By Judge J.C. Paul

 In the summer of 1887 the Santa Fe Railroad was building from Kiowa, Kansas, southwest into Texas.  It was to have as its temporary terminus Panhandle City, in Carson County.

It was at first understood that this line would eventually be constructed farther southwest through New Mexico, and that the Ft. W. & D. Cy. Railway, then building from Fort Worth to Denver, might cross the Santa Fe line at Panhandle City.  This gave to Carson County a greater prominence than any other Panhandle county then enjoyed.


Early in the summer of 1887 a small group of settlers, headed by the late Judge 0. H. Nelson, came into the county and filed on state lands immediately around Panhandle City.  Soon a few other settlers came from other sections and the lands were surveyed and sectionized in 1887 by James L. Gray, now living in San Pedro, California.  He was then working for McClelland Bros., of Clarendon, Texas.

At that time there were no roads or fences, except the fence enclosing the White Deer lands, then known as the "Diamond F" Ranch.  This was a 600,000 acre property, managed by Colonel B. B. Groom, of Kentucky, who was the first man to attempt farming in Carson County.

In 1887 the management of this extensive estate passed to George Tyng, of Victoria, Texas, who began some scattered improvements on it, such as wells and windmills.  Colonel Groom had originally built an old house of cotton wood logs on White Deer Creek, which was the first building erected in the County.  Mr. Tyng later moved the ranch headquarters to a point a few miles south of where the town of White Deer now stands.  This ranch was afterwards subdivided and colonized most successfully by Mr. T. D. Hobart.

The buffalo had been killed off by thousands in the seventies and their bones lay in piles just where they were shot.  As the railroad would furnish transportation for the bones, people came with ox-teams and found profitable work gathering and bringing them to Panhandle City, where hundreds of tons of them were piled along the prospective railroad track.

In 1888 the first commercial use to which railroad trains were put, was the hauling of hundreds of cars of bones to market - St. Louis and New Orleans, where they were used for fertilizers and sugar refining.  Thus passed what was then known as the last of the buffalo - "The Monarch of the Plains."

Returning now to a description of the county as the writer first saw it in January, 1888.  It was a beautiful, smooth prairie, as far as the eye could see - not a tree not even a shrub knee high, to hide a Jack-rabbit, for miles in every direction.  No fences, no roads, no houses, only a handful of people around Panhandle, the only settlement then in all of that plains country.

The sole occupants of the great plains were thousands of antelope, scattered far and wide wherever one went.  As I now remember my early impressions, the one subject always discussed when conversation lagged, was, "Will this country ever produce anything but grass?" "Can farmers ever live here?" "Ought we to ever plow up the land?"

The older cattle men generally agreed that to plow up the original sod, was to permanently ruin it.  The writer now confesses to have agreed with them for the first ten years he was there.

In this early day, the saloons flourished, each with a gambling hall adjoining.  "Jim McIntire" and "Smoky Jim", two famous gamblers helped to make the town famous.

Then, too, the Dance Hall flourished. And many an old time cow-boy, such as Mac Sanford and Cal Merchant, could tell interesting tales of how it felt to leave town dead broke, to follow the chuck wagon another month.

        The first schools taught in Panhandle were conducted Mrs.  Stone, (now Mrs F. H. Hill), who is the mother of Panhandle's present Mayor, and by Miss Kate Roberts, who was the first lady married in Panhandle.  This marriage occurred in 1889, when Miss Roberts became the wife of Mr. T. N. Adams, the first Sheriff in Carson County.

The schools were taught in little vacant rooms wherever they could be had.  No school furniture was used the first two years.  The children sat on benches and boxes; there being only a few chairs for the teacher and older pupils.

          The first church was built in 1889, but there was no resident minister for some time.  Rev.  R. L. Selle was the first minister to live there.  Rev. B. F. Jackson, of Miami, frequently preached for us.  Also Rev. Molyneaux of Amarillo.

For several years the population could not support a doctor and the county had to pay him a salary.  Dr. Carter was our first resident physician.

