|Historical photo of William Simkins|
The Star of the West was a 172-ton steamship built in New York in 1852 for Cornelius Vanderbilt. She made regular runs to Nicaragua, Havana and New Orleans until she was chartered to the War Department on January 1, 1861. She was loaded with ammunition, food, uniforms and sundries in New York before being sent to deliver the supplies to Fort Sumter.
After alerting the other cadets, Simkins loaded his cannon and fired upon the "Star of the West." Within seconds, his mates joined in. Although not damaged to a great degree, the ship was hit three times and the captain of the Star of the West considered it too dangerous to go on. He ordered the ship turned around and, with both paddle wheels churning, fled from the scene. Although the bombardment of Fort Sumter would not take place until April 12th, three months later, William Simkins had effectively just fired the first shot of the Civil War.
|Grave of William Simkins & family|
Simkins was commissioned as a first lieutenant of artillery and fought in a number of battles during the first two years of the war. He was named inspector general for General Hagood in 1863. He survived the war and surrendered as a colonel under General Joseph Johnston in 1865. After he surrendered, he and his brother moved to Florida and eventually organized the Florida Ku Klux Klan. He became a lawyer in 1870 and moved to Corsicana, Texas in 1873 where he established a law practice. In 1885, he moved to Dallas and established a law practice with his brother. The firm was very successful, but he moved to Austin to be a law professor at the University of Texas in 1899.
At the university, he became a very popular professor and his publications became standard textbooks across other schools in Texas and many campuses across America. He became professor emeritus in 1923, but still lectured once every week until he died in 1929. He is buried in a family plot in Greenwood Cemetery in Dallas.
Simkins was such a popular teacher and held in such high esteem that a new residence dormitory was named Simkins Hall and a green-space park on the campus was named Simkins Park. Simkins' history with the Ku Klux Klan in Florida was rediscovered and in 2010, the African American trustee, Printice L. Gary, made the motion to delete the name "Simkins" from the dormitory. The motion was unanimously approved and the dormitory name was changed to Creekside Residence Hall. The park was also renamed and the name "Simkins" has been disassociated from the University of Texas.