Are you currently homebound, semi-homebound or have a historical curiosity and internet access? Here is an activity for you.

What do Texas Gov. John Connally, Lillian Gunter, Carrie Nation, Lewis Rigler, Santa Claus and the late Ona Wright have in common? They are all in the Portal to Texas History, a digitized collection of over 14,000,000 items pertaining to Texas history, including documents, articles, newspapers, photos and maps. It is maintained by the University of North Texas with over 400 partners sharing their collections. One of those partners is the Cooke County Library.

The aforementioned persons can be found under the searched subject, "Cooke County."

Gov. John Connally came to Gainesville in January 1967 to dedicate Gainesville businessman Homer Koon's Ranger Arms Manufacturing Co.

Lillian Gunter, longtime Cooke County librarian, had been a major lobbyist to get legislation passed to allow for the creation of county libraries in Texas. Gainesville's Carnegie Library was the second county library created in Texas, but that's not the reason for this particular reference to her in the Portal. This particular entry is a letter dated Feb. 9, 1919, from John S. Hardy, a postal clerk serving the U.S. Army in LeMans, France, to Miss Lillian Gunter. He is congratulating her for being the first woman to pay a poll tax as a requirement for voting in Cooke County. He states that he has changed his mind to favor "equal suffrage" since "we debated the question in our schools."

(A note of clarification: A special piece of 1917 Texas legislation allowed women to register to vote in the 1918 Democratic primary without having to pay the poll tax. This was prior to the adoption of the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women's suffrage. Parx Hays, Cooke County tax collector and father of Margaret Hays, registered over 2,000 women voters in that special election in 1918.)

Carrie (or Carry) Nation, the hatchet-wielding temperance crusader, came to Gainesville on March 6, 1905, and gave a spirited temperance lecture to a large audience at the the Gainesville Opera House (from the Daily (Gainesville) Hesperian, March 7, 1905).

From the KXAS-NBC 5 News Collection, dated Dec. 19, 1955: Texas Ranger Lewis (misspelled "Louis" in the Portal) Rigler, accompanied by Cooke County Deputy Sheriff Archie Nichols, arrested Wilbur Thomas Brown in the home of his sister in Dallas for the murder of his wife, Billie Brown, in their Gainesville garage apartment. She was hacked to death with a meat cleaver. Wilbur was a former mental patient at the U.S. Public Health Service in Fort Worth and was employed by the Santa Fe Railroad at the time. Billie was a nurse at the Gainesville Sanitarium. (If interested in the gruesome details, go to findagrave.com and search for Billie Marie Allen Brown, death year 1955. She is buried in Fairview Cemetery.)

On a lighter note, Santa Claus was apparently a patron of the Cooke County Library in the late 1940s. A photo from the Cooke County Collection shows Santa in front of the library's bookmobile along with Emmitt Cameron, L. V. Henry, Olna Boaz and Cliff McMahon.

There are numerous items pertaining to the history of the Cooke County Library since these items are from the Cooke County Library collections. Among those items is a letter from Mrs. E. E. (Ona) Wright Jr. to her Gainesville city councilman. Dr. Ona Wright had a distinguished career as chair of the English and Foreign Language Department at North Central Texas College. This letter is a follow-up to a large Gainesville PTA's delegation appearance before the Gainesville City Council meeting of Sept. 15, 1959. This delegation gave a report on the state of the county library, including its needs, finances and problems. (This later had an impact on the construction of the current library on South Weaver Street.)

The letter reported that there were over 7,500 active library cards in use, and 20% of the patrons lived outside of Gainesville. At that time the library maintained four rural stations in Rosston, Concord, Tyler Bluff and Lemons.

What is presented here is the tip of the iceberg of what is available in the Portal to Texas History. There is no telling what historic gem or startling piece of trivia a browser might find.

Ron Melugin is author of “Heroes, Scoundrels, and Angels: Fairview Cemetery, Gainesville,” chairman of the Cooke County Historical Commission and a retired history professor from North Central Texas College.

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