From western forts to Victorian mansions and pivotal battlegrounds, the Texas Historical Commission's 20 state historic sites exemplify a breadth of Texas history. Come explore the real stories at the real places.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sam Rayburn House Museum Opens Joint Exhibit at the Sam Rayburn Museum

By Anne Ruppert, Sam Rayburn House Museum

November 16, 1961 was a day heavy in the hearts of many. Early that morning, Dr. Joe Risser, Sam Rayburn’s personal physician, announced the Speaker’s death to the media gathered in his small Bonham clinic. The Speaker had been ailing since the summer, and had returned to Texas in September to recuperate. As his health diminished, local and national media reported on his condition on a daily basis. After testing at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas revealed that the Speaker was suffering from incurable cancer, the public collectively held its breath until the end came.

The fateful news of November 16, 1961 would precede the largest gathering of U.S. political leaders outside Washington, D.C. that the nation had ever seen. Rayburn’s November 18, 1961 funeral was attended by President Kennedy, Vice President Johnson, former Presidents Eisenhower and Truman, and a multitude of representatives from both houses of Congress.

In preparation for the funeral services, the Bonham police chief recruited 190 Texas Highway Patrol officers, county sheriff’s deputies, and local city police to assist with the crowds and direct traffic. Hotel rooms quickly filled and soon private citizens were asked to open their homes to the visitors. Most businesses closed for Rayburn’s funeral, except for cafes, which remained open to serve the many out-of-towners. The 10,000 residents of Bonham were joined by an additional 15,000 people in mourning the Speaker.  

Fifty years later, the Sam Rayburn House Museum, in cooperation with the Sam Rayburn Museum, developed the exhibit “Laying Down the Gavel” to pay tribute to the Speaker. The exhibit opened at the Sam Rayburn Museum on the 50th anniversary of Sam Rayburn’s death, November 16, 2011. In a timeline format, the exhibit expands upon the events leading up to Rayburn’s death, his funeral, and preparations for the memorial services in Bonham. The effect of Rayburn’s death on the House of Representatives and in the Fourth Congressional District of Texas and the many honors bestowed upon Rayburn posthumously are also featured in the exhibit.

Several rarely seen photos, documents, and artifacts are on display. Exhibited documents include the typed transcript from the news conference announcing Sam Rayburn’s death, status reports regarding Rayburn’s health from Baylor and Risser Hospitals where Sam Rayburn was a patient, and photos of both the funeral and graveside services.

Also in recognition of the 50 years that have passed since Rayburn’s death, both museums co-hosted a progressive history tour on November 18. The progressive tour, based on the “Laying Down the Gavel” exhibit, included the Bonham Visitor Information Center, Creative Arts Center, Fannin County Historical Commission, Fannin County Museum of History, and the First Baptist Church of Bonham. Bus service provided free of charge by the Texoma Area Para-transit System allowed participants to easily travel from site to site. The event ended at the Sam Rayburn Museum, where attendees viewed the last two sections of the exhibit, artifacts, and film footage from the day of Sam Rayburn’s funeral.

The “Laying Down the Gavel” exhibit will remain on display at the Sam Rayburn Museum (800 W. Sam Rayburn Drive, Bonham) through January 7, 2012. The Sam Rayburn House Museum is located at 890 W. State Hwy. 56, two miles west of Bonham, in the Texas Lakes Trail Region.  

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Forgotten Period of Texas Civil War History Comes Back to Life

By Cody Mobley, Fort McKavett State Historic Site

Living historians from 13 states traveled to Fort McKavett State Historic Site to commemorate the six months during the winter of 1861-62 that Fort McKavett was used as a temporary prisoner-of-war camp. On the weekend of November 18-20, 2011, participants in the event represented members of Co. E, 1st Texas Mounted Rifles and members of the 8th U.S. Infantry captured at the Battle of Adam’s Hill north of San Antonio in May 1861.

Daily life at the frontier fort was recreated based on period accounts and military protocol. The prisoners spent their time mending their worn clothing, visiting Sam Wallick’s sutler store, sleeping, or looking for a source of entertainment.

The Texans spent the event doing fatigue details, standing guard, visiting the sutler’s store, and trying to keep out of trouble. It wasn’t easy for everyone: a Texan private was brought up on charges during the event for disorderly conduct toward officers, profanity, insubordination on work details, shooting at fellow soldiers, and discharging a firearm in the barracks. He was sentenced to be hung by his thumbs for two hours on the parade ground to serve as a warning to the Texans and prisoners.

The rations for the event were based on what was seasonal and what was historically being shipped to Fort McKavett from San Antonio. The diet consisted of locally foraged venison, cabbage, potatoes, beans, canned tomatoes, and hard tack. Some of the participants gathered watercress from the springs.

Samuel Wallick was the post sutler during this period and was represented during the event by site staff. The stock of his sutler’s store was specially recreated for this event based on his ledgers and antebellum accounts from soldiers stationed at Fort McKavett during the 1850s. Each participant had $3 in sutler chits to purchase items from Mr. Wallick, gamble away, or to keep as a memento from the event.

For more information about the history behind this event, please visit the event website. Fort McKavett is located west of Menard on FM 864 in the Texas Forts Trail Region.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Pioneer Day at Landmark Inn

By Jose Zapata, Landmark Inn Site Manager

Young and old alike enjoyed a day-long journey into the past during Pioneer Day at the Landmark Inn. Held on Nov. 12, the weather was very agreeable for outdoor demonstrations. There were 14 exhibitors, all dressed in 19th-century attire and eager to demonstrate and discuss toy-making, hand tools, woodworking, laundry day, school house, outdoor cooking, wine making, and an assortment of military and old west displays. Most of the exhibitors were from Castroville, while others were from nearby Hondo, Uvalde, and San Antonio. We also had an exhibitor from Buchanan Dam and another from Brackettville.

The Buffalo Soldier camp was popular, as was their rocking horse. The laundry day demonstration was a big hit with the little ones, as they took turns working the “old time” washboard and clothes wringer. Hop-scotch and stilts were a favorite among young and old, as were hand-made lacing and quilt-making. The Landmark Inn’s historic buildings and grounds were a great backdrop for this event.  

At midday, the exhibitors took a break and savored the food prepared by Carolyn and Vincent Biedeger, who demonstrated Dutch-oven cooking. Overall, Pioneer Day at the Landmark Inn was well-received and will be reinstated as an annual community event.   

Landmark Inn State Historic Site is located in Castroville, approximately 20 miles west of San Antonio, in the Texas Hill Country Trail Region.