West Texas

Shafter

Shafter Silver Mine

The history of Shafter is closely tied to silver mining. There is evidence that the Spaniards prospected for valuable ores in the area during the early 1600s, but Shafter became a mining town only after September 1880, when John W. Spencer, a freighter turned prospector, found silver ore there. Spencer showed an ore sample to Col. William R. Shafter (later General), commander of the First Infantry Regiment at Fort Davis, who had it assayed. In June 1882 Shafter and his partners (two Army friends John L. Bullis and Louis Wilhelmi) leased some of their acreage to a California mining group which, in late summer 1883, organized the Presidio Mining Company and contracted individually with Shafter, Wilhelmi, and Spencer to buy their interests. Each received 5,000 shares of company stock and $1,600 cash. At the same time the manager of the company, William Noyes, found silver deposits on the acreage, valued at $45 per ton. The silver deposits found by Noyes were on one of the two sections owned by Bullis’s wife, and Bullis refused to sell. He claimed that the two sections had been bought by his wife with inherited family money and were not his or his partners’ property. He secured a court injunction to stop mining on that section, but the company continued work in the other sections. When the injunction expired in the spring of 1884, the Presidio Mining Company resumed operations in the productive Bullis section. The company hired more workmen and installed milling machinery.
A post office was opened in Shafter in 1885. Though the Bullises sued to retain their interest in the land and a lower court ruled in their favor, the Presidio Mining Company won a decision in 1887 before the Texas Supreme Court. Freed from litigation, the company stepped up its operations as Noyes hired nearly 300 men to work the mine. Workers in the Presidio Mine at Shafter came from several ethnic groups and geographical areas. Mexican citizens and black Americans found better-paying jobs there, and miners from California worked at Shafter until they left to prospect for Alaskan gold in 1897. Shafter miners lived in company houses, shopped at the company store, and received medical care from the company doctor. Just after 1900, Shafter had a population of 110 and two saloons, a dance hall, and a school. During the 1920s and 1930s the Shafter mine closed and reopened several times. In 1928 the Presidio Mining Company sold the mine to the American Metal Company, but there was little change to the mining operation. In 1942, with increased production costs and a shortage of miners, the mine closed again, but by 1943 Shafter had a population of 1,500; at that time it also had twelve businesses that served the military population that was stationed at two bases in the county. After Marfa Army Air Field and Fort D. A. Russell closed, the population of Shafter declined, reaching twenty by 1949. Though from the 1950s through the 1980s several attempts were made to reopen the Presidio Mine at Shafter, the town and the mines remained deserted.

REFERENCE: Julia Cauble Smith, “SHAFTER, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hns37), accessed March 17, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

 

Mentone

Mentone Community Church

As the only town in Loving County, Mentone has been dubbed the Smallest County Seat in Texas.  The Community Church (above) is one of only five to six non-residential buildings in the town.  The church was moved to Mentone in 1930 after the Pecos River flooded nearby Porterville destroying the town.  This is the oldest building in Loving County.

James J. Wheat, St. (1871-1931) came to Loving County from Ward County in 1919 or 1829 after three crop failures and a stint as an irrigation project promoter in Grandfalls, TX.  Upon arrival he recognized the possibilities for oil production in the unexplored county bought several hundred acres of land as well as leasing mineral rights from local landowners for division into small drilling tracts.  He organized the Wheat Guarantee Company, selling shares to the public for $40 each in an effort to raise enough money to drill test wells.  With partner Bladen Ramsey, Wheat organized the Toyah-Bell Oil Company and leased acreage on the Russell ranch one mile east of the site of Mentone in southwestern Loving County.  Toyah-Bell, later renamed Ramsey Production Company, drilled two wildcats. Both wells were productive. Although the wells were plagued with problems, they attracted the attention of larger oil exploration companies. Wheat and Ramsey sold their interests in the wildcats to Hadlock Oil Company and Lockhart and Company, which developed Wheat field. J. J. Wheat’s discovery led to a long-producing field which yielded nearly 22,000,000 barrels of oil by 1989.

