Friday, January 29, 2021

What’s in a Name? A Series on the Origins of Gordon Area Locations – Mingus, Texas

Captain William Mingus, an early day settler and Texas Ranger settled with his wife and children in the area of present-day Mingus in 1857. This was a very dangerous time to live in Palo Pinto County with the heavy threat of Native American raids in the area. It took a great deal of bravery and resources to survive as isolated as they were. The nearest community of any mention was Stephenville, which was established the same year the Mingus family settled in Palo Pinto County. Conditions with the natives were so extreme in the few years after 1857 that the county’s population dropped to single digits. It would take years of battling with natives and the railroad coming through in 1880 to really boost the county population. Capt. Mingus was no exception to the early exodus as he uprooted after just 11 years in the area and resettled in the more populated Bosque County. 

When the Mingus family left in 1868 the area was largely unpopulated and dwindling. A settlement at the current location of Mingus would not exist for another 20 plus years. 

1891 Map of Southern Palo Pinto County

The Texas and Pacific Railway came through the southern portion of Palo Pinto County in the fall of 1880. The town of Gordon was specifically plotted by T&P as a shipping center and was initially populated by the recently nearby settlement of Hampton and people that flocked to there to work in the Gordon Coal Mines east of town. Eight miles down the line to the west, North Fork (later Strawn) was developed as nearby settlements merged. The only mention of Mingus in the area was a small lake north of the present-day town named Mingus Lake. This lake is mentioned as far back as 1887 and appears to have been located north of town. It was known later as Mingus Little Lake and had a popular early day picnic area used by the locals. There is a large “Lake Mingus” north of town today, however it was constructed in 1922 by Texas and Pacific Railway (at a reported cost of $100,000). 

When the Johnson Coal Mines became successful enough to attract Texas and Pacific Railway’s interest, they agreed to run a spur down to the mines at a point just west of the present-day Highway 108 crossing in Mingus. The Johnson Mines were sold to the Texas and Pacific Coal Company (not related to the railroad) in late 1888 and as operations grew there a company owned town was established and given the name Thurber in 1889 after company stockholder Horace K. Thurber. Thurber’s coal was the cash crop; however, Thurber also became almost more famous for its brick plant. As Thurber’s travel and shipping via T&P Railway increased, the area south of the main T&P line at the spur was developed. This area was first known as Coal Mine Junction and later named Hunter before the name Thurber Junction was selected as the town name. 

Thurber Junction quickly grew and became infiltrated with some of Thurber’s immigrant families seeking more commercial business, taking advantage of the high traffic at the spur. Hotels, banks, stores, and other popular businesses filled the commercial section of town near the tracks. 

In 1895 Reverend J.T. Harris established a real estate business and laid out blocks for a town on the north side of the T&P main line, literally across the tracks from Thurber Junction. Rev. Harris heavily promoted this development and gave it the name Mingus after learning about the early settler Capt. Mingus. Mingus became inhabited by more of the local area farmer types, and not of those inhabiting Thurber Junction. It was like an almost separate community was formed within spitting distance. One account referred to Mingus as the “English Speaking Town” while Thurber Junction was referred to as “entirely owned by immigrants and more lawless and wilder than Mingus.” Whether that was the case or not, it is well established that alcohol did flow much more freely on the south side of the tracks, which likely promoted more lawlessness. 

As the Mingus settlement grew, a post office was established on September, 16, 1897. Local resident Joel Brock served as the first postmaster. 

While Mingus and Thurber Junction were so heavily tied to Thurber in their existence, they were very different places. For instance, the company owned town of Thurber famously became the first city in the United States to provide 24 hour electricity to all residents and businesses in the 1890s, along with a host of other amenities. The Mingus/Thurber Junction community was not as fortunate. Electricity didn’t find its way to Mingus until 1914 when a line was run from Gordon’s power generator. Gordon’s generator was a dynamo connected to a 10 horsepower gasoline engine and provided power from six o’clock in the evening until midnight as well as Wednesday mornings from eight until noon to allow for ironing during the day. Most homeowners quickly wired in rudimentary lighting in their homes as, while it wasn’t what we are accustomed to today, it was far better than kerosene lamps.

Another community with ties to Mingus and Thurber was Grant Town. It was located between Thurber Junction and Thurber, just inside Palo Pinto County. A man by the name of Jimmy Grant opened a saloon at this location, which was just outside the city limits of Thurber. His saloon was frequented by miners who could talk freely about unionization without fear of company intimidation. Some immigrant Thurber miners moved out of Thurber to Grant Town to own homes and small businesses. The area became known as 'Grant's Town' shortened to 'Grant Town.' This community had many of the same features previously noted about Thurber Junction, with possibly a little more prohibition-era bootlegging going on due to its closer proximity to Thurber.

