The Philosophical Society of Texas for The Collection and Diffusion of Knowledge was founded December 5, 1837, in the Capitol of the Republic of Texas at Houston. (http://www.pstx.org/)
Our goal is to unite the efforts of the modern day philosophers:
- the enlightened and patriotic citizens of Texas
- distinguished military commanders and travelers
- our scholars and men of science
- learned members of the different Professions
Address made to Philosophical Society of Texas, February 2012
Featuring Texas writers
I am of the folk, a folk historian, known as a grassroots historian, am an author and much of what I write is centered on folk culture of the past.
Letters are sometimes the best record of folk history.
A folk history allows citizens to tell their own stories according to their own understanding of events and personages, and interpret life and times filtered through that same personal understanding in accordance with their particular visions of truth. Historical facts, then, are used to embellish folk history rather than the other way around, which is the usual case. It is a technique employed in writing history text books especially for students.
Such a history is always intensely personal, sometimes agreeing with the facts found in history books and sometimes not. Because such accounts from the folk are centered first on the family saga—who we were, where we can from and why, how got here, got by, what we did and how we did it—the reader becomes acquainted with the variegated colors and shapes of a crazy quilt, one family touching another and then another; then connected to a settlement and a community loosely bonded together by common interest, purpose, and need. While each unit is unique, they are, in many respects, similar.
Such grassroots history generally connects itself to the larger history of what is going on and citizens have no trouble in feeling that they contribute to the larger history by supporting ideas of war and peace, electing national officials more than their politics, participating in world events; making decisions through voting and their voices heard from town to state to nation and feel that they have some hand in decisions made. Especially was that true about war. Those who supported it outnumbered those who didn’t. Citizens went to work and helped fight, finance, and end it. In the past during World War I and II, citizens had no trouble with the majority agreeing about racial and even religious prejudices, politics and motherhood. There were mothers and others.
Without laboring the point or making a case for grassroots, folk historians or by any other label that works, I want to tell you about the T.B. White family who lived, not my beloved hometown of Jacksboro, but in Keller where I live now. Letters written between mother and son in 1918 and 1919, make the case.
The White home was built before the Civil War by slave labor and purchased along with acreage from another pioneer family. T.B. and Annie had had two sons, Hugh and Ray. Hugh had just married Lyda Smith of Indian Territory, Oklahoma. He and his brother were ranchers, their father putting them in the Hereford business when it was new, at least here on the western edges of the Cross Timbers and the eastern edge of the Great Plains. Hugh joined the army, went to France as part of Motorcycle Company 305. Brother Ray finally got in the infantry at Fort Travis, but spent most of the time in detention and never went overseas. Lyda stayed home, went to school, and while Hugh was gone received her teaching certificate.
Annie wrote Hugh regularly and her letters reveal how involved the family and town were with all the events of 1918 and 1919. A few quotes detail life: April 11, 1918
April 11: While you boys are fighting for us, we are Red Crossing and Liberty loaning for you.
Did you know that the Texas women were going to get to vote this year? I do not want to, but my duty.
June 18th: I have just got through watching the sun in eclipse. It was a wonderful sight. Sometimes the clouds looked like they were beyond the sun.
We had a Red Cross sale, and Daddy bought a shoat for $10 and 2 old hens for a dollar each. You see we were making that Red Cross drive for the hundred million, and every one who did not have the cash would give a hen, pig, calf, goat, jar of fruit, butter, milk, eggs or anything they had that would sell, and we had an auction. J.T. White was auctioneer and made a good one. Ray put up his old knife and each one who bought it would put it back and resell it, until it brought over $4. A box of cracker jacks brought $1.10 and a mouse trap $1.05. Together we made up over twelve hundred dollars. Don’t you think I was right when I said we were 100 % patriotic?
June 10th: Uncle Wesley’s old horse Bill died this spring. Uncle Will White was run over by a car here in Keller about two weeks ago, but is getting along all right.
When Daddy brought your letters in he said: ‘Here is a love letter from Hugh. We both shed a few tears when we read it, but they were tears of pride and joy.
June 29th : I went up town this morning and registered as I can vote. Your mother is a man now. Ha Ha. I think Lyda and Mrs. Smith (Lyda’s mother) are both men too.
