Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Hock Shop Collection at the Bull Ring

My wife Victoria and I today enjoyed a visit to one of the most interesting and unusual collections of early Texas art located in the state. What makes this collection a bit out of the ordinary is its location. It is not to be found in a museum, or on a university campus, or located in a private home. Instead, it is installed as a permanent exhibition in a Fort Worth establishment called “The Bull Ring.” This combination coffee shop and watering-hole is located on near the corner of North Main and Exchange in the colorful Fort Worth Stockyards.

The Bull Ring, and its art which is popularly called “The Hock Shop” collection, belong to A. C. “Ace” Cook, who began his art collecting career over a decade ago. Cook is the proprietor of the Bull Ring. He is an accomplished story-teller, a former airline pilot, and a raconteur who operated a pawnshop for many years, hence the name of the collection. The entire collection, most of which has been discriminatingly selected by Cook from careful purchases and not from having been pawned, consists of over 400 pieces, of which about 75 are on display at any given time in the Bull Ring.

Cook clearly prefers Texas art from the early to the mid twentieth century, with works by a wide array of important regional artists. Kathleen Blackshear, Douglas Chandor, Fred Darge, Dawson Dawson-Watson, William Lester, Blanch McVeigh, E. M. “Buck” Schiwetz, Coreen Mary Spellman, Olin Travis, and Julius Woeltz are among the many important Texas and Southwestern regional artists represented in the collection.

From time to time, parts of the collection have been exhibited at various special shows in museums across the state. The art museums in Tyler and San Angelo sponsored special exhibitions from Cook’s collection. Most recently, the University of North Texas at Denton sponsored a 2009 show entitled “The Hock Shop Collection: Reflections from the Heart and Soul.”

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Varner-Hogg Plantation

I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Varner-Hogg Plantation, located near West Columbia in Brazoria County. This historic property is currently maintained as an historic site by the Texas Historical Commission. It is one of the more important sites in Texas stemming from the plantation era of the state’s history. The restored plantation home is also significant because of its association with Texas Governor Jim Hogg and two of his children, son Will C. Hogg and daughter Miss Ima Hogg.

Martin Varner, a member of Stephen F. Austin’s Old Three Hundred, established the plantation in 1824, although no buildings currently on the site date from that early era. In 1834, Varner sold the place to Columbus R. Patton, whose family held the plantation until after the Civil War. In 1901, former governor James Stephen Hogg of Houston bought the plantation as a rural retreat for his family. Governor Hogg had participated in the development of the Spindletop Oil Field. He believed the area of the Brazos River valley where the plantation was located might prove to be just as rich in petroleum deposits. He was correct, although he did not live to see it happen. His children, however, played a significant role in the development of the plantation as a center of petroleum drilling.

In the World War One era, geologists found significant deposits of oil around the town of West Columbia, with much of the drilling occurring on the Varner-Hogg Plantation. Will C. Hogg, often staying in the old plantation home on his visits from Houston, superintended the family’s participation in these oil discoveries. His sister, Miss Ima Hogg, began the restoration of the home, making it into a livable house without sacrificing its historical character. Will Hogg passed away in 1930, but Miss Hogg kept the home, making additional improvements and filling it with historic furniture. She gave the plantation to the State of Texas in 1958.

Website of Varner-Hogg Plantation. Click Here.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Texas and Louisiana in the American Revolution

Today I spoke to the Daughters of the American Revolution Chapter of McKinney, Texas at their monthly meeting. They met in the Carriage House of the Heard-Craig Center for the Arts. Victoria Day, the Regent of that chapter, presided at the meeting. My topic was Texas and the Gulf Coast in the American Revolution.

My remarks were based on my own book, Spanish Observers and the American Revolution, which as published by the Louisiana State University Press in 1992. This study resulted from two year’s worth of research in Spanish archives back when I was a Fulbright Scholar. Most of the research was conducted in the Archivo General de las Indias in Seville, Spain. As well, the work of Robert Thonhoff, especially his book on Texas in the American Revolution, informed my remarks in this talk.

