Big Bend Chat
Big Bend Community => Places of Interest Surrounding the Park => Topic started by: SHANEA on April 06, 2007, 10:35:35 AM
Big Bend archives feature regional treasures
Ruth Campbell<br>Staff Writer
Email to a friendPost a CommentPrinter-friendlyALPINE -- Thousands of records, photographs and oral histories from across Far West Texas are housed in the pristine confines of the Bryan Wildenthal Memorial Library on the Sul Ross State University campus in Alpine.
Opened in 1977, the archives are also part of the library's special collections. There is a public reading room, the Trans-Pecos room where readings are held, interviews are taped and meetings held with donors.
"A lot of our (items) come from a group called the West Texas Historical and Scientific Society," senior archivist Melleta Bell said. "It's a regional repository for paper materials that document the history and culture of Big Bend, the Trans-Pecos and the corresponding border of northern Mexico."
"We have manuscript collections, maps, photographs, oral histories and books," Bell said. "That encompasses Texanna and rare and valuable books that are not circulated."
Theses written by Sul Ross students, items from the yearly Cowboy Poetry Gathering, regional history, poetry, geology, blueprints, records from a group that opposed a low-level radioactive disposal facility in Sierra Blanca, business and legal records are also stored in the archives.
"We try to look to the future as well as to what will be important," Bell said.
Helping find the future archives is field representative B.J. Gallego, now in his 10th year with the institution. He works on acquiring oral histories, collections and photographs.
"What is interesting is people come back to Alpine and we help them (get) local information on families. I think it's wonderful that Alpine has the university here with the archives and that it's a resource for history, not only that but the preservation of history, which includes the surrounding area," Gallego said. "We work closely with the Museum of the Big Bend, Center for Big Bend Studies."
"People have a lot of history in this area. People were here before the Mexican Revolution. I'm talking about the Presidio/Fort Davis area," he added.
The former social worker said it's important to remember we are here because of the strengths and struggles of our forefathers. "Over the years, I've had an interest in the history of our area and even more the history of our culture. Something I feel I'm doing is teaching awareness and history of our region."
Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Users include Sul Ross students, faculty and staff. "Then we have scholarly researchers from around the country -- sometimes out of the country. We have a lot of genealogists who come," Bell said.
Photos from the archives are often used in books and journal articles, said Dean of Library and Information Technologies Don Dowdey.
Items the library carries are accessible by Internet, but there are also people who walk in with questions. Bell and Dowdey said the library even will send copies of newspaper articles, photos and documents to help people with research.
In 2001, the library was renovated. "We about doubled our space. It was kind of a dark hole before," Bell said.
B.J. Smith, an original Sul Ross faculty member, collected artifacts, papers and photos pertaining to the history of the area and kept them for about 10 years. The Museum of the Big Bend opened in 1936.
The mid-1970s, materials were pulled together and organized as the department of the library and opened so people could use them. Through the years, a combination of library items and collections from other areas were gathered
Over the years, many people have contributed to the archives from business people to notables to longtime residents.
The late Texas Ranger Capt. Roy W. Aldrich provided a book and manuscript collection covering 60 years, Clifford B. Casey and Everett Ewing Townsend, a former Texas Ranger often called the father of Big Bend National Park.
Following Aldrich's death in 1955, the materials were left to his housekeeper, Mrs. R.M. Riley Sr. of Austin. Funds were donated by former students, friends, Sul Ross professors and numerous individuals to purchase the collection, according to information from the archives.
The collection was acquired from Mrs. Riley in spring 1958 and originally was housed in the old library building. It is now in the archives.
Aside from the books, photos and manuscripts the archives feature, they also have received some unusual items such as a mummified hummingbird. A transcript of the post-World War II Nuremberg trial was also contributed by a local doctor whose brother was a military policeman at the trial.
"They're important history in general and they actually get used quite a bit, usually by history students and junior historians" from the primary schools, Bell said.
Unpublished manuscript (?)
During the 1960's while doing geological field work, we ate many meals at the Big Bend Cafe over in Marathon. Shirley Rooney (owner?) was writing a history of the area. Find no record of the book. Was it ever published, or is the manuscript there in the collection?
Bill Slater, Canyon Lake, Texas