Hutchinson County, Texas – Panhandle Frontier

Hutchinson County, Texas by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

Hutchinson County, Texas by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

Hutchinson County, Texas Map, courtesy Texas Almanac

Hutchinson County, Texas Map, courtesy Texas Almanac

Hutchinson County History & Information (See Below)

Native Americans

Explorers & Trail Blazers

Settlement

Oil Boom

Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument

Borger – Rip-Roaring “Booger Town”

Fritch – Panhandle Railroad Town

Lake Meredith National Recreation Area

Sanford – Another Railroad Town

Stinnett – Hutchinson County Seat

Extinct Towns, Ghost Towns & Company Camps

Hutchinson County History & Information:

Canadian river in Hutchinson County, Texas by the National Park Service.

Canadian River in Hutchinson County, Texas by the National Park Service.

Located in the north-central section of the Texas Panhandle, Hutchinson County, named for pioneer jurist Anderson Hutchinson, comprises 871 square miles of plains and broken terrain along the Canadian River, crossing the county from southwest to northeast.

Long before white settlers came to the area, now very dry by most appearances, it was fed by many springs, especially along the Canadian River. The water table has declined drastically in the last half-century, causing most of these old springs to dry up. Once, where they flowed abundantly, the area was lush with cottonwood, willow, salt cedar, and hackberry trees, as well as grapevines and plum thickets. Numerous sawmills cut many of the cottonwoods in the early 1900s, and though the trees returned, they never came back in their former size and numbers. Here also once roamed buffalo, bear, and panther. Though these animals are long gone, much wildlife remains, including mule and white-tailed deer, antelope, turkey, coyote, and several types of birds.

Native Americans:

These springs and abundant wildlife provided a home to various ancient peoples for thousands of years. The first known natives were the Paleoindians more than 12,000 years ago. These ancient Indians made the well-known Clovis points and were known to have been mammoth hunters. The Folsom culture followed the Clovis and were likely their descendants. They hunted a form of Bison that stood ten feet high at the shoulder. Following these Paleoindian groups, the Texas Panhandle entered a phase known as the Archaic. The giant animals were gone, and conditions had deteriorated to such a degree that at times, droughts that lasted for centuries prohibited settlement.

About 2,000 years ago, two new cultures moved into the Texas Panhandle, including the Woodland culture, which came from the east, bringing their cord-marked pottery and the bow and arrow. The Palo Duro people, with their deep corner-notched arrow points and thick brown-ware pottery, also came to the Panhandle from the Southwest. One of these groups that arrived in this vast grass-covered land where great herds of buffalo are known as the “Antelope Creek” culture in Hutchinson County. These people built “apartment-style” buildings, more commonly found in New Mexico, along the banks of the Canadian River. They were also known to have utilized the red bluffs above the Canadian River for the high-quality, rainbow-hued flint, which was vital to their existence. These people utilized these quarries from about 1200 and 1450 AD.

Alibates Flint Quarries, courtesy National Park Service.

Today, the site of the Antelope Creek people is known as the Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument. It is the only U.S. National Monument in the State of Texas. The flint usually lies just below the surface at ridge level in a layer up to six feet thick. The quarry pits were not very large, between 5 to 25 feet wide and 4 to 7 feet deep. An integral part of Lake Meredith National Recreation Area, the area is protected by the U.S. National Park Service and can only be viewed by ranger-led guided tours, which must be scheduled in advance.

Around 1500 AD, early Apache tribes came to the region, followed by the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, and Comanche, who would eventually force the Apache out of the region.

Today, Hutchinson County has more excavated archeological sites than any other county in the Texas Panhandle. At the Lake Creek site in northeastern Hutchinson County, pottery, stone tools, and the remains of bison and other animals dated from 950 to 1300 AD. At the Black Dog Village site between Borger and Stinnett, where there were also small springs, dolomite slab houses and petroglyphs have been found. Dating indicates the village was occupied from 970 to 1670 AD. Yet more evidence of ancient people have been found in various old springs and creeks in the county.

Explorers & Trail Blazers:

In 1541, the first Europeans ventured into the area on an expedition led by Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, destined for Quivira in his quest for the mythical Seven Cities of Gold. This elusive search was repeated by Spanish Conquistador Juan de Onate, who passed through in 1601. As had Coronado, Onate encountered Apache as he and his men marched to the northeast, following the Canadian River into Oklahoma.

The first Anglo-American expedition to come through Hutchinson County was led by Stephen Harriman Long, U.S. army explorer, and topographical engineer. He mistook the Canadian River for the Red River in August 1820. In 1792, Pedro Vial, a French explorer who worked for the Spanish government as a peacemaker, guide, and interpreter, came through the area as he was blazing trails across the Great Plains to connect the Spanish and French settlements in Texas, New Mexico, Missouri, and Louisiana.

