Saturday, January 31, 2009

Neilson Rogers

Today I attended a book-signing party to mark publication of an entertaining memoir by Neilson Rogers, a distinguished gentleman who is 93 years of age and who has been practicing law in Sherman, Texas for over seventy years. In recent decades, Neilson has also established a reputation as a fine local historian of Grayson County and the Red River Valley. He previously has written a history of Sherman and more recently has been conducting research on the Anglo-American influx into the Red River area at Jonesboro, Texas during the 1820s. In that regard, he has become an expert on the history of Miller Country, Arkansas prior to the Texas Revolution, especially regarding the transfer of the Common Law to Texas in the 1820s and 1830s. He has just published a delightful volume entitled Collected Writings of Neilson Rogers, edited by Jerry Lincecum, a Professor of English at Austin College. (Seen in picture, l. to r., are Dr. Peggy Redshaw, Neilson Rogers, and Dr. Jerry Lincecum). It was Dr. Lincecum who encouraged Neilson Rogers to complete this very readable book. It is a volume of sixteen stories that recount episodes from Neilson's personal life story, including the equally remarkable career of his father, Fred Stanley Rogers, who was also an attorney. The elder Rogers ran against Pat Neff for Texas Governor in 1922 and garnered 40% of the vote although he lost to the candidate from Central Texas. Fred Stanley Rogers went on to serve in the Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman Administrations before he returned to the practice of law in Sherman with his son, Neilson. This interesting memoir recounts many of Neilson's activities as a leading citizen of the area, especially from the 1940s to the 1970s. His descriptions of Sherman, including the old Hotel Grayson and the early years of Lake Texoma, provide many colorful anecdotes. This volume captures the life and times of Sherman, and the North Texas area, during the four decades after World War Two in a unique, interesting narrative.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Frank Klepper Mural

Visitors to the North Texas History Center in McKinney, Texas (the town’s former Post Office building) have a rare treat in store when they see an important 1930s era mural painted by Frank Klepper (1890-1952.). Victoria Cummins, a Professor of History at Austin College and who is also my wife, has done extensive research on the life of Frank Klepper. She notes that he was born in Plano (then a small farm community) and grew up in McKinney. He attended the University of Dallas for a short time, but, like many artists of his generation, as a young man he left Texas and studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, because there was little art training available in Texas. When the US entered World War I in 1917, he volunteered for the army and served in France painting camouflage for the 36th infantry division. After the war, he remained in Paris, France for a time, studying at the American Art Training Center. He opened an art studio in McKinney in 1920 and established himself as an artist specializing in landscapes. He later moved to Dallas. The New Deal provided him the chance to paint the mural now in McKinney, when its current location was the Post Office. This mural was sponsored by the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), created by the New Deal in late 1933. It was the first Federal program designed to provide relief work for artists. It predated the WPA, which would itself never fund art projects in Texas. Nonetheless, this mural is sometimes mistakenly characterized as a WPA project, which it was not. The PWAP existed for only a few months in 1933-1934 and was later succeeded by other federal programs designed to bring relief to artists and create high quality art for government buildings. The PWAP paid artists weekly wages of $25.50 to $42.50, which were equivalent to those paid to skilled laborers. The artists so employed created art work for the decoration of buildings supported by federal, state or local taxes. When the PWAP was announced for Texas, Frank Klepper was able to secure support to create a mural for the Post Office in his home town of McKinney, and later for Prairie view College (Now Prairie view A&M). Klepper visited the McKinney Post Office in late 1933 to check out the space and told the postmaster that he was hoping to get the job of painting a mural for it. Postmaster Wallace C. Wilson, who had hoped to benefit from this program, gladly gave his permission, proud that McKinney had one of the first government buildings to benefit from this program. Klepper chose as his theme the transit of Ben McCullough’s casket through McKinney, a major local event during the Civil War. McCullough’s entourage, with his body being brought back to his home in Gonzales, passed through McKinney just as a unit of confederate soldiers was departing for the war. The central landmark seen in the mural is the Tucker Hotel on the northeast corner of the square. It burned down in 1875. Klepper said that growing up he had heard the story of the event from his grandmother, who had witnessed it as a young girl. He based the painting on her recollections, and included her in the painting, facing the Tucker Hotel. The Dallas Morning News reported that “Mr. Klepper, as a native of McKinney showed fine appreciation of his home in arranging to do his work for a building of this city and the choice of so familiar an event as subject seems to have been very happy.” The McKinney Art Club hosted the unveiling ceremony on the afternoon of February 28, 1934 before an overflow crowd at the post office. Mrs. T. E. Craig, president of the McKinney Art Club, the postmaster, mayor and several judges were among the speakers at the ceremony. Klepper students, friends and fellow artists from Sherman and Denison, Collin county and Dallas attended, including Texas artists E.G. Eisenlohr, Allie Tennant, and Jimmie Swann. A bust of Frank Klepper (shown above) by noted sculptor Allie V. Tennant, formerly located at the North Texas History Center, was recently moved to McKinney's Heard-Craig Center for the Arts, where there also hangs a formal portrait of him.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Orlena Cemetery

