Texas state historian joins Tarleton as endowed chair

Dr. Debbie Liles

STEPHENVILLE (August 24, 2018) — Dr. Debbie Liles, a Texas Civil War-era historian, has been named Tarleton State University’s W.K. Gordon Endowed Chair in Texas History.

The late Mrs. W.K. Gordon Jr. provided funding for the endowed professorship as well as the W.K. Gordon Center for Industrial History of Texas in Thurber.

“Dr. Liles’ scholarship and breadth of knowledge will help deepen our students’ understanding of Texas history and continue the ongoing research of the Gordon Center,” said Tarleton Provost Karen R. Murray. “We are especially grateful to the late Mrs. W.K. Gordon and the Gordon Foundation for the financial support to make this appointment possible.”

Liles has extensive knowledge of historical Texas and its place in the South, primarily the role of cattle raisers.

In 2016, Liles co-authored an award-winning book, Women in Civil War Texas: Diversity and Dissidence in the Trans-Mississippi, which was the first to examine the role Texas women played during the Civil War.

She is also co-editor of Texas Women and Ranching: On the Range, At the Rodeo, In the Community, to be released next spring. Works in progress include Southern Roots, Western Foundations: The Peculiar Institution and the Livestock Industry in Texas and a biography of Oliver Loving, a rancher who lived on the Texas frontier.

Liles earned a Ph.D. and master’s degree from the University of North Texas and her bachelor’s degree from Columbia College.

“We are thrilled to have Dr. Liles onboard as the W.K. Gordon Chair in Texas History,” said Dr. Kyle McGregor, Tarleton’s vice president of institutional advancement. “She will offer great insight into a largely unexplored but critical part of our state’s history. Our museum guests, students and faculty, and other scholars on the industrial history of Texaswill benefit from her knowledge and research.”

The Gordon Center is the state’s only institution focused on the industrial history of Texas and the Southwest. It’s located off Interstate 20 in Thurber midway between Fort Worth and Abilene in what was once a booming town founded by the Texas & Pacific Coal Co., run by Mrs. Gordon’s father-in-law, William Knox Gordon.

In the early 1900s, Thurber was the largest coal mining community in Texas and boasted the best-equipped brick factory west of the Mississippi. Oil exploration and the McClesky oil well in nearby Ranger opened the door to West Texas petroleum production.

At the height of Thurber’s brick manufacturing, 800 workers produced 80,000 bricks per day to pave streets and construct buildings throughout the Southwest, including Congress Avenue in Austin and the Dallas Opera House.

The W.K. Gordon Center chronicles that history and is a monument to a unique community of immigrants who came from around the world to work and live in Thurber.

Center visitors can listen to some of their stories, view exhibits of historic photos and artifacts, stroll past reconstructions of the city and learn what happened when the discovery of oil reduced the demand for coal and ultimately brick.

The W.K. Gordon Center is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and 1-4 p.m. Sundays.

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