Hutchinson County, Texas – Panhandle Frontier

Canadian River, Hutchinson County. Courtesy National Park Service.

In about 1843, the firm of 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. In the beginning, trade was conducted from tepees, then log structures, and, finally an adobe structure was built, which was called Fort Adobe.

In September 1845, Lieutenant James W. Abert and his surveying party stopped at Fort Adobe. From there, 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 pasturage. 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 to be built in the American Southwest.


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. For the next four decades ranching dominated the county’s economy, 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, school was held in a number of 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 25th. On May 13th 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. Whittenburgs, 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 made 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 boom towns was Borger, Texas.

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

In 1925, two men by the names of 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 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 and before long, there were a number of 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 it was 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 as a result of the oil boom.

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