Carson County was organized in 1888 with:

O. H. Nelson, as County judge

W. C. Bright, as County Clerk

T. N. Adams, as Sheriff

J. C. Paul, as County Treasurer 

The old courthouse, a wooden two story structure, was built in 1889, at a cost of about $6000.

          In those days the chief amusement was the old fashioned square dance, at first held in some old store building and later in the courthouse.  Among the first fiddlers was Jess Wynne and Tommy Lorance, who never failed to draw a crowd, and give them the worth of their money.  To these dances came cow-boys from everywhere.  Every woman in the country danced.  The Lee girls from Washburn, (Mrs. Jno.  McKnight was one of them) and the Hibbett girls from Washburn - Misses Anna and Hannah--all were good dancers and jolly folks.  T'hey usually danced all night, so they could go home by day light.  Any of those who joined in these parties will agree with me that those were the best times we have ever known.

Later on came the pony race and horse racing.  Ed Deahl came and brought his thoroughbreds, but the old cow puncher never forsook his crack runner.  Many a dollar changed hands and many a fellow went home broke; but it was soon forgotten when the boys met down at Jack Ivers saloon to talk it over and perhaps up the gains and losses in an all night poker game.

        Just here let me remark that it is the general belief that the poker games begun in 1887 in Panhandle City seldom closed nights nor Sundays for ten years.  The big cattle shipments made from Panhandle 1888 to 1895 brought hundreds of cow boys, ranch bosses and camp followers there, and many thousands of dollars were lost and won in a single night.  The professional gamblers, of course were always the winners.

These were the days when big herds were trailed through from Texas to Wyoming and Montana.  Each outfit usually drove about 2500 head.  From the White Deer headquarters, from two to four herds were started each year under the general direction and management of Jas.  L. Harrison.  Time was no object then, for the cattle improved on the fine grass and water along the way.  Deer, antelope and wild turkey furnished ample food for the men, and such trips usually took several months.

The story of Carson County would not be complete without some mention of the legal talent that then came periodically to our Courts.  One of the most famous lawyers then was Temple Houston, with his long hair, high heeled boots, Prince Albert coat and sombrero.  It was he who defended Dixie Lee, as told by the author of Cimarron, a late book by Edna Ferber, now so popular in the movies.

Then, another no less interesting character was W. H. Woodman, the poet lawyer to whom was erected a memorial recently at Washburn.  The elder judge Willis and Judge Griggsby and L. D. Miller, and our own beloved Governor Browning, were all characters who left their lasting impressions on all of our early settlers.  Our Judge S. H. Madden began his law practice there.

The early settlement here with its pioneers and their experiences were similar to that previously enacted in dozens of other localities, where settlements had been opened; for the continued growth and development of all America had begun, and ended in small bands of venturesome restless settlers, pushing out into new and unoccupied territory, to plant new colonies and build for themselves new homes and fortunes.

The history of all the states had been about the same from Jamestown, in Virginia and Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts, down through the two or three centuries, and through the settlements made in almost one hundred places in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska, where the frontier seemed to end.

West Texas, formerly designated on the map as the "Great American Desert", furnished the last chance to plant a new colony just a little different from any of the former settlements.

Into the Midwest and into Illinois and Iowa, many Germans had come, in the Northwest, Dakotas and Minnesota, the Scandinavians had predominated.  In Kansas and Nebraska religious sects - Mennonites, Dunkards and others had settled.  In all of these, the process of adjusting these into a proper order of society had been slow and more difficult.  But into our Panhandle country came only native Americans, with scarcely any mixture of foreign blood.  Many came from Kansas, Kentucky, Virginia, Ohio and Illinois, also Missouri and Tennessee.  This was the "melting pot" for the energetic, ambitious and progressive elements from all of the older settlements where more room and greater opportunities were desired.

It is this that accounts for the generally recognized fact that in Northwest Texas we can boast of a population more purely American than in almost any other Western community.

As was always the case, the first influx brought the saloon, the gambling den and the dance halls, but in due time, and by a natural process, all of these passed out just as did the old dug-out, the box-house and the mud street.

