Mobeetie - Panhandle
General Store, courtesy Panhandle-Plains
Historical Museum, Canyon, Texas
patronized by outlaws, thieves, cut-throats, and buffalo hunters, with a
large per cent of prostitutes. Taking it all, I think it was the hardest
place I ever saw on the frontier except Cheyenne, Wyoming.”
-- Charles Goodnight of the Goodnight/Loving Trail
Long before Mobeetie,
ever became an "almost
town”, the vast plains were home to the
Indians. In the 1700s the Kiowa and
Comanche took over
the area, running the Apache out. However, the Kiowa and Comanche were
defeated in the
Red River War of 1874 and the white settlers quickly
began to settle the area.
In the spring
buffalo hunters moved down
Kansas and a camp was formed
near Sweetwater Creek called Hidetown about two miles southeast of the
site of where Old Mobeetie
In 1875, the
United States government established Fort Cantonment about 2 miles
northeast of Hidetown to keep the Indians on reservations in
and establish law and order in the region. On June 5, 1875 Major H.C. Bankhead and the 4th Cavalry arrived with several
companies of infantry to establish the new fort. The first
buildings at the fort were made of sharpened cottonwood posts placed
into the ground at close intervals, joined by poles fastened across
the top. Larger logs were used as ceiling beams which were
stacked with layers of brush and weeds above the beams. The
structure was then covered with adobe, packed into the spaces between
the posts. Board buildings would quickly replace most of the
picket buildings, but some were still in use until as late as 1890.
quickly began to develop with the settlement of the Fort and gained
the name Sweetwater City. Dominated by three
Kansas men by the names of
Charles Rath, Bob Wright, and Lee Reynolds, the settlers supplied
buffalo hides to the three
men, who in turn, made provisions available to the settlement. With the fort established, the
men built a trading post and Sweetwater quickly grew to a population
of about 150 people. The three Dodge City
men claimed to have bought over 150,000 buffalo hides while they were
William (Billy) L. R.
Dixon, hero of the
Second Battle of Adobe Walls in 1874, was wagon master
of a bull train in Sweetwater for a time. Running the train for
Lee Reynolds of Dodge City, Kansas,
Dixon mastered ten 7-oxen teams of three wagons to a team bringing
provisions into Sweetwater and taking loads of buffalo hides back to
Catering primarily to the soldiers
at the fort, Sweetwater had a Chinese laundry, a restaurant, a dance
hall and several
by the summer of 1875. Like many Old West settlements, the town
was primarily called home to bullwhackers, outlaws,
The restaurant was run by
Tom O’Loughlin, and his wife, Ellen, who was said to have been the only
virtuous woman in the settlement. The only other women in the small
town were the dance hall and
girls. Numbering about 15, the girls worked the many Sweetwater
Saloons, which held such names as the Pink Pussy Cat Paradise, the Buffalo
Chip Mint and the White Elephant. One
called the Ring Town Saloon,
located about 2 ˝ miles northwest of Sweetwater was designated for black
men only – primarily those Buffalo
Soldiers employed at
The owner of the main
dance hall was Bill Thompson, brother of the noted
Ben Thompson, gunman of
who was killed in
Sometime in 1875,
Bat Masterson, who had scouted for Colonel Nelson A. Miles during the Red
River War, landed in Sweetwater. Working as a faro dealer in Henry
Masterson became embroiled in an argument with Sergeant Melvin A. King
over a card game and a dance hall beauty named Mollie Brennan. The
argument quickly led to a gunplay and King was left dead.
in the melee, King’s shot passed through Mollie Brennan’s body, killing
her, and then hit Masterson in the pelvis. The injury caused Bat to
walk with a limp for the rest of his life. In 1876, Masterson
returned to Dodge City, Kansas
where he became a lawman there for many years. Other visitors to
Sweetwater during this lawless time included
Patrick F. Garrett and
By February 21, 1876,
the fort was renamed Fort Elliott by General Order No. 3 of the
Division of the
Missouri. By that time, Fort Elliott had officer’s quarters, sufficient barracks
for six companies of enlisted men, a headquarters building, hospital,
laundresses’ quarters, storehouses and cavalry stables all built of
Most of the
supplies that were needed for the Fort were brought in from Dodge City,
Kansas. Civilians who settled near the post produced food for which they found
a ready market at the post.
On April 12, 1876
Wheeler County was one of twenty-six counties created out of Clay
County Territory and was named for Supreme Court Justice Royal T.
This image available for
photographic prints and downloads
In 1878, it was discovered that Sweetwater was located on the Military
Reserve and the town had to relocate. Moving two miles northwest to
section 45, this proved to be a boost for the settlement, with its
location nearer to the fort.
was officially organized in 1879 by a petition signed by 150 qualified
voters and Sweetwater was elected as the county seat. The
settlement then applied for its own post office with the town name of
Sweetwater. However, the name was rejected because
already had a town by that name. It occurred to some to ask the
local Indians the name of Sweetwater as spoken in their language.
word was Mobeetie and it became the name of the town. It wasn’t until
many years later that a
Comanche related that Mobeetie
didn’t actually mean "sweet water,” but instead, meant "buffalo
By 1880, Fort Elliott
was able to procure from the locals, hay, some lumber, shoes, saddles,
wagon wheels, clothing and many staple foods. These early
entrepreneurs constituted the first manufacturing in the
Throughout the 1880s
was the commercial center of much of the Panhandle, connected by a mail
route with Tascosa, to the west. Rath’s mercantile store catered to area
ranches and Fort Elliott dominated the economy. Mobeetie's
main street expanded to include livery stables, wagon yards, a barbershop,
drugstore, blacksmith shop, two hotels, numerous boarding houses, and an
increased number of the ever present saloons.