While Thurber had its own school for those living inside the confines of the company town, those outside of town had to generally fend for themselves. A small school was built in Grant Town and this school also served Mingus and Thurber Junction. Eventually a larger wooden school building was constructed in the Mingus community, north of the railroad. Brick school buildings were later built a few blocks south of the tracks.

Downtown Mingus

Mingus/Thurber Junction enjoyed several years of success while Thurber was going strong. Some reports indicate that the population grew to as many as 2000 inhabitants by the 1920s. With the population increase came more violence and tragedy. It was reported that in 1917 alone there were 12 murders, 12 deadly car wrecks, 6 suicides, 4 deaths as a result of the railroad, 4 fire fatalities, and 3 drownings in the Mingus/Thurber Junction community.

As coal faded from popularity for oil, the town of Thurber suffered greatly. T&P Coal’s 1917 discovery of oil in Ranger, helped to set off a series of events that would spell the end of Thurber as it was. The demand for coal rapidly diminished over the next few years. The last of the coal mined in Thurber occurred in 1926 and the company set in motion a plan to dismantle the once thriving community. 

The stock market crash of 1929 helped to drive a final nail in the coffin of Thurber as just a few months later the Thurber Brick plant was closed. The plant would reopen briefly in 1931 but eventually closed permanently and by 1937 Thurber, once a town of over ten thousand inhabitants, was abandoned. 

As Thurber faded from existence, the Mingus area lost its primary lifeline. The Mingus/Thurber Junction population dwindled down to around 300 inhabitants and eventually Thurber Junction and Grant Town became part of Mingus when it incorporated in 1934. 

The town of Mingus survived the loss of Thurber largely due to it's first mayor, Lawrence Santi. Mr. Santi was a civic minded mayor, holding office for over three decades and he also served as a town druggist for almost 60 years.



Friday, January 15, 2021

The Gordon Coal Mines: Part 1 - Jones, Cowen & Knowlton

 


The Gordon Coal Mines, later known as Coalville, was a very significant site during the early years of the Texas & Pacific Railway’s western development from Fort Worth. The firm responsible for the initial discovery and development of the Gordon Mines was a group T&P had contracted to build the bridges and buildings for the line for all points 100 miles west of Fort Worth. Over the years there has been confusion as to the name of this firm. Weldon Hardman’s book on Thurber “Fire in a Hole”, which was one of the earliest historical accounts of coal mining in the area, noted that the firm that opened the Gordon Mines was James, Cowan and Nolton. This was almost correct, and while Mr. Hardman admittedly wrote that his book was not “scholarly” and depended more on memory and word of mouth, this incorrect bit of information was propagated into multiple subsequent books on Thurber and area mining history, further blurring the rich history of the almost completely forgotten mining site.

The true name of the firm responsible for opening the Gordon Coal Mines was the Jones, Cowen and Knowlton Company. While the name variations are slight it is important to correct the record when attempting to unravel the history of the mines.

On January 16, 1880, the partnership of Jones, Cowen and Knowlton won the lucrative T&P building and bridge 100 mile construction contract. Each of the three partners were independently successful lumber men. John Roberts Jones was born in Gwernymynydd, Wales in 1841 and emigrated to the US as a child. He settled in Shreveport, LA where he worked his way into a very prominent career as a lumber man and civic leader. He owned multiple sawmills and started the Victoria Sash and Door Company in Shreveport. Col Edward Palmer Cowen was born in New Bedford, MA in 1842 and had multiple lumber locations (including Fort Worth) under the name E.P. Cowen Lumber Co. Samuel G. Knowlton, possibly the least prominent of the three, was born in 1840 in Gloucester, MA and migrated to Plaquemine, LA during the mid to late 1800s where he owned the Plaquemine Lumber and Shingle Co among other lumber related interests.

Newspapers at the time reported that it was Samuel Knowlton that discovered the coal outcroppings on Clayton Mountain, northeast of the future townsite of Gordon, while scoping out the area where the railroad would be passing through. This was the first significant discovery of coal in north Texas and Knowlton, along with his partners recognized this could be a very lucrative opportunity. Coal, of course, was the fuel of choice for the railroad at the time.

The three men began laying claim to the land surrounding the coal discovery. Some of the land was originally given to the railroad by the government for potential use, but as the actual route was established, much of the extra land was sold. While they worked as a partnership, they individually purchased land. Looking at the original landowner’s map of this area, you will see the area littered with the names of these three men. They eventually collectively owned appx 7000 acres in the area.

Who better than to start a mining operation and town in the 1880s than a group of lumber giants?