Only those who have really pioneered and helped to settle a new country can fully appreciate the obstacles to be met and overcome at first.  With only a few hundred population, one man had to fill several positions.  The first year in Panhandle, Mr. and Mrs. Pete Leithauser made themselves useful in the following manner: She was a nurse and cook and washer woman.  Pete was at first a carpenter then became a plumber, then took up undertaking and made boxes and buried the dead.  Then he took up barbering, and for lack of better material he was elected justice of the Peace.  So the two filled eight different positions all at the same time.  And it can be said truthfully that they rendered acceptable service in every one of them.

I have above failed to give all he did.  At one time Panhandle had no doctor, so Pete's versatility came in to play.  He bought a pair of Sears-Roebuck tooth forceps and began to pull teeth.  His first patient was a big, strong, country girl and the tooth-ache had made her desperate.  He tied her in his barber's chair and began the struggle.  She kicked and screamed, but Pete finally got the tooth and this made the ninth business they conducted.

Pete's grand-father had been an Ohio pioneer.  His father had pioneered in Illinois.  So he had inherited the adaptability and the versatility so necessary to successful pioneering in the Panhandle.

I have said that Pete had been elected Justice of the Peace.  This qualified him to take acknowledgments.  As secretary and treasurer of the So.  K. Ry.  Co. of Texas, at Panhandle; the writer had to make elaborate, sworn monthly statements to the State Comptroller.  These statements were prepared by J. N. Freeman, then Auditor of the road.  When Freeman and I had duly signed the first instrument, we together went to Pete to have the oath administered.  We knew he had never before sworn anyone, and perhaps did not know the form of the oath.  But Pete knew there was a dollar fee in it for him; so he blundered into it about as follows: "Do you fellows both solemnly swear that what you wrote in that paper is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you by God?"

As laughable as the foregoing incident was, it shows how useful ends may be achieved by those who humbly try to serve their people and do their best.

Pete had a long ancestry of pioneers who ran back to the Dutch, who came to Massachusetts with the earliest settlers.  Each generation had built up and developed a greater aptness for the new work of pioneering.

I have not told you of this man's life in Panhandle merely as a personal incident, but I am using him as a type of the new settlers, whom we encountered in all new countries, whose tact and versatility came by generations of practice in doing all of the kinds of work under all kinds of circumstances and whenever necessity called for it.

As I have said before, there were but a few settlers in Carson County for the first few years.  Many came and tried it; but only a few of the very determined and heroic had the hardihood to stick it through.  They settled in widely scattered places, where conditions seemed most favorable.  Very few had any near neighbors and none had even a fair chance of making a living.  Water, the most necessary thing, was to be had only at Panhandle, where it was brought by the railroad company from up near Miami, and each settler generally came to town once or twice a week with one to four water barrels in his wagon and took home the week's supply.  Price was generally 50 cents a barrel,

The writer remembers well how on Saturdays all the town people scanned the horizons in different directions to catch glimpses of the twenty or thirty water-wagons that made weekly visits.  This condition lasted several years, until it became known that water was to be found in abundance everywhere by drilling for it.

It can be easily seen that these scattered homes furnished only the plainest of life's actual needs, none of its luxuries and but few of its necessities.  The people grew to appreciate what neighbors they had, even if a dozen miles away.  A spirit of friendship, hospitality and helpfulness was fostered, that made real brothers of them all.  And we can but regret today the decadence of this old time spirit that is often lacking in the newer and more modern communities.

In the early Nineties the telephone came and in Carson County some twelve or fifteen country homes were connected by a neighborhood phone line, run from house to house on the barbed wire fence.  Light, cheap batteries were used at each house and each home had its call signal.  This was considered real civilized, and after the day's work was done, everybody had to call everybody else and exchange the news.  That was just as novel then as the radio is now.  Of course we all had curiosity then, and sometimes the whole neighborhood listened in when Mrs. Grundy was giving her neighbors a piece of unusually interesting family or neighborhood news.