The first courthouse in the
Texas Panhandle was built in Mobeetie in 1880 by Irish stone masons who
quarried the stone from the Emanuel Dubbs homestead nine miles east of
Mobeetie. Just one year later Mobeetie became the judicial
center of the Thirty-fifth District, which comprised fifteen counties.
Several lawyers set up shop, including Temple Houston, son of
Sam Houston, who served a term in Mobeetie as
district attorney before his election to the state Senate.
continued to have its share of gamblers, rustlers, and prostitutes.
However, Captain George W. Arrington and his
Texas Ranger Company proved
an effective deterrent to the lawless element. Arrington was elected
county sheriff in 1882 and throughout his term made his home in the
two-story stone jail, which still stands today. In the same year the Texas Panhandle, the region's first newspaper, began operation. By
had a population of about 300.
Just eight years after it was built, the stone
courthouse was condemned in 1888 because of structural flaws. Evidently, the Irish stone masons were not aware that metal pins were
required to hold the stone together. The courthouse was replaced by
a wooden structure located across the square from the county jail.
Barber Shop at the site of Old Mobeetie,
May, 2004, Kathy Weiser
In 1889 the Texas Panhandle
newspaper became the Wheeler County Texan. A rock schoolhouse, which also served as a union
church and community center, was built in the same year, replacing an
earlier wooden structure. The community center held dances and horse
races on holidays in the small town.
By 1890, Fort Elliott was no longer needed to
defend the settlers from the Indians
and the decision was made to abandon the post. At an inventory taken
in August of 1890, the Fort had 13 sets of officers’ quarters, four
barracks, two offices, a hospital, chapel, library, guard house, seven
storehouses and several other outbuildings.
The army moved out permanently in October,
1890. Before the Fort closed down, Mobeetie
had a population of 400.
An immediate decline
in population occurred when Fort Elliott was abandoned and the town
made several attempts to secure a railroad through the area. However, all attempts ended in failure. In the early 1890’s the
area saw a religious revival and in 1893 a revival meeting resulted in
300 conversions to the faith. Baptist and Methodist churches
were constructed soon afterwards and all of the town saloons
The town's troubles
increased on May 1, 1898, when a tornado took seven lives and
destroyed many of the buildings that were never rebuilt. People
began to move away.
By 1900, the ranching
industry began to give way to farming, resulting in a substantial
increase in cultivation, but Mobeetie
had dwindled to only about 128 people and the Wheeler County Texan
newspaper was discontinued.
1902 the Rock Island
Railroad built westward across the Panhandle from
and the towns of Crossroads, Lela, Shamrock, Norrick and Benonine grew
while small Mobeetie continued to struggle.
Another blow occurred in 1907 when a controversial election
made the town of Wheeler, 12 miles to the southeast of Mobeetie,
the county seat. In 1908, the wooden courthouse was moved to Wheeler. But,
Mobeetie hung on, with a school, a bank, a lumberyard, and various
other businesses. In 1910, Mobeetie's
population had risen a little from the prior decade, having a
population of 250.
In 1916 the county initiated construction
of a highway across the southern part of Wheeler County, which would
later become US Highway 66. There was also a road started from
Shamrock to Wheeler to
In 1923, the first gas
well was drilled near Shamrock and just one year later the first producing
oil well was drilled in the county. By the end of the 1920s the
entire southwestern part of the county was dotted with oil and gas wells,
tank batteries, and pipelines.
In 1929, the area finally got their long
awaited railroad, but the Panhandle and Santa Fe Railway built its line
Texas to Clinton,
Oklahoma just north of
missing the town by two miles. The post office and most of the
businesses moved closer to the railroad and soon "New Mobeetie"
was born, incorporating "Old Mobeetie"
as part of the new city. Most of the remaining residents moved
closer to the railroad, but the stone jail and a few other abandoned homes
remained in Old Mobeetie.
The railroad and
the increased agriculture of the area increased the population of 500 by
1940. However, forty years later in 1980 the numbers had fallen
again to less than 300 due to the improved highways and the proximity to Pampa and other Panhandle towns.
In 1984 Mobeetie
had nine businesses, a bank, a post office, three churches, and modern
school facilities for twelve grades. Although a few people still resided
at the old town site, many of its houses were abandoned and falling down.
Today, only one bank, the post office, the elementary school -- which was
formed from three other small towns close to Mobeetie,
and a diner along
Highway 152 exist in this almost forgotten town.
old county jail in "Old Mobeetie”
has since become a museum, after having served as a private residence for
several years and the local VFW Hall. The museum features artifacts
from both Mobeetie and Fort Elliott. On the site is also a crude flagpole,
and an outdoor jail cell, which are all that remain from Fort Elliott. The museum and several outbuildings are open year-around from 1:00-5:00
p.m. daily except Wednesdays. Manned by volunteers, donations are
Considered the "Mother City” of the Panhandle,
located twenty miles east of Pampa,
State Highway 152 in northwest Wheeler County.
of America, updated August, 2017.
Billy Dixon -
Texas Plains Pioneer
Texas Photo Print
The only residents left in "Old Mobeetie"
are of the four-legged variety, May, 2004, Kathy Weiser.
Stone Jail Museum, May, 2004,
Site of Fort Elliot Today
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