Log in

Top Stories        News         Sports

Houston County News 2

Fiddlers Festival part of Crockett’s history

Write a comment
Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

Katrina NikolayeffKatrina NikolayeffBy Jan White
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

CROCKETT – In 1970, Joe Angle penned an article for the East Texas Historical Journal entitled, “The World’s Champion Fiddler’s Festival in Crockett: An East Texas Tradition.” 

In the article, Angle wrote of the event: “Every year in the small East Texas town of Crockett, fiddlers from around the state and the nation gather at the Davy Crockett Memorial Park. Here the most skillful fiddler present is chosen. The winner is something more than the best performer

 present, for this musician also carries the title of World’s Champion Fiddler. However, a description of this contest is incomplete if it stops with only the fiddler. For those attending, it is a social event of great significance.”

This year, the World Champion Fiddler Festival will be held a the Porth Ag Arena on Saturday, Sept. 24, beginning at 10 a.m. Admission is free. 

Angle describes the festival’s setup: “On the northeast side of the semicircle of parked cars and pickups is located the pavilion (a euphemism for a large, tin-roofed shed), under which the contest is held. Here people gather to hear the music they have grown up with, meet their friends, get in some gossip, and judge fiddlers. Almost everyone considers himself a judge of fiddlers. In front of the pavilion, under a large shade tree, sits a wooden barrel full of water, with the name of the local funeral home printed on its side. On the south side are concession stands operated by the Festival’s sponsoring organization, Beta Sigma Phi. Also on this side is the registration table, shaded by a tent with Waller Funeral Home also printed on it. A bit further east is a group of chairs in which the contestants sit to await their chance at the prize money.

 About 75 yards to the east of this area is a row of trees that follows the winding road through the park. Under the shade of these trees, cars have been parked, and around these cars, groups of fiddlers and guitar players gather for impromptu jam sessions. About four of five fiddlers and a couple of guitar players usually make up one of these groups. They agree upon one song and play it in its traditional key. Each takes his turn and plays until he is finished with his version or until one of the others in the group takes up the lead. When each has had his turn, they stop and chat a while before beginning another song. 

This is not indigenous to Crockett because it happens at all fiddling contests. This gives the fiddler a chance to hear and size up his opponents and try to judge what kind of day he will have. This idea of the “good day” is quite strong among the old-time fiddlers. There are so many fiddlers of near equal skill that this plays a prominent part among the contestants in justifying the choice of the winner.”

The tradition of a fiddlers contest began in rural community gatherings in the early 1900s. Events were called “fiddlers contests” if more than one fiddler was present. Sometimes the fiddlers would meet and participate in a local ‘jam session’ to figure out who was “give up,” as they called it, as the best fiddler. If it wasn’t a contest, it was a get-together at a box supper or ice cream social. In Crockett, there had been “get-togethers” of fiddlers at the north end of town or at the home of V. B. Tunstall some years before the beginning of the Fiddler’s FestivaI.

V. B. Tunstall, Sr., known in the area as “Barker,” was the eighteenth child of a family of nineteen (his father married again after his first wife died). From an early age, Tunstall was interested in music. At age six, he studied music under Mr. Mayer, who opened an opera house in Crockett. Even though Tunstall received this formal training and was quite fond of classical music, he remained true to his quasi-rural rearing and loved the old fiddle tunes. 

When he was twenty, Tunstall went to Galveston, where he studied piano tuning. He traveled about over the countryside on horseback or by bicycle tuning pianos. Tunstall was never a man to let business interfere too strongly with his great love of music. He carried his violin with him to work, and when he got the chance, he would have a “set-to” with one of his customers or with one of the families along his way, playing the old fiddle songs or sometimes more contemporary music that often came in sheet music form.

Tunstall was also the man one contacted on matters concerning music in the Houston County area. Besides tuning pianos and doing some barbering, he taught music (mainly strings) in several towns in the area, such as Corrigan and Trinity. In a time when less sophisticated media entertained people than today, Tunstall provided diversion with the assistance of his ten children. He divided them into two troops and traveled around the area performing variety shows for different groups. If someone needed musical entertainment for a cotton festival or a fiddler for a fair or dance, they sought out Barker Tunstall for the arrangements. He also amused his friends by constructing musical instruments from ordinary tools like rakes and shovels or making xylophones out of water-filled jars.

