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  Texas : Features : Columns : "It's All Trew"

Survival rough as the land in Cimarron Country

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew
One of the last frontiers in the Panhandle area was No Man's Land, the strip between Texas, Kansas and New Mexico. It often was called "The Cimarron Country" because the Cimarron River and the Beaver River run through this section of prairie.

For unknown reasons, little history was recorded about the area. One theory is, the rest of the area was settling so rapidly this little nook was forgotten in the rush. The very name "No Man's Land" seems to emphasize this theory.

One description of the area states, "In those days there was no liquor license to pay, no officers to enforce the law and the courts had no domination. This was a land with a total absence of government except that every man was a law unto himself."

These reasons drew saloons like a magnet and the saloons drew cowboys the same way. The strip was a wild and rowdy place almost around the clock seven days a week.

The most notorious saloon was Billy Bailey's "Thirst Emporium," housed in a dirt soddy in old Hardesty. Billy mixed his own Tiger milk, which tasted so bad and was so strong he served shot glasses of blackberry wine as chasers for the drink. This in turn contributed to the monumental hangovers remembered so vividly by the old-timers who frequented the establishment.

Among the many ghost towns of the hey-day of the strip were Rothwell, Boyd, Paladora, Eagle City, Grand Valley, Lavrock, Buffalo and Sod Town. Due to the sod plow and wheat farming practices of today, these ghost towns have now become "ghost sites" as all signs of habitation have been plowed under and leveled. Even the buffalo wallows of old have mostly disappeared.

Numerous stories survive about Cimarron Country. One tale tells of two drunken outlaws who took it upon themselves to run nester Ira Norton out of his claim shack one night. They rode in circles firing their guns only pausing to drink from a bottle.

Ira had a double-barrel, muzzle-loading shotgun and a horn of powder but could find nothing to put into the barrel to shoot. As the spree continued, he feared for his life and took a hammer to a cast iron skillet. When the pieces became small enough to fit in the barrels he loaded up and waited at a window. When the outlaws stopped to take a drink, Ira fired both barrels killing one man and seriously wounding another. Needless to say, Ira had no more trouble.

Beer City sprang up "just a whisper across the state line" south of Liberal, Kan. With prohibition in full swing, Beer City rose like an oasis in the desert even though mostly housed in dirty tents and shacks.

The town was known for its huge rows of empty beer barrels stacked behind each of the saloons and the odd hitching rails for horses in front of each business. Impatient horses, awaiting the return of their thirsty owners, had pawed the dirt from beneath the hitching rails, making holes in the street. Their manure kept building up into ridges behind, leaving the mounts to stand with their front feet in the hole and their rears standing on the ridges behind. This Sodom and Gomorrah of the plains ran out in the late 1880s.

Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew"

October 30, 2007 Column
E-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net.

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