group in front of mural

Pictured: Odalys Adame, Skylar Fondren, Morgan Thrapp, Michelle Calderon, Vanessajane Bayna, and Luke McCraw in Houston. 

By: Dr. Andrew Yox, Honors Director

On 20 October, six scholars of Honors Northeast presented work at the annual fall meeting of the Walter Prescott Webb Society. The “Webb” is the collegiate auxiliary of the Texas State Historical Association.   Odalys Adame, Vanessajane Bayna, Michelle Calderon, Skylar Hodson, Luke McCraw, and Morgan Thrapp each presented segments of the group’s film production story, and anchored the group discussion with the premiere showing of the film’s trailer.

Their story concerned the molding and enhancement of some initial research by a local historian on the traveling preachers of early Texas into a feature-length film. Their talk occurred at the new, two-million-dollar museum that marks an important origin point of modern Texas, at San Felipe de Austin, 30 minutes west of the Houston metro.

NTCC Honors Scholar Luke McCraw, who plays the role of Stephen F. Austin in the NTCC film
NTCC Honors Scholar Luke McCraw, who plays
the role of Stephen F. Austin in the NTCC film.

As he scaled down his pastoral duties in semi-retirement after 2010, Reverend Dan Hoke of Franklin County, produced an essay on Texas’ early traveling preachers.  This essay was notable as it detailed yet another barrier to what has been known as America’s Second Great Revival of the early nineteenth century. That barrier was Texas. Until 1834, the Mexican province was highly resistant to religion of any type, having only two priests to preside over 50,000 square miles. In addition, both the Mexican authorities and its land-grant empresarios, led by Stephen F. Austin, blocked Protestant incursions.  Last summer, Vanessajane Bayna, Luke McCraw, and others extended this research at the DeGolyer Library of Southern Methodist University. They found that Austin’s opposition to traveling preachers began when he and his father, Moses,  were pioneer leaders of Missouri. The Texas struggle, however, became much more intense, involving the imprisonment, and forced re-emigration of preachers.  As the Second Great Awakening of the 1830s lacked both the money of Billy Graham’s twentieth-century worldwide outreach, and the erudition of the First Great Awakening of the 1730s with arch-theologians like Jonathan Edwards, and George Whitefield, how did the traveling preachers fare in Texas?

The coming film in March will answer this question.  But in the meantime, group members explained other facets of the production process.  Odalys Adame discussed the film culture backdrop of Honors Northeast, and its production of the Texas Suffragette film last spring. Michelle Calderon, the film director, and the College’s Russell-Mowery Scholar, assembled and directed the group PowerPoint.  She explained how the honors effort this year received special help from regional film producers, Allen Herald, and Hannah Goldblum.  She explained how honors students were mobilized this last summer to memorize lines and film on some fourteen separate occasions.  Skylar Hodson, Luke McCraw, and Morgan Thrapp provided color commentary on the film experience in Nacogdoches and locally, as many students engaged in the cinematic process for the first time.

Allen Herald of Camp County juxtaposed a series of visuals in the trailer which made it the tersest and most emotionally packed overview yet of an NTCC venture in niche cinema.  The fighting spirit of the Austins, dramatized by Luke McCraw’s gruff characterization of Stephen, melds into the political struggle with the preachers, and scenes of privation and knife fighting. In the trailer and film, Morgan Thrapp plays the role of Joseph Bates, the Baptist preacher, who faced a number of particularly violent encounters. The trailer is currently being scored by regional composer, Kenny Goodson, and should be published in finished form yet this fall. According to Honors Director, Dr. Andrew Yox, Herald’s trailer “employs a powerful visual vocabulary that dramatizes a premiere story of a forgotten Texas struggle.”

Engaging Nineteenth-Century Toys at the Houston Heritage Museum.
Engaging nineteenth-century toys at the
Houston Heritage Museum.

After their presentation, Friday night, the NTCC group went the next day for a second part of the Webb conference at the Houston Heritage Museum.  Dr. Gene Preuss of the University of Houston, lectured about the rise of the Mexican-American Community in Houston, and its historic encounter of its leaders with President Kennedy at the Rice Hotel in 1963. The group then explored the museum before heading back.

Photos courtesy of Michelle Calderon.