WACO – Several Ellis County “Wild West” historians and writers met up for a weekend conference in Waco on Friday-Saturday.
The group, self-named the “Ellis County Contingent,” joined in with close to 300 other historians for the Lone Star History Conference.
The conference was held at the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, the “perfect place” to hold such an event as announced by the venue’s director, Byron Johnson.
“We have so much history here to share and we are glad to host this event to this group who is interested in preserving the true history of Texas,” Johnson said.
“True history” was a theme repeated several times by the participants. Many attending call themselves amateur historians, others are serious about Texas and Texas Wild West historians and several have written and published books from the research they have done.
One of the published historians and writers was Jan Devereaux of Maypearl.
“Writin’ the Old West! Trailin’ the truth,’ ” is Devereaux’s slogan. “We want to preserve the nonfictional history of the wild western days and be able to cite our sources,” she said of the historians’ dedication.
Devereaux’s latest book was a documentary of a woman named Charlotta or Carlotta Tomkins.
“Depends on the source you look at is the basis for the name spelling,” Devereaux said, who spent six years researching Tomkins’ life. “Analyzing documents signed by her appears she could have used both.”
Tomkins went from town to town as a gambler and sought the favor of many of the frontier gentleman, according to Devereaux, whose book, “Pistols, Petticoats and Poker,” traced Tomkins’ travels and various identities used during her travels.
Devereaux said Tompkins was in Fort Griffin when she met up with and found the favor of “Doc” Holiday, a gambler and gunfighter and associated with Wyatt Earp.
“We believe she is the basis of the character ‘Miss Kitty’ in the ‘Gunsmoke’ (television) show series,” Devereaux said.
Also attending from Maypearl was Bob Alexander, another published author of the history of Texas’ Wild West days.
“We are not interested in the fiction written or portrayed in movies or television, we are interested in the factual history. Matter of fact, I don’t even read the fictional publications,” said Alexander, one of the conference organizers. He described the event as a simple way people can learn about the Old West and network with other historians.
“Some of the best non-fiction writers in the country came out to add their expertise to put on the conference,” Alexander said.
Much of the conference was about law enforcement in the Old West – and included the role of the Texas Rangers.
Noted author and Bell County attorney, Rick Miller, was one of the attendees He has authored several documentaries, including a book about outlaw Sam Bass and his gang and the demise of the gang in a gunfight in Round Rock, Texas.
Another of Miller’s subjects was John B. Jones of Frost, Texas, who was appointed to lead the Texas Frontier Battalion at a rank of major by then Texas Gov. Richard Coke. The battalion was the beginning of the early Texas Rangers.
Miller, who will soon retire from his Bell County position, has about 12 years in his research.
“I’m not getting any younger and I have more searches to do and more books to write,” he said.
All of the historians said they do not use the Internet but instead use county records, other public records and documents provided by their subjects. Their search can take them across the country and they rely on a network of historians and members of other historical groups.
Attendees at the conference came from around the nation. Alan Blancette came from California to share the experience along with Sharon Cunningham of northwest Tennessee.
“I like being with like-minded people who have an interest in the history of the West,” Cunningham said. “When I was in school, I studied Tennessee history, but I felt the history of Texas was much more rich.”
Cunningham, a writer and public relations director for one of the many associations represented at the conference, has conducted research on buffalo drives and the declining of those herds in the West.
Other members of the Ellis County delegation included Perry Giles and Dan Batte, both of Waxahachie, who each describes himself as a “history hobbyist.”
“I like to read any type of history, I don’t read fiction,” said Giles, with Batte saying of the conference, “It’s a great chance to hear and experience our history.”
Summarizing the conference, both Alexander and Cunningham said “It was an experiment to see if it would fly,” Alexander said, with Cunningham saying the 14 speakers and 300 attendees confirmed the success of the endeavor.