By September of 1880, in good timing with the progress of railroad construction though the area, Jones, Cowen and Knowlton had sunk their first mine. Initially the loads of coal were taken by wagon to the Gordon T&P depot for pick up. Due to the immediate demand for coal, the town of Gordon was reported to have literally sprung up over the course of a weekend.

Within a few weeks of operation, the Gordon Coal Mines were turning out 25 tons per day and were supplying all of the coal used by Texas & Pacific engines, eliminating the high cost of shipping coal from other states. This would soon gain the interest of railroad magnate (head of Texas & Pacific among other lines), Jay Gould.


More on the Gordon Coal Mines to come!



Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Gordon Weekly Courier: A Historical Look at an Early Day Rural Texas Newspaper

When the Texas & Pacific Railway made its way to the southern Palo Pinto County town of Gordon in mid 1880, the community swiftly sprang into prominence. In the early days, Gordon served as the western terminus of the rail, with daily stage coach services to all parts north, south, and west. The town quickly grew into a shipping center for area cotton, cattle and coal.  With that growth came the immediate need for a news outlet.

One of the first publications to stick in town was called the Gordon Cross-Eye. This newspaper, with its off-the-wall name may have possibly been "in honor" then popular democratic presidential candidate Ben Butler. The paper and candidate were linked in national stories due to Mr. Butler having a "lazy eye". There is not much that remains as far as what kind of paper this was other than a couple of references tying them to a list of pioneers of the Texas Press Association.

The Cross-Eye was a short lived endeavor, and made way for one of Gordon's most prominent publications, the Gordon Weekly Courier. An August 14, 1884 piece in the Galveston Daily News states: 
"The Gordon Courier, a new paper started at Gordon, Palo Pinto County, reached The News yesterday. It says: The citizens of Gordon have made up their minds to have published in their town a newspaper worthy of patronage and one that will study the interests of Palo Pinto County, and Gordon in particular, have purchased the press and material formerly known as the Gordon Cross-Eye, and have secured the services of a gentleman competent and steady in his habits to run it." 
The Galveston newspaper went on to comment: 
"This looks like an intimation that the paper with the Ben Butler eye was not run by a man of such habits and the publisher of the Courier. Even men of steady habits may edit lively papers: Mirth makes them not mad, Nor sobriety sad. Watch and be sober, says St. Paul." 
The publisher of the Courier felt the need to give advice in getting out the first number in saying: "We are old in the business as a printer, and as an editor, and have gotten out a weekly paper many times under difficulties, but never, never have we in the course of human events, labored under as many difficulties as we have during the past week, trying to get out the Courier, of which we are manager, editor and devil, all in one."

The Gordon Weekly Courier began its life under the ownership of a group known as the Courier Publishing Company. Using volume backdating, its first published paper would have been printed on Friday August 8, 1884. The Courier would continue to be published every Friday as a weekly paper for the next thirty years and would gain notoriety as a prominent Texas newspaper, as referenced in various papers across the state.

In May of 1885, the Courier was purchased by 39 year old Rev. Christopher Columbus "C.C." Parrack and wife Mary. Missouri born Rev. Parrack was a Baptist preacher, and had lived in various communities in the area including Coleman County prior to landing in Gordon. The couple would share the duties of editor with C.C. noted as publisher.

One of the earliest references to the paper under Parrack was a snippet from the July 4, 1885 Wise County Messenger that read: 
"The Farmers' Alliance has purchased a lot and will begin at once to build. The lot is located on the east side of Lamar street, opposite the Pierson building. It has 75 feet front and 100 feet back, and there will be three buildings of 25 feet front each. - Gordon Courier."
The Gordon Coal Mines, later known as Coalville, located northeast of town, were not left out of the regional reporting picked up from the Courier. The Wise County Messenger of October 10, 1885 noted the Courier's boasting that the Gordon Coal Mines were producing 375 to 400 tons of coal per day. Gordon's Coalville, which was arguably the first boom town in Texas, rose to notoriety quickly in the early 1880s and would be the first Texas coal to be used by the railroad. Its demise came nearly as quickly as the high sulfur grade of coal was eventually determined unsuitable for long term use. 

It was just as much true then as it is now, political views were not without criticism. A February 4, 1886 edition of the Austin Weekly Statesman included the Courier's political opinions in a piece writing, "The Gordon Courier is hard to please. It will accept neither Swain, Ross, nor Gibbs for governor. It thinks there is a good-sized bug under all these chips and it talks harshly about boomers, rings, local cliques, and such expressive adjectives. The editor is a Christian minister, and of course has facts to sustain his attacks on the corrupt methods he has discovered."


