By Madeline Clites, program specialist for CHC Outreach Program
April is National County Government Month, so we're taking this opportunity to express our appreciation to county officials and their staff for supporting historic preservation in the Lone Star State! The Texas Historical Commission’s (THC) programs work with counties on a daily basis to improve the livelihood of communities across Texas. This article is part of a blog series that highlights how counties value preservation.
The Crosby County Historical Commission (CHC) is a consistently active preservation organization that is known for engaging organizations and citizens in its events. Crosby County Judge David Wigley states, “The people here have a strong sense of their history.” During his tenure, Judge Wigley has nurtured a great working relationship with the Crosby CHC and supported history-related initiatives, most notably the 100-year anniversary of the county courthouse and cemetery preservation.
We asked Judge Wigley about his interest in preserving county history, and why he thinks a county’s respect for history reflects citizenship and stewardship.
What role does the CHC play in Crosby County?
I encourage the CHC and citizens to bring issues to the commissioners’ court, and I refer citizens who have issues relating to history to the CHC chair. Recently, a Crosby County citizen approached me about the condition of a rural historic cemetery known as Emma Cemetery. The property was in bad shape due to dust and dirt storms over the years. I connected him with Bettye Odom, the CHC chair. The CHC organized a clean-up and the county commissioners provided the machinery and labor. The cemetery was restored, and the land owner, who had an interest in history, ended up serving as an appointee on the CHC. He has made an excellent addition to the commission!
What kind of relationship do you have with the CHC chair and appointees?
I moved to Crosby County 37 years ago. I was working as the principal of an elementary school and the current CHC chair, Bettye Odom, was working as the school’s librarian. We have had a good working relationship throughout the years. She treats me like a brother, and that’s how she should treat me!
Did you enjoy history before becoming judge?
Yes, I love history! I love county, state, New Mexican, and U.S. history. I don’t believe you can know who you are without knowledge of where you’ve come from. History teaches us how we can safeguard the freedoms we enjoy.
How did the county contribute to or support the 100-year anniversary of the county courthouse?
The courthouse’s 100-year birthday celebration was an event planned and hosted by the CHC, three cities in Crosby County, and the county government—although all the credit really goes to the CHC and the cities. I led the opening ceremonies and gave a 45-minute talk on a historic murder trial that occurred in 1927 here in Crosby County. The victim’s youngest daughter is still living and came with her family to the presentation about her father’s murder.
The celebration also featured a memorial to all the veterans who have served their country, especially those from Crosby County. The celebration included a parade of historic vehicles. My wife and I contributed two restored antique vehicles to the parade––a 1951 Plymouth and a 1949 Dodge pick-up truck.
Your talk on the murder trial from 1927 sounds very interesting. How did you learn about the trial?
About ten years ago, I went to the District Clerk’s office looking for past court cases. The clerk suggested I read a record that included a complete transcript of the trial from 1927. It was really just by chance that I stumbled across the records. When I retire, I hope to write a book about the trial, maybe a creative history.
What preservation projects or initiatives do you hope to see in the future?
I don’t actively look for historic preservation projects, but I encourage county citizens to talk with me, the county commissioners, or the CHC if they have an issue or a need. We can get the project done if everyone does their part.
We are currently working on one project at the courthouse. Inside the courthouse, we feature pictures of all the county judges and district judges who have ever served in Crosby County. The collection is around 95 percent complete for the judges, but the district judge collection needs work. It is only 50 percent complete.
The county is also waiting on the arrival of two new historical markers. I believe those are at the foundry now. And I am also planning to make a road trip, hopefully this year, to visit the rural county cemeteries. I would like to assess their condition and see if the county needs to support any major work.
What do you hope to teach future generations through your preservation efforts?
I hope that whoever comes after me will build on what I and the other county commissioners have created. This county has a do-it-yourself, can-do mentality and I don’t want that to change. I really just hope that the next judge loves the county like I do. If he or she truly loves the county, caring about the history will take care of itself.
My father told me how you can always judge the character of a town, big or small, by looking at the cemetery. How the people keep the cemetery is a good indication of how they treat the living. If the cemetery is in good condition, the town takes care of its citizens. Of course, my dad was in the tombstone business for 50 years!