The hours have slipped by like minutes today for I have been taking a tablet every hour all day. No I’m not sick; I’m just taking medicine to keep from getting sick. Dr. says my liver was lazy.
July 9th: Went to Fort Worth today to report what our auxiliary has done for Red Cross. We made 25 pajama suits, 28 bed shirts, 19 pairs sox and 8 sweaters last month.
July 15th. Well, yesterday was Bastille Day and it was celebrated all over America. We ate watermelons yesterday. I am sending a few seeds. You can give them to some of your friends and maybe they can rise some next year. They are Woodrow Wilson melons.
August 4-7: Dear Little Son: No matter if you are a big soldier, you will always be my baby Billikins. I have just finished writing to Ray. I told you in my last letter that he was at Camp Travis. He is still in detention camp.
Your mother is getting to be quite a sock knitter. I believe I could knit a sock a day by doing nothing else. What becomes of the sox when the soldiers wear them out? If there was a way to get the pieces back here I believe we would work them over into more sox or sweaters. Every girl you see on the street here has a sweater in her hand. The girls knit sweaters and the older ladies knit sox. I made seven petticoats for the Belgians and one suit of pajamas for the soldiers last week. We had fried chicken and cornbread for dinner. Then had yellow meated watermelon just before supper.
January 8, 1919: We got a letter from Dr. George W. Truett of Dallas saying that he had seen and talked with you and Lucian. Hugh Blevins is back in the U.S. in a hospital. So is Joe Collins of Arlington. We heard that Lloyd Norman of Arlington was severely wounded, but have had no further news. Johnny Wallace is near Verdun and Argone. Virgil Knox is at Epinal.
Our Brother Sims has been head nurse for the neighborhood. He has nursed five families through the flu and is now nursing Maggie McCain. It got Lyda and me both down, but we are all right now.
From Annie’s letters lists of local people in war and names of those who had Spanish flu and those who died from it are revealed.
What of Hugh’s letter, the one his daddy said was a love letter and over which they cried?
Here it is in its entirety written on American Y.M.C.A. paper:
May 26, 1918
Mr. T.B. White
Your letter of April 25th received and its contents has been noted very carefully and with much interest. Father I appreciate that half page in your own handwriting more than anything you have ever given me. You know there is a broadening, eye opening influence about this war that makes one old. Thus I have been changed by my association with men from almost every nation and province in the civilized and barbarian world, from a mere stripling, going to college, to a soldier. I do not say it boastingly, but it has made a full fledged unflinching soldier of me. And Dad. The more I see of this big, old, cold, ruthless, funny world, the greater my appreciation of you and mother. My army age has brought our ages nearer together. There is less between us. I understand you. Never until now have I been so grateful to you as a son should be to his father. And I can unhesitatingly say that I don’t of a man that would do for his son what you propose to do for me. In the first place you gave me one of the finest farms in the state of Texas. Then you welcome my wife right into your home and treat her as your own daughter. Then to cap it all you propose to take charge of that business, organize it, run it until I return and all I have to do is to step into the harness and keep pulling. Of course there is no test by which one man can test his regard for another, but I dare say that my regard for you is far greater than that of any other son that I know has for his father.
Now Father, if you think it advisable I wish you would try to pick up a good registered cow for me. However, I intend for you to back your own judgement exclusively for I am too far away for consultation.
With sincerest of regards I beg to remain your son,
Pvt. 1st Class, Hugh H. White
Motorcycle Co. 305
Yes, I am a regional writer who knows the territory, past and present, is grateful to have small, regional and university presses publish my work. I believe that regional writing in non-fiction is alive and well, whether it concerns my American Southwest or anywhere in the world. C.L. Sonnichsen, grassroots historian of the first order who published over 40 books gave me some advice that I’ve never forgotten. He paraphrased the poet’s credo when he said, “Call no man historian unless he makes you feel.”
Sut Lovingood who wrote Tales Told by a Natural Born Fool , said of the Widow Yardley, “She war a great noticer of thangs that nobody else ever seed.” That’s who I am, too. And if what my kind of historian writes does not make you feel, you have a heart of stone. (2016)