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Henry Franklin Tribe

HAGAN, WILLIAM THOMAS (1918–2011). William Thomas Hagan, historian, was born in Huntington, West Virginia, on December 19, 1918. He was the son of William Fleming Hagan and Verna (Grass) Hagan. Hagan attended the public schools in Huntington and received his A. B. from Marshall College (now Marshall University) in Huntington in 1941. In 1942 he joined the United States Army and served three and a half years in the Southwest Pacific as an anti-aircraft officer during World War II. On January 31, 1943, he married Charlotte Nix.

With the end of the conflict, Hagan used his G. I. Bill benefits to pursue graduate studies in history at the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1946. With very little knowledge of the history profession at the time, he enjoyed reading history, and the idea of being paid to teach history was very attractive. Taking an interest in American Indian history, he studied under the direction of William B. Hesseltine. Hagan wrote about the Black Hawk War of 1832 as the subject of his dissertation and received his Ph.D. in 1950.

Facing a difficult job market, Hagan accepted a position in the history department at North Texas State College (now the University of North Texas) in Denton in 1950. During the next fifteen years in Texas, he established a reputation as a serious and active scholar. With the publication of The Sac and Fox Indians (1958), an expansion of his dissertation, Hagan was praised for “giving a sensible account of a phase of Indian history that has been distorted and romanticized by many writers.” His second book American Indians (1961), one of the first surveys of the field, did much to introduce college students to American Indian history. In 1963 he was elected president of the American Society for Ethnohistory.

Hagan joined the history department at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Fredonia in 1965; he served as department chair from 1965 to 1969. During the next twenty-five years, he wrote three books—Indian Police and Judges (1966), United States-Comanche Relations (1976), and The Indian Rights Association (1985)—and published twenty-five articles and book chapters. In 1975 the SUNY at Fredonia named Hagan as a distinguished professor. He was a guest teacher at the University of Houston in 1977. In 1979–80 he served as president of the Western History Association. In 1987 SUNY-Fredonia established the William T. Hagan Young Scholar Artist Award as a tribute to his achievements. During his career, Hagan had served on the editorial boards of several history journals, and he was on the advisory committee of the Newberry Library’s Center for the History of the American Indian from 1972 to 1986.

After retiring from SUNY-Fredonia in 1988, William Hagan accepted a position at the University of Oklahoma where he continued his career until his retirement there in 1995. In 1989 he received the Western History Association Prize for his “long and distinguished record of scholarly contributions to the field of American Indian history.” While at Oklahoma, the University of Oklahoma Press published Hagan’s Quanah Parker, Comanche Chief (1995) in its Oklahoma Western Biographies series.

In retirement after 1995, Hagan continued to research and write. At age seventy-nine he published Theodore Roosevelt and Six Friends of the Indians (1997). In his eighties in the twenty-first century, Hagan wrote Taking Indian Lands: The Cherokee (Jerome) Commission, 1889–1893 (2003), and Charles Goodnight: Father of the Texas Panhandle (2007) another study in the Oklahoma Western Biographies series. In his final study, Hagan provided perspective on the Texas rancher’s final years and expressed much interest on how Charles Goodnight, like himself, coped with the aging process. In 2003 the Oklahoma Historical Society recognized Hagan’s academic career by inducting him into their Hall of Fame.

William T. Hagan died at the age of ninety-two in Bedford, Texas, on August 5, 2011. At the time of his death, he was survived by his wife of sixty-eight years, Charlotte “April” Hagan, daughters Martha and Sarah, and sons Daniel and Thomas.


R. David Edmunds, Joseph C. Porter, and Robert A. Trennert, “Western History Association Prize Recipient, 1989: William T. Hagan,” Western Historical Quarterly 21 (May 1990). William T. Hagan, Charles Goodnight: Father of the Texas Panhandle (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007). The Herald-Dispatch (Huntington, West Virginia), August 10, 2011.

Henry Franklin Tribe

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Henry Franklin Tribe, "HAGAN, WILLIAM THOMAS," accessed August 14, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fhabo.

Uploaded on February 19, 2014. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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