Josiah Gregg

Josiah Gregg

After the Texas Revolution, Americans began to explore the area. One of the first was Josiah Gregg, in 1840. Seeking a shorter, more southerly route from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to the Mississippi River Valley, he decided to follow the south side of the Canadian River. He left Santa Fe on February 25, 1840, with 47 men, 28 wagons, two canons, 200 mules, and 300 sheep and goats. As the group crossed the Panhandle in March, Gregg’s expedition fought off an attack by a band of Pawnee near Trujillo Creek in what is now Oldham County, and a few days later, had to endure a blue norther (a rapidly moving cold front) that scattered most of the sheep and goats permanently across the Llano Estacado. In his journal, Gregg carefully noted the terrain, the abundance of game, and the unpredictable Panhandle weather. The expedition crossed the 100th Meridian on March 23 and moved on through Indian Territory (Oklahoma) to Fort Smith and Van Buren, Arkansas. He would later describe his impression of the area:

“After three or four days of weary travel over this level plain, the picturesque valley of the Canadian river burst once more upon our view, presenting one of the most magnificent sights I had ever beheld. Here rose a perpendicular cliff, in all the majesty and sublimity of its desolation; — there another sprang forward as in the very act of losing its balance and about to precipitate itself upon the vale below. A little further on a pillar with crevices and cornices so curiously formed as easily to be mistaken for the work of art; while a thousand other objects grotesquely and fantastically arranged, and all shaded in the sky-bound perspective by the blue ridge-like brow of the mesa far beyond the Canadian, constituted a kind of chaotic space where nature seemed to have indulged in her wildest caprices.”

Canadian River, Hutchinson County. Courtesy National Park Service.

In about 1843, Bent, St. Vrain, and Company sought to tap the Comanche and Kiowa trade by opening a trading post in the Canadian River Valley on what was subsequently known as Bent’s Creek in northeastern Hutchinson County. Trade was conducted from tepees, then log structures, and, finally, an adobe structure, which was called Fort Adobe.

In September 1845, Lieutenant James W. Abert and his surveying party stopped at Fort Adobe. They left the Canadian River to travel southeast toward the North Fork of the Red River. Along their way, they stopped at White Deer Springs and Creek in the southeast corner of Hutchinson County. He described the site:

“We moved pleasantly along with but little obstruction, until obliged to cross the sandy bed of “Arrow Creek” (the name he called White Deer Creek), a fine stream of pure water, remarkable straight, and well timbered with characteristic cottonwood, and lined along it bans with excellent pasture. Stopping here a few moments in order to refresh our horses, we resumed our journey but soon found ourselves involved in sandhills, some of which we noticed of considerable height.”

William Bent

William Bent

Due to continued Indian hostility in the area, the occupation of Fort Adobe was sporadic. Finally, by the spring of 1849, William Bent gave up the effort when some of his stock was killed by Indians and blew up the fort, abandoning trade in the Texas Panhandle. The ruins then became a familiar landmark to anyone determined to venture through the hostile country. Subsequently, its ruins gave the site the name Adobe Walls. The expeditions of Randolph B. Marcy (1849) and Amiel W. Whipple (1853) traveled by Adobe Walls during their surveys of the Canadian Valley. Later, two Indian battles would be fought here, including the First Battle of Adobe Walls in 1864 and the Second Battle of Adobe Walls ten years later. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places today.

In December 1858, Lieutenant Edward Beale, with 100 men, passed through the county, as they were constructing the federally funded military road from Fort Smith, Arkansas to Los Angeles, California. Named the Beale Wagon Road, it was the first federal road built in the American Southwest.

Settlement:

Adobe Walls, Texas

Adobe Walls, Texas

After hostilities with the Indians in the area had ceased, cattlemen began to arrive in what would become Hutchinson County. The first ranch was the  Quarter Circle T Ranch, established by a Kansas man named Thomas Sherman Bugbee in November 1876. It was located along the banks of the Canadian River, where water was plentiful. His daughter, Ruby, was the first white child born in Hutchinson County. Other ranches followed, including William E. Anderson’s Scissors Ranch at the Adobe Walls site in 1878 and the Diamond F and LX Ranches, which extended into the southern part of the county. Ranching dominated the county’s economy for the next four decades, but ranch life was a lonely one, and the area remained sparsely populated.

In 1890, the county was called home to nine ranches and 58 residents. Ten years later, in 1900, the number of ranches had increased to 63, farmers had moved into the area, and the population had increased to 303. The county’s first school was begun in a dugout on the Turkey Track Ranch that year. Later, the school was held in several locations that were generally central to several families. The school terms were usually held only as long as the district could pay the teacher.

Plemons, Texas, during the time it was the Hutchinson County Seat. There is nothing left of Plemons today but a small cemetery.