The town of Ramsey was laid out by Wheat and Ramsey in 1925, after they discovered oil nearby. The name was later changed to Mentone when the postal service rejected the name. The site remained unsettled until 1931, when a post office was authorized.  The actual town was preceded by two earlier settlements.  The first community, named Mentone by a French surveyor from Menton, France, was established in 1893 by a group of men who came to Loving County and formed the Loving Canal and Irrigation Company.  They organized Loving County, made their Mentone the county seat, and received a post office. Three years later they abandoned the town.  The post office closed, and the county was declared unorganized.  The second town was founded in 1905, when E. L. Stratton, head of the Stratton Land Company of Chicago, led a group of settlers to Loving County.  They called the town Juanita and later renamed it Porterville.  After the present Mentone was founded two miles to the northeast, most of the residents of Porterville moved to the new site.

The first business in Mentone was the Loving County Lumber Company, founded in 1930. In the spring of 1931 the county schoolhouse was moved from Porterville to Mentone, where it was replaced in 1935 by a brick building. By July 1931 Mentone had five cafes, five gasoline stations, two hotels, two drugstores, two recreation halls, two barbershops, a dance hall, a machine shop, and a dry cleaner. From March 1932 to September 1935 a weekly newspaper, the Mentone Monitor, was published. By October 27, 1933, Mentone reported a population of 600.

By the 1940s the population of Mentone had dropped to 150; only three businesses operated there in 1946. Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s the reported population remained at 110, and the number of businesses continued to decline. From 1972 until 1984 no business was open in Mentone. At the end of the 1980s about 100 people, employees of the county and of oil service companies, lived in Mentone, which had two businesses.

Mentone is on State Highway 302 twenty-five miles southwest of Kermit and twenty-five miles north of Pecos in southwestern Loving County.

REFERENCES:  Julia Cauble Smith, “MENTONE, TX,” Handbook of Texas online  (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hnm33), accessed February 23, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Julia Cauble Smith, “WHEAT, JAMES JACKSON, SR.,” Handbook of Texas online  (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hnm33), accessed February 23, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Marfa Redoux

Fort D. A. Russell Barracks

There is a part of Marfa’s history that is very different from the current hip, artsy place most people think of when they hear the name.  Back in 1911, the Mexican Revolution was underway.  Fearing that Mexican troops might attack across the border, the U.S. government sent cavalry troops to Presidio County to protect its citizens.  Camp Albert, later changed to Camp Marfa, the post was also home to Signal Corps biplanes that patrolled the Rio Grande during the conflict.  Units from Fort Bliss went to Camp Marfa on a rotational basis for field training.  The role and size of Camp Marfa grew during World War I to include state, federal and National Guard troops.  Following WWI, the War Department used a large donated tract of land near Marfa to train combat troops.

In 1930, Camp Marfa was renamed Fort D. A. Russell in honor of Gen. David Allen Russell, a native New Yorker who served in the Mexican War and died during the Civil War.  Only a year later, the government began discussions to abandon the fort and its $480,000 annual payroll.  The citizens of Marfa fought hard to keep the fort open, but lost the fight in 1932 and the installation was turned over to caretakers.

However, the closure was short-lived.  In 1935 the post was reopened to house 700 men of the Seventy-seventh Field Artillery.  The first group scheduled for officer training arrived in 1938 and training continued at the fort for several years.  Prior to and during World War II, Fort Russell added 2,400 acres donated by the citizens of Marfa, planted 1,000 trees, improved existing buildings, and built new ones. By this time 1,000 men were stationed at the fort. In 1944 the first woman officer was assigned to the post, and civilian women replaced soldiers as drivers of cars and trucks. During the war a camp for prisoners of war also was established at Marfa. Texas had approximately twice as many POW camps as any other state, first because of the available space, and second, curiously, because of the climate.  The Geneva Convention of 1929 requires that prisoners of war be moved to a climate similar to that where they are captured; apparently it was thought that the climate of Texas is similar to that of North Africa.

Fort D. A. Russell was deactivated in 1945.  In 1949 most of the fort area and facilities were sold to private citizens.  Today, shells of former barracks and other buildings dot the weed-covered grounds.  Some buildings have been repurposed to serve as home to the Chinati Foundation and a museum for the artwork of Donald Judd and others.

REFERENCES:  Lee Bennett, “FORT D. A. RUSSELL,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/qbf14), accessed November 10, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Wink

Named for Col. C. M. Winkler, famed Texas Confederate soldier, Winkler County was originally settled by Comanche Indians who ruled the area until 1874.  Cattle ranching was the economic driver of the county until 1926, when oil was discovered by Roy Westbrook on the Hendrick Ranch.  The Hendrick Oilfield transformed Winkler County almost overnight.