Those early days were marked by a sameness that must then have seemed monotonous.  Many of us wondered often why we were there and why we did not leave.  There were no happenings to develop a hero or a heroine, but we got the habit of staying on the job and sticking together.

One fact worth recording is that we were each valued according to what we could do.  The simplest democracy was practiced.  I state with especial pride that in every local election, for ten or fifteen years, no politics cut any figure.  No candidate for local office was ever asked to what party he belonged.  The chief qualification was his fitness to do the work.  In those days all were poor alike.  Land was worth practically nothing and there were no cattle barons in that county, though a few big ranches.

In 1890 to 1893 came the panic.  All the railroads of the West were overbuilt and most of them went into the hands of receivers.  The cattle business was at its lowest ebb ever known.  Credit was destroyed and stagnation had strangled every business.  With no deposits and no credits, bankers everywhere seemed hopelessly broke.

My little bank at Panhandle, serving only a few dozen people, had three to four customers, who owed it an aggregate amount several times its capital stock.  Were they to break, certain failure would follow; but they did not fail, and in a few years each paid up and normal conditions prevailed.  This has its bearing on present financial conditions.  It shows that history will repeat itself.

It was said that the Mayflower, landing on the bleak New England coast, in 1620, had aboard an invisible cargo that contained the virile seeds that afterwards sprouted and grew into a great Republic that now is the greatest of modern nations.

In a more remote and simpler way, is it too much to say that the little band of home seekers who came to Carson County in 1887 and 1888, brought with them the potency and force that was to ripen into a splendid community and spread its influences to the whole Panhandle Country.

This little group of prospectors had simple tastes, but must have had vision and purpose to have fought so successfully the dust and the wind and the droughts, through a period of ten or more weary years.

To us, viewing their heroic deeds from only a few decades of time, we can scarcely realize what valor and grit it took.  But when two or three more generations shall have passed, their greater foresight and greater heroism and more earnest efforts will surely stamp them with qualities of superior strength and character.  Truly, they built better than they knew.  And in the years to come, posterity will accord to them a high place among that noble group of American pioneers, who made the Prairie to blossom as the rose.

From these thoughts of the pioneer days, let us turn to the present Carson County, and see the changes Old Time has wrought.  To the early settler the change is simply magical.  For Carson County now has more miles of hard surfaced roads than any other West Texas County.  She can point to the biggest oil and gas wells, the greatest wheat yields and the best Guernsey milk herds to be found anywhere in Texas.  The buffalo and the antelope have vanished and the best in cattle, hogs and horses have taken their places.  The old cow trail has changed into a hard surfaced road; the auto has put the cow pony to rest; and the daily Santa Fe train speeds along the once lonesome train, bringing every luxury and pleasure that the oldest section enjoys.

Not only the trans-continental trains are ours for greater progress, but the ships of the air soar over us, singing their songs of praise that the old order of the early days has passed.

The few surviving settlers of 1887 and 1888 are Mr. and Mrs. E. E. Carhart, Tom Cleck, J. E. Southwood, Mrs. F. H. Hill, Charley Wright and the writer, all of Panhandle; also Jess Wynne, of Pampa, George Masters of Los Angeles, California, Lee Masters, of Oregon, Al Holland of White Deer and A. S. McKinney of San Simon, Arizona.  D. C. Stone, now mayor of Panhandle, was a child but three years old when he came in 1887.

Judge J. E. Southwood and Al Holland have the distinction of being the first settlers in Carson County who have lived there continuously since the first settlement.

The present population of Carson County is wide awake, progressive, up-to-date and are generally direct descendants of the first settlers who came to open the way, and lead to the establishment of higher agencies of civilization, such as schools, churches and roads.

To have been one of these early pioneers and to have used well nigh a half century of my life in an effort to help change this country from a desert into a highly developed community, is given to but few of us.  For me, I am glad to have had, even a small part, in helping to bring such a change as is seldom experienced in one short life.  Surely our efforts "have made two blades of grass to grow where but one had grown before."

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