Texas Insights - August 2013

Volume IV, Issue 1

What’s New?

TSHA is proud to announce the release of the new and improved TeachingTexas.org. It has been crafted to reflect what users and partners have told us that they now need. With a fresh new look and useful updates, you will love using TeachingTexas.org more than ever. There are four things you will notice about the new Teaching Texas right away.

Teaching Texas has received a facelift and now has an updated look with fresh new colors and images. Though the banner design has remained, you will notice that the home page is brighter and easier to use. We have included graphic links for each of the content categories. By clicking on an icon, you are given a list of all the entries for that specific category, which you can then narrow down by using the search box located at the top of the list. 

We also added two additional categories, Awards and Interactive Websites and Apps. With the growing use of technology in the classroom, we felt that it was necessary to separate Audio-Visual Material from Interactive Websites and Apps. In this new category, you will find apps which can be downloaded by students and teachers, web-based and smart board games, and interactive educational websites. The second new category, Awards will highlight and feature awards which are offered for Texas history educators. Now you can easily see a list of potential awards for which to nominate a deserving teacher.

The most exciting new feature is an updated and more efficient Advanced Search page. This page has been updated and is now more user-friendly. Now searching by type, grade, TEKS, time period, or source is as easy as clicking your choice in the drop down menu and clicking search. You can also enter a keyword or topic in the search bar and use it along with the drop down menu to narrow your search to find the specific information you are looking for. 

If you use Teaching Texas on a regular basis, you will love the new popular content feature. This page shows you the most popular content accessed on Teaching Texas on the current day as well as the all-time most popular pages. This page also features the last viewed pages. Now you can see what pages other educators are viewing at any given time.

Take some time and explore the new TeachingTexas.org. You are sure to love the new features and updates. As always the Texas State Historical Association continues to grow Teaching Texas each month by adding new partners, new users, and new content to the site. 


South Texas Teacher Workshop

Harlingen CISD and the Texas State Historical Association are proud to present the South Texas History Workshop, October 12, 2013 in Harlingen. This workshop, for 4th and 7th grade Texas history teachers will focus on Texas history from 1682 to the present. Presenters include scholars Bill O'Neal, Denise Joseph, Jerry Thompson, and Albert Davila, along with other Texas social studies organizations. Teachers will earn either CPE or GT credit hours. For more information and registration information, visit TeachingTexas.org.


Handbook of African-American Texas

The Texas State Historical Association is proud to present The Handbook of African-American Texas. The newest addition to the Handbook of Texas Online features more than 850 entries, including more than 300 new articles, that chronicle the individuals, communities, businesses, institutions, organizations, and events that comprise the African-American experience and its significant contribution to the heritage of the Lone Star State. For additional information, visit TeachingTexas.org.

Featured Institution

The Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum

The Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, located in Canyon, is the largest history museum in Texas. Their 285,000 square feet of exhibit space features Paleontology, Petroleum, Natural History, Weapons Transportation, an authentic Pioneer Town and the history of Native American and Cowboy and Ranching Heritage. They are primarily known as a western museum, but did you know they have one of the finest Southwestern American art collections in the world too? Their exhibits are as varied as the 2 million artifacts in their collection.

PPHM tells the story of the rich and vast history of the Panhandle-Plains region, which encompasses not only the Texas Panhandle, but parts of eastern New Mexico, Southeastern Colorado, Southern Kansas and Western Oklahoma. But, they reach way beyond the Panhandle-Plains. Over 23,000 students all over the country participated their programs during the 2012-2013 school year.

Their award winning distance learning programs served 7,600 students in 9 states and Canada. Topics included Comanche Indian Chief Quanah Parker, Wild Horses and Ecosystems, The Plains Bison, The Dust Bowl and Wild and Wacky Weather. PPHM’s current distance learning programs can be found at Connect2Texas.

For those outside of the Panhandle they have several resources available on their website. Lesson plans for 4th and 7th grade include topics like the Red River War, the Ogallala Aquifer, Windmills, Native American Art and Southern Plains Indians. Teachers are also invited to visit the Days of Dust website to take advantage of the primary resources, lesson plans and photos related to the Dust Bowl.

