TexasEscapes.com HOME Welcome to Texas Escapes
A magazine written by Texas
Custom Search

Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"


by Mike Cox
Mike Cox
It’s been a long time since a train stopped at Shumla, a West Texas ghost town as ethereal as steam escaping from a coal-fired locomotive.

Shumla had its beginning in 1881 as construction crews raced to connect the eastern and western halves of America’s second and southern-most transcontinental rail line. Once a tent city stretching more than a mile long, it teemed with hundreds of Chinese and European-immigrant graders and track layers as well as crew bosses, engineers, and a variety of camp followers including peddlers, whiskey sellers, gamblers and working women you wouldn’t feel comfortable introducing to mom.

One of the railroad engineers had been to Eastern Europe and thought the area 15 miles west of Comstock in present Val Verde County looked like the countryside around the Ottoman fortress of Shumla in the Balkans. Accordingly, the Southern Pacific put the spot on its system map as Shumla, Texas.

Though Shumla’s original reason for existence ended with the completion of the tracks, steam-powered trains needed to take on water and coal about every 30 miles. Once regular east-west traffic began, Shumla became a section point with a depot, water tank and foreman’s house.

Despite its depot, Shumla did not have enough population to support a post office until 1906. But Shumla never saw better days than when the construction workers camped there.

Shumla was only one of many construction camps along the SP right of way, though not all of them survived as towns. The most common indications of camp sites are occasional sets of stone walls about two-and-a-half feet tall once used as canvas tent bases.

Professional archeologists and relic hunters over the years have found woks, opium bottles, fragments of tea cups and Chinese coins around these camp sites in addition to other trash associated with construction and temporary human occupation.

At Shumla, a 1995 archeological survey noted the remnants of a rectangular dry-laid stone structure about 20 feet wide and 70 feet long, a collapsed dome oven used for bread baking, a piled stone forge for blacksmith work and rock piles suggesting tent sites.

Just west of Shumla, the archeologists found a toppled limestone grave marker with an inscription in crude Danish. Translated to English, it read:
Here Under Rests
That Dear Child
B.K. Kristiansen
Born 181. 1882
Died 71. Same Year.
Given the date, the headstone – which has since disappeared – indicates the grave of a European construction worker’s child. If that’s correct, it demonstrates that some of the rail workers had their families with them as they moved east at a rate up to two miles a day.

All that’s left of Shumla today is an old concrete motel on U.S. 90 dating from the early automotive era, the word “Cabins” still faintly visible in white paint, the shell of an old grocery store and the walls of one house.
Ghost town Shumla, Texas ruins

What's left of Shumla
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, March 2008

The motel closed in the late 1940s or early 1950s and the grade has gone downhill for Shumla ever since.

On the old Ross Ranch about a mile west of its original location is the 1882 depot, a frame structure moved across the highway when the SP discontinued the Shumla station as more efficient diesel engines replaced the old coal-burners. A bit farther west of the ramshackle depot is the original section foreman’s house, with some later add-ons.

few years back, retired consulting archeologist Elton Prewitt of Austin bought 270 acres in the Shumla area. That real estate transaction coincided with something of resurgence for Shumla.

On a ranch not far from the original town has risen a new Shumla, a collection of modern buildings that nationally recognized prehistoric rock art expert Dr. Carolyn Boyd operates both as a base for ongoing research and as the setting for a unique school. With Shumla as an acronym, the school’s mission statement is "Studying Human Use of Materials, Land and Art."

Situated in one of the richest archeological areas in the world (with more than 2,000 recorded sites and more than 300 known pictograph sites), the non-profit Shumla School is a one-of-a-kind facility. Boyd, her staff and volunteers are using the study of ancient rock art and archeology as a way to engage not-so-easily-engaged children and to transform them into eager learners and problem solvers. 

Additionally, the Shumla school is a rock art research center gaining international attention. Three top scientists in the field of rock art who have lectured at the school – Dr. James Keyser, retired U.S. Forest Service archeologist; Dr. David Whitley of the Arizona State University and Dr. Jean Clottes of the French Ministry of Culture all have declared that the area around Shumla deserves inclusion in the United Nation's World Heritage List of 851 unique world-wide cultural or natural sites.

As for the surviving structures of the railroad era, Prewitt – president of the Shumla school’s board – hopes some individual or organization interested in railroad history can acquire the old Shumla depot before it is completely gone and restore it.

“We’d sure like to have it at the Shumla School,” he said.

© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales"
January 18, 2008 column
More Columns
Related Topics:
Texas Towns | Texas Ghost Towns | Texas |

















  • Central Texas - North
  • Central Texas - South
  • East Texas
  • West Texas
  • South Texas
  • Texas Hill Country
  • Texas Panhandle
  • Texas Gulf Coast

    Texas Towns A - Z

    Texas Ghost Towns

    Texas Architecture

    Texas Topics

    Columns - History/Opinion

  • All Texas Towns :
    Gulf Gulf Coast East East Texas North Central North Central Woutn Central South Panhandle Panhandle
    South South Texas Hill Hill Country West West Texas Ghost Ghost Towns counties COUNTIES


    Texas Hill Country | East Texas | Central Texas North | Central Texas South | West Texas | Texas Panhandle | South Texas | Texas Gulf Coast

    Texas Attractions
    People | Ghosts | Historic Trees | Cemeteries | Small Town Sagas | WWII | History | Texas Centennial | Black History | Art | Music | Animals | Books | Food
    COLUMNS : History, Humor, Topical and Opinion

    Courthouses | Jails | Churches | Gas Stations | Schoolhouses | Bridges | Theaters | Monuments/Statues | Depots | Water Towers | Post Offices | Grain Elevators | Lodges | Museums | Rooms with a Past | Gargoyles | Cornerstones | Pitted Dates | Stores | Banks | Drive-by Architecture | Signs | Ghost Signs | Old Neon | Murals | Then & Now
    Vintage Photos


    Privacy Statement | Disclaimer | Contributors | Staff | Contact TE
    Website Content Copyright Texas Escapes LLC. All Rights Reserved