• Sarah O'Brien

We stand with Caddo Mounds. But where does the Texas Historical Commission (THC) stand?

Updated: Mar 28, 2020

They say that silence speaks volumes. And the silence from the THC over the last few days is deafening.

I have been preaching a lot lately about the failure of the people to engage, participate and demand differently from their governments as actively as they complain. Those that blame “government” but fail to speak up pose as much of an issue as anyone in Washington does. As I have said time and time again, we are the problem, you are the problem, I am the problem. The people have failed themselves for more than a generation. Democracy is for the people, by the people. Period. So when democracy doesn’t serve the majority of us well, we have no one to blame but ourselves. So instead of being one of “them,” those silent majority types that we never hear from, those that simply complain about the failures of our government, I am going to engage and demand different. I will not be one of them this time around. So here I am speaking up and doing as a concerned citizen should do. I am sending a copy of this to the agency and my elected officials.

On Saturday, April 13th, Caddo Mounds State Historic Site was celebrating the annual Caddo World Heritage Day when disaster struck.

According to the THC website, the agency stands ready to help government agencies impacted by weather events whether it be to care for historic properties or navigate preservation regulations.

Is this a case of the shoemaker's’ children not having any shoes? Everyone knows that when disaster strikes communication is essential to quell rumors, disseminate factual information, activate resources, and most importantly begin planning recovery efforts. Essentially we’ve heard only crickets from the agency’s online and social media channels. And in 2019, for better or worse, those are the channels for which we are accustomed to receiving information during such tragic events.

Multiple news outlets have reported dozens of injuries, several hospitalized, and unfortunately, just yesterday, news broke of a fatality that resulted from this horrific incident. Local east Texans have banded together with their tourism family and raised over $20,000 (and counting!) in less than 36 hours to offset medical expenses for Victor Galan, husband of assistant site director and Texas Historical Commission employee, Rachel Galan. Rachel also serves on the board of the Texas Forest Trail Region, one of 10 heritage trail regions of the Texas Historical Commission. As of 8 p.m. Monday, April 15th, more than 48 hours after the incident there is no mention of the incident on the “news” section of the agencies website.

Having served as the voice to the public during several disasters and dozens of hazardous weather events during my time with multiple local government agencies, I can sympathize that perhaps the THC doesn’t have ample capacity or resources to communicate effectively. Once upon a time I was a PIO with at least five other job titles so I understand capacity issues. However, according to the January 2019 Sunset Advisory Committee website detailing the agencies operations, in FY 16 the agency had 10 Public Information/ Communication/ Education FTE (Full time employees). Since their 2016 appropriations were 32.5 million dollars, and the FY 17 appropriations increased to 41.7 million dollars, one can only assume that staffing levels in that department haven’t shrunk. So why this bold statement of silence?

The THC Facebook and Twitter pages have shared the same single update. On Saturday and Sunday, respectively. The social feeds gave us some information that was disseminated from the property itself.

Just think about what the person who posted to the Caddo Mounds update must have been thinking during such a disaster, but they made sure to update their facebook page and inform the public.

This promise to provide more details when they were available was reassuring to me on Saturday afternoon. However by midnight Saturday my news feeds were inundated with information from various sources in the East Texas region. I was becoming increasingly more frustrated. I kept checking the state agency's popular social media feeds over the weekend expecting information. And still today, Monday, April 15th, after 8 p.m., we have heard nothing on the victim's condition or needs, status of the property or its assets, and nothing about the recovery. With no official messaging from authorities to date, the questions that I kept asking myself Saturday are still there, perhaps just adjusted slightly.

Were the reports I was seeing stating no fatalities true?

What is Victor Galan's condition?

What other staff or volunteers were injured?

How many people were transported to the hospital?

Was a recovery team working on historic resource protection for whatever remained after the storm?

Will they consider rebuilding?

How can I help?

I can’t even imagine what my friends and colleagues much more closely associated with the tragedy have been experiencing. I keep thinking to myself, bless the family members of every single person who was present during the incident. And then I lamant that the government certainly failed to keep them informed and updated. It's no wonder no one trusts us.

I seem to remember a much swifter response from the THC during Hurricane Harvey. Granted this is a much different scale, but you would think this would have hit closer to home so to speak. So why nothing?

If you haven’t noticed yet I am completely appalled at the silence. I am heartbroken for the families, staff members, and volunteers who have poured their souls into this amazing cultural site. Caddo Mounds is a tremendous cultural asset and state resource. I am saddened for the citizens of this state. I am disappointed. I am frustrated. We deserved better this time around.

I am deeply appreciative of the updates from the El Camino Real Association, Texas Forest Trail Region, MYETX.com, Instanews Cherokee County, and the Caddo Mounds social media pages, despite the property being devastated to mere rubble and at least one of its staff members standing by their loved ones side in a hospital. I am certain there are many more channels to express my gratitude. These updates, those stark images shared from that day, the posts from my friends and first responders who were on the scene clearing streets, the stories of neighbors helping neighbors, and the spirit of East Texas and residents of our great State always amaze me. We, the people, are resilient. We don't always need big government's help or messaging, do we? It's amazing what we can do together.

I wish I knew more about the Caddo people who were on site that day and the needs of those injured. Have they made it home? Are there medical needs for anyone else that would benefit from amazing fundraisers like the one for Victor Galan? But with no update in over 48 hours from the state agency for historic preservation and nothing but speculation on the needs, I will have to just keep wondering. I can't help. They haven't told us they needed any help. They certainly haven't told us how we can help.

“We stand with Caddo Mounds State Historic Site and all our friends in Cherokee County.” MyETX.com

So here we are. Consider this my plea to demand different from the state agency for historic preservation. The same agency, for which is about to be given multiple additional historical sites to care for. The agency that is responsible for the preservation of our State’s history should and must do better. I am hopeful that they will rise to meet the challenge and address the needs left in the wake of the tornado damage. Interestingly enough, as evidenced on their website this afternoon, the Historical Commission quarterly meeting, originally scheduled for today has been canceled. I hope and pray the cancellation is due to the fact that they are all in Alto, Texas. They are there lending a helping hand. The experts are evaluating the needs and planning the recovery. They are writing the story and will communicate the needs of staff, volunteers, visitors, and Caddo Nation. God bless those that were celebrating the culture of the Caddo Nation and our rich history outside of Alto, Texas. And God bless Texas.


Sarah served as a Texas Main Street manager for over a decade and is a proud two-time Past President of the Texas Downtown Association. She lives in Smithville Texas and has worked in local government. community development, destination management and downtown revitalization across the State of Texas. She is a motivational speaker, consensus builder, and visionary problem solver who helps organizations and communities understand their purpose and achieve collective impact.

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