CONNOR, SEYMOUR VAUGHAN [IKE]

Henry Franklin Tribe
Seymour V. Connor (1923–2001).
Seymour "Ike" Connor with Floyce Masterson. Courtesy of the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library, Texas Tech University.

CONNOR, SEYMOUR VAUGHAN [IKE] (1923–2001). Seymour Vaughan “Ike” Connor, historian, archivist, and educator, the first of three children of Aikin Beard Connor and Gladys (Vaughan) Connor, was born on March 4, 1923, in Paris, Texas. An engineer, Aikin Connor relocated his family to oil leases near Paris, Ranger, and Wichita Falls between 1923 and 1928. In 1929 Aikin established his own business with his father as an independent oilfield engineer. The family relocated to San Antonio in 1930.

As a youngster, Seymour, nicknamed “Ike,” experienced family hardship and some success in the 1930s. With the start of the Great Depression and the opening of the East Texas Oilfield, petroleum prices went down to around five cents a barrel. By the end of 1930 Ike’s father had lost almost everything. After a few lean years, Connor’s business found success in the South Texas oil fields by 1936. In the summers and on weekends, Ike joined his father in the oilfields.  After completing grade school at Benjamin Franklin Elementary School, he entered Edison High School in Los Angeles Heights in 1936. Connor participated in sports, played football four years, lettered in track and tennis, and graduated from high school in 1940. 

Majoring in mechanical engineering, Connor enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin in 1940. To make ends meet, he found employment in the engineering department laboratory and took a summer job at Fort Sam Houston and worked for the United States Corps of Engineers in 1941. He also won first place for a student paper he presented at the national convention of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in Houston in 1942.  

 With the nation in World War II, Connor enlisted in the United States Army in June 1943. After completing basic training at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana, he was assigned to the European Theater of the conflict. After arriving in England in December 1943, he volunteered for paratrooper training. Assigned to the 139th Airborne Engineer Battalion, he missed taking part in the D-Day invasion of Normandy but still experienced much action. Connor tasted combat at the Battle of the Bulge, northern Germany, and the Ruhr Pocket of Germany. While aboard a troop ship off the coast of Normandy in August 1945, he first heard of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan. Discharged as a private first class, he returned to Texas.

Connor reenrolled at the University of Texas in the fall of 1945. By this time, he had soured on engineering and changed his major to English. He also met Ann Smith, his sister’s (Martha Ann Connor) roommate at the University of Texas, and within a few days was engaged. Connor married Smith in January 1947. Their son, Charles Connor, was born in October 1948.  

After receiving his B.A. (1946), Connor made the most of his opportunities as a graduate student at the University of Texas. He wrote “Wear a Golden Sorrow: The Story of Sir Samuel Argall” for his master’s thesis and was awarded his M.A. in English in 1948. Using this material, Connor published “Sir Samuel Argall: A Biographical Sketch,” in the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (1951). With the encouragement of Horace Bailey Carroll and Walter Prescott Webb, he switched his graduate major to history for his Ph.D. Bailey had hired Connor to grade Texas history papers in the summer of 1947, and the two developed a close relationship.  With Carroll as the editor of the Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Connor had his first article, “Log Cabins in Texas” (published in 1949), which discussed their importance in the region’s early history. Another article, “The Evolution of County Government in the Republic of Texas,” was published in the Quarterly in 1951. He also authored 375 entries for the two-volume Handbook of Texas (1952). Supervised by Webb, Connor finished his dissertation, “The Peters Colony in North Texas, 1841–1854,” and was awarded his Ph.D. in 1952.  

With the assistance of H. Bailey Carroll, Connor found employment in Canyon, Texas, as an archivist for the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum on the campus of West Texas State College (now West Texas A&M University). In Canyon, he worked to organize and bring attention to the manuscript collections. With the retirement of Harriet Smither, he returned to Austin as state archivist with the Texas State Archives in 1953. From his archival work, Connor edited the three-volume Texas Treasury Papers; Letters Received in the Treasury Department of the Republic of Texas, 1836–1846 (1955).

Aware of his skills as a historian and as an archivist, historians James Evetts Haley and William Curry Holden sought to bring Connor to Texas Technological College (now Texas Tech University). For his work in Texas history, the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA) selected Connor a Fellow in 1954. In 1955 Connor accepted an offer from school officials to become the first director of its Southwest Collection and as an associate professor of history.

As successful as he was as a scholar, Connor encountered some setbacks during his career. In 1963 he resigned his position at Texas Tech and tried to write fiction. His marriage ended in divorce in 1964. In 1964 he accepted an offer from Billy Mac Jones, the head of the History Department at Angelo State College (now Angelo State University), for a part-time position. William Pearce, the academic vice president of Texas Tech and former head of the history department, convinced Connor to return to Lubbock in 1965.

At Lubbock, Seymour Connor established an outstanding record as a scholar of Texas history. He also earned a reputation for being quite demanding with graduate students. Nevertheless, some students respected his work and admired him. The TSHA published The Peters Colony of Texas (1959), a revised version of his dissertation. Connor wrote or edited sixteen significant studies, including: The West Is for Us: The Reminiscences of Mary A. Blankenship (1958); Builders of the Southwest (1959); A Biggers Chronicle (1961); Texas: A History (1971); with Odie B. Faulk, North America Divided: The Mexican War, 1846–1848 (1971); and with Jimmy M. Skaggs, Broadcloth and Britches: The Santa Fe Trade (1977). In general, his books received positive reviews from critics. In 1972 North America Divided won the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum’s Western Heritage Award as the best non-fiction book for 1971. Connor served as president of the TSHA from 1967 to 1968. The Texas Institute of Letters inducted him as a member in 1977.   

Connor retired from Texas Tech in 1979. To his friends, he remained immensely loyal. For the rest of his life, he became somewhat reclusive. Apparently, he found pleasure in playing the stock market and listening to opera. At the age of seventy-eight, Seymour “Ike” Connor died in Lubbock on March 23, 2001. He was survived by his brother Aikin, his son Charles, and a grandchild. He was buried in the City of Lubbock Cemetery.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Odie B. Faulk, “Seymour V. ‘Ike’ Connor,” Great Plains Journal 18 (1979). Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, March 24, 2001. “Southwestern Collection,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 105 (January 2002).  

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Handbook of Texas Online, Henry Franklin Tribe, "CONNOR, SEYMOUR VAUGHAN [IKE] ," accessed December 12, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fcons.

Uploaded on December 4, 2018. Modified on December 6, 2018. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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