Though Hutchinson County had been established in 1876, it was not organized until 1901. In the spring of that year, area residents began the process, and the first elections were held on April 25. On May 13, the county was officially organized with the riverside town of Plemons as its county seat. At that time, Plemons was populated by only one family — the James A. Whittenburg’s, who donated the land where the town would be built. In the election, W. H. Ingarton was elected county judge, and William “Billy” Dixon, of Adobe Walls fame, operated the county’s first post office on the Turkey Track Ranch and was the first Hutchinson County Sheriff. The former buffalo hunter and Army scout is generally recognized as Hutchinson County’s first citizen.

For the next four decades, ranching dominated the county’s economy, while crop cultivation slowly made gradual headway. However, Hutchinson County slumbered as a sparsely populated ranching and agricultural center until the discovery of the vast Panhandle oilfield in the early 1920s.

Oil Boom:

Borger – Boomtown by Thomas Hart Benton.

The first gas well in the Texas Panhandle was completed in nearby Potter County in September 1918. Before long, an all-out oil boom was bursting throughout the Panhandle. Many of the area ranchers, such as James M. Sanford, J. A. Whittenburg, John F. Weatherly, and others cashed in on the boom; and numerous townsites and oil camps sprang up almost overnight, including Sanford, Fritch, Phillips, Stinnett, Signal Hill, Electric City, and Dial. The largest and wildest of these boomtowns was Borger, Texas.

With the boom, railroads finally came to the county in 1924. First was the Chicago, Rock Island, and Gulf Railroad, built northeast from Amarillo across the western part of the county. The Panhandle and Santa Fe Railroad extended a spur line from Panhandle to Borger and Phillips two years later. With the railroads came more people. Hutchinson County mushroomed from 721 residents in 1920 to 14,848 in 1930.

In 1925, two men named Asa Phillip “Ace” Borger and John R. Miller began to plan the building of a new town in Hutchinson County. The area where Borger would be laid out was investigated in January 1926, and just a few months later, the townsite of Borger would be laid out and lots sold.

Borger 90 days old

Borger is 90 days old

Within 90 days of its founding, the new city of Borger was flooded with thousands of people — between 35,000 and 50,000, though the vast majority of its residents lived in tents and shacks. Other “would-be” town builders soon followed suit. Before long, there were several new townsites nearby — Isom, Whittenburg, and Dixon Creek, all of which would later be incorporated into the city limits of Borger. Within a matter of months, oilmen, prospectors, roughnecks, panhandlers, fortune seekers, card sharks, bootleggers, prostitutes, and dope peddlers descended on Borger. “Booger Town,” as nicknamed, became a refuge for criminals and fugitives from the law. Before long, the town government was firmly in the hands of an organized crime syndicate led by Mayor Miller’s shady associate, “Two-Gun Dick” Herwig. These crazy days of oilmen, wildcatters, and lawless elements quickly gave rise to a reputation for Borger and Hutchinson County that would take years to live down.

In the same year that Borger was born, a special election was held on September 18, 1926, to move the county seat. Stinnett won the election over Plemons, soon causing the demise of the former town. Like many county seat wars across the nation, this had its own interesting events, though, in this case, none were violent (see Stinnett). Hutchinson County’s population mushroomed from 721 in 1920 to 14,848 in 1930 due to the oil boom.

Hutchinson County Courthouse in Stinnett, Texas by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

Hutchinson County Courthouse in Stinnett, Texas by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

In the beginning, the courthouse was temporarily housed in an office building in downtown Stinnett. But, plans were immediately made to build a new one. Designed by Amarillo architect William C. Townes and built by local contractor C. S. Lambie & Company, the Spanish renaissance revival-style building was built of brick and concrete in 1927. It features cut-stone ornamentation, a 3-bay primary facade with a grand entry bay, a raised basement with end entries, metal sash windows, and second-floor windows with round-arch stone lintels. Friezes at the east and west entrances of the courthouse depict the petroleum, farm and ranch, and cattle industries, historically the three principal commercial enterprises in the area. Until 1982, the building also housed a rooftop jail and sheriff’s quarters until remodeling occurred and the jail was moved. The building was recorded as a Texas Historic Landmark in 1962 and is also on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1927, Phillips started up its first petroleum refinery three miles northeast of Borger, Texas. The refinery was designed to produce gasoline as an automotive fuel, as well as other products. The company opened its first service station to sell gasoline in Wichita, Kansas, on November 19, 1927. As the company developed, so did the town of Phillips, which would later have a peak population of some 4,200 people.

Texas Panhandle Dust Bowl Arthur Rothstein 1936

In 1929, J.M. Huber came to Borger, where he established an Ink Plant and a Carbon Black Plant. Carbon black was a principal ingredient in the ink that was processed at the adjacent plant. Within a decade, there were 33 plants processing carbon black in the area, giving Borger the name Blacktown.

