William A. Owens Papers, Part Two

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William A. Owens Papers, Part Two


  • 1940-1980 (Creation)


42 boxes (17.5 linear feet)

Name of creator


Biographical history

William A. Owens, noted folklorist, author, and educator, was born in Pin Hook, Texas on November 2, 1905, the son of Charles Owens and Jessie Ann (Chenault) Owens. He spent his childhood on the small cotton farms around tiny rural communities of Pin Hook, Novice, Faught, and Blossom. Owens was indeed a child of the poverty and hard times that had gripped the agricultural regions of the South since the Civil War and Reconstruction. These early years, were, however, tempered by the love and closeness of his family, a family that sometimes had as many as four generations living under one roof. His father had died only a few days after Owens' birth, and it was from his mother that he learned the values of hard work and self reliance. In addition, he acquired a love of reading and a desire to obtain an education beyond the one room schoolhouses of Lamar County.

In an effort to finance his education, Owens undertook numerous odd jobs as a farmer's hired hand, stock clerk, and for a short time, combination waiter and dishwasher at Dallas University. In 1924 he entered East Texas State Teachers College in Commerce. Studying long hours on his own to make up for the deficiencies in his country school education and waiting tables and picking cotton to pay his way, Owens earned a high school diploma and elementary teaching certificate. After graduation, however, there were few jobs available in country schools and Owens lacked the qualifications to teach in the larger school systems.

Owens moved to Paris, Texas and for the next few years struggled against nearly overwhelming economic hardships to continue school at the newly opened junior college. Although these were very difficult times, he never lost sight of continuing his education and becoming a teacher.

With two years of college completed and a new teaching certificate, he returned to Pin Hook to teach in the one room school he had left only five years before. After two years teaching in country schools, Owens returned to college. He attended Southern Methodist University where he received the BA degree in 1932 and the MA degree in 1933. In 1941, he received his Ph.D. from the State University of Iowa. The title of his dissertation was "Texas Folk Songs."

With the completion of the Master's degree, Owens began his profession in earnest, compiling an enviable record as an academician with legions of grateful former students. During his career Owens taught at Greenville High School in Greenville, Texas (1934-35); Wesley College in Greenville, Texas (1935-36); Mississippi State College (1936); Robert E. Lee High School in Goose Creek, Texas (1936-37); Texas A & M University (1937-40, 1941-1947); University of Texas (1946); Columbia University (1947-1974). Additionally he served as Director of Research in Folk Materials (1941) and Director of the Oral History of Texas Oil Pioneers (1952-58) at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas. He also served as Director of the Summer Session (1959-1969) and Dean of the Summer Session (1969-72) at Columbia University. During World War II, Dr. Owens took leave from Texas A & M University and served with distinction as Officer in the United States Army, receiving the Legion of Merit for "meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service in Luzon, Philippines Islands" while serving with the 306th Counter Intelligence Corps Detachment.

While his career as teacher, lecturer, and administrator has been full, he is more widely known as a gifted author. In addition to numerous articles, reviews and short stories, his books serve as monuments to his craft. His works include Swing and Turn: Texas Play-Party Games (1936); Texas Folk Songs (1950, revised in 1976); Slave Mutiny: The Revolt on the Schooner Amistad (1953); Walking on Borrowed Land (1954); Fever in the Earth (1958); Look to the River (1963); This Stubborn Soil (1966); Three Friends: Bedichek, Dobie, Webb (1969); Tales From the Derrick Floor (with Mody C. Boatright, 1970); A Season of Weathering (1973); and A Fair and Happy Land (1975).

Dr. Owens married Ann S. Wood on December 23, 1946. Their two children are Jessie Ann and David Edward.

Content and structure elements

Scope and content

This collection supplements Part One of William A. Owens, in that it emphasizes the years from 1972 to 1980, yet also contains correspondence written prior to 1972. Therefore, it adds much to the first collection.

The collection is divided into seven categories. These are: Personal correspondence 1940-1980 (Series. 1-3), which also includes some printed reviews of Owens' books; Transcripts of the tapes containing the "Oral History of Texas Oil Pioneers" (Series. 4); Research materials, manuscripts and drafts for unpublished books written by Owens (Series. 5-8); Shorter works by Owens (Series. 9); Works written by other authors (Series. 10), and; Miscellaneous materials and drafts collected by Owens (Series. 11-13). Of special interest in this collection is correspondence concerned with Owens' books, letters from World War II, and the various drafts of books by Owens which have not been published.

Owens' personal correspondence files are further divided into three more specific categories. The first covers primarily the period 1972-1980 but also includes papers dating from prior to this period. This correspondence is broken down alphabetically according to a key word in the subject, name, company, or book. Within the letter grouping the papers are filed chronologically. The undated material follows the last dated papers. The compilers of the collection attempted as much as possible to keep the material grouped as Owens himself had had it arranged. This material contains correspondence with friends and fans on the writing and publication of his books, with organizations Owens participated in, on awards won by Owens, about folk songs, on the writing of other authors, and other various topics. To be especially noted about the dramatizations of This Stubborn Soil.

The second division of personal correspondence primarily covers 1940-1965. These letters are broken down by their subject matter and then arranged chronologically. The subjects covered are Owens war letters and letters with Annie Laurie Williams, who was Owens' literary agent.

The third division of the correspondence files covers Owens' tour with the National Humanities Series in 1972 and 1973. The production was entitled "Frontiers: Settling a Nation," and consisted of Owens and a folksinger. The papers include correspondence concerning the itineraries, reviews, and other matters of the tour. The first nine boxes hold this personal correspondence.

Also included in the correspondence files are the printed reviews of books authored by Owens. They are predominantly newspaper reviews although some were printed in journals and magazines. The reviews are broken down by title and arranged chronologically.

