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Arlington's 'unofficial historian' publishes new essays on city's notable women, Black history

 Author and former Arlington newspaper publisher O.K. Carter holds his latest edition of "Caddos, Cotton and Cowboys: Essays on Arlington" like a prized catch. He's wearing a blue shirt and sporting a grin. The book is black and red, with pictures of people in nature and Globe Life Field in the city's entertainment district.
Kailey Broussard
/
KERA
O.K. Carter holds his newly published, fourth edition of "Caddos, Cotton and Cowboys." The latest edition includes chapters on great women in Arlington and local Black history. Carter has earned the title of the city's "unofficial historian" over the years.

An update to a quintessential resource for Arlington's history focuses on notable women throughout city history and the city's Black history.

"Caddos, Cotton and Cowboys: Essays on Arlington" by O.K. Carter recounts the city's origins as a fort to the Top 50 list of most populous U.S. cities. That journey includes an illustrious gambling past, rapid population growth and a booming tourism industry.

Carter will discuss his newest edition at2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Fielder House Museum, 1616 W. Abram St.

Carter,former publisherof the Arlington Star-Telegram and the Arlington Citizen-Journal, wrote more than 10,000 over his career covering the city. He's garnered the title "unofficial historian" through his years of columns, editorials and, more recently, videos about Arlington. He spoke with KERA's Kailey Broussard at the Fielder Museum to discuss the essay collection.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What was the impetus for the first edition of 'Caddos, Cotton and Cowboys?'

"There's a now deceased historian here named Arista Joyner, who wrote a book about Arlington history that kind of stopped at 1910. Then I worked with her on the second edition of it that she came out with, and then we became very close friends. So basically, I made her a deathbed promise to write a more complete history of Arlington. And then she died, and then I just sort of forgot about it for the next 20 years. But those kind of promises kind of come back to haunt you. You have to do it."

What's been the impact locally and beyond since its first publication?

"I think that's a good question. You know, you have these kind of books and you don't know what kind of interest that you're going to have. This one is going through a fourth edition now. And it's sold I think a little bit more than 2,000 copies. So it's become basically what they call the definitive work of Arlington's history. So it's been a fairly impactful book in what you might say is a pretty small historical pond."

And let's talk about the new edition. It includes chapters on notable women in Arlington, as well as the city's Black history. What inspired you to add those chapters?

"As you're looking at any city's history and you're looking at women's history. What you find is basically a group that for a long time did not have the right to vote, basically were doing secondary roles -- in theory - to men. As I kept looking at it, I kept finding more and more exemplary examples of women who really sort of defied that stereotype despite the times that they lived in. I considered it basically a sort of an oversight for really for the same reason that I ended up doing the Black history chapter, because it's just one of those things that really needs to be done."

What are some of the stories that you've collected that have been most striking to you?

"When I was working on the great women of Arlington chapter, for example, I came across Carrie Rogers, who was I think 15 or 16 ... When the train first showed up here in 1876, and Carrie ended up being married to a wealthy merchant who then she divorced. Back then, they had the census in the 1900 census, She's the only divorced woman in Arlington, but she is a civic leader. And in 1902, 18 years before Prohibition, she persuades the men of the town to vote the whole town dry. This is before women have the vote. Then, basically, she helped create the first organization that would eventually become the chamber of commerce. And then the city council decides that they need a more motherly approach to the sort of the thuggery in town. And so they name her the town marshal and she becomes the first and only female town marshal in Arlington, and I think in Texas for probably for the next 50 or 60 years."

How do you feel about the state of collecting and preserving the city's history?

"We're in the Fielder Museum, and that is really the sort of the main custodian of the city's history. They collect photographs, they collect written materials, They collect other types of things. The library, too, has kind of an oral history collection. And we're doing some of those those things here. I think preserving city's history, particularly a fast-growing place like Arlington, where you have 7,800 people in, say, 1950, and you look up today, you have 400,000, there's so little of the original community left that you tend to think that it never existed or it was of no consequence of which, when in fact, you really have an extraordinarily colorful community and really one that's older than Dallas orFort Worth."

What else is new in addition to the two new chapters?

"You don't have to do much about the early history up through the 1950s and 1960s, but a lot has happened in Arlington ... You know, there's the (National) Medal of Honor Museum. There is sort of the esports facility, which I think is the largest in the country. There is sort of the shift of the city from running its own convention center to letting a big hotel take it over. There is Globe Life Park that comes into being. So there's a lot happening and there are two or three major political events involving mayoral races ... And there's always some other things; historical markers change. So pretty much most of the revisionist stuff other than just doing tweaking for grammar. If you ever do a book, every time you go to it, you change something else. I promise not to do any more editions to this one, so I'm going to assign it over to the museum so it'll be up to some future generation person to rewrite it again."

One of the first edition's chapters includes a section called 'Tipping points,' which comprise Arlington's defining moments and predictions for the future. Has anything surprised you in recent years about the way you know Arlington has grown and changed since first publication?

"I have been surprised at the continuing survival and really the just the continuing expansion of the General Motors plant here. I have been surprised at the arrival of the Cowboys because the whole time we were talking with them, I really thought that they were just sort of jerking Dallas' chain to try to get a better deal somewhere else. So I really was surprised when they showed up."

Got a tip? Email Kailey Broussard at kbroussard@kera.org. You can follow Kailey on Twitter @KaileyBroussard.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, considermaking a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.

Kailey Broussard covers Arlington for KERA News and The Arlington Report. Broussard has covered Arlington since 2020 and began at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram before joining the station in 2021.