Yesterday I visited two historic cemeteries in north Texas: the Orlena Cemetery in Cooke County and the Johnson-Kitchings Cemetery in Fannin County. Both of these small burial grounds serve as family plots for several nineteenth century families who were important to the development of Texas in the area north of Dallas along the Red River. I made this visit in the company of several other historians along with decendents of the families interred in these cemeteries. The Orlena Cemetery, located at the Delaware Bend of the Red River a few miles north of the hamlet of Dexter, is the final resting place of James G. Bourland, an early settler who had a impact on this area during the Civil War. Bourland moved to the Red River valley of Texas in 1837. After establishing a successful plantation, he became deputy collector of customs for the Republic of Texas. During the Civil War, he served as Confederate Provost Marshall along the Red River. He played a significant role in the Great Hangings at Gainesville of 1862, during which a number of Union sympathizers were executed. He died in 1879 and is buried at the Orlena Cemetery. Several local residents escorted our group through the cemetery and also directed us to other sites in the area associated with the history of the Bourland family, including the location his original plantation home and the grave of Bourland's son William.
Our second stop on the day's tour brought us to the historic Johnson-Kitchings Cemetery, located in western Fannin County, Texas near the small town of Ravenna. There, the Chair of the Fannin County Historical Commission met us. He gave us an interesting overview of the cemetery and the families who rest there. Much of what he told us is based on his new book dealing with the history of northern Fannin County. Samuel Johnson, who served in the Texas Revolution, is the most historically significant person interred there. The rifle that Sam Johnson carried is now part of the collections at the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame in Waco.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Red River Historical Museum

Today I had the pleasure of giving a luncheon talk at the Red River Historical Museum in Sherman, Texas. This museum is one of the nicest smaller museums in this part of Texas. Located in the former Carnegie Library Building, it was created in 1976 as a United States Centennial project by a group of individuals who desired to advance the history of this part of Texas. Now, over a generation later, the Red River Museum maintains a number of permanent exhibits that document the history of Grayson County. One of these highlights the life of Sophia Coffee Porter, a woman who assisted the Confederacy in this part of Texas. It includes period furniture that graced her plantation home, Glen Eden. The museum also sponsors a wide variety of public programs.

My talk centered on the life of Emily Austin. A group of approximately 30 people took time out of their day to attend the brown-bag lunch. Since Sherman is the home of Austin College, I paid special attention in my remarks to Emily Austin's role in the founding of that college. Back in 1840, when Presbyterian minister Daniel Baker first visited the Republic of Texas, he envisioned creating a college to educate the young men of the province. Reverend Baker thereupon visited Emily Austin and her husband James F. Perry at their plantation Peach Point, located on the coastal bend of Texas near the present-day town of Freeport. James and Emily warmed to the idea of this college and gave Baker a generous donation, which constituted the first financial support for the founding of what would become Austin College. Reverend Daniel Baker named the college in honor of Emily's late brother, Stephen F. Austin, in honor of this donation.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Emily Austin Biography

"Emily Austin of Texas, 1795-1851" to be published by the TCU Press, March, 2009

I have recently written a biography of Emily Austin which will be published in March of 2009. Emily was the daughter of Moses Austin and the sister of Stephen F. Austin. She was born in 1795 and died in 1851. She first married James Bryan and, after his death, she then married James F. Perry. Emily and James Perry came to Texas and founded the Peach Point Plantation in during the early 1830s. Emily and her family left an indelible mark on Texas and the expanding American nation. Her historical journey was one of remarkable personal triumph as the rigors of frontier life shaped her into a uniquely self-reliant southern woman, one who fulfilled the role of the plantation mistress while taking a distinct hand in ambitious public ven­tures. Despite her ties to influential family members, including her brother Stephen F. Austin, Emily’s determined spirit allowed her to live on her own terms. In all of her notable activities, Emily principally remained a devoted daughter, sister, wife, and mother who proudly clung to her Austin roots. Utilizing her family’s written correspon­dence, I seek to provide insight into Emily’s multifaceted per­sonality and the relationships that sustained her successes in life.