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Espuela


Espuela by John Montgomery©

This is the story of the town of Espuela, the first County Seat of Dickens County, Texas. It is located in the broad valley of Duck Creek in a region of the foothills just below the Caprock of the High Plains, in the northwest quarter of Section 354, Block 1, H&GNRR survey. Farm Road 1868 runs along the north and west sides of this section.

When the first white settlers came to this country in the early 1870´s, the community was called Dickens, and sometimes referred to as Dickens City. By 1891, when the town was designated as the County Seat, the post office and town became known as Espuela, the Spanish work for Spur.

Geological And Ecological History

The soil and climate of an area largely determine the plants, later the animals, and finally the kind of human settlers that move in, settle, raise families, and develop governments. It began over 180 million years ago, when that part of the Caprock foothills in what is now Dickens County emerged from a great sea, and as the sea receded it left a deposit of sea life, high in minerals, over the area. Over millions of years, a variety of soils enriched with the remains of prehistoric sea and surface animals evolved.

Many centuries ago, blue and hairy grama were the dominant grasses with buffalo grass of secondary importance. Lush pastures and ample water attracted herds of buffalo (bison) and antelope.

During periods of drought when the playa lakes on the plains above the Caprock went dry, the buffalo came down to find water in the springs and creeks of the lower country. Those huge herds had so overgrazed the area in times of extended dry weather that, when the white man arrived, buffalo and curly mesquite grasses had become dominant and the gramas were secondary. These were rugged grasses with short, sturdy, jointed stems resembling Bermuda grass and had formed a low-growing turf, more resistant to trampling and overgrazing. Some 42 other kinds of grasses have been observed in this area, but all are of negligible importance. Chemical analysis indicates that grasses from this part of the State are higher in mineral content and nutrient value than the same varieties in lower elevations to the east and southeast.

When The Buffalo Came, The Indians Followed

Indians had hunted buffalo on the Espuela range for thousands of years. Ten thousand or more years ago Folsom man hunted the buffalo by closing in on a single victim with spears at the water holes where they had gathered. The buffalo were larger and more aggressive at that time and presented a greater challenge to the hunter than the present-day buffalo, which has evolved into an animal better adapted to a dryer climate and otherwise changing environment.

When the Indians got the horse from the Spaniards after 1600 A.D., their method of hunting changed to the chase and surround, using the lance and bow and arrow. The buffalo was a way of life to the Plains tribes, furnishing food, clothes, shelter, and fuel. They never killed wantonly and their harvest made no dent in the herds, not even as much as did that of predatory animals.

The Indians resented the white (man´s) invasion of their land in the last half of the 1800´s and resisted the intruders by raids on their homes and herds. Their efforts to keep the intruders from their hunting grounds were doomed to failure when the superior forces of the U.S. Army removed them to reservations in Oklahoma Territory.

Until the last years of their independence, they raided through much of the State, killed or captured men, women, and children, carried off what loot they could, and buried the rest. Not only did they battle the settlers of European origin, but they conquered the original Indian residents of the southern plains - the eastern Apaches, Tonkawas, and others.

The bank of Comanches who dominated the Espuela region before the white settlers came called themselves "The Wanderers Who Made Bad Camps".

The collapse of the State frontier defense in Texas toward the close of the Civil War made it possible for the Comanches and their allies, the Kiowas, to ravage the country east and south of the Caprock country with impunity.

In September, 1871 Colonel R.S. Mackenzie assembled eight troops of the 4th Cavalry, two companies of the 11th Infantry and 20 Tonkawa scouts at old Camp Cooper, five miles north of Fort Griffin in Shackelford County. From there the party with 100 pack mules, moved rapidly west to the mouth of Duck Creek on the Salt Fork of the Brazos. The expedition ascended Duck Creek to a site later called Soldier mound, a mesa topped mountain four miles southeast of Old Dickens, later known as Espuela. A breastworks was built on top of the mound for better defense. The site provided a superb vantage point for observation, the top of which was the same elevation as the Plains above the Caprock.

