The namesake for our Special Collections department was born on this day in 1893. John W. Thomason, Jr. was born into a prominent family in Huntsville, Texas. He was the eldest of nine children. His forebears were doctors, plantation owners, and military officers. A love of the land was no doubt a major part of Thomason’s ethos; had not World War I led him into his military career, the life of a southern squire with cultured avocations would have satisfied his artistic and literary inclinations.
After several years of higher education at Southwestern University, Sam Houston Normal Institute, and the University of Texas, interspersed with brief stints of teaching school, Thomason persuaded his mother to endorse a year of study at the Art Student’s League in New York in order to develop his obvious talent. He then returned to Houston to teach in a private school. A family friend, Marcellus E. Foster (“Mefo”) who was editor and owner of the Houston Chronicle offered him a job as a reporter, affording him a boost to his writing career.
When the United States entered World War I on April 6, 1917, that same day Thomason crossed the street to the Rice Hotel to enlist in the Marines. The years of indecision were over, for Thomason had found his niche. He had a distinguished career as a Marine officer (his book, Fix Bayonets!, is still a revered work to Marines and World War I enthusiasts). His military postings took him to Cuba, Nicaragua, and China, as well as to Washington, D.C. and some shorter assignments.
The exotic locales are reflected in the vivid writings that made him one of the best-known authors of this day; he is also immediately recognizable as a talented artist by the sketches that adorn his numerous books, as well as books of other authors who sought out his illustrative skills. Colonel Thomason died March 12, 1944.