Homer Norris spent much of his 89 years roaming the rugged countryside around Aledo and the Annettas, searching for remnants from the past. Some of those finds made their way into books and museums. By the time the amateur archeologist died in 2018, he had become a treasure himself.
“He is kind of a legend,” daughter Lanie Garmon said.
She wants to stoke that status by sharing Norris’ lifework with the residents of Parker County and beyond.
Norris made his living as a commercial artist and illustrator. His Parker County Prairie Sketchbook (2006) is a remarkable love letter to his old stomping grounds. The book is a journal, history lesson, archeological tutorial and art class combined into one big, loving tribute to the land where he was born and would die.
After retirement, Norris painted for pleasure, and his oil artworks still hang in many area homes and galleries. At his house, he displayed his collection of artifacts —stone tools, points and potsherds he’d discovered that dated back to early Indians, as well as bullet shells, spurs, knives, coins and other items left behind by pioneers.
“He wrote about everything,” Garmon said. “He drew it and displayed it in the studio. Aledo students were always coming out for field trips. He wanted to educate people and put them in touch with local history.”
His discoveries — some unearthed with help from family members — include a mammoth tusk, an ancient Indian burial ground, and the complete skeleton of a bison that appeared to be buried ceremoniously.
Recently, Garmon tackled a daunting task — organizing his notes and sketches and providing materials to help archeologists to survey sites that Norris documented.
“After he died and I was going through all his papers, I realized there was so much to it,” Garmon said. “I felt like people would benefit from having that information. I wanted to make sure I got all of the archeological stuff into the record — digitized, organized and published — so all his work is out there.”
The quiet, humble Norris shunned self-promotion, but Garmon would like her dad’s efforts to receive more attention. So would Jon Vandagriff, a teacher, Weatherford Democrat contributing columnist and historian who has written three books on Parker County.
Norris was “very well thought of,” Vandagriff said. “I would rate him right up at the top as a historian. Everybody around Aledo who knew him put him high on the list.”
Norris suffered dementia in his final two years. Garmon, an occupational therapist, cared for him just as she had done with her mother while Rosemary Norris was dying of cancer in 2014. Garmon is the founder of Grace Notes, a nonprofit that provides medical equipment to people in need. Like her father, she loves history — she hosts “Ghosts of Aledo,” a Facebook page that explores local lore.
In the late 1950s, Norris built his family’s two-story house high atop a hill on Old Annetta Road. He and Rosemary raised four children there with a view that stretches for miles. Norris cleared trees to establish a long, winding, and rocky driveway that remains unpaved and bumpy all these years later. The house’s outer walls include rocks found on his property and bricks he made himself. Wielding hand tools, Norris dug into the hillside and built a storm shelter with thick stone and a copper-plated door that still hangs with angles plumb.
His illustrations, paintings and documents became scattered during his later years.
“He wasn’t able to keep up with his papers,” Garmon said. “I pulled a lot of stuff from an old shed. I went through books because I would find a sketch or notes from an archeological camp stuck in a book somewhere.”
Garmon has established an online fundraising campaign, gofundme.com/f/homer-norris-history-project, to help curate the finds, publish the results, and pay for historical markers, she said.
That’s what Norris wanted all along.
“It wasn’t about having a collection,” Garmon said. “It was about putting it into the record and putting it into context.”