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Elvis "Boots" Simmons: The Man Responsible for Traces of Texas

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This website is an homage to the my 7th-grade Texas history teacher and the best teacher I ever had, Elvis "Boots" Simmons or, as I knew him, Mr. Simmons. Mr. Simmons died in 2010 at the age of 91, but this whole deal is a memorial to him. It's my lonely hope that he would have appreciated it.

When I first entered his classroom at Bonham Jr. High School in Temple, Texas, I couldn't believe that this man, Mr. Simmons, was my teacher. First of all, he was a male, the first male teacher I had ever had. And not only was he male but he was a giant bear of a man with a nose that looked like it had been broken several times. My own father was 6'5" tall and my mom 5'11', so I was used to being around lengthy people, but Mr. Simmons appeared to occlude the lights in the classroom. He must have weighed 270 pounds and he looked like he could still play for the Texas Aggies, the team for which he had been an All-American when he played college football, or for the Chicago Cardinals, the NFL team that subsequently drafted him. Somehow, just his shadow was heavy, and in my fertile, seventh-grade imagination, he didn't live so much as dwell in a lair --- a lair from which he observed the triflings of his students with his all-knowing, all-seeing eye. He was in total control of the class from the "git go" simply because nobody dared tempt fate. None of us was brave enough to rouse the beast that we all JUST KNEW would be released if so much as a note was passed or a spitball unleashed. Don't get me wrong: he was soft spoken and gentle. But that's because he could afford to be.

Mr. Simmons was also a great teacher. He had a method that I have never seen duplicated. At the beginning of the year he put every student's name on a separate index card. He would assign Texas history readings for homework. At the beginning of class each day he would shuffle those index cards like a Vegas card dealer. The lesson would begin. Mr. Simmons would be discussing some aspect of Texas history until he would come to a part that he regarded as important, something that any student who had done the reading would know but that was impossible to fake had the student NOT done the assignment, and he would say something like, "and the name of the river that David Crockett crossed when entering Texas was ....." , draw the top index card off the pile, and ask whoever's name was written on that card the name of that river. And if, in their whimsy and cruelty, the index card Gods had chosen you, you either knew the name of the river or you did not. If you got the answer right, he would smile, put a little check mark on the card, and go on. If you did not know the answer, he would frown, cut his thumb with a pen knife, and drip a little drop of blood onto the card, disappointed in you.

Okay, so I made that last part up. In actuality we never knew what mark he made to signify that you had failed or how those marks figured into the final grade. There were rumors, of course, but nobody could say with certainty. That is what made it so terrifying. You could see the unprepared kids sweating as he was shuffling those cards. One would think that the card shuffling would render it entirely a game of chance, but I swear there were kids who were not called upon the entire year, and others, like me, who were called upon three times in the first week.

So I lived the whole school year in fear of being embarrassed. Even more importantly I didn't want to let this man, this giant man, down. And you could see kids, the unprepared kids, dying as he shuffled those index cards. But I was not one of them. No sirree bob. I did my readings. And somewhere along the way I picked up a love of Texas history that remains with me to this day. I hated being in his class then but now I thank my lucky stars that he was my teacher. Isn't life funny that way?

A little bit more about Mr. Simmons: he was born in 1919 and attended A&M, where, as I mentioned, he was an All-American and where he played a vital roll on the 1939 Aggie national championship team in football. He was severely wounded fighting in World War II, something he never mentioned in class. He was drafted by the NFL in the 1943 draft. Later, in the early/mid 1970s, his son Bob played for the Texas Longhorns, where he also was an All-American offensive tackle. One day, Bob came to visit his dad while we were having class and, amazingly, Bob seemed even larger than his dad. We were in awe.

As I mentioned earlier, Mr. Simmons passed away in 2010. I hope that he knew how many kids he positively impacted over the years, how many kids grew up with a love of Texas history because of him.  But if you want to lay the blame for this website at someone's feet, he's the man responsible.

And so, in the spirit of Elvis "Boots" Simmons, I offer this tribute to Texas history teachers and to ALL teachers. Without y'all,  this website would not exist and I would not be Traces of Texas.  Salute!


Seen here: Elvis "Boots" Simmons from the 1942 Texas A&M yearbook

Elvis Boots Simmons from Find a Grave Texas A&M yearbook 1942.jpg

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