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Clay Coppedge
Texas | Columns | "Letters from Central Texas"

Trick ‘Em and Skin ‘Em

by Clay Coppedge

The old community of Trickham was the first community in Coleman County to be settled, though today it might be hard for an outside observer to understand why. The U.S. Army chose the patch of land on Mukewater Creek as the site of Camp Colorado in the 1850s but the camp lasted less than a year at that location.

This can be rough country even today, but in the 1850s it was a savage country. A 1936 history of Coleman County quotes the son of an old settler named Dick Fiveash who said his uncle Bill Williams was known as “Mukewater Bill” and he owned a bridle made from the skin of a Comanche he had killed. At least half a dozen early settlers, some of them known and some of their identities lost to history, were killed by Indians around Mukewater Creek.

Fiveash also recounted how smallpox hit the little community hard in the 1870s and how he lost his father and mother to the disease: “Dr. Edwards at Brownwood was the only doctor we knew. He came and looked in at the door and when he saw how terrible bad it was, he turned and went back home without doing anything at all for us.” These were not people who late in life longed for the good old days.

The town was founded by famed cowman John Chisum, who set up a store on Mukewater Creek to serve cowboys riding the trail from South Texas to northern markets in the 1860s. This was part of the famed Western Trail, which became the main road for Texas cattle heading north. Chisum’s store was the frontier equivalent of a convenience store.

Bill Franks, who might have been called Bill Pranks or worse if some of the stories we hear about him are true, was the proprietor. We hear that he originally called the store Trick ‘Em and Skin ‘Em; folks called it Trick ‘Em for short. Franks tricked ‘em out of their money, it was said, and maybe he skinned them in a manner of speaking – but not in the way that Fiveash’s uncle skinned that Comanche back in the day.

One of the ways Franks supposedly tricked ‘em was to sell the cowboys watered down whiskey. By the time they figured out that the whiskey was about two-thirds Mukewater Creek water and a third rotgut whiskey, they were halfway up the trail and there was no time to turn around for the purpose of settling matters with Franks, who could be called Texas’s first convenience store clerk.

There’s a possibility the story isn’t true and might have been made up or embellished by Franks himself, but it’s one of those stories that’s too good to verify.

Evidence that Franks ran a clean operation, at least for locals, can be surmised by the fact that enough people settled near the store to create a little community. Franks applied to the government for a post office with the name of Trick ‘Em but when humorless postal officials rejected it he changed it to Trickham.

Chisum never lived at Trickham. His ranch’s headquarters were on Home Creek a few miles away. He sold the store in 1874 to L.L. Shield who added on to Chisum’s original store and turned it into a true community store for a growing population.

By 1884, the town had 75 people, a hotel, two cotton gins, two churches, a blacksmith and a school. Trickham flourished as a thriving agricultural community in the early 20th century as most of the farmers grew substantial amounts of cotton. More than 60 students attended the two-story schoolhouse at one time but the good times didn’t last for long. Railroads bypassed the town and the town faded away. The store didn’t last but the stories have.

One of them was told to me by Bob Anderson, a grower and marketer of fine Texas-grown garlic. With apologies for giving away the punch line, it’s noted that the 1936 history of Coleman County shows a family named Cheatham living in Trickham in the early days. A visitor rode by one day and asked a local man outside the store the name of the town.

“Trick ‘Em,” the man said.

“And what is your name?”

“Cheatham.”

“Giddyap!” the visitor said, and off he rode.

The thing is, it might have happened just that way.

© Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas" July 2, 2012 Column

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