There were little net results in controlling the Indians in 1872 and 1873, and in early 1874 a number of the Plains bands left their reservations in Indian Territory and headed southwest for their old haunts in the canyons and arroyos of the eastern escarpments of the southern High Plains. The War Department quickly organized a major military campaign calculated to flush all bands from their hiding places, destroy their equipment and supplies, and force them back to their reservations.

The Army plan was for Colonel Mackenzie to move north from Fort Concho, near San Angelo. Colonel G.P. Buell was to come west from near Fort Sill in Indian Territory. Lt. Colonel John W. Davidson was to start from Fort Sill and move parallel to Buell, but keeping north of the Red River. General N.A. Miles was to march south from Fort Dodge in Kansas, and Major Price was to move east from Fort Bascom on the Canadian River in New Mexico. The five columns were to be put in motion from their supply camps on September 18th and converge on Palo Duro Canyon.

Moving on to Palo Duro, Mackenzie surprised the main body of Comanches, Kiowas, and Cheyenne´s on the floor of the canyon, destroying their camps, equipment, and supplies and capturing more than 1,400 horses. Only a few Indians were killed or captured. An estimated 2,000 scattered and escaped. Without shelter, food, or horses and with an unusually cold winter setting in, the Indians had but one choice; to walk back to the reservation in Indian Territory where they would get food and shelter. Mackenzie´s officers and scouts were permitted to select about 400 of the horses as remounts, and the remainder were killed in order to prevent their being stampeded and recovered by the Indians.

For the next six years, only small groups of Indians slipped away from the reservation into the country east of the Caprock, mainly for the purpose of stealing horses. However, they were stealthy and sly, never confronting the whites if they could help it. To discourage the Indians´ activity, Governor Roberts sent Captain George Arrington and 20 Texas Rangers to patrol the Catfish (White) River and the Duck Creek area from September 1879 to 1880.

An area larger than New England and New York State had been cleared of hostiles. The way had been opened for the buffalo hunters, quickly to be followed by the cattlemen.

The duration of Comanche existence in the Caprock area was short in comparison to many cultural histories. It has been likened to a streaking comet, blazing brightly for a time before meeting abrupt extinction.

The End Of The Buffalo - Grass For The Cowmen

In the summer of 1876, commercial buffalo hunters moved into the region. A score or more established camps within 15 miles of Old Dickens. The identity of most of the area hunters is not known today, but one of the larger outfits headed by a man called Jim White located its camp where Dockum Creek empties into Duck Creek, about six miles south of Espuela. When they left in the spring of 1877, they had shipped out 11,000 hides and left mountains of carcasses to rot. During this great buffalo slaughter in the winter of 1876-1877, the air in this entire region was filled with foul, sickening odors from more than 100,000 putrid, decomposing carcasses of skinned animals. Only a few stragglers remained, and the final buffalo was killed just north of Espuela in 1883.

When the Indians and buffalo had been removed from West Texas, the cattle frontier rolled westward quickly until it reached the eastern Caprock of the High Plains. There it stopped. The plains above the Caprock was wonderful grass country, but much of it lacked the year round spring water and winter protection of the lower country.

Creation of Dickens County

The 1870´s were turbulent years for the State of Texas, when all the states in the South would struggle through reconstruction.

On August 21, 1876 a new State Constitution was adopted by the State of Texas. This constitution would create 54 counties out of the Crosby County Land District in West Texas, one of which was Dickens County. The surveying of the county began in 1873.

Railroad Lands

The State had contracted to give 16 sections of land as a bonus for each mile of railroad built in the State. The Houston and Great Northern Railroad had constructed 215 miles of road within the State by 1874 in East and South Texas. This entitled them to 3,440 sections of land. By September 15, 1874 certificates for Blocks 1, 2, 7, and 8, Houston and Great Northern Railroad Survey, had been issued by the State of Texas to the Houston and Great Northern Railroad Company. Espuela lay in Section 354 of Block 1.

Inasmuch as the State retained every alternate section in all railroad blocks for school lands, the size of the four blocks was twice what it would have been had they been compact. The intervening school sections could be leased from the State until such time as such lands should be opened to settlers.