It was Tunstall who helped establish the annual event that has lasted more than 80 years, the World’s Champion Fiddlers Festival. In fact, his name became so closely connected with the contest that it was often referred to as “Barker Tunstall’s Old Fiddler’s Festival,’ and after he died, succeeding contests were dedicated in his memory.

The first World Championship Fiddlers Festival was held in 1937 when Tunstall, Terry VanPelt, Raymond Cornelius, W. E. Keeland, and Homer Galloway gathered in Cornelius’s hotel. They believed that the old fiddling tunes of their fathers were in danger of becoming extinct, so to preserve the tradition, they made plans for a fiddler’s Festival to be held in Crockett. However, the Festival was to be more than simply a plan for preservation. It was to be a day of fun for those who listened as well as those who played. 

Money for the prizes came from donations made by local merchants. At first, the awards were somewhat meager, reflecting the hard times of the era. Top prizes were $50 and $25, with lesser prizes such as a box of cigars or a basket of groceries. As times improved, so did the awards, with money reaching up to several hundred dollars. In 1957, there was an exception when the grand prize was a brand new fiddle. 

For onlookers, there were other attractions besides the fiddlers themselves. For several years during the mid-fifties, cowboy film star “Montana Hale” made his appearance to sign autographs, give shooting demonstrations, and participate as a judge. There were square dances and square dance calling contests. Alabama-Coushatta Indians entertained the crowds with their native dances. 

In the late 40s and early 50s, Miss Eliza Bishop organized and conducted a beauty contest. Girls from Crockett and surrounding areas competed for the title of Fiddlers Festival Queen. During the “Davy Crockett craze” of 1950, the White Cross Surgical Dressing Company held a contest for boys under the age of thirteen to introduce their new “Davy Crockett First Aid Kit.”  The winner received $50 and a trip to Fort Worth to view the movie “Davy Crockett” with its star, Fess Parker. In 1961 and ’62, there were fly-ins to Houston County Airport, and the Crockett Community Council provided complimentary breakfast and transportation.

There were some back then, and probably some today, who think the festival is silly and provincial. But those who appreciate fiddle music could care less. As Angle said in his article, “The music they gather to listen to represents a pleasant relief from the sounds of the mass man and his mass culture. For some, it is a symbol of rebellion against the age, a symbol of individualism. It is not the rootless and anarchist individualism so much in vogue, for it has not divorced itself from its past. It stands proud with a firm foundation of tradition. But for others, the music is simply a part of life – the songs which, for all practical purposes, sing the praises of a return to a simpler life with traditional values. The modern fiddle contest has its message. In its own way, it also sings the praises of another way of life.” More than 50 years later, Joe Angle’s words still ring true. 

A featured contestant will be Katrina Nikolayeff from Idaho, whose style has been described as “appealing and uniquely creative.”  A four-time winner of the Annual Grand Master Fiddler Championship held at the Grand Ole Opry, Katrina will be among the dozens of fiddlers competing from all over the United States for the title of World Champion Fiddler. 

  • Hits: 763

DETCOG accepting solid waste grant applications

Write a comment
Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

detcogEAST TEXAS – Deep East Texas Council of Governments (DETCOG) is now taking applications for funding of Solid Waste Projects for FY 2023.  Funding for this program is provided through the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).

Applications for projects in the following categories will be accepted:  Local

Enforcement, Litter and Illegal Dumping Cleanup and Community Collection Events, Source Reduction and Recycling, Local Solid Waste Management, Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) Management, Technical Studies, Educational and Training Projects, and other projects not included in these categories which meet TCEQ criteria.

DETCOG anticipates awarding grants totaling $65,000 in FY 2023.  Each application will be judged by the DETCOG Regional Solid Waste Advisory Committee (RSWAC) in accordance with the RSWAC Project Review and Scoring Guidelines and DETCOG’s Regional Solid Waste Management Plan.

The grants are available to Cities, Counties, Public Schools, School Districts, River Authorities as well as General and Special Law Districts with the authority and responsibility for water quality protection or municipal solid waste management.  The applicants must be located within Angelina, Houston, Nacogdoches, Newton, Polk, Sabine, San Augustine, San Jacinto, Shelby, Trinity and Tyler counties to be eligible to apply. 