By mid-1927 the Wink Townsite Company was selling lots in Horse Wells pasture of the T. G. Hendrick Ranch.  The oil boom brought new people to Wink, causing a shortage of housing.  Newcomers set up tents and built makeshift houses.  Wink was originally named Winkler for the county.  When a post office was requested, postal authorities notified the applicant that there was already a Winkler, Texas, post office already in operation.  The citizens shortened the name to Wink and received a post office in 1927.

That year the first public school was organized, and a temporary building was constructed.  A Sunday school was started by November 1927, and the population of the town was reported at 3,500.  By 1929 that number climbed to 6,000.  The boom brought lawlessness-bootlegging, prostitution, gambling-to Wink.  Even the city government, which was organized on June 4, 1928, came under the control of a well-organized underworld.  On October 16, 1928, District Judge Charles Klapproth declared the incorporation election void, and the city government was reorganized.  In December of that year the first municipal building was constructed; it was a jail.  In 1929 the Texas-New Mexico Railway built its tracks from Wink Junction to Wink, connecting the town to Monahans and to New Mexico and providing a much-needed transportation outlet for the crude being pumped.  In the 1930s the boom declined; the population hovered around 4,000, and the number of businesses fluctuated between fifty and 180.  It was during this time in the late-20s to early-30s that the Rig Theater (photo above) was built.  The building’s façade features highly detailed brickwork in a variety of patterns.  Stone parapets with diamond-shaped finials cap the brick walls.  A small version of a drilling rig topped the canopy over the building’s entrance.  An early manager of the Rig Theater was Joe A. “Pop” DeIorio.

By 1933 the town was legally incorporated.  Five hospitals and fifteen doctors served injured oilfield workers, expectant mothers, and epidemic victims.  Law and order became the rule.  Throughout the 1940s the population continued to decline from 1,945 to 1,521, and the number of businesses decreased from 130 to forty.  In December 1947 Winkler County State Bank opened in Wink.  Wink entered the 1950s a stable community with a population of just over 1,500.  The number of businesses varied in the decade from twenty-five to fifty.  In 1958 the railroad from Wink Junction to Wink was abandoned.  During the early 1960s the population rose to over 1,800 but dipped to under 1,200 by 1968.  The number of businesses jumped between fifty-five and twenty.  In July 1960 the federal government approved an application by Wink for more than a million dollars in urban renewal funds to upgrade and rehabilitate 221 acres within the city limits.  National attention focused on the small oil town, which used the money for paving and curb and gutter work.  The population continued to decline to under 1,200 in the 1970s and 1980s.  In the late 1970s the oil economy improved, but the number of businesses slipped to a low of five by the late 1980s.  Wink is on Monument Draw, State Highway 115, and Farm Road 1232, seven miles southwest of Kermit in southwestern Winkler County.

REFERENCES:  Julia Cauble Smith, “WINK, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hlw42), accessed December 15, 2012.  Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Crane

The Theater – Crane

Crane, on U.S. Highway 385 and State Highway 329 in eastern Crane County, was named for Baylor University president William C. Crane.  It is the seat and only town of the county and has the county’s only post office, which was founded in 1908.  The discovery of oil in the county in 1926 led to the county’s organization the next year and to Crane’s development as an oil boomtown.  Ollin Columbus Kinnison opened a realty office and platted a townsite, naming the streets for his daughters and sons.  Early residents had to put up with board sidewalks, unpaved roads, and limited services-including hauling their own water-until permanent housing and city utilities were built.  At one point – water was so scarce that women sent their laundry to El Paso by train.  Schools and other amenities were established at Crane as the local oil resources were exploited.

The population reached 1,400 in 1940, which was about the time that Texas’ rural population was outnumbered by its urban population.  In Crane’s case, the urban population always outnumbered the rural. By 1980 the town had a library, a swimming pool, and 104 businesses.  These included a steel foundry, a concrete plant, a nursing home, and a hospital (that was enlarged in 1962).  A special edition of the Crane News in 1972 celebrated the county’s production of one billion barrels of oil.  In the 1980s the town was the service center for the region’s flourishing oil industry.  Oil continues to be Crane’s main revenue source. Farming has never been big in Crane County and cattle is a distant second source of revenue.

REFERENCE: William R. Hunt, “CRANE, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hgc17), accessed July 08, 2012. Published by the Texas State Historical Association and Texas Escapes online magazine..