Free Range

From 1879 to 1884 was the free-range era of Espuela country. Thirty cattle outfits, not counting those on the periphery, moved in and began grazing their cattle on lands later enclosed within what was to become the Espuela Land and Cattle Company pastures. Almost all of the free-rangers used dugouts near springs or streams for their headquarters and line camps. This type of habitation resulted from necessity rather than choice, as the native cottonwood and mesquite trees were too scarce and crooked for building log cabins and the nearest rail point where milled lumber was available was Fort Worth, more than 200 miles away over a trail without bridges.

The Espuela Land And Cattle Company Takes Ownership

The Espuela Land and Cattle Company of Fort Worth, a partnership of A.M. Britton, S.W. Lomax, Tom P. Stephens, S.T. Pepper, and A.T. "Bud" Campbell, purchased 242,560 acres on September 1, 1883 from the New York and Texas Land Company. Limited (a holding company for railroad lands) for a consideration of $515,440. The intervening school sections were leased, plus 20 sections of public domain, which swelled the size of the Espuela ranch as finally fenced to 569,120 acres.

When the Espuela Land and Cattle Company of Fort Worth acquired title in 1884 to the alternating railroad sections of land, the free-range cattlemen had to either move their herds to other ranges or sell their cattle and "range privileges&*quot; to the company. While these rugged free-range cattlemen possessed the pioneer spirit and ambition to an admirable degree, most were short on cash and they sold their herds, along with their brands. In all, the company had purchased 61 herds and after that time all cattle were branded with the spur. It was not all bad for free-rangers because, during the last four years of the free-range era, grass was good and cattle prices had more than doubled.

On April 9, 1885, the Espuela Land and Cattle Company of Fort Worth finalized the sale of all their land and cattle to the Espuela Land and Cattle Company, Limited of London. The land actually owned at that time was 437,670 acres. It was less than half the 1,000,000 acres of land enclosed in the outside fences of the ranch, with the balance made up of leased school land and the public domain. These lands were later acquired in small tracts from time to time. Headquarters for the ranch was located on Cottonwood Creek, about two miles west of the town of Old Dickens, later Espuela.

White Settlers Come to Espuela

Even before Colonel Mackenzie removed the Indians from West Texas, even before the buffalo were slaughtered, and even before Dickens County had been surveyed, a special kind of men who felt the pressures of civilization, or just the lure of the frontier, responded by moving westward.

Such a man was J.H. Parrish of Callahan County, who in 1870 was possibly the first white man to settle in Dickens County. While scouting a wide area to he northwest of Callahan County, he came upon a beautiful area of waving grass, rich alluvial soil, and spring-fed soft water. He had found what he wanted and here he located his home site. He built a dugout on the west bank of Duck Creek and made other preparations necessary for living in a new country. The Parrish home was located on the north-south center line of Section 354, Block 1. H&GNRR, about 1300 feet south of the north line of that section. In 1871 he returned to Callahan County and moved his cattle, horses, hogs, and farming equipment to his new home. Soon thereafter, he established a small store that served people passing through the country going westward and later, cattlemen and buffalo hunters. Store supplies were hauled in by freight wagons from Colorado City.

The community enjoyed a steady growth and by the mid 1880´s it was the largest in Dickens County. A post office was opened on August 20, 1883 in the Parrish general store with James H. Parrish as postmaster.

Parrish made application for a Patent on Section 354 in the early 1880´s, and he finally received the Patent from the State of Texas on November 8, 1886, which he recorded in the Deed Records in Book 7, page 156. In anticipation of receiving the Patent, he laid off and platted 172 1/4 acres of land as the City of Dickens as a part and parcel of Section 354; H&GNRR Survey. The platting of this City of Dickens, later known as Espuela, is referred to in the Deed Records of Dickens County, Book 4, page 303.

In 1878, J.H. Stegall, an ordained Methodist minister, made his home in a dugout on the west bank of Duck Creek, near the home of J.H. Parrish. From that dugout, he preached the first sermon delivered in Dickens County. He became known as the "cowboy´s preacher" and would preach a sermon wherever he could assembly as many as two or three to listen to him in a dugout, a home, or out on the range. In 1886 his son, W.H. Stegall, married Lenora Parrish, daughter of J.H. Parrish. Stegall had to go to Colorado City to get the marriage license and wedding ring. He traded buffalo hides for the ring. From this union in 1888 came the second white child to be born in Dickens County. The first child, born in 1872 near Soldier Mound, was named Tiny White.

