White Deer Land Museum

When The Railroad Came

Gray County and its surrounding areas were sparsely populated when the Southern Kansas Railroad was constructed in 1887. In the 1870 U. S. census, not a single person was listed for the entire block of 54 counties in the Texas Panhandle.

Photo of Eloise Lane

Eloise Lane

After the Indian raids of 1874, the U.S, Army decided to establish a fort in the Panhandle to protect buffalo hunters and possible settlers from off reservation Indians and other outlaws.

The Sixth Cavalry, under command of Major James Biddle, left Dodge City , Kansas , in December, 1874. After camping on the Washita during that winter, the cantonment of soldiers moved to Cantonment Creek in Gray County in February, 1875. In May Major Biddle carefully selected a new site two miles south east of the head of Sweetwater Creek in Wheeler County . There New Cantonment, the first and only military post in the Panhandle, was established on June 5, 1875. The name was changed to Fort Elliott on February 21, 1876, to honor Major Joel Elliott, who had fallen in action with Indians on the headwaters of the Washita, Indian Territory , November 27, 1868.

Tom and Ellen O’Loughlin, with their two sons, came to Gray County with the soldiers and followed them to the new location in Wheeler County . Tom O’Loughlin filed on land between the fort and Hidetown, a settlement which developed in 1875 from a camp of buffalo hunters. It was so called because its few “buildings” consisted of poles driven into the ground and covered with’ buffalo hides.

In 1878 the citizens of Hidetown chose the more dignified name of Sweetwater, and it became the county seat when Wheeler County was organized on April 12, 1879 When application was made for a post office, another name had to be selected because there was another Sweetwater in Texas. The name of the town was changed to Mobeetie, and the post office was granted.

Known as ” Mother City of the Panhandle,” Mobeetie was the legal business and social center of the entire “jumbo district” for several years. Later it shared the honors with Tascosa (1876) and Clarendon (1878).

The town of Miami was developing from a railroad supply camp, and the town of Panhandle was being “boomed” at the terminus of the railroad.

In 1875 George Henry Saunders, who was to become the first County Judge of Gray County , was sent to the Panhandle to manage the holdings of an outfit known as the Z-Z. His first home was a dugout on the north bank of the North Fork of Red River southeast of present Lefors.

In 1877 Perry LeFors drove a herd of cattle across the Panhandle to Dodge City . He was so impressed by the land near present Lefors that he urged his father, James J. LeFors, to move from Kentucky to this wonderful new country. The next year James LeFors and his eight sons came to live at a squatter’s place on East Cantonment Creek. James LeFors gave the squatter two saddle horses in exchange for a one-room picket house and one dugout with a dirt roof and floor.

By 1880 Perry bought a place of his own on West Cantonment Creek and recorded his cattle brand LE 4. He became the foreman of the Diamond F ranch established in 1882 by the Francklyn Land and Cattle Company.

In the summer of 1878, a weekly mail Star Route was established between Fort Elliott and Las Vegas , , N. Mex. A segment known as the “Lightning Express” passed through Gray County . It began: at Mobeetie, went about 30 miles to the North Fork of Red River, went another 30 miles to Dixon Creek and then continued to Tascosa.

The 1880 U. S. census for Gray County listed 44 adult anglos, 10 children, one black and one Mexican — a total of 56. Eight of the adult men were farming; 26 were herding or raising cows or sheep; Robert Truby was keeping mail station and Travis Leach was a civil engineer.

Leach, who was also the census enumerator, opened a stage stand consisting of a house of vertically placed logs witha dirt roof. The passenger and mail coaches that ran from Mobeetie to Tascosa stopped at Leach’s house for dinner.

The first legal claim to land in Gray County was the pre-emption claim of 160 acres filed by Leach in 1880. It is believed that he sold this to Perry LeFors, although there are no legal records.

In the summer of 1880, Jesse Smith Wynne and S.V. Barton brought 1,000 head of stock horses from near Kaufman and established, on McClellan Creek, the one and only horse ranch in Gray County . Their first camp was a dugout; later they built a rock house. The horse ranch became a part of the Quarter Circle Heart outfit in 1882. Wynne worked for the Hearts until April, 1887, when he went to work at a store in Panhandle.

In 1881 Joe and Emmogene Harrah moved to the location on Cantonment Creek where the soldiers were stationed before they established Fort Elliott . Joe planted a large orchard and sold nursery stock. Also he cut hay in the meadow for the Diamond F ranch. The Harrahs employed Henry Weckesser of Miami to build a rock house where Christmas in the Panhandle was observed in 1886.