Filling the next seven boxes are the transcripts of the "Oral History of Texas Oil Pioneers" tapes. These are filed by the number of the tape. There are transcripts from 218 tapes.

The manuscripts of books written by Owens since 1975 compose the next category of the collection. The five titles of the books are Caves of Arayat, Running in Place, Japanese Soldiers in World War II, Not So Far Away, Not So Long Ago, Special Agent 2142, and the second edition of Texas Folk Songs. Of these books, only Texas Folk Songs, 2nd edition, has been published (1976). The first three works concern World War II, and the fourth is the third volume of Owens' autobiography. There are many drafts of each book, some having different titles. The drafts are filed from earliest to latest. Some of the drafts were not identified and have been filed as accurately as possible. The labels of the drafts include the number of the draft, whether it is typescript or a copy, and whether or not it contains written notes. The labels "manuscript" and "typescript" were used interchangeably.

One may find it interesting to examine the various drafts and trace the development of the books. Not So Far Away, Not So Long Ago, for example, has thirteen drafts and four different titles. The drafts are in good condition and are usually complete.

There are also numerous shorter works written by Owens. These are predominantly articles, essays, and short stories. Most of them appear in printed form, but some were never published. Of interest in an essay written for a Bicentennial essay contest which Owens subsequently used for a lecture.

This collection also contains three boxes of short works by other writers. These include histories of World War II operations in which Owens participated, articles on folklore and ethnic groups, and other topics which interested Owens. There are many works that were sent to Owens by students and friends for him to critique. Of special interest are two biographies of Owens and short stories by J. Frank Dobie.

The final category of the boxed papers contain miscellaneous material collected by Owens which includes magazines, pamphlets, and other material.

Separated from the collection is sixty books which Owens included in the collection. Most pertain to fields which Owens researched such as folksongs, ethnic groups in Texas, history of the oil industry, and others.

Also separated, are oversized materials such as Owens' Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts diplomas from Southern Methodist University, two large prints of an oil gusher, four parts of a copy of an old map of Virginia, and a copy of an 1898 map of Jefferson County, Texas.

System of arrangement

This collection is arranged into the following 13 series:

  • Series 1, Personal Correspondence A-Z, 1947-1980; Undated
  • Series 2, Personal Correspondence, 1940-1965; Undated
  • Series 3, Personal Correspondence NEH Tour, 1972-1973; Undated
  • Series 4, Transcripts from the Oral History of the Texas Oil Industry Tapes
  • Series 5, Caves of Arayat
  • Series 6, Running in Place
  • Series 7, Special Agent 2142
  • Series 8, Japanese Soldiers in World War II
  • Series 9, Miscellaneous Writings by Owens
  • Series 10, Writings by Other Authors
  • Series 11, Miscellaneous Drafts by Owens
  • Series 12, Texas Folk Songs (2nd ed)
  • Series 13, Miscellaneous Materials

Conditions of access and use elements

Conditions governing access

Physical access

These materials are stored offsite and require additional time for retrieval.

Technical access

Materials that are on tape must be digitized for access.

Conditions governing reproduction

Copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

Languages of the material

  • English

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Published Books included from, but not included in this collection:

  • Abernathy, Francis Edward, ed. Observations and Reflections on Texas Folklore. Austin: The Encino Press, 1972.
  • Abernathy, Francis Edward, ed. Tales From the Big Thicket. Austin: The University of Texas Press, 1966.
  • Abrahams, Roger D. and George Foss. Anglo-American Folksong Style. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1968.
  • Babcock, Merton C. The American Frontier. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1965.
  • Blair, Walter. Native American Humor. San Francisco: Chandler Publishing Co., 1960.
  • Boatright, Mody C. and William A. Owens. Tales From the Derrick Floor. New York: Doubleday and Co., 1970.
  • Colcord, Joanna C. Roll and Go. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1924.
  • Commager, Henry Steele. The American Land. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1950.
  • Connelly, W.L. The Oil Business As I Saw It. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1954.
  • Creighton, Helen ed. Songs and Ballads from Nova Scotia. Toronto: J.M. Dent and Sons, 1933.
  • Doerflinger, Wiliam Main. Shantymen and Shantyboys. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1951.
  • Dorson, Richard M. American Folklore. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1959.
  • Engel, Carl. An Introduction to the Study of National Music. London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer, 1866.
  • Fawcett, F. Burlington. Broadside Ballads of the Restoration Period. London: John Lane the Booley Head, 1930.
  • Flanagan, John T. and Arthur Palmer Hudson, eds. Folklore in American Literature. New York: Row, Peterson and Co., 1958.
  • Fowke, Edith and Alan Mills. Canada's Story in Song. Toronto: W.F. Gage.
  • Golay, Frank H., ed. The United States and the Philippines. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1966.
  • Graves, Stella Marie. Min River Boat Songs. New York: The John Day Co., 1946.
  • Gummere, Francis B., ed. Old English Ballads. In the "Athenaeum Press' series. Boston: Gin and Co., "1894.
  • Heart Songs. New York: The Chapple Publishing Co., 1909.
  • Jordan, Gilbert J. German Texana. Burnet, Texas: Eakin Press, 1980.
  • Jordan, Gilbert J. Yesterday in the Texas Hill Country. College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 1979.
  • Leach, MacEdward, ed. The Ballad Book. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1953.
  • Life's Picture History of World War II. New York: Time Inc., 1950.
  • Loesser, Arthur. Humor in American Song. New York: Howell, Soskin, 1942.
  • Lomax, John A. Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads. New York: The MacMillan Co., 1936.

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Archivist's note

Finding Aid Authors: Steven M. Jones and Cynthia A. Burdick.

Archivist's note

© Copyright 2019 Cushing Library. All rights reserved.

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