The decade of the 1930s was a mixture of boom and depression for Hutchinson County. The nation was going through the Great Depression, and the great storms of the Dust Bowl had begun. These hard times drove many a settler away from the area. However, there was also much work to be found in the oil fields and plants. But, in the end, these circumstances ended the boom, devastated farms, and caused petroleum prices to drop. But, Hutchinson County wouldn’t suffer nearly as much as the rest of the nation. Many an “Okie” migrant, fleeing from their devastated farms, found jobs in the oilfields and plants. In the meantime, mainly due to an expansion of winter-wheat production, the number of farms in the county increased during the 1930s to reach 183 by 1940, at which time the population of the county had grown to 19,069.

Carbon Black Plant in Bunavista, Texas by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

Carbon Black Plant in Bunavista, Texas by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

World War II saw a resurgence in the carbon black industry and the establishment at Bunavista, west of Borger, of a carbon black plant by the U.S. Government. Over the following decades, numerous more plants would move into Hutchinson County, primarily in or near Borger. Some of these included the Philtex Plant, Camex Anhydrous Ammonia, the Huber tool-making plant, the Natural Gas Liquids Center, a Copolymer Plant, and many others. The county’s population rose to 31,580 by 1950 and peaked just five years later at 35,685. In 1958, Government air pollution standards required that filters be installed at the carbon black plants, and the black clouds so characteristic of Borger in the early days ceased to exist.

Tourism and recreation were enhanced in 1965 with the completion of Sanford Dam, which impounded Lake Meredith on the Canadian River. Located about ten miles west of Borger, in Hutchinson County, the lake once extended into Moore and Potter counties. A. A. Meredith, former Borger city manager, devised the project, which was built and financed by the federal government under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Reclamation and is owned and operated by the Canadian River Municipal Water Authority.

Construction of Sanford Dam began on March 11, 1962, and was completed in 1965. Unfortunately, A. A. Meredith died of cancer in April 1963, two years before the project’s completion. In the beginning, Lake Meredith supplied water to eleven West Texas cities and became a popular recreational area. The nearby town of Sanford began to grow, and several resort communities, including Lake Meredith Estates and Bugbee Heights, were established.

Lake Meredith was down some 78 feet from its peak in 1973 in this photo from 2013.
By Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

In April 1973, the lake reached its record high capacity of almost 102 feet deep. Beginning in about 1999; however, drought has plagued the Texas Panhandle, and lake levels dropped year after year. In 2011, withdrawals from Lake Meredith for drinking water ceased, and the Harbor Marina and docks were closed and removed. In 2013, the lake reached its all-time low of 27.14 feet or just or 1.3% capacity. Today, that number has tremendously improved to 75.42 feet (May 2019).

Though the lake is nowhere near what it once was, it still provides opportunities for hiking, swimming, boating, and camping amongst the scenic buttes, pinnacles, and red-brown, wind-eroded coves. Also, here is the Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument.

Today, Hutchinson County remains a farming, ranching, and oil-producing region. As oil production declined throughout the years, so did the population. As of the 2010 census, its population was Borger. Borger remains its largest city at about just a little over 13,000 people. Stinnett remains the County Seat and is called home to about 1,900. Other communities include Fritch and Sanford. Phillips, Dial, and Pringle are all but gone.

© Kathy Weiser-Alexander/Legends of America, updated November 2021.

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Dedicated to the Womble Family of Hutchinson County, Texas

William Carson Womble

This history of Hutchinson CountyTexas, and its many places are dedicated to the William Carson Womble Family, who first came to the area in 1902. William Carson Womble, the patriarch of the Hutchinson County, Texas family tree, married Mollie T. Robinson (1876-1964) near Eulogy, Texas, at her parents’ home, Mr. and Mrs. W.C. Robinson, on October 14, 1894. The couple moved to Hutchinson County, Texas in 1902. One of their first acquaintances was William “Billy” Dixon of Adobe Walls fame. Dixon was a good and true friend to them until his death. William and Mollie would have 12 children, ten of whom they raised to adulthood. One of these children was Thava Irene Womble Foster, who is Legends’ Founder/Writer, Kathy Weiser-Alexander’s grandmother, and inspiration for this website.

Also See:

Borger, Texas – Rip Roaring “Booger Town”

Hutchinson County Photo Gallery

Lake Meredith National Recreation Area

Stinnett – Hutchinson County Seat

Sources:

Brune, Gunnar M; Springs of Texas, Volume 1; Texas A & M University Press, 2002
Hutchinson County Historical Commission; History of Hutchinson County, Texas: 104 years, 1876-1980
National Park Service
Panhandle Nation
Texas State Historical Association
Wikipedia