Cowboys came to this house from all around for the housewarming, Christmas tree and all night dancing. The cowboys did not welcome the recently announced news of the coming railroad; they knew it would end their adventures while driving cattle up the trail to Dodge City .

Adjoining the Leach claim to the east was a quarter section filed on with a pre-emption claim by Gustav (Charlie) Sweig in 1882. Sweig’s wife, Susanna, was a lady-in-waiting to the wife of B.B. Groom, manager of the Diamond F.

Susanna Sweig urged her brother, Henry Thut, Sr., to leave the Swiss Colony at Frankfort, Kentucky, and come to the Panhandle. Henry came in 1884 and found a small parcel along the North Fork of Red River . He filed on the land for which he paid one dollar an acre. With the help of Perry LeFors, he built a picket and sod house before sending for his wife, Anna, and her younger sister Emma Lang.

Influenced by Henry and Anna Thut, Alex Schneider, Sr. and his wife, Lena, sister of Anna and Enna, came to Gray County in 1886. Alex, Sr. worked for the Diamond F and assisted Henry in raising food crops. They sold large quantities of sauerkraut and grape wine to Fort Elliott .

Perry LeFors and Emma Lang, who were married January 15, 1887, at Mobeetie, were newly-weds when the railroad came.

The three Lang sisters from Switzerland were known as the three “Tantas,” (Swiss for “aunts”): Tanta Anna (Thut), Tanta Lena (Schneider) and Tanta Emma (LeFors).

Before the first post office in Gray County was established as Eldridge (later moved to Alanreed) in 1886, the location was an old stage stand on the Concord mail and stage route. Part of this route ran from Clarendon through Eldridge to Mobeetie, then west by present Lefors to Spring and Dixon Creeks and on to Tascosa. Early day carriers traveled by horse and buggy or sometimes only on horseback.

Four head of horses were kept at the stand and meals were served. The stand was in operation about 1885 because Charles Shelton, father of Joe, purchased it from an Englishman in 1886.

Bones Hooks, the famous black cowboy, came to Clarendon in 1886 and was was working on several ranches in the area.

Henry Bell Lovett, who had been in the area previously as a buffalo hunter and wood cutter, came with his wife, formerly Mrs. Fannie Hopkins Long, to Mobeetie in the fall of 1886. Their only child, Mattabel, who was born February 18, 1887, was a baby when the railroad came. The Lovetts spent the summer at Eldridge. In November Henry purchased a half section of land on Grapevine Creek at two dollars an acre.

James Ewing “Jim” Williams, who came from Decatur to Mobeetie in 1885, was working for the Diamond F in 1886 when the Francklyn Land and Cattle Company became insolvent and was reorganized as White Deer Lands. Williams then worked for the Quarter Circle Heart and later for the Z-Z where he was allowed to start a herd of his own. He filed on land south of present Lefors.

George Tyng, who became manager of White Deer

Lands in 1886, was living at the ranch headquarters near the present town of White Deer . A.A. Holland, John R. Henry and others, possibly including J.L. Stroope, were also at that location.

By 1887 several families had settled in northeastern Gray County near present Laketon. Ben F. Williams came in 1885 and his brother-in-law, John Austin Paris, followed a year later. Frederick William Jahns, a Polish immigrant who came in 1885, had begun the first farming on the plains.

William Thomas “Bill” Lard came in 1881 to Fort Elliott where his wife, Catherine, became well known for helping the sick and needy. In 1887 they moved to Chicken Creek on the Canadian River in Roberts County .

Henry and Amanda Jane Lard Ledrick came with their two sons, Lee and Claude, from Young County to Chicken Creek in 1886.

Christian Jacob and Marion Anderson Walstad, immigrants from Norway, lived first on Wolf Creek in 1886. They moved to the flats in Ochiltree County and then to Roberts County .

Matthew Alexander Lewis, whose family came to the Panhandle in 1887, spent the first year at Miami where he became well known as a lobo wolf hunter. His daughter, Leona, married John Frank Meers who came from Mangum, Oklahoma, to work on Ben Masterson’s ranch north of Miami .

Timothy Dwight Hobart, a native of Vermont, was sent to the Panhandle in 1886 as general agent for the New York and Texas Land Company. In 1887 he was sharing an office at Mobeetie with lawyer Temple Houston , youngest son of Sam Houston.

Many of these families were to become a part of the early history of Pampa, which, in 1887, was only a dot named Glasgow on a map of the route of the Southern Kansas Railroad.

Over 200 Articles, written by Eloise Lane, were published in the Pampa News. These articles may be accessed by clicking on each section below. A list of articles will be revealed that are linked to a page containing the text of the article.

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