the only critter that could get skinned on the High Plains if he wasn’t careful.
In 1877, when the Panhandle
still teemed with hundreds of thousands of shaggy-haired bison,
a young traveling salesman checked in with his home office at Galveston
by telegraph from Henrietta.
He worked for Leon and H. Blum, then the Southwest’s largest wholesaler of staple
and dry goods.
“They directed me to proceed to Tee
Pee City in Motley County to collect an account against Armstrong, who operated
a general store [there],” the one-time salesman later recalled.
in 1875 as a buffalo
hunter camp on the site of an old Comanche village on the east side of Tee Pee
Creek where it enters the middle fork of the Pease River, Tee
Pee City was one of the Panhandle’s
first settlements. Consisting of dugouts, tents and a few frame buildings, it
boasted a couple of saloons, a small hotel and one or two eating places not quite
refined enough to be called restaurants. In addition to booze, the saloons offered
girls and gambling. Finally, Tee
Pee City had one or two retail establishments, including the store operated
by Isaac O. Armstrong, the fellow whose account stood in arrears.
and his partner reported to Charles Rath and Lee Reynolds, traders who had hauled
everything it took to start Tee
Pee City from Dodge City, Kansas. Rath and Reynolds had since moved on to
the Clear Fork of the Brazos, where they had opened another buffalo hunter trading
nothing lay between Henrietta
and Tee Pee City but
open prairie, the salesman got a horse and a pack horse and rode northwest for
170 miles or so until he found the place.
“When I reached Tee
Pee City,” the salesman continued, “I found Armstrong had gone to Liberal,
Kansas with a load of buffalo
hides and to bring back merchandise. The smallpox was raging in the town, many
people suffering from the epidemic. I went down the creek about a mile and established
my camp and waited.”
Three or four days later, Armstrong returned from
his buying trip and the salesman hit him up about “the matter of settlement.”
Lacking any ready cash but having a small mountain of unsold buffalo
hides on his hands, Anderson cleverly – he thought – offered to pay off what he
owed in hides. Unfortunately, Anderson didn’t know what the salesman knew. Before
thanks to the telegraph, he had learned of a recent “sensational rise in the price
of buffalo hides.”
Realizing the hides in question would fetch a lot more than Anderson thought,
the salesman readily agreed to the merchant’s proposition. In fact, he later said,
“I bought all the hides he had…, gave him credit for the account he owed and wrote
a draft on the house [the Galveston jobber he represented] for the difference.”
The young salesman then chartered every available wagon in Tee
Pee City, all seven or eight of them, loaded them with the newly purchased
hides and headed east for the nearest market in Fort
Worth. Hurrying back to Henrietta
from the community that would later be known as Cowtown, the salesman wired his
company about the draft he’d writen.
“In the deal I made several hundred
dollars for my employers,” he said.
Barely a year later, most of the buffalo
had been killed or moved off and Tee
Pee City declined, though Armstrong continued to run his store until his death
in 1884. Tee Pee City
got a second wind when ranching
came to the South Plains as merchants realized cowboys could spend as freely on
booze and dance hall girls as the buffalo
Rowdy cowboys kept the Texas Rangers busy and greatly annoyed
the pious owners of the sprawling Matador
Ranch. When it got the opportunity in 1904, the ranch gladly bought the land
on which Tee Pee City
stood and quickly killed off the town.
The salesman who had skinned Anderson
in the financial sense was Sam Lazarus, a man who continued to demonstrate his
business acumen. Lazarus, who by then lived in St. Louis, told the Tee
Pee City story to G.E. Hamilton in 1921 on board his private railroad car
between Quanah and Roaring
Springs. Hamilton related the story to the editor of the Matador Tribune,
who published it. The reason Lazarus had his own railroad car was because he was
president of the Quanah, Acme and Pacific Railroad.