The first public school in Dickens County was held at Espuela in a dugout on the east bank of Duck Creek and was taught by Mrs. L.G. Garrett. As the community grew, a one-room schoolhouse was built in the 1880´s about 200 feet west of the Parrish store. This state-of-the-art schoolhouse featured a blackboard, a rarity at that time. Further evidence of the importance of education to the community was the fact that by the 1892-1893 school year the teacher´s salary was an above-average $50 per month, and the school year had been extended to six months. Sallie Mae Hale Stafford was the teacher that term and she lived at the home of the storekeeper, paying $10 per month for room and board.

The Cemetery At Espuela

From the public square of Espuela, the early citizen could look three-quarters of a mile up a gentle, grass-covered slope to the northwest and see the cemetery at the top of a small, rounded hill. The panorama of views from the crest of the rise takes in the rugged Caprock to the west and north, looks across the broad Duck Creek valley to the edge of the Croton Breaks on the east, and sees Soldier Mound rise above the valley to the south. Set in a pasture of native grasses and trees, the Cemetery occupied a perfect site for that frontier town.

In a fashion typical of Southern and Western rural cemeteries, a variety of decorative objects adorn the tops of many of the graves, especially those of children. Sea shells, pieces of colored glass and art pottery, colorful rocks, petrified wood, etc. were placed as tokens of sorrow by relatives and friends on the graves of their loved ones.

In the early days of Texas rural graveyards, commercial headstones were not easily available or affordable for most of the settlers, and many of the grave markers were of wood. As the years have passed, the markers have decayed and the grave mounds have settled, leaving little indication of a person having been buried. Many, if not all, of these unmarked graves were identified a number of years ago and each was marked with an 18-inch metal cross, painted white. At about this time, the cemetery was enclosed by a chain-link fence, and it continues in use and to be well maintained by the Espuela Cemetery Association.

The Espuela Cemetery, located in the SW 1/4 of Section 371, is the oldest in the county, with the first person buried there having been a wagon freighter hauling supplies to the general store at Espuela from Colorado City, Texas. A more detailed account is related in the book "The Spurs" by W.J. "Scotch Bill" Elliott. Elliott was a native of Scotland who arrived at the headquarters of the Espuela Land and Cattle Company on April 28, 1888 to become the ranch bookkeeper. He later participated in the surveying of the town of Espuela in 1891 and managed the general store and was postmaster until the store and post office were closed in 1910. He was also a serious student of the history and geology of the Espuela area, and a number of exhibits from his geological collection will be in the permanent collection of the Spur-Dickens County Museum.

Here is the story from his book: "There is a grave about 200 yards southeast of the present graveyard at Espuela, with many rocks piled up on and around it. In it are the remains of a man by the name of Combs. He was killed in 1877 and was the first white man that there is any record of to be killed by another white man in this, the Spur Country. My recollection of this tale told me long ago is, that the man Combs was a freighter coming with a load of freight to Old Dickens City (now known as Espuela). With him was a boy with whom he had a difference that caused the kid to pull out and leave him while he was camped on the road near Red Mud.

After leaving the wagon the kid met some one on the road to whom he told his trouble, and asked the party what he would do were he in his place. The answer he received was ´I´d kill the so and so.´ The kid returned to the wagon. Combs had been horse hunting when the kid left, and was hitching up his horses when the kid returned. Without a word to Combs he shot and killed him. Combs´ body was put on the wagon with the freight and brought to Dickens City. That was how he came to be buried there. Even today, the pile of rocks is still there just as Elliott said it was. Combs was probably related to the Parrish or Stegall families.

