William Eugene Hollon, historian, was born in Commerce, Texas, on May 28, 1913, the son of cotton farmers Samuel and Myrtle (Payne) Hollon. Although his parents had little formal education, the family possessed the Harvard Classics, the complete works of Mark Twain, and popular books of the period. His mother appreciated books and read adventure stories to Hollon and his brothers. With an early interest in history and literature, Hollon graduated from Commerce High School in 1931.
Majoring in English, Hollon earned his B.A. from East Texas State Teachers College (now Texas A&M at Commerce) in 1934. He taught history and English, served as a school principal and coached football in several public schools along the Rio Grande border until 1940. In the summers, he also took graduate courses from Walter Prescott Webb, Roy Bedichek, and J. Frank Dobie at the University of Texas. Taking an interest in western history, Hollon took all of the courses Webb taught. Hollon earned his M.A. (1937) and his Ph.D. (1942) in history from the University of Texas. Webb became his close friend and mentor. As a doctoral student, Hollon often played poker with Webb at his home and traveled with his mentor when he gave lectures around the state. In 1941 Hollon married Frances Elizabeth (Bette) Cross. They remained married until her death in 1993 and had one daughter. From 1942 to 1945, he served as a history instructor at Schreiner Institute and as instructor in the Navy’s V-5 program, both in Kerrville, Texas.
In September 1945 Hollon accepted a position in the history department at the University of Oklahoma where he remained for twenty-two years. During that period, he wrote: The Lost Pathfinder: Zebulon Montgomery Pike (1949), Beyond the Cross-Timbers: The Travels of Randolph B. Marcy, 1812–1877 (1955), The Southwest: Old and New (1961), and The Great American Desert Then and Now (1966) which expanded on an earlier Webb essay. In 1956 Hollon (with Ruth Lapham Butler) edited the diaries and journals of an English traveler that was released as William Bollaert’s Texas which provided an excellent source on the Republic of Texas and its people. While in Norman, he also served as the director of the Stovall Museum of Natural History. Hollon took pride in serving as the fifth president of the Western History Association, an organization he helped to establish in 1961. During his career, he lectured as a Fulbright Scholar twice—in Peru in 1958 and in Spain from 1966 to 1967. In 1967 he accepted a position at the University of Toledo as the Ohio Regents Professor of History to establish a new graduate program. While at Toledo, Hollon published his final book, Frontier Violence: Another Look (1974). At both schools he supervised nineteen Ph.D. dissertations and numerous masters theses. Among his colleagues, Hollon was respected for his scholarship and the way he had established lasting bonds with his former students from both Oklahoma and Toledo that identified themselves as a “Hollon student.” Hollon often told his students that his friend and mentor Walter Prescott Webb once told him: “The only way you can repay me is for you to pass it on some day to your own students.” Some of his students from Oklahoma and Toledo paid tribute to their mentor with the publication of The American West: Essays in Honor of W. Eugene Hollon (1980).
After his retirement from the University of Toledo in 1978, he relocated to Santa Fe, New Mexico. He remained active by teaching classes as a visiting professor at the University of New Mexico. After the death of his first wife, he married Fern White, a former high school classmate from Commerce in 1996. A few days short of his eighty-ninth birthday, W. Eugene Hollon died at his home in Gilmer, Texas, on May 19, 2002. The department of history at Texas A&M University at Commerce honors his career with the W. Eugene Hollon Scholarship.