The main Spanish figure along the Gulf Coast in the sage of Spain’s participation in the American Revolution was, of course, Bernardo de Gálvez, who served as governor of Louisiana starting in 1777. By that date, American rebels had already started coming down the Mississippi River by mean of the Ohio for the purpose of purchasing supplies from the Spanish at New Orleans. Oliver Pollock, a merchant with ties of Philadelphia mercantile houses, became the commercial representative of the Continental Congress at New Orleans. With the secret assistance and support of governor Gálvez, Pollock supervised the shipment of supplies, munitions, and military goods up the interior river system to Fort Pitt, where the American army received them. The gunpowder used by the Continental Army to win its crucial victory at Saratoga came from the Spanish at New Orleans. Once Spain declared war against Great Britain in the summer of 1779, Bernardo de Gálvez led victorious armies in conquering British posts at Baton Rouge, Mobile, and Pensacola.

Spanish residents in Texas contributed to the Continental Army war effort by providing beef. Trail drives of cattle herds from the San Antonio de Bexar area headed west for Louisiana and the Mississippi River. Texas beef on the hoof went to Opelousas, where it was rendered and packed into salted barrels for the trip up to the American army. As well, Spanish agents among the Native Americans worked very hard to insure that the western tribes along the Mississippi and Red Rivers would not support the British, who initially had establishments in the Illinois country and at Natchez, Baton Rouge, and along the east bank of the great river. Athanase de Mézières, who was the Spanish superintendent at Natchitoches, worked very hard in this regard. All of these activities made Spain’s participation in the Revolution a crucial factor in Louisiana, Texas, and along the Gulf Coast.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Lee Simmons at the Texas Prison Museum, Huntsville

Photo by Light Cummins
The Texas Prison Museum at Huntsville is one of the more interesting special interest museums in the state. Founded in 1989, it moved several years ago into a modern facility on Interstate 45 at the northern edge of town. Operated by a not-for-profit association, this museum collects and preserves artifacts while it seeks to educate the public about the history of the Texas Prison System, the main branch of which has been located in Huntsville since the late 1840s.

Austin College, where I am on the faculty, has had many positive connections to the Texas Prison System since its very beginning, especially since Huntsville was the home of the college from 1849 to 1876. A member of the Austin College board of trustees, Abner Cook, served as the first superintendent of the prison in the late 1840s. Until the the college moved to Sherman, its students of that early era waggishly and jokingly referred to the State Prison and Austin College as "Huntsville's sister institutions."

Photo Courtesy Texas State Library and Archives Commission
I visited the Texas Prison Museum this month for a particular reason. The Texas State Library and Archives Commission has recently completed a new online exhibit dealing with the history of the Texas Prison system. In looking through this fine new addition to their website, I was reminded again about the career of Lee Simmons, a Sherman native and a former Austin College student who served as General Manager of the Prison System in the early 1930s. It was Simmons who directed the 1934 hunt for Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. The Texas Prison System has a special exhibit about Lee Simmons. On display is a revolver belonging to Clyde Barrow presented to Simmons by the lawmen who stopped Bonnie and Clyde in recogniton of the role the prison director had played in ending their crime spree.

Born in 1873, Simmons grew up in Sherman. He attended Austin College for two years, then transferred to the University of Texas. Elected sheriff of Grayson County in 1912 on a reform ticket, he successfully banished bootleggers and gamblers who had been plaguing its seamy districts. In the process, he became an acknowledged authority on law enforcement in Texas.

During the 1920s, he served as a member of the State Prison Commission and prepared a special report on improving its operations. In 1930, Governor Dan Moody appointed Simmons the General Manager of the entire prison system, a post he held for five years. He instituted a number of sweeping reforms and is today considered on of the creators of the modern prison system.

After a bold prison break by members of the Barrow gang from the Eastland Prison Farm in January, 1934, Simmons secured approval from Governor Ma Ferguson to create a special posse headed by Captain Frank Hamer of the prison staff in order to stop Bonnie and Clyde. Simmons directed the search for Bonnie and Clyde from his Huntsville office. One hundred and two days after the Eastland break, Hamer and his men gunned down Parker and Barrow on a country road near Arcadia Louisiana.

I was especially interested in looking at the Lee Simmons exhibit at the Texas Prison Museum because he will be featured in a new Bonnie and Clyde movie that will hit theaters in the fall of 2010. This film will star Hillary Duff and Kevin Zegers as Bonne and Clyde. Actor Lee Majors will play the role of Lee Simmons. It will be interesting to see the dramatic interpretation the new film will give to Simmons, the man who was ultimately responsible for the demise of Bonnie and Clyde.

Visit the Web Site of the Texas Prison Museum. Click Here.

Visit the State Prison history exhibit at the Web Site of the Texas State Library. Click Here.