Stores, Early Storekeepers, and Sources of Supplies

In order to supply buffalo hunters in the mid 1870´s with general merchandise, W.C. Dockum, a buffalo hunter, started a store in a half dugout near a large spring at the head of Dockum Creek. The store was located in Section 359, Block 1, H&GNRR, about four miles west of the Espuela Land and Cattle Company headquarters and about six miles west of Espuela. After the buffalo hunters left and the first cattlemen were arriving, Dockum stayed on to trade with them.

In order to enable the Espuela Land and Cattle Company to obtain its supplies at wholesale prices, the company purchased the Dockum store in 1885. The building and goods were moved to headquarters where the store was operated for four years. In 1889 the ranch purchased the Parrish store and moved their stock from headquarters to consolidate it with the stock at Espuela.

Almost all the supplies came from the railroad town of Colorado City, 100 miles to the south. They came from that town on freight wagons at the rate of 75 cents per 100 pounds. After the Fort Worth and Denver Railroad reached Childress, to the north of Espuela, some of the supplies were hauled from there and from Quanah. In addition to lumber and hardware, food constituted the greater part of supplies stocked by the store. Rice, potatoes, flour, meal, sugar, salt, dried fruits, and onions were purchased by the barrel. Lard, baking power, tea, canned vegetables, and similar items ere brought in large cans, from one to several gallons in size. Beans, coffee, and sometimes potatoes and flour came in sacks of 50 and 100 pounds each.

An eight-room, two-story home was built in 1886 with lumber freighted from Quanah. This home was purchased by the ranch at the time of the store consolidation. It was lived in by the succeeding store managers: R.C. Ware until 1889 when he gave up the position to become one of the founders of Plainview, and W. A. Wilkinson who served as storekeeper until 1896 when he was succeeded by "Scotch Bill" Elliott.

The grave of the infant son of W.A. and Lelia A. Wilkinson, who died on November 22, 1894 at the age of 9 months and 19 days, is marked by a cast pewter headstone in the northwest part of the Espuela cemetery. Wilkinson later was on the Board of Directors of the First State Bank of Spur at the time of its organization in 1913.

The Glory Days of Espuela

On February 10, 1891, the Crosby County Commissioners Court in a meeting at Estacado, the county seat of Crosby County, granted a petition of over 150 of its citizens to create Dickens County, divide it into four Commissioners and voting precincts, to call an election to determine the county seat of said county, and for the election of the county officials thereof to be held in Dickens County on March 14, 1891.

On March 21, 1891, the Crosby County Commissioners Court canvassed the results of the Dickens County election and determined the following officials elected:

  • A. J. McClain         County Judge
  • J.A. Stokes          Commissioner, Precinct 1
  • J.G. Scott           Commissioner, Precinct 2
  • W.F. Gilbert          Commissioner, Precinct 3
  • J.R. Waller          Commissioner, Precinct 4

No town received a majority in the election for a county seat, and it was ordered that the Dickens County Commissioners hold an election for that purpose.

On April 1, 1891 the first meeting of the Dickens County Commissioners Court convened in the community of Dockum with the Honorable A.J. McClain presiding as County Judge. Commissioners shown present were: J.A. Stokes, Precinct 1; J.G. Scott, Precinct 2; W.F. Gilbert, Precinct 3. D.S. Dunwoody, County Clerk, and J.D. Harkey, Sheriff, were also present.

It appeared to the court that an election held on March 14, 1891 resulted in no location nominated for the county seat receiving a majority vote. In view of this fact, it was ordered by the court that Espuela, located in Section 354, Block 1, H&GNRR Survey was appointed temporary County Seat for Dickens County.

On April 2, 1891, the Commissioners Court met in Espuela, with the same officials present as the day before. The only action of the court was to order stationery and furniture for the amount of $2,317. The clerk was authorized to issue County Warrants bearing 8% interest to Clarke and Courts of Galveston for payment.