The oldest copy of the Gordon Courier in the archives is a May 20, 1887 edition, which was well into the Parrack's reign over the paper. The front page of that paper was primarily covered with intricate and detailed advertising for local businesses including S.J Oden's Dry Goods and Grocery Store, G.W. Gentry & Co. General Merchandise, and J.P. Browder Furniture and Undertakers' Goods. Along with the ads was a rather lengthy article written on moral suasion. Page two of the edition was a good bit more informative as it had bits from across the state. Included was a report on a recent massive earthquake in Arizona that was felt in west Texas, and notes on the ongoing prohibition movement from both sides of the argument. A train departure schedule also appeared on page two, with the Number 4 train leaving Gordon to the east at 4:45 PM, and the Number 3 heading west at 11:55 AM.

Page three of the paper dealt mainly with local matters. The page included a long account of a recent community picnic, along with separate humorous accounts of the event that poked fun at several of Gordon's residents, "We heard a young lady say she loved barbecued dog, but we are not going to tell who she is because some young man might rise up and slay some of the favorite curs in Gordon (which are so necessary to our rest nights)." The page also included notes from area businesses including: Fresh butter and soda pop on ice at the T&P Express office, A car load of corn just received in sacks at M.W. Thompson's,  A nice stock of oranges, lemons, bananas, and sauerkraut at J.M. Bilton's, and a note to call the courier office and get a bargain on a clock. The last page of the paper almost entirely consisted of proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution.

Sadly, just three years later Mr. Parrack would pass away at 44 years of age. He was buried at the Old Gordon Cemetery where a tall pillar-like headstone was placed. The Fort Worth Daily Gazette published the following obituary:
"Late Editor of the Gordon Courier and Highly Respected Citizen, Dies at GordonRev C.C. Parrack, late editor of the Gordon Courier, died at his residence in Gordon, Tex on the 17th. Mr. Parrack's death is a sad blow to the people of Gordon, for he was ever ready to lend a helping hand in time of need and was always found in the front ranks in the support of any public enterprise that tended to the advancement of the interests of the town and county. He conducted the Courier upon such a high plane of integrity and sincerity that its voice of warning was heard by old and young. He was a minister of the gospel of the Baptist faith, and a zealous Christian. The funeral services were conducted by Rev Mr. McGhee, of Cisco, at the Methodist church at Gordon at 4 o'clock pm, after which he was laid to rest in the Gordon cemetery, a burial place that he had done more than any one to improve and beautify. He leaves a wife."
It appears that Mrs. Parrack continued to run the paper through the end of 1890. The Fort Worth Daily Gazette of September 7, 1890 says "The Gordon Courier has just commenced its seventh volume, and in its first number appears a display advertisement for the sale of the entire plant. There lies a chance for some aspiring journalist to win fame and fortune."

In the fall of 1890 a man by the name of Lewis Albert "L.A." McCollister came to Gordon to work in the Courier's print shop. Mr. McCollister was born in Leavenworth, Indiana on June 18, 1870, with his family relocating to Ida County, Oklahoma just four years later. In 1886 he got his start in the newspaper business working as an apprentice for the Battle Creek Times. By the time he arrived in Gordon, he was well versed in the business and was looking to run a paper of his own.

With the Courier up for sale, McCollister seized on the opportunity and purchased the paper on March 1, 1891. He swiftly began to bring the paper into the modern era expanding its columns and filling it with his own brand of politics and self penned anecdotes. His political opinions and sharp wit on the problems of the day would bolster his articles onto the statewide stage.

The Galveston Daily News quoted McCollister as he took the reigns of the Courier, "More confidence in our state and less disposition to just "camp here until I get a stake" and then go somewhere else. Too many people who have made all they have here do not do anything to help the community in which they live, but put their money out of sight and do not have confidence enough to spend $1 to see $10 come back."

On April 30, 1891 Fort Worth Daily Gazette took notice of the changes at the Courier  stating, "The Gordon Courier has come out with an entire new dress, and made some marked improvements in its general make-up."

A quip from the Courier made the May 25, 1891 Fort Worth Daily Gazette, "While Mrs. Mack Spaulding was cutting up a chicken last Monday preparatory to cooking, she found a 16 penny nail in the chicken's stomach."

One of the common occurrences in Texas newspapers of the day was local weather and crop notes. A May 12, 1893 Galveston Daily News stated, "L.A. McCollister of the Gordon Courier reports fine rains in Palo Pinto county and says the prospects for corn, oats and cotton are first-rate. He was yesterday elected a member of the Texas Press Association."

Feud with the Texas Miner

Thurber's Texas Miner newspaper, which was company owned and operated and was in the business of protecting the interests of the Texas and Pacific Coal company, had quite the feud with McCollister's Courier. T&P Coal preferred its workers and residents to never leave the confines of Thurber. They wanted all money earned to be spent in company stores and all trading to be done in house. Gordon, as well as other area non company owned towns, offered more opportunities in trading. There are many reports of Thurber folks trading in Gordon and smuggling their goods back into to town, as it was highly frowned upon by the company. Because of the company's belief, they were very quick to protect their image in every way. McCollister, opinionated and unafraid to fire shots when he deemed necessary, fueled several reactions from the Miner.

