Researchers at Stephen F. Austin State University are tracing the roots of a cowhide trunk that could have belonged to Thomas J. Rusk, an early political and military figure in Texas. The trunk’s lid bears the initials TJR. It’s one item in a massive collection at Millard’s Crossing Historic Village. Executive director David Young said the trunk was purchased by Nacogdoches native Lera Millard Thomas who was a compulsive collector and an early preservationist. She created a living history village on her family’s land called Millard’s Crossing in the 1970s. Legend has it, Young said, that his trunk belonged to Rusk, and now it’s time to verify.
“It was bought under the pretense that it was his, and now we want to find out was it his? Did this belong to him? Could this have been along with him on very important and historic events, and he was a very important figure in Texas history," Young said.
SFA associate professor of history Perky Beisel is figuring out the age of the trunk to see if it was even around in Rusk’s lifespan. She should have that accomplished in a week. If it dates back to the time of Rusk, she said, the next step will be to pore over his letters to find any reference to the trunk. But that could be labor intensive.
“The smoking gun would be to find a letter he wrote to a brother or his wife saying, Please send my cowhide trunk with my initials on it to me. Or, if we could uncover a purchase order for that trunk. That’s what will take longer because his papers are scattered across Texas," Beisel said.
Young said the TJR trunk is an example of how the private museum is seeking additional funds so it can adequately research and inventory its massive collection, a task that isn’t possible with the staff on hand. Beisel said she has a long list of items at Millard’s Crossing that merit further research.