Lubbock Women's Club, 2020 Broadway, followed by a banquet at 7 p.m. President of the organization is Harwood Hinton of Austin.

Entertainment is by Lanny Fiel and his Ranch Dance Fiddle Band.

Don Walker, associate professor of history at Tech, is speaker for the banquet.

Saturday's session topics, which begin at 8:45 a.m. at the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library, include "The Red River Ran Thru It;" "A River and a Ranch;" "Politics, War and Education;" and "Water and War."

A President's Luncheon and business meeting will be held at 11:45 a.m. at the Ranching Heritage Center. Hinton will speak to the group on the topic, "Scholarly Writing on the Texas Range Cattle Industry."

Darlene Bellinghausen of Knox City, president elect, will preside.

Historians spin tales of old West Texas pioneers
(By Ray Westbrook, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, March 27, 1999)

The 76th annual meeting of the West Texas Historical Association brought 120 people to Lubbock for a two-day program that began Friday at the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library at Texas Tech.

Paul H. Carlson, Tech history professor and the association's interim executive director, said the group gathers to talk about the history and heritage of West Texas.

"West Texas is a big area. We've got a big history, and we've got a lot of tales to tell," he said.

Many of the participants listened to an account of the history of Mackenzie Park by June M. Steele, who is working toward a master's degree at Tech.

Her research shows that Mollie Abernathy, who once operated a large ranch covering parts of Lubbock, Lynn, Terry and Hockley Counties, donated 138 acres in Northwest Lubbock to the City in 1926 for the establishment of a park.

On Aug. 19, 1935, Mollie and her husband, Monroe Abernathy, sold an additional 332 acres of prime real estate in Yellow House Canyon as a site for what became Mackenzie State Park. The sale was for $75 an acre, well below the 1935 market value of $100 an acre.

Steele said the sale cut the Abernathys off from the flowing waters of the Brazos River, "the most beautiful and valuable section of their estate."

Steele also discovered that the sale caused the Abernathys a degree of anxiety, as evidenced by a clause in the contract that required the land to be returned if it was ever used for anything other than a park.

"This acquisition, combined with the land previously acquired from Mollie Abernathy and other sources, created a park large enough, at over 540 acres, to offer as a donation to the State of Texas for creation of a state park," Steele said.

She said the Civilian Conservation Corps began constructing a barrack to house its workers on the site in April 1935. "By summertime, camp members were hard at work, planting over 5,000 trees, as well as building roads, bridges and recreational facilities."

The City of Lubbock realized the limitations of the state to maintain the park shortly after the CCC completed its work, and requested the State Legislature to deed the land back to the city, according to Steele. The state complied with the request, and for years, Mackenzie State Park held the unusual status of a state park that was run by a municipal government.

"At one time during its peak, statistics confirm that it was one of the most attended parks in the state of Texas," she said.

Referring to one of its most widely renowned features Prairie Dog Town Steel said, "As recently as 1996, the Texas Almanac in its wildlife section, cited Mackenzie Park in Lubbock as the premier site in the world for propagation of prairie dogs."

She said, "The 1970 tornado took a serious toll on many of the trees in Mackenzie State Park," and that it also has suffered steadily declining attendance in recent years.

"In 1989, a further blow was dealt by individuals who wished to promote the sale of beer at Meadowbrook Golf Course, and to allow alcoholic beverages at celebrations in the party house. Their desires ignited a movement to petition the state for the return of Mackenzie State Park land to the ownership of Lubbock. In exchange, the city would assign ownership of the land it owned under the Lubbock Lake Landmark to the state of Texas."

Historical Association Pulling Up Stakes and Moving On
(By Bill Whitaker, Abilene Reporter-News, April 16, 1998)

The West Texas Historical Association will itself make a little history in town this weekend. While the 75-year-old historical association mounts its annual meeting in different locales throughout West Texas, Abilene has always been home turf. Thanks to the work Dr. Rupert Richardson put into the organization, the West Texas Historical Association has had roots here since 1924.

But times change-- and this summer, the association leaves its longtime home at Hardin-Simmons University and moves to Texas Tech University. B. W. Aston, assocation executive director, and Kenneth Jacobs, his longtime colleague, say it's really for the best.

"It's sad, of course, to see it happen," Dr. Aston told me in his office at the HSU library named for his mentor, the lanky, dry-witted Dr. Richardson. "But Dr. Jacobs and I sat down and talked about it and felt it was really better for the association's headquarters to go up there, where they have the facilities and money to take care of it, maybe make it grow."

"We've really been a hip pocket operation here."