Funding for the DETCOG Solid Waste Grants comes from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). 

Applications are available on DETCOG’s website at www.detcog.gov. They are due back to DETCOG by 4:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 31, 2022.   

For more information, or to request an application packet, please contact Regional Services Specialist Carolyn Stephenson by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by phone at (936) 634-2247 ext. 5353.


  • Hits: 656

Escaped inmate, girlfriend captured

1 Comment
Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

Inmate girlfriendcaptured

By Chris Edwards
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

HOUSTON COUNTY — A Houston County Jail inmate who, according to officials, was aided in his escape by his girlfriend, was captured last week.

According to Houston County Sheriff Randy Hargrove, Miguel Zuniga, who was in custody on drug charges, was apprehended by the Corsicana Police Department on Wednesday at around 2:30 p.m.

Zuniga’s girlfriend, Melissa Peal Ortiz, who met him and provided the means to escape, allegedly, was caught at 7:20 p.m. the same day by Corsicana police.

Zuniga was reported as missing at 1:49 a.m. on Wednesday morning, when he was last seen on camera by Houston County Sheriff’s Office deputies.

Hargrove thanked the Corsicana lawmen and all of the other agencies who responded to the call and worked to help apprehend the fugitive and his accomplice.

“Law enforcement agencies in Houston County work together to make things happen. It’s what we do,” Hargrove said. “Thanks again for everyone’s concern and support.”

Hargrove also wanted to thank Heath Murff, who serves as the county’s Emergency Management Coordinator. “He did an awesome job helping get the word out,” Hargrove said. “He stayed with us the whole time.”

Agencies that worked on the case along with HCSO and Corsicana PD include Houston County Constables Office Pct. 1 & 2, Houston County jailers, dispatchers and deputies, Grapeland Police Department, Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Rangers. 

According to reports, Zuniga was cleaning the jail lobby, as he had attained trusty status. When a jailer’s back was turned, Zuniga bolted out the door.

Hargrove said Zuniga’s initial sentence would have been six months for a low grade felony drug charge but after getting captured again, he could serve 15 years.

  • Hits: 3263

HHSC grant to expand fraud prevention efforts

Write a comment
Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

Fraud GraphicAUSTIN – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) a federal grant of more than $400,000 to further the agency’s fraud prevention efforts for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

 HHSC has prevented the misuse of more than $147 million in public funds since 2017 by identifying and stopping potential fraudulent payments for SNAP, Medicaid, and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.

 “We are extremely proud to be the recipients of this grant and know that it will have a positive impact on the work we do to put taxpayer dollars to good use in Texas,” said Wayne Salter, deputy executive commissioner for HHSC Access and Eligibility Services.

The grant will be used to provide ongoing support for HHSC staff to receive training, develop innovative fraud prevention training methods, and conduct an educational campaign for the public on fraud prevention. 

 The grant period is from August 2022 through August 2024.

Misuse of benefits can result in loss of benefits, fines and criminal charges. If someone suspects or knows about fraud, waste or abuse by clients or providers in health and human services programs, HHS urges people to call the HHS Office of the Inspector General at 1-800-436-6184 or visit ReportTexasFraud.com.

  • Hits: 631

Hospital board discusses tax rate for upcoming year

Write a comment
Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

Business and medicine concept. There is a stethoscope on the dollars.

By Jan White
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

CROCKETT – The hot topic of the Houston County Hospital District meeting held on August 16 wasn’t the scorching 100-degree temps – it was determining the tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year.

Prior to the impassioned discussion on tax rates, board members heard from representatives from the Texas Organization of Rural & Community Hospitals (TORCH), which is an organization founded in 1999 for the purpose of creating a telecommunications infrastructure and network for rural hospitals in Texas.

TORCH representatives John Henderson, President and CEO, Brandon Durbin, and Brent Fuller shared information and statistics about rural hospitals. There are 158 what are termed “rural” hospitals in Texas. The state definition of rural is a county population of 60k or less.

