William Curry Holden

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William Curry Holden
Born(1896-07-19)July 19, 1896
Coolidge, Limestone County, Texas, USA
DiedApril 21, 1993(1993-04-21) (aged 96)
Lubbock, Texas
OccupationHistorian, Archeologist, Educator
Spouse(s)(1) Olive Holden née Price (1926–1937, her death)
(2) Frances "Fran" Virginia Holden née Mayhugh (1939–1993, his death)
ChildrenJane Kelley Holden (from first marriage)
Parent(s)Robert Lee Holden and Grace E. Holden née Davis

William Curry Holden (July 19, 1896 – April 21, 1993), also known as Curry Holden, was an historian and archaeologist. In 1937, he became the first director of the Museum of Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. During his tenure, the museum gained regional and state recognition for excellence. Holden also guided the plans for a new museum building, which was dedicated on November 11, 1970. The museum includes the main building, the Moody Planetarium, the Natural Science Research Laboratory, the research and educational elements of the Lubbock Lake Landmark, and the Val Verde County research site.

Early years, education, military[edit]

Holden was one of three sons born to Robert Lee Holden and Grace Holden née Davis in Coolidge, Texas. Both families moved west to Colorado City, Texas, and after 1907 the Holdens farmed near Rotan, Texas, where William completed high school in 1914.[1]

In summer 1914 he obtained teacher certification at the now-closed Stamford Junior College in Stamford, Texas.[1][2] At first refused jobs because he was "too spindly", in 1915 he became the only teacher for 47 students in nine classes at the one-room schoolhouse in Pleasant Valley. He organized a literary club and basketball teams and led the students to victory in the county interscholastic meeting.[1]

Holden studied Texas history under Professor Joseph A. Hill at West Texas Normal College (now West Texas A&M University) in Canyon, Texas, during the summers of 1917 and 1918. During World War I, Holden served in the Eighty-sixth United States Army Infantry at San Antonio.[1]

University of Texas and McMurry College[edit]

After his military service, Holden obtained a job as principal at his alma mater, Rotan High School. However, he left the position soon thereafter and entered the University of Texas, where he studied under the historian Eugene C. Barker. He was also heavily influenced by Professor Walter Prescott Webb, author of The Great Plains. During most of the 1920s, Holden taught history at the college level while still continuing his own studies at the University of Texas, where he eventually earned his bachelor's (1923), master's (1924), and Ph.D. (1928) degrees.[1][2] He also spent a summer each at the University of Chicago and the University of Colorado.[1]

In 1923, Holden became founding chairman of the history department at the newly established McMurry College (now McMurry University), a Methodist-affiliated institution in Abilene, Texas. He encouraged his students to collect family and regional historical material, including newspapers, and used these in writing his doctoral dissertation, published in 1930 under the title Alkali Trails.[1] He also launched a course at McMurry in archeology and took students to research sites along the Canadian River.[2] Along with Rupert N. Richardson, president of Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, he was among the original co-founders of the West Texas Historical Association, originally based in Abilene but relocated to Lubbock in 1998.

Forty years at Texas Tech University[edit]

Holden Hall at Texas Tech University
Main entrance to Holden Hall

In 1929, Holden joined the faculty of Texas Technological College (now Texas Tech University) to teach history and anthropology. He remained there for more than four decades, becoming chairman of the history department in 1936, dean and director of anthropological, historical, and social-science research in 1938, and in 1945, dean of the Graduate School, a position that he retained until 1950. He launched accredited programs in four doctoral fields, including history.[1] He received the Distinguished Faculty Emeritus Award of the College of Arts and Sciences and, in 1965, was named Distinguished Director Emeritus of the Museum at Texas Tech University. Holden Hall, the original location of the museum and now used for classrooms and offices, was named in his honor in 1972. This was the first such honor accorded to a living member of the faculty. A bronze bust of Holden, created by Lubbock sculptor Glenna Goodacre, was unveiled in the museum rotunda.

Building the Museum of Texas Tech University[edit]

Holden laid the groundwork for the Museum of Texas Tech University

In 1935, Holden organized the West Texas Museum Association and sought funds from the Texas Centennial Commission for the West Texas Museum (now known as the Museum of Texas Tech University). He led a "march to Austin" to convince the legislature to fund $160,750 for the facility, but only $25,000 was forthcoming. With private funds and university matching, the first museum building was dedicated in 1950 to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the institution.

The museum first focused on the Southwestern region with exhibits on history, science, and art. Artist Peter Hurd was commissioned in 1952 to paint a fresco in the rotunda at the entrance to the museum to depict life on the South Plains between 1890 and 1925.

In 1955, Holden, J. Evetts Haley, and other historians organized the Southwest Collection and Archives, which contained West Texas ranch records that he had collected over the years. One feature of the Museum of Texas Tech University is the outdoor National Ranching Heritage Center, which has been assembled over the years from ranches throughout the South Plains and the Texas Panhandle.