Teachers in the Panhandle are invited to check out one of our 6 outreach trunks: Southern Plains Indian, Bison, Cowboy, African American History, World War II and The Dust Bowl. These trunks feature touchable artifacts, books and photos and really make history come alive in your classroom. 

Students and teachers who are able to visit the museum have several options. Their brand-new My Museum Journal is filled with activities focusing on science and math for each area of the museum. Available for 2-6th grade, the journal is the perfect tool to keep students engaged in their exhibits. PPHM also offers scavenger hunts in Pioneer Town, People of the Plains and Natural History.

Brand new this year, they are offering Adventure Packs for k-1st grade students. These backpacks include an activity guides with lessons to complete while in the museum, books and scavenger hunts. Teachers can also schedule a docent to guide them through different areas of the museum; they can experience life during the dustbowl while sitting in an authentic dustbowl house, or hear a cowboy talk about the T Anchor Ranch while standing in the historic headquarters. The yearly, Adventures in Education Guide, includes detailed information about all of our museum programs.

Their research center contains a treasure trove of maps, manuscripts, photographs, oral histories, manufacturing trade literature and architectural drawings. In fact, their resources are so deep that the Museum itself has become a valuable resource for researchers of all stripes, from Ph.D. candidates and historians to novelists like Larry McMurtry, author of Lonesome Dove, and other acclaimed fiction.

To find out more about our educational programming, contact Elaina Cunningham, Education Coordinator at 806-651-2258 or ecunningham@pphm.wtamu.edu.

Historian's Corner

El Mesquite: La Posta del Palo Alto by Elena Zamora O'Shea
By Andrés Tijerina
Professor, Austin Community College 
With the sheer amount of material which Texas history teachers are expected to cover, it is more important than ever to choose resources and examples which allow for the learning of multiple lessons from a single source. Though numerous illustrative examples were added during the recent revisions of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, teachers are not limited to using only those found in their standards. Take for example the novel El Mesquite by Elena Zamora O’Shea, which allows a teacher to not only use literature to teach early Texas history, but to incorporate the biography of the author to understand more recent history and allow students to analyze the work to identify the author’s point of view and potential biases. The following is an excerpt I crafted for an edited volume of O’Shea’s cuddly little book El Mesquite, available for a reasonable price from Texas A&M University Press, which I hope will inspire ideas on how to approach history through art or literature and the lens of the artist that created it.

Good literature serves two purposes. It keeps the reader interested while it tells an important story about people.  he novel, El Mesquite, is like that. It has love stories, tall tales, and heroic deeds. It also tells the history of the first pioneers of Texas, but it does not bore the reader with too many dates or facts. That helps to make it an interesting novel.

El Mesquite is important for another reason. It tells much about the author and her life in Texas at the end of the 1800s. In this novel, Elena Zamora O’Shea actually revealed many of her own experiences and feelings. In her own life, Elena was hurt by the racism that criticized her family and friends as “Mexicans,” using the word as a derogatory term. In her novel, she wrote about the way some people looked down on Mexican-Americans as a lower race of people simply because they had darker colored skin. She also wrote about an old ranchero who visited a majestic mesquite tree, and remembered how his family had once owned the tree and the ranchland around it. In real life, the young man listening to the old ranchero tell his story about the mesquite tree was Elena’s grandfather. Her family had actually owned the land. In the novel, her father’s ranch was later taken over by the King Ranch. Elena’s story was her way of telling a history of the first Tejanos, that is, the Spanish and Mexican pioneers who first settled Texas in the 1700s. The novel was also her way of lamenting the racism and the loss of family lands.