 One of the first examples of this feud can be found in a February 3, 1894 edition of the Texas Miner. In a response piece the paper states,  "The Gordon Courier of last week said 'We understand the Thurber mines are working on half time now.' Bless your soul, Mac, that shot from jealous Gordon flew wide of the mark - in fact, you never touched us. Why, say, there hasn't been but a slight let-up, and that was because of the fact the railroad companies could not furnish empty cars. Fire another one, Mac, but be sure to use facts for wadding." Fifteen days later the Miner stated, "Because we accused Gordon of being jealous of Thurber's prosperity, the Gordon Courier says we are off our base. All right, Mac - but we'll make a home-run, even though we are forced to do the 'Slide, Kelly, slide' act. By the way, come over some day and watch the game, it'll interest you." The "act" mentioned in their piece refers to old baseball song "Slide, Kelly, Slide" published in 1889 "Slide, Kelly, Slide!, Your running's a disgrace!, Slide, Kelly, Slide!, Stay there, hold your base!, If some one doesn't steal you, And your batting doesn't fail you, They'll take you to Australia!, Slide, Kelly, Slide!" 

A month passed and McCollister, flanked by W.K Bell of Gordon, did pay the Miner a visit. The March 17, 1894 edition of the Miner noted that the two had visited their office and that Mr. Bell had made some extensive purchases in town and was "tickled to death" over the cheapness of the goods he wanted and their excellent quality.

Barbs between the two papers seemed to die down over the next few months.

On June 5, 1895, Mr. McCollister married Munsey Carlock at the Methodist church in Gordon by Parson Hightower. Thurber's Miner reported the announcement: 
"Cards are out announcing the coming nuptials of Miss Munsey Carlock and Mr. L.A. McCollister, the interesting event to occur at the Methodist church, Gordon, Wednesday, June 5, at 2 p.m. These young people are among Gordon's most popular, and this announcement is greeted with many happy expressions by a large circle of friends at home and elsewhere. Mr. McCollister is quite well known throughout the State as a rising young journalist, being editor and proprietor of the sprightly paper, the Gordon Courier. 'Mac' The Miner sends a hearty 'God bless you,' and will take advantage of the first opportunity to personally congratulate you upon your success in winning the prize which is soon to be yours." 
Word of McCollister's wedding appeared in several papers across the state.

February 25, 1896 Fort Worth Gazette published a poem McCollister had penned and published in the Courier with the title of "He's All Right". "There is a man in our town who wears the best of shoes, If there's anything he delights in, its the reading of the news; It does not matter what the friends may say, He reads the newspapers every day; There are two papers at which he takes a dead set, and they are the Commercial-Appeal and the Fort Worth Gazette; Yet there is another that seems to be no drag. And it is the American Baptist Flag. From reading the news he will not refrain, although his wife may howl with pain; And sometimes he hears his children crying around, Yet he will not lay his papers down."

The Houston Daily Post of February 5, 1900 cited the Gordon Courier in their "Industrial Texas" section, "The building committee of the Methodist Episcopal church has closed a contract to build a brick church."

A March 9, 1900 edition of the Abilene Reporter noted that the Gordon Courier reported that the town of Gordon was "coming to the front in buildings, with brick edifices going up."

In June of 1900 McCollister was appointed U.S. Census Enumerator (census taker)  for Gordon's precinct. This was an excellent way to get up-to-date on all the latest news and gossip as he went door to door collecting government information. Years later he was quoted as saying he still had in his possession the check for 15 cents the government sent him in payment for his services.

The November 4, 1904 Canyon City News quoted the Gordon Courier, "Never growl because a newspaper man fails to give every scrap of news so long as you take no pains to give the editor information. We have seen readers who are awfully put out at times because we have made no note of the arrival or departure of a friend visiting them, or the heaven-sent babies that visit their homes over night. The average newspaper man isn't a medium or mind reader, but gets most of his news the same way the milkman gets his milk - by pumping." This piece appeared in several other papers across the state.

McCollister sold the Courier to Arthur Speer in 1906 and moved his family to Mangum, Oklahoma where he went on to be a successful businessman in the banking business. He and his wife had two children (Gladys and Landon) born during their years in Gordon. McCollister eventually became a stockholder in a local bank and lumber yard there.

