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Dumont

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

When Elmer D. Landreth hit the West Texas town of Dumont in 1920 he found a three-classroom wooden schoolhouse with a fourth room for the Woodsmen of the World meetings, a small frame church shared by the local Baptists and Methodists (they alternated, every other Sunday), a cotton gin, and one store.

The young preacher arrived at the King County town after a two-hour, 30-mile trip on a muddy road. Having traveled to Paducah by train, he got a ride to Dumont on the only available form of public transportation -- the mail car, an open-topped Model T with a homemade wooden cargo area. In addition to mail and freight, the driver carried passengers from the railroad station at Paducah to Dumont for $1.25 a head.

That seemed like a lot of money, considering that since the end of the World War the cotton market had been way down and an extended drought had made farming even harder than usual. Still, Landreth found, local folks were optimistic that the hard times were just about behind them.

Dumont did not have many trees (if any), and money sure did not grow on them, but the community had some fine people, and Landreth always remembered his time there with fondness.

W
hen he published his autobiography (“The Missing Book”) in 1968, something else that he recalled about Dumont was its simple yet effective communication system. The town had no newspaper, commercial radio still lay in the future, television remained a theoretical concept more akin to science fiction than possibility and the “Internet” was the telegraph and telephone. Even so, the people of Dumont got on just fine with nothing but a blackboard.

Bob Lasaster and his wife operated the town’s general store, a structure Landreth described as a “white wooden store building [with] a big porch separating the front door and the gasoline pump where customers could purchase the gas for the few automobiles in the community. Outside the front wall of the building Mr. Lasaster had placed a big blackboard, which served…as a bulletin board on which affairs of the community were announced.”

Party invites and scheduled “preachings” went down in chalk on the board so that, as Landreth put it, “saints and sinners alike might know.” In addition, Landreth recalled, the board “broadcast” important news events that Lasaster “or any other of the three or four families who were subscribers to a daily newspaper” had heard about. That daily would have come from Lubbock, a hundred miles to the west, or Fort Worth, even farther to the east. And while the newspapers may have arrived daily, that did not necessarily mean on the same day of publication.

While state, national and international news might take its time in reaching Dumont, the blackboard amounted to the instant messaging of its day. The Lasater store blackboard, Landreth continued, “was a real institution, the only news media for the community aside from the usual gossip.”

Not long after the young preacher hit town, the most significant event in Dumont’s history up to that time occurred: The cotton gin burned. Of course, that was so obvious, no one needed to write it down on the blackboard.

At the time, Dumont – named for Auguste E. Dumont, Paducah’s first postmaster – was not even 30 years old. It developed around a dugout school on the John Parker farm in 1891. Two years later, area residents subscribed to build a community school and in 1894 enough people lived in the area for Washington to approve the opening of a post office.

Located near the sprawling and historic 6666, SMS and Matador ranches, Dumont reached its population peak in 1960 with 105 residents. The 2000 Census showed only three business and 85 people in the community, with the latest estimate being only 323 residents in all of King County, the nation’s third smallest in population. At least those who call Dumont home today don’t need a blackboard to get their news, but newspapers still come in the mail.


© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" May 30, 2007 column

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