The message of El Mesquite was not a sad or angry one. It told of death and evil deeds, to be sure.  Elena Zamora O’Shea used her novel to relate these events because during her life, Mexican Americans in Texas were often punished for speaking out against racism. Through her novel, Elena could give voice to the message without attracting scorn. She made it clear in her novel that evil deeds should not be allowed in a just society. Her message, more importantly, showed that she had dedicated her own life to spreading respect and harmony in the world. Elena’s world was Texas. Her family had settled Texas under Spain, they had fought for it under Mexico, they had defended their lands under the Republic of Texas, and Elena was born in Texas as a citizen of the United States.  She personally knew people who had lived under the Republic of Texas, and yet she lived in modern Dallas of the 1950s. She was truly a Texas pioneer woman—a Tejana.

Elena Zamora was born on July 21, 1880 on her father’s land grant on a ranch named Rancho La Cardeneña in Hidalgo County in South Texas. She grew up, however, on her mother’s land grant, La Trinidad, on a ranch called La Posta del Palo Alto. Her mother was Gavina Moreno, daughter of Santos Moreno. Santos Moreno patented the land grant of about 17,000 acres with the General Land Office of the State of Texas, and named the ranch for a stage coach stop “La Posta,” beside a tall tree “El Palo Alto.” Her grandparents on both her mother’s side and her father’s side of the family had received their land grants from Spain under José de Escandón, and Elena would always be proud of her Spanish heritage, her Mexican heritage, and her American heritage.

As a child in the 1880s, Elena did not have access to public schools in South Texas; therefore, her parents had to send her to Laredo for her education at the Ursuline Convent, a boarding school, where she first learned English and her first prayers. Elena started teaching the Mexican-American children at Palito Blanco, a ranch school near Alice in Jim Wells County at the age of fifteen. She then attended the Holding Institute in Laredo. This was another boarding school, operated by Ms. Nannie Holding. Elena attended college at the University of Texas, the University of Mexico in Mexico City, and the Normal School for Teachers in Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico. With the endorsement of the famous South Texas legislator, J.T. Canales, Elena attended, and graduated from Southwest Texas Normal School (now Southwest Texas State University) in San Marcos. In her Preface, Elena referred to Canales as J.C. Canales because he had two Spanish last names. His full name was José Tomás Cavazos Canales, but he was popularly known as J.T. Canales. Her relatives remembered seeing Elena leave the ranch on a buckboard buggy every time she visited home from college. She rode the buggy from the ranch to Alice, where she then boarded a train for the trip to San Marcos as a young college girl.

After graduating from teacher’s college, Elena returned to teaching in South Texas. She often expressed a strong dedication to teaching, especially Mexican-American rural children. In a letter to a relative, she once said that “It is very gratifying to know that one has honored the memory and dignity of their his parents.” She said that she remembered when she received her diploma at Southwest Texas Normal School in San Marcos, that she presented it to her father, Major Porfirio Zamora. She said that “He with much pride took it to the living room and in front of the picture of Mom said ‘Look, Gabinita, what our Elena has brought to us.’” She encouraged her relatives to continue their education. Indeed, she took the opportunity in her novel, on page 76, to endorse bilingual education, saying “The teacher is going to be one who can talk both languages so that she can explain and teach these simple-minded sons of toil what it is all about.” The statement revealed not only her strong dedication to the learning process, but also her own sense of superiority as a direct descendant of Escandón’s noble Spanish families. Not all of her students were Mexican American, of course. After graduating from college, she taught in formal, public schools.

She taught at different ranch schools—once even on the King Ranch. Her first formal position in a public school was in Alice, Texas, where she served as principal of the Ward School. Here, she had the distinction of teaching J. Frank Dobie. Dobie would go on to be a famous educator and folklorist at the University of Texas at Austin in the 1930s.  Indeed, Dobie, himself, would direct the Master’s thesis of Jovita González in 1930. González became one of the best known Tejana writers of the 20th century with her history of the Tejano ranches of South Texas and her own novel, Caballero, also about a Tejano ranch family in South Texas. While Jovita would boast that she had studied under the famous J. Frank Dobie, Elena Zamora had the distinction of teaching Dobie. Although his biographers make no mention of his teacher at the Alice Ward School, it is a hallmark of Dobie’s books that he wrote of the proud ranching traditions of the South Texas Tejano culture. It would be difficult to imagine that he had not been so influenced by Elena Zamora.