Son of Daniel Witten "DeWitt" Speer, Arthur and his family had moved to the Gordon area prior to 1880 and after school he initially worked locally as a school teacher. He taught at nearby Coalville during a time when the school was recorded as the largest in the county. By 1900 he was a local attorney, an occupation he would maintain while running the Courier. He was serving as Gordon School Board President when he took control of the paper at 48 years of age with wife Lilla and daughter Eva at his side.

With Speer at the helm, snippets of the Courier that appeared in papers statewide were generally more political in nature, with fewer anecdotal pieces.

The Brownsville Daily Herald published a piece from the Courier on January 29, 1907 titled "The Truth of the Matter."
"Good resolutions and isolated actions, though good, do not make good character. Pure thoughts, refined language and good deeds must, by our continuous course through life, be so woven into habits as to become our very nature."
Speer never seemed to be too shy to state his opinions on state matters. A December 15, 1909 San Antonio Daily Express cited Gordon Courier's controversial commentary on the state of prison administration in Texas.

The Courier broke several statewide stories of the day over the next couple of years. Along with the political laced banter there were a couple of local murders, robberies, accidental deaths, and the occasional oddity that made state headlines.

Included in the September 28, 1911 edition of the Bryan Daily Eagle:
"Karl Teichman killed three rattlesnakes last week in his cotton patch. On Wednesday he killed two. One had ten rattles and the other eleven. On Thursday morning he killed the largest rattlesnake he ever saw, but some of the rattles had been broken off, leaving only six. The snakes have been coming into the cotton fields. - Gordon Courier"
A note on the Courier's editor came in a March 8, 1913 edition of the Weatherford Daily Herald, "A. Speer, editor of the Gordon Courier, was in the city Saturday morning on his way home from Palo Pinto county. Mr. Speer, while editing his paper, takes time to practice law."

While there was plenty of seriousness to Speer's paper, there was always a little bit of humor sprinkled in as seen in an August 6, 1913 Houston Post, "The Gordon Courier is reminded that while twenty-pound parcel post packages will greatly extend the scope of service, it will not enable anybody to send a Texas watermelon by mail."
  
A report on local matters appears in a September 9, 1913 Weatherford Daily Herald:
"Men Quit Work at Thurber - To make bricks, fire must be burning under the kilns, consequently the fire must be constantly attended. The men upon whom this duty devolved wanted to attend the labor celebration; but, as the company could not excuse them from work without incurring great damage, permission to take part in the festivities was refused. However, acting upon the advice, it is said, of one of the Socialistic speakers, the men abandoned their work and took part in the celebration. For thus quitting their work and damaging the company, the men were discharged, where upon the brick makers union declared a strike. The company then concluded to cease operations. After this conclusion had been reached, the men expressed a willingness to resume work, but that the company closed the plant. About 250 men are thus thrown out of work. - Gordon Courier"

The latest edition of the Courier found in the archives is from August 7, 1914, noted as number 42 of volume 30. The paper appears in a six column form. The left side of the front page included a couple of articles on the coming 1914 State Fair of Texas. The remainder of the page involves the coming and going of local residents and local news quips. Among the local tidbits included, "I am prepared to furnish ice and deliver it to you anywhere in town at the rate of 40 cents per hundred. - J.W. McCoy.", "The poles on which to hang the cable for the electric lights in Gordon have been loaded on the cars and are due to arrive here soon.", and "The Holiness meeting will begin today at the tabernacle one mile north of town."

The second page of the 1914 Courier edition included several lengthy articles including pieces on fire prevention tips, a take on a movement on better roads in the state, and industrial notes and developments from various cities across the state. Also appearing on the page is a Southwestern Tel & Tel Co (Southwestern Telegraph and Telephone Company, early name for Southwestern Bell) ad that promoted the idea that having telephones on the farm could make it easier to call for help when needed.  A Dr. Wilbar, a Gordon dentist, ad lists prices for specific dental work, standard filling $1, gold filling $2 to $3, gold crown $5 to $6, and a set of teeth for $20. Rounding out the second page is an ad for round trip tickets from Gordon to El Paso for $15 to attend the Democratic State Convention.

The last two pages of the edition were almost entirely taken up by a weekly serial the paper printed. This particular one was the first part in a series titled "The Impossible Boy" written by Nina Wilcox Putnam.

The August 7th edition is the last reference to the paper found in current newspaper archives. Based on the fact that up to this date the paper was heavily referenced in area and statewide papers, it can be derived that the Courier was discontinued around this time. Mr. Speer, a man in his late 50's wearing two hats in the community as a lawyer and newspaper editor, may have elected to hang up the news for his more profitable profession.

Arthur Speer died February 8, 1918 in Gordon and was buried in the New Gordon Cemetery. Sadly, the Gordon Weekly Courier died with him.

