There are two sides to every story, or so they say, and, in this case, Randy Farmer, historian and local author, recounts a side of Collin County history that many may not have heard. Farmer recently sat down with TownSquareBuzz to discuss his latest book, From Blackland Prairie to Blacktop: A History of Collin County, which chronicles the development of Collin County.
A financial planner, Farmer grew up in the Dallas area and now resides in Plano. He serves as a board member of the North Texas History Center,
TSB: What motivated you to write a book on the history of Collin County?
RF: I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I started writing my first book in 4th grade; I took writing in college and I wrote a book on financial planning. I grew up here, (in Dallas) and so many bad things happened in Texas – I wanted to set the record straight. There are now so many people who live here who have no idea of what it means to have gotten to where we are today as a county.
One of the examples in my book sets the record straight. William Quantrill, legend has it, came down (crossing the Red River) to lynch a popular sheriff of Collin County, but research shows that he wasn’t in Collin County when the sheriff died. (Read the book to find out the details of a fight that took place in McKinney).
I wanted to share the story of the James Gang and some really bad outlaws who were in Collin County. By 1870, most of the outlaws had moved to Dallas, which became the gambling capital of the United States in the 1920’s.
Also, former slave owners from Kansas and Missouri moved into Collin County, post Civil War, pushing out those settlers who tended to be Unionists. It was this part of the story that had been covered up that interested me.
TSB: So you have a passion for writing. What inspires you most about writing?
RF: Telling the story – finding things that people don’t know about. I was always taught growing up that there were two sides to every story. When I was growing up, Collin County was a small farming community. I always heard one side of the story – that the Union won the Civil War. The other side of this history story is that the confederates in Texas thought they won the Civil War and the truth is, they did win what is known as the Second Civil War, or the war after the Civil War.
TSB: What do you mean by the Second Civil War?
RF: This was the Civil War that took place mostly in Texas, during the reconstruction period. Even though Collin County, and McKinney, were largely sympathetic with the Union, the occupying forces left Texas in 1873 and a succession of former Confederates held the power, becoming Texas governors.
TSB: Where did most of the second Civil War take place?
RF: McKinney, Collin, Fannin, Hunt and Grayson Counties.
TSB: What was the most interesting thing you learned about our history while writing the book? What surprised you the most?
RF: I was fascinated to learn that the old Confederate officers made a concerted effort to write their version of history. According the them, as I said, the Confederates won the war (Civil War) in Texas. It helped me understand the disconnect that I experienced growing up when my dad talked about “those Yankees”, even though he fought side by side with them during WWII.
I was most surprised to learn how prosperous Collin County has been from the beginning. The blackland prairie was very fertile land and the area was a huge producer of wheat and great pasture for raising cattle. Even during the Civil War there was a an underground economy – “good” Confederates sold cattle to the enemy. When the railroad arrived in 1872, things really took off and the county prospered.
TSB: How long did it take you to write the book?
RF: About six years ago, I started volunteering at the North Texas History Center and during that time, I came across a county criminal fee book. There was a record of the fees paid by criminals in that book. Frank James was booked in the jail here (McKinney) in 1883 and his trial – he was found not guilty – finished here in 1884. The History Center came up with the idea of a book for a fundraiser. It was my idea to tell the other side of the story.
TSB: Why is understanding history so important?
RF: We always here the statement “Those who ignore history are bound to repeat it”. I think that we are now going through a modern day depression. History shows that a financial crisis occurs about every sixty years. Will the same kind of criminal element that appeared in the 1930’s also become sort of heroes in today’s world? We learn from studying history. It’s important to understand how Collin County has evolved from the world where a guy was a real man if he fought, drank and carried guns to who we are today.
TSB: Is there another book in the work?
RF: Yes, I’m working on “An Ordinary Hero of the Free State of Van Zandt“.
Local author Randy W. Farmer plans to bring the intrigue of 19th century outlaws to life as he focuses his presentation on one of the more suspicious chapters of our county’s early existence at the Collin County Historical Society for the first in a series of lectures on July 30, 2 p.m. at the North Texas History Center, 300 E. Virginia in downtown McKinney.
Farmer’s latest book, From Blackland Prairie to Blacktop: A History of Collin County, will be available to purchase at the event for $39.95. After the presentation, he will be available to sign the books. There is a special promotion for anyone attending. For $49.99 you will automatically become a member of the Collin County Historical Society for one year and receive a copy of the book.