Archeological excavations[edit]

Excavations undertaken in 1930 and 1931 in the Panhandle uncovered Saddleback and Antelope Creek Phase ruins on the Canadian River. In 1932, Holden directed a field school at the Tecolote ruin near Las Vegas, New Mexico. In 1933, 1935, and 1937, he and his students excavated and restored the Early Glaze-period Arrowhead Ruin east of Santa Fe, New Mexico, including a rare D-shaped kiva. In 1950, he directed excavations at the Bonnell site near Ruidoso, New Mexico, on a mesa ruin similar to the Antelope Creek site. In 1937, Holden found evidence of Southwestern prehistoric culture at Murrah Cave on the lower Pecos River. In 1938, he investigated Blue Mountain Cave west of Odessa, Texas. In 1940, he investigated Fingerpoint Cave in Borden County, Texas.

Holden's most significant archeological discovery occurred near his home in Lubbock in 1937, when two of his students found a Paleo-Indian flint point in Yellow House Draw, on the bank of a small natural lake that the city was dredging. Holden played a major role in the long struggle to preserve the site,[2] which was finally in 1989 designated the Lubbock Lake National Historic and State Archeological Landmark.[1]

Holden led archeological field trips to Mexico in 1934, 1936, 1938, and 1940. In 1934 he took students on an expedition to Sonora to study the Yaqui, and the university sponsored a second expedition the following year, leading to the book Studies of the Yaqui Indians of Sonora, Mexico (1936), for which Holden was primary author, writing five articles.

Marriages and later years[edit]

Holden family marker at the City of Lubbock Cemetery
Holden's marker refers to him as "A Pretty Fair Country School Teacher – With Vision"

Holden was twice married. His first wife, Olive Holden née Price (1903–1937) died only eleven years after their marriage. Their only child, Jane Holden Kelley, became a professor of archaeology at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada. Olive assisted her husband in the development of the anthropology program at Texas Tech University and in the design and construction of an adobe house near the campus.

On March 26, 1939, Holden married Frances Virginia "Fran" Holden née Mayhugh, a native of Running Water in Hale County, Texas. She graduated from Plainview High School and received a master of arts degree in history from Texas Tech in 1940. She was associate director of the Museum of Texas Tech University from 1940 to 1965, and founded the museum's Southwestern Art Collection and the Women's Council.

Holden retired from Texas Tech in 1970. During his retirement, he and Frances built the Adobe Row neighborhood of houses in Pueblo-revival style, to serve as inexpensive accommodations for faculty and students at McMurry.[3] These buildings are listed in the National Register of Historic Places and are designated as state and city archaeological and historic landmarks.

Holden died on April 21, 1993, at the age of ninety-six. His younger brother, Tom Calloway Holden of Kerrville, Texas, a retired teacher, died on August 4, 2007, at the age of 103,[4] and Frances Holden died only 16 days later.[5]

William and Frances Holden are interred in the family plot with his parents and first wife at the City of Lubbock Cemetery. Frances's grave is not specifically marked.[6] They were Methodist.


Holden authored or coauthored more than twelve books and forty-two articles and pamphlets in professional and commercial journals. He also wrote for The Handbook of Texas, including the article on the Matador Ranch. Four works focused on the Yaqui Indians. His only novel, Hill of the Rooster, published in 1956, traces the life of a woman called "Chepa" during the Yaqui rebellion of 1926-1927. Holden also wrote Teresita (1978), which recounts the life of Teresa Urrea.[7]

Other Holden books included:

  • A Yaqui Life (coauthored in 1971 with daughter Jane Holden Kelley)
  • Rollie Burns (1932)
  • Spur Ranch (1934)
  • A Ranching Saga: The Lives of William Electious Halsell and Ewing Halsell


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Frances Mayhugh Holden, "Holden, William Curry" Handbook of Texas Online, Texas State Historical Association.
  2. ^ a b c d Michaela Walstrom, "William Curry Holden, 1896–1993", EMuseum, Minnesota State University, Mankato, 2004, Archived June 3, 2010, at the Wayback Machine..
  3. ^ Adobe Row, William Curry Holden and Frances Mayhugh Holden Properties, Architectural Research Center, Texas Tech University, Archived May 3, 2003, at the Wayback Machine..
  4. ^ "Tom Calloway Holden", Obituaries, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, August 15, 2007.
  5. ^ "Frances Mayhugh Holden", Obituaries, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, August 23, 2007.
  6. ^ Lubbock City Cemetery records, Lubbock, Texas
  7. ^ Brandon Bayne, "From saint to seeker: Teresa Urrea's search for a place of her own", Church History (2006), Online at The Free Library.

Further information[edit]

  • Ruth Horn Andrews, The First Thirty Years: A History of Texas Technological College, 1925-1955. Lubbock: Texas Tech Press, 1956.
  • "Book Notes", West Texas Historical Association Yearbook 69 (1993).
  • William Holden obituary, Dallas Morning News, April 24, 1993.
  • William Holden obituary, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, April 22, 25, 1993.
  • Jane Gilmore Rushing and Kline A. Knall, Evolution of a University: Texas Tech's First Fifty Years. Austin: Madrona, 1975.
  • "William C. Holden", Who's Who in America, 1962-1963.
  • "William C. Holden", Who's Who in the South and Southwest, Vol. 7.
  • Oral history interviews with William Curry Holden, Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library, Texas Tech University

External links[edit]