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Shotgun shacks
cheap, practical

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew

A recent article by Darlene Birks in Pampa's Focus Magazine triggered a memory or two involving the famous "long skinny houses" that graced the West on both farms and ranches and later on during the many oil booms and busts.

History explains the shotgun house was named because one or more rooms were built in a row, with connecting doors arranged so a shotgun could be fired in the front door and would send its pellets completely through the house and out the back door into the prairie beyond.

In reality, there was a reason for the shotgun structure. In the early days of the West, lumber came at great cost and the longer the length the higher the cost in producing and hauling. The long skinny houses used short lumber that could be hauled easily on wagons, most of which had beds only 14 feet long or shorter. Cost took precedence over a larger building.

Another reason was that during the "homestead era" shotgun houses were more practical as they could be easily hauled or skidded on poles to a new location. Though no records exist, it is estimated that most homesteads changed, sold or were abandoned at least three times.

On our ranch in New Mexico during the Rana settlement era, one such shotgun house was stolen and skidded to the next homestead down the road each fall when the resident owners moved to Clovis, N.M., to teach school during the winter. A nearby neighbor needed it for his rather large family and always agreeably skidded it back home when the indignant owners returned for the summer.

Our ranch headquarters had a shotgun house set up on native rocks and was open around the bottom. We had everything from greyhounds, stray hogs, skunks, cotton tails, pack rats and lots of rattlesnakes live beneath where we slept. We had to remember always to jump out the door to clear ground when exiting. Supposedly during the ownership of Jules Bivins, during the early 1900s, the bunk house was skidded in from an old homestead for ranch employee use.

My favorite shotgun house story happened on the old Hugh Parsell ranch on the Canadian River, upstream from Canadian. In the early 1940s, there was a large two-story frame house and a shotgun house located at the headquarters. A middle-aged couple lived in the shotgun house and the husband was sent to Borger to pick up pipe and sucker rod for windmill repairs.

Without all the good country roads and highways of today, the trip required two days to go, load up and return to the ranch. When the driver returned, he was suffering from a bad limp in his left leg. He explained he was sitting in the hotel bar the night before when a fight broke out. During the melee he was shot in the thigh with a .22 bullet. Remember, this was during the later rough days of "Old Booger Town."

After reporting, he limped on to the shotgun house to his wife. About an hour later, he came running from the house with the wife after him, swinging a broom. He slept at the big house for a couple of weeks after that. It seems his wife discovered he - despite having a bullet wound in his upper thigh - had no bullet hole in his Levis.


Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew"
December 8, 2010 column
Delbert Trew is a freelance writer and retired rancher. He can be reached at 806-779-3164, by mail at Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002, or by e-mail at trewblue@centramedia.net. For books see DelbertTrew.com. His column appears weekly.

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