A History of Collin County, Texas   [back to issue]


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  • by Tom Keener  
    Fourth in a series on historical resources for Collin County history.  
    During their retirement, husband and wife, J. Lee and Lillian Stambaugh, wrote two important books on Texas history, The Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas and A History of Collin County, Texas. The late Richard Bosse, owner of the Aldredge Bookstore, an antiquarian book store in Dallas that is now closed, declared these two books as "two of the top ten Texas local history resources."  
    Unlike many local histories from that era, A History of Collin County, Texas is well documented. It contains useful and relatively accurate geographical and anthropological information on indigenous tribes such as the Caddo, describing them as an advanced culture, and not the more typical depiction of "savages." During the early pioneer era, when a settler’s quarrel resulted in murder, the victorious party could easily blame a Native-American raid for the death.  
    A History of Collin County, Texas documents one incident when a settler blamed a Native American raid for a slaying, but the authors’ information suggests that the surviving settler was the actual killer. This impartiality was uncommon in the 1950s, indicating their professional standards.  
    Raised in Celina, J. Lee Stambaugh was the grandson of an early pioneer family. In 1858, his grandfather’s family emigrated from Illinois. They had been warned not to stop at any time while crossing the Red River or they would sink into quicksand. Heeding this advice, his great-grandparents and grandfather crossed the Red River successfully. The party behind him made the sad mistake of stopping in the river and the wagon wheels were trapped in the mire. They worked all day to get their wagon out of the river, and after giving up, hired Native Americans to do the job. These men had no trouble pulling the wagon out of the river and the travelers’ journey to Collin County continued.  
    A 1920 graduate from North Texas State (now the University of North Texas), J. Lee first became a school principal and later a school superin-tendent for the Pharr San Juan Alamo school district where he served for over 20 years. During World War One, J. Lee became a commissioned officer, maintaining this postion during the 1920s and 1930s. At the onset of World War II, commissioned officers were summoned for duty. He became a range officer at Camp Gruber, which was near Muskogee, Oklahoma. After the war, J. Lee joined the Veterans Administration, a position held until retirement.  
    Raised in Weatherford, Lillian Johnson Stambaugh also graduated from North Texas State and later became a teacher. J. Lee’s and Lillian’s son, John Stambaugh states, "Since young adulthood, father collected stories and information for these two regions and interviewed sons and daughters of early pioneers. Preserving Texas’ heritage was a passion for them. After retirement, father researched and compiled history while mother composed the text."  
    In 1958, the Texas State Historical Society published A History of Collin County, Texas. It provides information on pioneer families, telephone companies, biographies, Civil War and Reconstruction, early schools, churches, fraternal lodges, transportation, eco-nomic development and newspapers. For example, the Stambaughs report that the McKinney Messenger became Collin County’s first newspaper in 1858 and by 1920, over 25 newspapers operated in Collin County. (This is a remarkable feat for a rural county.) Also noted was that Allen’s first newspaper was the Allen Messenger, established in 1921, and it was followed ten years later by the Allen Times. This second newspaper folded because of the Great Depression.  
    It was this information from the Stambaughs that led me to search for copies of these early Allen publications. I eventually located a single copy of the Allen Times at the Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library at the Alamo. Librarian Elaine Davis was gracious enough to make a photocopy of this newspaper for me.  
    As both Mr. and Mrs. Stambaugh were educators, it is no wonder that early education was afforded a prominent role in their book. They knew the challenges that rural teachers faced—low wages, dated textbooks, no running water or electricity.  
    As with many local histories, much of the genealogical information and stories rely upon newspaper accounts and family recollections. Information from those sources can be distorted or incorrect. J. Lee and Lillian’s son John Stambaugh points out, "The book states that Nevada was named for the State of Nevada but Nevada’s pioneer families were from Nevada, Missouri, and I am certain that Nevada was named for the City of Nevada." Despite minor questions, overall, A History of Collin County, Texas provides valuable information on Collin County’s first century.  
    By the late 1960s, this book was out of print and was available only in rare book stores at premium prices. In 2000, the Collin County Historic Preservation Group Inc. reprinted the book and it is now available for $59.95 plus postage. Please contact Martha Bundy at 972.562.4052. For local orders, Martha will personally deliver the book to your house with no additional fee. Also, the Allen Public Library has several copies in its reference section but they cannot be checked out.  
    Shortly before her death in 1989 at the age of 101, I interviewed Lillian Stambaugh and she recalled how families helped by contributing photos, letters, diaries and documents. "President Johnson’s mother Rebekah Baines Johnson sent us a photo of John Huffman" (President Johnson’s great-grandfather and Collin County pioneer). Ms. Stambaugh’s face glowed, honored that someone was asking questions about a book she co-authored forty years earlier. I asked her to sign my first edition and while doing so, she wrote a long inscription about my late grandmother Ruth Bolling, her long-time friend.  
    John Stambaugh assisted the Allen Heritage Guild and Channel 16 with the creation of the award-winning documentary, History of the Allen Telephone Company. Thus, the Stambaugh family is still preserving Texas history, now for almost one hundred years.  
    Call me and tell me your story at 214.509.4911.  
    Tom Keener is the cultural arts coordinator with the Allen Public Library.

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