Dallas Historical Society Newsletter
May, 2008 
In This Issue
Photo Archives
The Bixby Letter
DHS Exhibits
Raffle Winner
Article Headline
Quick Links
AFE Star 
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-By Ed Owens
  I will be honest that I do not understand the whole tattoo thing. I suppose it is generational, but I grew up believing that people with tattoos should also be sporting eye patches, peg legs, and a parrot squawking "Pieces o' eight! Pieces o' eight!"  Surely our sainted grandmothers would not have approved. My grandmother, who knew about such things, said that it is a sign of ill breeding; but then she dipped snuff.

 Imagine my surprise, when, a few weeks back I came across this curious photograph in our archives. The envelope it came in only said, "Two women in large hats."  I was in the process of scanning and forgetting the photo when I had one of those "what was that!" moments. Working in PhotoShop, I enlarged and highlighted the area that had attracted my attention, "Are those tattoos on those women's legs?" I thought. "And why in the name of all that is decent are they exposing them?" Upon closer examination the tattoos appear to be paintings not tattoos, but still I found it odd that two young ladies of the early twentieth century, regardless of fashion, would be flaunting their legs. With some knowledge of period fashion, I guessed the photo to be pre-World War I, approximately 1915.  The background offers no clue as to where the photo was taken, but I have to assume that these are Dallas girls. I showed the photo around the office and one person even suggested that they might not be women at all, but men.
 That is one of the advantages of working on the archives and looking closely at thousands of old photographs, I am always finding things that are not supposed to be. History is like that. One reads a ton books on a subject, and one would think to have learned the facts, only to then come across a photograph of a Civil War soldier in canvas shoes with rubber soles, or an Indian Wars general wearing a wristwatch, or two Edwardian girls with tattoos on their legs, and one is reminded that truly there is nothing new under the sun. Even Granny, back in the day, had a sense of cool.
 My point is almost all history is verbal, and it is only as correct as the person manipulating the story. These old photographs are what they are. They say that at this one particular instance in time, this was how it was, right here, right now. I hope I said that right.
I'm now thinking about getting my own tattoo, a very small Confederate flag just above my right eyebrow maybe. Hey, it's fashionable.  What can I say?
The Hall of State:  A Treasure Trove of Dallas History and Culture.

This month we will focus on some of the many programs and allurement of the Hall of State, home of the Dallas Historical Society.
The Bixby Letter
AFE Star
If you remember, it was U. S. Army Chief of Staff George Marshall in "Saving Private Ryan," reading a Lincoln letter penned to a mother who had lost her five sons to the American Civil War that set the premise for the movie. While Marshall's reading of the famous "Bixby Letter" in the film was fictional, there was such a letter.  This famous and controversial letter, acclaimed to be one of the finest pieces of Lincolnian prose, has its own fascinating story and is linked to the Dallas Historical Society.
Actually, historically, President Lincoln had his story a little off.  Requested by Massachusetts's Governor John A. Andrew to write the letter, Lincoln sent his condolences to Mrs. Lydia (Parker) Bixby, a Boston widow who was to have suffered the loss of her sons.  However, of her five sons who were supposed to have been killed, only two, Charles and Oliver, were lost in battle; Edward and George deserted the Union forces and Henry was honorably discharged.  Mrs. Bixby, a suspected Southern sympathizer, destroyed the original letter upon receipt.
The letter was written on November 21, 1864 and published in the Boston Transcript four days later.  Other newspaper copies were made and the letter became well-known.  In 1891, copies were made for popular consumption that sold for $1.00.  And, over the years, forgeries, claiming authenticity, appeared.
A mystery shrouds the letter as to who actually was its author.  Studies have been made over the years of the syntax, style and language used and those studies are augmented by the supposed facts surrounding the creation of the letter.  Some believe Lincoln was its author and others believe it was written by the President's secretary, John Hay.
The Dallas Historical Society is linked to this story because it has a copy of the Bixby Letter in its collection that looks pretty good.  At the top of the letter is inscribed "A copy," but, after a cursory examination, and no one claiming expertise, the handwriting looks good, the paper is of the period and the ink has turned brown with age. The mystery continues!
If you are interested, just Google "Bixby Letter" to learn more.
 -Thomas H. Smith, Ph.D.

DHS Exhibits
The Land that Shaped the People: Texas ranching heritage
Located in the North and South Texas Rooms
The exhibit will also focus on how ranching was done. The day to day logistics of running a small spread to the giant cattle drives was a daunting task that took a special kind of person, not only to handle the chores but merely to survive. The working tools of the trade have been laid out for all to see. Sponsored by Sterling Bank.
Texas Under Six Flags
Located in the East Texas Room and the Hall of Heroes 
The collections of the Dallas Historical Society contains many rare and unique documents and artifacts relating to Texas history. A number of which have not been viewed by the public in many years. The exhibit focuses in on Texas history from the time it was occupied by Native cultures, discovered by Europeans, was an independent Republic, and continues through 1870.

Our Park, Fair Park
In the Sharp Gallery.
The Dallas Historical Society's exhibit, "Fair Park-Our Park" recalls the past history of Fair Park while offering hints of the future.

Raffle Winner
 Congratulations to Mr. William V. Gilliand, Jr. of Dallas. He's our winner in the raffle for a copy of Evelyn Barker's new book "A Texas Journey, the Centennial photographs of Polly Smith." The drawing was held Saturday June 6th at the Hall of State as part of our opening of the new exhibit "The Land that Shaped the People; Texas Ranching Heritage."
Saturday Matinee
 Saturday, July 26th DHS will be showing the 1964 classic "Zulu" starring Michael Caine. Ed Owens will be on hand to deliver a "reel vs. real" lecture on the film and to show several uniforms items of the period. The film will be showing in the auditorium in the Hall of State at 11:00 AM. Lecture and film will be open to the public.
If we may be of service to you in the future with discovering our past feel free to contact, visit or join the DHS.
The Dallas Historical Society