While some regional historical groups have themselves passed into history, the West Texas Historical Association has thrived for three-quarters of a century, its members chronicling the history of a hardscrabble stretch of Texas too often maligned and dismissed by those who don't really know it.

Evidence of its work can be seen during its annual meeting Friday and Saturday at HSU, when papers are given on topics such as the Ku Klux Klan, frontier medicine, boxing in Langtry, fence-cutting wars, even rampant town boosterism in a place called Abilene.

No less than historican, writer, wit and Abilene native A. C. Greene, now of Salado, will be speaking at Friday's 6:30 p.m. banquet. His topic, "The Captain and the Major, a Denominational Fight in Early Abilene, 1886."

Dr. Aston's wry take on Greene's topic: "He's going to gig Abilene one more time. I'm looking forward to it!"

Since it's beginnings, the association has published 73 book-sized volumes of history, with topics including radical dynamics in West Texas, frontier commanders beyond the Brazos and event he pivotal role of something called "prairie coal."

Prairie coal might be better described as animal manure.

"Ralph Smith, who retired from the history department in Abilene Christian University, did 10 or 15 pages on the merit of prairie coal," Dr. Aston recalled, smiling. "He went through and analyzed the burning capability of the 'prairie coal' from mule, cow, donkey and so on. It sounds horrible, but it was one of the most unique and humorous papers we've ever heard."

Made up of judges, doctors, housewives, newspapermen and yes, a good share of academicians, the West Texas Historical Association has always faced something of an uphill battle. For one thing, its history has often proved more subtle, quietly defying the handy stereotypes outsiders have about this land and its people.

"Of course, there are a lot of historians elsewhere who look down their noses at any local history. They think history should focus on Europe or something like that, rather than, say, catching snakes in Sweetwater. But Dr. Richardson used to say, 'If you're in Rome, it's still local history."

The association came together after Judge R. C. Crane, an area jurist, became convinced much of what he was seeing was slipping into the forgotten past. Prompted by this fear, Dr. Rupert Richardson, later one of the finest historians in the Southwest, helped form an outfit to chronicle it.

While Dr. Aston and Dr. Jacobs were later happy to carry on the association's work in addition to their regular duties at HSU (and neither was ever paid for his work for the association), they knew they probably wouldn't be able to carry on the way the late Dr. Richardson did. Dr. Jacobs retired recently and Dr. Aston is looking forward to the same in a few years' time.

"Of course, Dr. Richardson was still running things till he was 80," said Dr. Aston, who is 62. "I told the association I don't plan on doing that! But it's been a real labor of love. It has to be because there isn't a paid position in the whole thing right now."

And so the association's work will continue, except its headquaters will be at Texas Tech University's Southwest Collection in Lubbock next fall, rather than HSU's Forty Acres.

They have a good collection, they gave office space in the new library there and they gave one of their professors time to actually run it," Dr. Aston said. "They really went all out to get the collection and they've been big supporters of it for years anyway."

The move makes sense, of course, but it still means something of a loss for Abilene and HSU.

Who knows? The time may well come when you want to know which burns best and brightest-- donkey droppings, mule manure or cow chips.

A. C. Greene to Keynote West Texas Historical Association Meeting
(By Bill Whitaker, Abilene Reporter-News, April 17, 1998)

Everything from cowboys to the Ku Klux Klan to boxing in Langtry will be covered during the 75th annual meeting of the West Texas Historical, to be held at Hardin-Simmons University today and Saturday.

Capping the weekend of historical recollecting will be a banquet speech tonight by Abilene native and Texas author A. C. Greene, a columnist with the Dallas Morning News.

Greene, well-known to Abilene and the Big Country, was formerly employed by the Abilene Reporter-News and HSU, where he briefly headed its budding journalism department.

The author's topic for the evening will be "The Captain and the Major, a Denominational Fight in Early Abilene, 1886."

The Cooper Fiddlers, directed by longtime Abilene Mark Best, will conclude the banquet program at the Grace Cultural Center.

Begun in 1924 through the efforts of Sweetwater Judge R. C. Crane and historian Rupert Richardson, the West Texas Historical Association has been based at HSU throughout its history. It moves to Texas Tech this summer.

"This year's program looks as if it will carry on this tradition in grand style," Dr. B. W. Aston, senior professor of history and director of the Richardson Research Center at HSU, said of the annual meeting's offerings.

Sessions will be held in HSU's School of Business Johnson Building. Twenty-four papers will be given by both lay people and professional historians covering such topics as ranching, army posts, frontier medicine, fence-cutting wars and German music out west.

