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.