On April 16, 1891, the Commissioners Court met and ordered an election for the purpose of electing a County Seat, to be held on May 8, 1891. On May 11, 1891, the Commissioners Court opened the various election boxes and counted the votes of the May 8th election for determination of the County Seat, with the following results:

  • Precinct 1 Espuela 33, Dickens 7
  • Precinct 2 Espuela 8, Dickens 47
  • Precinct 3 Espuela 31, Dickens 0
  • Precinct 4 Espuela 2, Dickens 4

Of a total vote of 132, Espuela received 74 and Dickens 58. It was decreed by a 3 to 2 vote of the Commissioners Court that Espuela was duly elected County Seat of Dickens County The vote cast was thus:

  • Precinct 1 Yea
  • Precinct 2 No
  • Precinct 3 Yea
  • Precinct 4 No
  • County Judge Yea

The Espuela Land and Cattle Company, Limited of London, England, was the owner of Section 354 in which the town of Espuela was located. They had the town resurveyed as the town of Espuela with a town square, lots, and named streets. Fred Horsbaugh, Attorney in Fact for the Espuela Land and Cattle Company, began to sell lots on July 17, 1891. Over 200 lots were sold the first two weeks, and activity continued throughout the next few months.

Espuela was booming in the summer of 1891. A grist mill and blacksmith shop served the growing farming community. In addition to the ranch store and post office, five or six other stores and businesses were in operation. There was a hotel and Billy the Bootmaker´s shop, and Jess Pollard had quit the Spurs branding outfit and opened a saloon which he called The Elite. The first newspaper, "The Espuela Bulletin", with Major Mose Harris as editor, had been started in 1890. The Samuel G. Flukes store was the meeting place of the Goodfellows Club, a social and civic organization. Cotton was planted in 1891 and a one-saw gin was built a half-mile south of the store. The gin has been gone for many years but the iron center shaft remains, protruding from the ground in a pasture near where Cottonwood Creek joins Duck Creek. The gin was operated by horse power and fed by hand. It took almost half a day to gin one bale of cotton. The gin was the site of what could be called the first industrial accident in Dickens County, when H.C. Peterson lost his arm while he was feeding cotton into the gin hopper.

County Government - A Lot of Work, A Lot of Politics

The Commissioners Court had frequent meetings throughout the summer and fall to set up the housekeeping details necessary to create a functioning government. On May 10th, the same day they decreed Espuela the County Seat, they laid out School Districts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. They set salaries of county officials to wit: County Judge $600 per annum, County Clerk $450, and Sheriff and Tax Collector $300.

June 9: Assessed real estate taxes

June 10: Laid out Commissioners and Justice of Peace Precincts.

Aug. 11: Designated the five main county roads from the Town Square.

Nov. 10: The surveyors gave a report giving the routes of the five main county roads, starting at the town square, and going through or along the lines of each section to the county line. The court approved the report, and advertised it in The Espuela Bulletin

COUNTY ROADS LAID OUT AND APPROVED, NOVEMBER 10, 1891
Vol. 1, pages 46-48, Commissioners Court Minutes

Court Road 1: From NE corner of Public Square, east toward Guthrie via Pitchfork Ranch headquarters to the County line.

County Road 2: From NE corner of Public Square, north toward Matador via Patton Springs to the county line.

County Road 3: From NW corner of Public Square, north via Rock House Springs past the east side of Hayrack Mountain thru the Two Buckle pasture to the Crosby County Line.

County Road 4: From SE corner of Public Square, thence south along Louis Street to the intersection of Hasea Street, to intersection with Jenkins Street, thence east to section line, thence south to the SE corner of Section 354, thence SE passing the west side of Soldier Mound to intersect the Jayton and Abilene road at the county line.

County Road 5: from the SW corner of Public Square, south along McNab Street to Cottonwood Creek, thence west to the SW corner of Section 354, thence south to the NE corner of Section 175, thence SW to the Colorado City road and south to the county line.

On November 1st the Crosby County Commissioners Court laid out a county road from Emma, the county seat at that time, east to the Dickens County line, joining Dickens County Road No. 2 from Espuela. Estacado, located in the northeast corner of Crosby County, was the first county seat when Crosby County was organized in 1886. On September 14, 1891, the county seat was moved to Emma, 9 miles west of the present town of Crosbyton. When the newly constructed railroad from Lubbock to Crosbyton bypassed Emma, the county seat was moved to Crosbyton in 1914.

