The late Dr. Harwood Hinton’s passion for the American West and the U.S. military helped him become a leading voice in exploring 19th century American history. Yet, the scholar’s heart always remained with his family, and it broke when his oldest child, John, died suddenly at age 32.
His loss prompted him to establish the John H. Hinton Library Endowment through the Texas A&M Foundation. This endowment, which was created with an initial cash gift of $25,000 and supplemented by an unrestricted gift of $100,000 through Hinton’s will, also honors Hinton’s own love of history and commitment to research.
These funds are now used by Texas A&M University’s Cushing Memorial Library and Archives to acquire nonfiction library materials and support exhibits. “Cushing is a treasure trove of history,” said Adelle Hedleston ’88, the Texas A&M Foundation’s development manager for Texas A&M University Libraries. “We have a great Texas history collection, a Cervantes collection and a military history collection. Dr. Hinton loved Cushing for all of those things.”
Brushes with History
The son of a small grocery store owner in Twin Wells, Texas (near Irving), Hinton grew up in a run-down home without indoor plumbing. Yet those humble beginnings still offered him an early seat to history when one of his half-brothers tried to stop a robbery by Bonnie and Clyde at the family store.
After graduating from Irving High School, Hinton planned to serve in World War II, but the war was ending. Instead, he enrolled at Texas A&M University in 1944 but left after one year. He then attended The University of Texas at Arlington before transferring to The University of Texas at Austin, where he earned a history degree.
In 1948, Hinton moved to Odessa, Texas, where he taught social studies and science at a junior high school. He also enrolled in graduate classes at Columbia University, but his studies were suspended by the start of the Korean War. Hinton was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1950 and stationed in Japan, where he served as secretary to a general .
After the war’s end, Hinton returned to teaching in Odessa while earning his master’s in history from Columbia University. He also met and married his first wife, Mary “Ann” Brookshire, whose family owned the Brookshire Brothers Supermarket chain. The couple eventually had three children—John, Mary (Hinton) McAdow and James.
Hinton’s research focus began coalescing around 19th century American military history and the Southwest during his doctoral studies at the University of Wisconsin. Dr. Diana Hinton, Hinton’s second wife, said she believes that his interest in the American Southwest was sparked by his father’s childhood spent in the Texas Panhandle. The researcher’s passion for military history was ignited by his own service in the Korean War and his paternal relatives’ military service during the Civil War.
After earning his master’s degree, Hinton returned to Texas A&M as an assistant professor for one year before joining the University of Arizona in Tucson for the remainder of his academic career. Hinton continued researching the Chisholm Trail as well as General John Ellis Wool, whose 52-year military career spanned the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War and the American Civil War.
Hinton was a meticulous researcher who always sought additional source material. In fact, the historian had two unfinished manuscripts at the time of his death in 2016. “He was an absolutely fanatical researcher,” Diana said. “He would do what amounted to detective work, tracking down every conceivable lead he could on either Jesse Chisholm or John Ellis Wool.”
Hinton took a special interest in identifying and encouraging emerging history scholars throughout the years. Dr. Jerry D. Thompson, a history professor at Texas A&M University International, described Hinton as “one of the most personable individuals you could ever meet,” and marveled at his mentor’s expansive knowledge. “His ‘encyclopedia mind,’ as a friend said, was amazing when it came to Trans-Mississippi history,” Thompson said. “There was little he didn't know and was able to recall with precision. His draft of the life of General John Ellis Wool is one of the most thoroughly researched manuscripts I have ever seen."
He was also instrumental in the creation and development of the leading academic journal “Arizona and the West,” now known as the “Journal of the Southwest,” and the Western History Association. Hinton’s expertise led him to become a trusted historical consultant on Hollywood movies and television shows. Mary recalled him consulting for Old Tucson, an American movie studio well-known for producing Westerns. “Watching TV with my dad in my childhood was really frustrating for me,” Mary said. “If a movie had any historical component, he would tell me ‘They didn’t have that hat back then!’ or ‘That was the wrong saddle for that era!’ I couldn’t enjoy the show because he would go on and on about what was historically incorrect.”
Returning to Texas
Upon his retirement from the University of Arizona in 1991, the Hintons moved to Austin. Hinton soon began a new project as an editor on the Texas State Historical Association’s multi-volume encyclopedia, “Handbook of Texas.” Hinton’s first wife, Ann, was a librarian, who later joined the board of directors of Texas A&M University’s Friends of the Sterling C. Evans Libraries.