The Courier was a very important piece in the history of Gordon, Texas. In it's thirty year run the Courier reported on its fair share of community ups and downs. It was led by three different pillars of the community that put Gordon first and even used the paper to fight for their community at times. Like with so many small towns of the day, this small town paper helped to keep Gordon on the map while providing a service to its citizens and at times citizens across the state. 

Sources referenced for this article include: newspaperarchive.com, texashistory.unt.edu, ancestry.com

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Wilbar Brick Company of Gordon, Texas


John T.O. Wilbar owned and operated the Wilbar Brick Plant in Gordon, Texas (located in Southern Palo Pinto County) from approximately 1888 to 1906. His operation predated all area brick making, occurring well before nearby Thurber started making their famous bricks.


John Thomas Octavius Wilbar was born on May 28, 1853 in Wilkes, NC to Isaac Russell and Rachel Colvard Wilbar. The family migrated to Texas in about 1879 and to Gordon by the mid 1880s. John initially settled in Duffau, TX (north of Hico) and served for a brief time as a school teacher there. Upon arriving in the Gordon area he initially took a job as postmaster for Coalville. During this time Mr. Wilbar either purchased or built a cotton gin and successfully took advantage of Gordon’s booming crop of the day.


Around 1888, as the need for solid (fire proof) building products increased, John built a brick making outfit next door to his gin. The brick plant and kilns (a total of seven) would have been located a couple of blocks south of the current Methodist Church to the east of the present day highway. The shale used for the bricks came from a hill due west of the plant (across the current road). A pulley rail car system was used to bring the shale down the mountain. When a full car went down the hill it pulled the empty car back up. At that time the only road leaving town to the south was what is now known as Mitchell Hill road, so crossing a road wasn't an issue for the shale cars.


The kilns used were roughly 10 to 20 feet high and about 70 feet long and were wood burning. The bricks made at the Wilbar plant were of the dry pressed variety and were most suitable for use in building construction. It has been documented that Wilbar Bricks have been found in various cities in north Texas over the years. Some of Gordon’s buildings downtown and underpinnings on various old homes are made of these bricks as well.
When gas became available in 1906, Mr. Wilbar made the decision to switch to the more modern fuel. The kilns were all fitted for the new fuel and an initial batch was fired. Unfortunately the bricks became too hot and fused together in massive blocks, rendering all of the kilns ruined. This disaster spelled the end of Wilbar Brick production. Mr. Wilbar continued to gin cotton until a fire destroyed his gin in January of 1907. He left Gordon in 1918 and relocated to San Antonio where he died on October 24, 1923.


NOTE: John Wilbar's brother Alexander P. Wilbar founded the First National Bank of Gordon in 1901, helping to make the Wilbar family one of the most influential families on early day Gordon.

The Three Bills of Thurber, Texas

Left to Right: J.W. Ivey, J.W. Gailey Sr, and W.T. Fulfer in downtown Thurber (ca 1917)

The T&P Coal Company that owned and operated Thurber generally strove to run a self sufficient town but sometimes it had to lean on area farmers and ranchers to meet its needs. This was the case when the need arose for a new source of beef cattle in about 1900.

T&P Coal awarded a cattle supply contract to a partnership consisting of three local cattlemen, John William Gailey, John William Ivey, and William Thomas Fulfer. The three men became known as “The Three Bills” to their customers. The contract indicated that they needed to supply 50 head of cattle by each Friday for slaughter. This demand required the partnership to travel great distances at times to purchase cattle.

The Three Bills would become very popular with their customers for maintaining a reputation of fairness and honesty. They had a policy of not making a profit from widowed women and if a rancher quoted a price that was too low they would give them a more reasonable price for their stock. J.W. Gailey, who essentially lead the group, became known as “Uncle Bill” to many of his clients due to his fair dealings.

This business venture proved to be very profitable for the three men. All three were able to live well supporting their large families and expand their ranches considerably. JW Gailey was able to expand his ranch into Erath County stretching from the road south of Thurber westward to present day Highway 16. After purchasing his Erath County land he build his family a larger home, which still stands 110 years later.

NOTE: This photo started my interest into family history. I was looking through a Palo Pinto County history book back in 1992 (as a high school freshman) and ran across the image. Noticing the name J.W. Gailey below the photo I figured that the man must be related. I sent a copy of the photo to my grandmother, Dovie Gailey Hunt, and she was elated to see it. She shared with me that he was indeed her grandfather and sent copies of the photo to several relatives in the family. This of course led to more questions from me and over time I wanted to find out everything I could about J.W. Gailey and his family. For years we only had a grainy copy of this photo from the book and it wasn’t until I started working on the Gailey book that I was sent a much clearer copy from the MC and Edna Fry collection, which is the source of this version of the photo.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Eva Eula (Gailey) Fry's Final Letter

This is the final letter written by JW Gailey's youngest daughter Eva Eula (Gailey) Fry before her tragic passing on August, 6th 1930 following childbirth. This letter was written to Eva's sister Cordelia, who owned and operated a tourist camp (early day motel) with her husband Dee Lee in Merkel, Texas. Eva, huband Bert, and five year old son MC Fry were in Tom Green County near the community of Harriett at this time. Eva was seven or eight months pregnant when she wrote the letter.