Elena Zamora married Daniel Patrick O’Shea, who came into Alice, Texas to do some stone cutting on cemetery monuments. Dan O’Shea was a tall Irishman who had recently immigrated to the United States to do his trade in Texas. He had come from Dallas to do some work, when he met and married Elena on January 2, 1912, and took her back to Dallas with him. Elena had a son, Daniel Patrick O’Shea, Jr. and a daughter, Kathleen Ethel. 

Elena Zamora O’Shea had taught for twenty-three years, until 1918, and later served as a translator for Sears-Roebuck. She was a lifelong Democrat and Catholic, and was a member of the Dallas Woman’s Forum and the Latin American League—a precursor of LULAC. In fact, during her life, Elena communicated with other important Mexican-American leaders of Texas, such as J. Luz Saenz, who was a member of LULAC. Saenz lived in Alice at the same time as Elena, and was an author of a book on Mexican-American soldiers in World War I. He shared Elena’s patriotism and love of the Mexican culture in Texas.

She also strongly asserted her pride in her ranch life and her riding skills. Indeed, she often rode side saddle, although as mentioned in her novel, she preferred to straddle the horse. One relative remembered that in one incident, Elena demonstrated her riding ability to a group of relatives at her Rancho Posta del Palo Alto. Elena was standing with the group in front of the ranch house when a male rider rode his horse up to the group, and dismounted. Elena, who was called “La Bala de Elena” or “Elena, the Bullet,” then took a safety pin and pinned the skirts of her dress together between her legs. She then mounted the man’s horse, and rode at full speed down the trail to the courtyard gate. At that point, she reared the horse on its hind legs, giving a profile of rider and horse. She then rode straight at the group, stopping at the last instant in a cloud of dust in front of them. In one movement, she flung herself off the horse, and proclaimed, “Now, don’t you ever say that I can’t ride a horse as good as any man.” As “Elena, the Bullet” strutted away, everyone was impressed as much with her riding skill as with her need to prove her point. Elena was a strong woman, and she made strong statements with her words, her prose, and her actions.

In comparison with the above works on the Tejano ranching frontier, it is apparent that Elena Zamora O'Shea was not only ahead of her time, but that she accomplished her work with little collaboration or references. Indeed, in her own Preface, she alludes to the fact that she had to defy her own father's wishes to become a teacher and writer. Elena Zamora O'Shea was the embodiment of the spirit of Tejano historians of the last century.

Featured Lesson

As you begin planning your lesson on Texas land grants, make sure to check out the Teacher’s Guide from the Texas General Land Office. The Archives of the Texas General Land Office contains stories of people who risked everything for the opportunity to own a piece of land. This lesson plan includes information on how to use the GLO website to find valuable primary source documents including land grants, helpful vocabulary, suggested student activities, and field trip and student tour information.

Texas History News

Several opportunities for Texas history educators and students are available or are on the near horizon:

Learn the history of the Alamo at the Fourth Annual Save Texas History Symposium, The Alamo: Mission and Myth, hosted by the Texas General Land Office, September 7, 2013. Trace the beginnings of Texas’ most venerable locale with noted historians including Alwyn Barr, Gilberto Hinojosa, Thomas T. Smith and Andrés Tijerina. A special session just for educators is also included in the program. For more information, visit TeachingTexas.org.


Join the Terrell Flight Museum and British Flying Training School Museum for their annual Flights of our Fathers Weekend, September 21-22, 2013. Enjoy static and dynamic displays of military aircraft, guest speakers, book signings, a kid’s zone, museum tours, a pancake breakfast, BBQ cook-off, and a memorial service at Oakland Cemetery. Visit TeachingTexas.org for more information.

Teachers and students are invited to celebrate Constitution Day at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum on September 20th. This event will feature special exhibits, demonstrations, and activities that highlight the US Constitution, the founding fathers, and voting rights. Popular activities return from last year; including signing a giant Constitution, calligraphy demonstrations and typesetting and printing demonstrations. Cost is $3 per student and teachers and chaperones are free. Registration is required by September 17th. Visit TeachingTexas.org for additional information.