On August 12th a petition had been presented to the Dickens County Commissioners Court asking that a new election be held for the purpose of locating a county seat. The County Judge rejected and denied the petition, citing the state law that no election can be held within 5 years after an election to locate the county seat.

Notice was posted to receive and accept bids on September 1, 1891 for a courthouse and jail at Espuela. Bids were received on September 1st, but the court adjourned without taking action.

On September 2nd an Injunction was filed restraining the Court from issuing bonds or contracting for erection of a courthouse or jail. Commissioner J.S. Scott resigned, and the County Judge appointed W.J. Duncan to fill the vacancy. No reason was noted for the resignation.

In the meantime, the surveying of Dickens County which began in 1873 continued through the county organization period until the mid 1890´s.

In late 1891 the survey crew, while working in the southwest part of the county, discovered that the home of Andrew Jackson McClain, the County Judge of Dickens County was actually in Kent County. Judge McClain had homesteaded on Red Mud Creek in what he thought was Dickens County. Friends had urged him to run for County Judge of the newly formed Dickens County. He won the race, rented a small house in Espuela, and became the first County Judge of Dickens County. When the location of his homestead came to light, it invalidated his eligibility to hold office in Dickens County.

Judge McClain was not the only victim of the surveyor´s level. As their work progressed, it came to light that W.F. Gilbert, Commissioner of Precinct 3, was also a resident of Kent County, and on March 30, 1892 County Judge A.J. Hagins, who had replaced Judge McClain, appointed J.H. Airheart to fill the vacancy.

Commissioners Court minutes are silent from the time of the meeting held on November 10, 1891, when A.J. McClain was County Judge, until the meeting of January 5, 1892, when A.J. Hagins was shown to be the presiding judge.

On February 13, 1892 a Procklimation (proclamation) was issued by Judge Hagins that had the effect of invalidating the election of the previous year in which Espuela was designated as the County Seat. His ruling covered the following points of state law related to the location of a county seat.

  1. If a town is located within a 5 mile radius of the center of the county, the town must receive a majority of the votes cast to be elected county seat.
  2. If a town is more than 5 miles form the center of the county, the town must receive 2/3 of the votes to be elected county seat. Espuela is more than 5 miles form the center of the county. Dickens is located within 5 miles of the center of the county.
  3. In the 1891 county seat election there were 132 votes cast with Espuela receiving 74 votes and Dickens 58, with neither town receiving the required number of votes to be elected the county seat.
  4. An election to select the county seat of Dickens County was ordered to be held on March 8, 1892.

This proclamation was signed on February 13th, filed on February 20th, and recorded on the March 7, 1892 in Book 1, Page 64, Dickens County Commissioners Minutes.

On March 17th the votes of the County Seat election were canvassed with results as follows:

Precinct 1 box at Espuela          Dickens 29     Espuela 0
Precinct 2 box, Morrison           Dickens 20     Espuela 0 
Precinct 3 box                     Dickens 52     Espuela 0 
Precinct 4 box, Pitchfork          Dickens 11     Espuela 5

The election judge did not sign the certificate from the Precinct 2 box, invalidating the votes cast in this box, leaving a total of 92 votes for Dickens and 5 votes for Espuela. Dickens was declared the County Seat of Dickens County.

The first indication of a sharp political division among the people of the county is found in the minutes of the Commissioners Court, concerning the matter of the canvassing of the votes in the first election to determine the location of the county seat. The vote had been 74 for Espuela and 58 for Dickens. In the supposedly routine matter of verifying the count, a split vote was recorded with the Commissioners of Precincts 2 and 4 (representing the northeast and southeast quarters of the county) voting No to accepting the motion that Espuela was the duly elected County Seat, and Commissioners of Precincts 1 and 3 (representing the northwest and southwest quarters of the county) and the County Judge voting Yea.

I have no satisfactory explanation for the complete turnaround in the action of the voters in the matter of the county seat location. The only written hint found as to the change was a statement that the Espuela Land and Cattle Company had refused to turn land over to the county for a courthouse site. If this had been a fact, the citizens would certainly have a valid legal objection. However, it is not logical for the company to sell hundreds of lots in the town but refuse to convey title to the county for land for a courthouse and jail. Suggestions have been advanced that the previous issue was the choice wherein the government would exist for the benefit of the company, or for the nesters who were moving into the area in increasing numbers.