Historical group moving to new office in Lubbock
(by Lance Fleming, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, April 29, 1998)

After 75 years in Abilene, the West Texas Historical Association is making a little history itself by moving to Texas Tech.

The association's membership voted April 18 to move the headquarters from Hardin-Simmons University to Tech. The move will begin this summer, and the association will host a public reception Sept. 18 at the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library to open the office.

Paul Carlson in the Tech history department will be the interim executive director when the association moves its headquarters to Lubbock.

"It's going to be a lot of work," Carlson said. "It's a regional association, but it's a big region. We're happy and proud that it's coming to Texas Tech."

The association's editorial offices, which produce the newsletter and the yearbook, have been in Lubbock for the last two years, and now the executive offices will be here as well.

The association is devoted to collecting, researching and publishing the history of West Texas. In fact, in its 75-year existence, the association has published 73 book-sized volumes on the region's history.

It was founded in 1923 by HSU professor R.N. Richardson of Abilene, R.C. Crane of Sweetwater and William Curry Holden of Lubbock. Richardson was the director of the association until his death in 1988.

B.W. Aston, professor of history at HSU, took over for Richardson in 1990, but is nearing retirement.

"With my retirement looming, it's best for the organization to move to Lubbock," Aston said. "We really don't have anybody here that's ready to take over the operation of the association."

And after 75 years in Abilene, Aston said the Baptist-affiliated school is losing a treasured part of its history.

"It's sad to see it go," he said. "But I'm also a realist, and I know that Tech can do a lot more for it than we can. They've provided office space, and they can do more.

"We've been stable at 350 members for quite some time, so maybe Tech can help it grow," he said. "It's sad to see it go, but we're realists."

Historical Group to Host Conferences
(Lubbock Avalanche-Journal Online, April 11, 1997)

The West Texas Historical Association will host a number of speakers and events at Texas Tech todayi and Saturday as part of the group's 74th annual meeting.

Most of the events will be in the new Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library.

Registration is at 12:30 p.m., and tours of the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library will begin at 12:30 p.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m.

A presentation on ''Ranch Dance Fiddle Tunes'' from 1 to 1:30 p.m. will precede conferences.

The conferences are:

  • ''From the Frontier,'' from 1:45 p.m. to 3 p.m. Speakers will discuss the letters of an old Army scout, ''Pecans, Cabeza de Vaca and Texas Aborigines,'' and the adventures of a freeman on the High Plains.
  • ''Law, Disorder and Socialism,'' from 1:45 to 3 p.m. Topics will be ''Able Staked Plains Sheriffu first five years of an oil boom town and ''Literatur, Politik Und Freiheit: German Friedenkers in Texas.''
  • ''African-Americans in the Western Experience,'' from 3:15 to 4:30 p.m. Speakers will discuss the depiction of African-Americans in western fiction, the lost treaty of the Black Seminoles and a woman buffalo soldier.
  • ''Natural Disaster, Desegregation and Vietnam: A Minority Perspective within Texan Culture'' from 3:15 to 4:30 p.m. Topics will be the comparative histories of two Texas communities, public school desegregation in Abilene and Texan Panhandle Mexican-Americans in the Vietnam War.

A reception will be at the Holiday Inn on South Loop 289 at 6:30 p.m., followed by a banquet. Lawrence Graves will discuss ''George Mahon: West Texas and American History.''

Other conferences will begin Saturday morning;

  • ''The West in War and Other History'' from 8:45 a.m. to 10. Subjects will be frontier army campaigns in the Guadalupe Mountains, a young mason's trip to war and folk architecture.
  • ''Railroads, Health Care and Lubbock'' from 8:45 a.m. to 10. Themes will include a young girl's experiences with polio and Lubbock in the 1930s.
  • ''Water, Cotton and the Llano'' from 10:45 to 11:30 a.m. Speakers will discuss Colorado investors and New Mexico's Pecos Valley, agricultural changes concerning cotton and mapping the Llano Estacado.
  • ''Ranchers and Ranching'' from 10:15 a.m. to 11:30.

The president's luncheon and business meeting will conclude events from noon to 2 p.m. at the Ranching Heritage Center.

Older Articles on WTHA Activities
For older news articles on WTHA activities, click WTHA in the News, 1984.

P.O. 41041
Texas Tech University
Lubbock, Texas

Ph. 806-742-9076 wthayb@ttu.edu



During an interval at the WTHA's 37th annual meeting, Dr. Ernest Wallace, J. W. Williams, Dr. Robert C. Cotner, and Dr. Floyd Ewing, Jr., browse among the book stacks of the Southwest Collection. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Tech professor Allan Keuthe at the podium.



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