Would you like to be able to visit with a soldier from the Texas Revolution, a Buffalo Solider, or soldiers from World War I or II? Then join the Texas Time Travelers at the 2nd Annual Living History Timeline Event, September 20-22, 2013 in San Antonio. This event includes living historians representing various time periods from Roman times through Vietnam  and speakers throughout the three-day event. Special admission prices on Friday, September 20th for students and parents, and teachers and bus drivers are admitted free with their students. For more information, visit TeachingTexas.org.

Join the University of North Texas Department of History for the Teaching of History Conference (TCON). This event will be held on October 5, 2013 on the University of North Texas campus. Historical presenters include: Richard McCaslin, Katherine Jellison, Aaron Navarro, Denise Joseph, Edward Countryman, John Garrigus, Michael Gillette, Nicholas Salvatore, and Michael Leggiere. Teachers will earn CPE hours for attending. Visit TeachingTexas.org for more information.


Join the San Antonio Living History Association at Alamo Plaza for the Battle of Concepcion event, October 26th. Members of the association will be using authentic flintlock weapons, dressed in uniforms and clothing of the 1830s, and will participate in a commemorative ceremony and historic encampment with period demonstrations of life during the Texas Revolution. For more information, visit TeachingTexas.org.

The Texas State Historical Association, in partnership with JoSara MeDia, announces the availability of San Jacinto, an enhanced eBook for Apple’s iPad, iPhone, and iPod devices. The Battle of San Jacinto is recreated in words, pictures, interactive panoramas and maps, with links to TSHA’s Handbook of Texas Online, for in-depth research. See TeachingTexas.org for more information.


The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza welcomes speaker Fred Kaufman as a part of their 2013 Living History Series, on October 12, 2013. Mr. Kaufman was at the Fort Worth breakfast and Trade Mart luncheon on November 22, 1963. He took one of the first photographs of Lee Harvey Oswald in custody and covered the Jack Ruby trial. Find additional information at TeachingTexas.org.

The Region 10 Education Service Center and the Texas State Historical Association are proud to present the Energizing Texas History Conference, November 7-8, 2013 at the Old Red Museum in Dallas. This workshop, for 4th and 7th grade Texas history teachers will focus on Texas history from 1836 to the turn of the century. Teachers will earn either CPE or GT credit hours. For more information and registration information, visit TeachingTexas.org.


To make space for the arrival of the 2014-2015 Texas Almanac, the Texas State Historical Association is offering a special classroom teacher opportunity while supplies last. Teachers and school librarians can receive a class set, 36 copies, of the 2012-2013 Texas Almanac for only $60.00, the cost of shipping! Supplies are limited, and will be distributed on a first come basis. Visit the TSHA website for additional information.

Houston Arts and Media is proud to announce the release of Spanish Texas, part one of an eight part series of location based videos, The Birth of Texas SeriesSpanish Texas is the story of the missions, presidios and villas in this most remote part of New Spain. The settlers in this often hostile outpost would become known as Tejanos, and they would alternately battle and cooperate with the Anglos arriving in Texas from the east. There are filibusters and pirates, vast Texas ranchos, battles for survival and revolution against Royal Spain. View the official trailer. For more information on how to order your own copy of Spanish Texas, visit TeachingTexas.org.

  Step back in time with the Brazoria County Historical Museum as it presents the Ninth Annual Austin Town, November 1-2, 2013. A living history re-enactment, Austin Town recalls and celebrates the lives of those pioneers who settled Colonial Texas from 1821-1832. Set just north of Angleton, the fictitious Austin Town features character interpreters, demonstrators, sutlers, militia drill units, and period games. The purpose of this event is to provide an educational and entertaining experience for all. See TeachingTexas.org for more information.

Texas Insights is a publication of the Texas State Historical Association
in cooperation with the University of North Texas.

Texas State Historical Association
1155 Union Circle #311580
Denton, TX 76203-5017

Stephen Cure - Editor
JoNeita Kelly- Associate Editor  


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