Eva was born at her parents, John William and Mary Ann Ada (Bigham) Gailey's, home near where Eastland and Erath counties meet on January 6, 1903. She was the ninth and final child of JW and Mary. Sadly Mary would die July 14, 1904, when Eva was just a year and a half old. Eva's sister Mary dropped out of school to care for Eva and would continue to look after her until adulthood. In 1914 JW remarried and would eventually move to San Angelo, Texas due to health reasons in 1918. Much of the family stayed at or near the Eastland and Erath County ranch land but Eva moved to San Angelo with her father and sister Mary and her new family. JW passed away just days after Eva's 19th birthday. By 20 years of age Eva married Bert Monroe Fry and they would make their home near San Angelo on land she inherited from her father's estate.

The letter reads as follows:

*******************************

San Angelo, Texas
June 1930

Dear Cordelia and Dee,

I have not heard from you in ages what are you doing for your self?  I am getting fatter and fatter each day. Do you hear from Selma and Pernia? I have not heard from them in a long time.

Our crop looks fine but late. Our old hens are laying good and I sell from eight to ten lbs of butter per week. We still have chickens to eat. Come over we are going to have red beans today.

The B. Meeting is going on at Harriett. I have not seen Mary in two weeks.

Are you doing good with your camp now? What is Nick and C.F. doing for a living? Do they have a crop or cows or working for wages or what? I do not hear from them.

M.C. is sure growing and getting so big and mean. I do not know one thing to write so I guess you are tired of questions.

Route 2 Box 208

********************************

In the letter Eva asks questions about her brother Nick (and wife Selma) and sister Pernia (and husband C.F. Jones). She also mentions not seeing her sister Mary Gailey Eubank in two weeks and they did not live far from each other. It is safe to assume that Eva had her questions answered either via a return letter or by a visit Cordelia and Dee had with her on July 3rd and 4th 1930.

It was a very rainy day on August 6, 1930. At 27 years of age Eva Eula went into labor while at her sister Mary's home and the doctor was notified and headed to the Fry household. Eva wanted to give birth to her second child in the same bed she birthed her son, so she was driven to her house. The rain made travel very difficult but they made the short journey however, the doctor got stuck in the mud on the way. Eva delivered a healthy baby girl that would later be named Eva Louise Fry. Eva Eula got to enjoy her new baby for a brief time but her body went into shock, likely from blood loss. With no doctor on site to assist Eva Eula sadly passed away. She was the first of J.W. Gailey's children to die.





This source of the letter is the MC and Edna Fry Collection. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

William Tuder: A Patentee

A few months ago I ran across an index that indicated a William Tuder from Texas had filed a patent with United States Patent Office in 1871 titled "Improvment in Current-Wheels". After a bit of digging I unearthed the actual patent documentation complete with illustrations and definitions. The document indicated that the William Tuder that filed the patent was indeed William Tuder, Grandfather of J.W. Gailey Sr.

William Tuder was responsible for relocating his family from Kentucky to Bell County Texas in the late 1850s and then later on to northeastern Eastland County in 1872. In Bell County the family settled between the communities of Aiken and Moffett on the banks of the Leon River. William was a master carpenter with early work as a wheel right and later as a cabinet and furniture maker. It is safe to that that he knew a thing or two about geometry and the math behind creating objects from wood and metal. Due to the nature of the patent he filed, it is also safe to say that he knew a thing or two about the use of hydraulics in running river mills, which were very popular at the time for use in grinding food items such as corn.

William Tuder's U.S. Patent for "Improvement in Current-Wheels" was filed June 6, 1871. He was listed as "William Tuder, of Moffettown, Texas". This was not an original patent on current-wheel design but rather a helpful modification to existing designs. The description states that it is an improved arrangement of  feathering-buckets and gate operating devices.

This patent has been cited in subsequent patent applications, even some as late as the last decade. It is unclear whether his invented enhancements are still in use in modern day current-wheels but evidently it was an important enough of an advancement that it warranted a patent.

At the time of the patent, William Tuder had already purchased land in Eastland County. Within a year he and his family would migrate up the Leon to their new property on the banks of Palo Pinto Creek. It has been passed down that a grist mill was once located on the east bank of the Palo Pinto on the original Tuder land in Eastland county. William's patent likely was put to use on that once flowing stream.

Below are the two documents involved with the patent.