The State had opened the alternate railroad sections for settlement in other areas, and numerous conflicts for possession of the school lands had taken place between ranchers and settlers. The time was fast approaching for the opening of school lands on the Espuela ranch, and mutual mistrust was probably brewing in Dickens County.

End of The Town Espuela

Along with the removal of the county seat, many of the homes and business buildings were moved from Espuela to Dickens. The Commissioners Court passed an order killing all county roads that had been laid out from the Espuela town square, and new roads were ordered surveyed radiating from the town of Dickens.

In spite of the loss of population and jobs created by the county government, there remained a strong agricultural-based economy. The ranch store, gin, school, churches, and post office served the prosperous community for a number of years. The residents of the post-county seat days tended to be of a more stable and less adventuresome or restless nature than that of the earlier settlers, many of whom felt the urge to move on and face new challenges. This is in no way intended to take away from the stature of the settlers. It took a steadfast courage to stick with the land through years of drought, insect plagues, and disastrously low prices, just as it had taken courage for the Parrishes and their contemporaries to face the unknown.

Upon selling their holdings to the Spur Ranch, J.H. Parrish and W.W. Stegall left Espuela for the new frontier of what is now Swisher County. They had a part in founding the town of Tulia and in the organization of the county. Stegall was the first County Treasure. Parish moved to Oklahoma Territory in 1897, stayed there for 20 years, and moved to Nevada where he died in 1930.

W.C. Dockum, another early settler, sold his store to the Spur Ranch in 1885 and moved to Estacado, where he was elected and served in 1889-90 as the second County Judge of Crosby County. A.J. Hagins, the second County Judge of Dickens County, later moved to Kent County where he served as County Commissioner from Nov. 15, 1910 to Dec. 31, 1912.

On September 6, 1936 the Espuela Land and Cattle Company, Limited of London contracted to sell the Spur Ranch, which included the town of Espuela, to E.P. and S.A. Swenson and four of their business friends. The price was $5 per are for 437,670 acres with cattle, horses, improvement, and equipment included. Some 30,000 cattle and horses went with the land.

The objective of the partnership was to handle the property as a real estate development project, by selling arable land to farmers and broken grazing lands to small cattlemen, promoting a railroad and establishing town sites. By 1909 they had succeeded in promoting the building of the Stamford and Northwestern Railroad which terminated at the newly plotted town of Spur.

It was in 1938 that Clifford B. Jones manager of the Spur Ranch properties at that time, resigned his position to accept the presidency of Texas Technological College. Most of the land had been disposed of. The balance was divided among members of the syndicate, marking the end of the Espuela Land and Cattle Company empire.

The existence of Espuela as a town ended on January 10, 1910 when the store was closed, the post office moved to Spur, and the Swenson syndicate contracted to sell a 188 acre tract of land, including the Espuela town site, to J.L. Karr. The tract included all the remaining buildings in Espuela, which included a large two-story residence built in 1886, the one-room school building, a second smaller residence, the general store, and a barn. The sale was finalized by a general warranty deed dated February 4, 1911. In converting the former town site to farming land, the new owners removed the house foundations of the buildings that had been moved and filled in the hand-dug wells that had supplied the town with water.

In 1938 the two-story residence was torn down, and from the lumber salvaged a smaller home was built on the same site.

During its short life, the County Seat town of Espuela served to bridge the gap between an often violent frontier era of Indians and buffalo into a period of economic development and stable government.

Epilogue

Now a quiet farming community with few residences, the only evidence left of the vibrant County Seat town is the cemetery on the side of a small hill and a few scattered pieces of crockery and glass in a cotton field where its buildings once stood.

In the Espuela Cemetery there is an inscription on the grave marker of a nine-month-old child that also seems a fitting obituary to the memory of the town where he spent his brief life.

Happy Infant, Early Blest.
Rest In Peaceful Slumber, Rest

Written and submitted by John Montogomery



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