Crockett Medical Center is a ‘critical access’ hospital, which is a valuable asset for the community and surrounding areas. Henderson remarked about the hospital, “You’ve done something very uncommon. Maybe not unprecedented, but uncommon – which is to have a rural hospital that was closed to reopen and stay open. And it would have been hard to do that without your critical access designation.” The TORCH representatives also answered questions on IGT (Indigent Care Trust) and uncompensated care costs. When President Barbara Crowson asked Henderson if they could provide the board with a list of thriving rural hospitals that they could “visit and find out what they’re doing that we’re not doing, or for options that make our hospital even better,” Henderson responded that “most rural hospitals aren’t striving, they’re struggling. They are operationally challenged.” Henderson commended Crockett on having both a critical access hospital and one that offers surgery. In his experience, he said most rural hospitals don’t.

After hearing the presentation by TORCH, the meeting moved on to the topic of the tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year.

It was evident at the hospital board meeting that members are divided on the tax issue. As soon as President Cowson announced the agenda item to discuss and take action on the intended tax rate, Carole Dawson motioned to adopt a 13% rate, which is the same as last year’s rate.

In anticipation of a dispute, Crowson reminded the board, “When we declare our intent tonight, we can always go down on the intended rate, but we cannot go up.” The board plans to have hearings so the public can express their opinions on the rate, and that is when the board will vote on the rate.

Rhonda Brown read a prepared statement supporting her recommendation to decrease the tax rate to $0.11. “The district’s budget can be easily met with an eleven-cent tax rate with a surplus for any unforeseen events that might arise. I am not in favor of asking the citizens of Houston County to pay more taxes when, in fact, eleven cents will easily meet our commitments and still allow for a rainy-day fund.”

Concerns over lowering the tax rate appear to center around negotiations with Dr. Kelly Tjelmeland and his contract renewal which will take place in January. As Crowson stated, the initial contract is five years old, so they expect some changes. One of the anticipated requests could be the repair of the hospital roof, which according to reports, has severe damage and is in dire need of repairs. Several board members have gotten loose estimates on the cost of replacing the roof. The bids ranged from upwards of $500k to over a million dollars for the replacement.

Although Dina Pipes pointed out that the roofing repairs were not on the agenda, Crowson replied that “All these comments are made because I feel that if we know the figures of a major repair like the roof, we would be more able to understand why our tenant might have a difficult time with those numbers in addition to all the equipment he’s already brought into the hospital.”

Pipes defended the reduction of taxes to eleven cents, arguing that she felt that since there will be a $200k cash carryover and $390k for maintenance and repair, that would fund $500k for roof repairs. When asked if an 11% rate would support the 2023 fiscal budget, Dick Murchison, the board’s accountant, said, “That is correct.”

Proponents for maintaining the 13% rate argue that $500k is not enough to cover roof repairs and any other unforeseen expenses that might arise. “And since rural hospitals are struggling,” voiced Dawson, “we’ve got somebody [Tjelmeland] and we need to do everything we can to keep him.”

“I hate taxes,” said Roy Langford, “and I hate to raise taxes. Sometimes it’s a necessary evil. I’m really not comfortable with thirteen cents. I’m really not comfortable with eleven cents either. So I’m gonna split the difference.” He suggested going with a twelve-cent rate. “Sometimes, you have to meet somewhere in the middle.”

After much discussion, the board voted on the motion to declare their intent to keep the tax rate at 13%. Those voting against were Rhonda Brown, Harvey Bruner, Roy Langford and Dina Pipes. Those voting for the 13% were Pam Ainsworth, Debbie Kelly, Carole Dawson, and John Stovall. The tie-breaking vote was made by Barbara Crowson, who voted yes. Looking at the calendar, Crowson suggested they set the public hearing meeting to discuss the tax rate for Tuesday, Sept. 6.

Regarding the agenda item approving the budget, Murchison stated that he had prepared a budget that reflected all three proposed tax rates - $0.11, $0.12, and $0.13, with the overage in each instance going towards the “Repairs and Maintenance” line item. By comparison, at a tax rate of eleven cents, the repair and maintenance line item expense would allow $389,696; at twelve cents, the allowed expense for repairs would be $540,967, and at the proposed thirteen cent rate, the expense to cover repairs would be $692,239.

Because the tax rate is still undecided, but the intent was declared at 13%, the board approved that specific budget. Crowson explained that after the final adopted tax rate is decided, the board can go back and accept the budget that coincides with the approved tax rate.

During the meeting, the board voted to raise Murchison’s salary, from $1,000 to $1,200 a month.

  • Hits: 1538