The weight and substance of West Texas and Eastern New Mexico history have defined James Patrick "Pat" McDaniel's life since he first went riding on his grandfather's ranch near Fort Sumner, New Mexico, at the age of 4 or 5.
The Odessa American reports that history has been his profession since July 1, 1995, when he became director of the Nita Stewart Haley Memorial Library and J. Evetts Haley History Center at 1805 W. Indiana Ave.
"When you love the nature of the work and the people who support it, then you are content and do not want to go anywhere else," McDaniel said. "People come in here because they want to be here, not because they have to, and the people and families who support this institution have similar interests and desires to preserve their heritage."
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McDaniel is a 67-year-old native Midlander who graduated from Midland High School in 1968 and studied accounting and marketing for 3 1/2 years at Texas Christian University. He and his wife Martha Ann have a son and three grandchildren.
McDaniel had come to know the prominent rancher-historian J. Evetts Haley Sr. (1901-95) when he was general manager of Johnson & Johnson Tire & Supply, and he applied for the library directorship when it came open in the spring of 1995. "I rode with my granddad, J.P. `Bum' Gibbins, from the time I was able to sit on a horse by myself," he said.
"Mr. Haley and I were customer and friend because of his interest in ranching history and mine. He was a personable individual who was easy to talk to, and he was a skilled interviewer. Even with a casual acquaintance, he was interested in what people did and how they were connected to their heritage. He was a consummate researcher and his study was not exceeded by anyone. But he wasn't pushy. He had an engaging demeanor.
"He believed history was made by people, not events, so he concentrated on the people. He knew nothing was achieved without hard work and that the quality of people's lives was determined by the quality of their choices."
Haley wrote more than 20 books, including the noted 1936 biography "Charles Goodnight, Cowman and Plainsman."
Referring to the historian's conservative activism, McDaniel said, "He could be hardnosed and outspoken in his political views, but for a one-on-one conversation you couldn't find a more pleasant and cordial conversationalist."
Having started with a well-regarded library of 15,000 volumes, McDaniel has helped expand it to more than 25,000 items of printed and manuscript materials on western exploration, frontier military history, Indian captivity, ethnology, the development of ranching and farming and regional and local history.
Special collections include the libraries and papers of Hervey Chesley, Lester Wood, Clayton W. Williams Sr., Dan Thrapp and Robert N. Mullin, who specialized in the Lincoln County War in New Mexico. Harold D. Bugbee's illustrated letters and books are there as are 600 original photographic negatives and prints made by early range photographer Erwin E. Smith. One of the four original mission bells from the Alamo is displayed.
The library-history center is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Admission is free.
The charitable trust operates on private donations alone with a $250,000 budget, sponsoring art shows and the Annual Fall Gathering Ranch Storytelling and Foy Proctor Memorial Cowman's Award of Honor Program, which will be held Oct. 6. Trustees are Chairman Brian McLaughlin of Midland, Vice Chairman Jeff Haley of Lefors, Robert Carr Vincent of Amarillo, W.W. "Bill" Caruth of Dallas and Joe Sullivan of Wylie.
"After the Civil War, there was one range," McDaniel said. "There were no fenced ranches all the way from South Texas to Montana and Wyoming, and the nation's appetite for beef fueled expansion of the westward frontiers. We are a free non-lending institution for researchers, historians and casuals, and a lot of people want digitized copies of photos. We send images all over the world."
Permian Basin Petroleum Museum Executive Director Kathy Shannon said McDaniel "probably knows more history than has ever been written down about ranching in West Texas.
"He is quite a personality, and it's fascinating that he has such a close connection with the ranching families. Having been director for so long and having closely known Mr. Haley, that's huge history right there."
Shannon said the Basin has rich offerings for library and museum lovers, also including the Ellen Noel Art Museum, Parker House Ranching Museum, Presidential Archives and Leadership Library and White-Pool House Museum in Odessa, CAF Airpower Museum at the airport and, in Midland, the Museum of the Southwest, Scarborough-Lineberry House and George W. Bush Childhood Home.
"You can talk about events all day long, but it doesn't mean as much till you wrap a personal story around it," Shannon said. "Pat has a real passion for history and loves to share that history."
Landscape artist Charles Pruitt, who shows new work each fall at the Southwest Impressionists' Art Show and Sale at the library, said McDaniel "is the perfect guy for that job.
"Pat is from the old school," Pruitt said. "Whatever he says, he is going to do. He didn't know a lot about art when he started, but in putting on a couple of art shows each year he has become knowledgeable about the art world. It would take a crew of three or four to do what he does."