in a Pecan Shell|
The town's namesake was William F. Barnhart, agent for the Kansas City, Mexico
and Orient Railway when it arrived in 1910. Two years later a post office was
granted as well as the first school (which closed in 1969). The Barnhart State
Bank (established 1920) moved to Rankin
in 1927. The town also had their own paper - named the Range.
50 residents in 1915, Barnhart reached its zenith in 1947 with 250 Barnharters.
In 1980 there were 74 citizens which has since increased to 105.
Mike Cox ("Texas
Dust, bawling cattle, hell-raising
cowboys and trains a half-mile long – that was Barnhart in the 1920s and ‘30s.
Once a bustling if miniature version of Fort
Worth, this unincorporated Irion County town is mighty quiet these days. The
population in 2009 was only 169, and Barnhart’s school closed in 1969. (If you
want big city life in these parts, go to the county seat of Mertzon,
Barnhart began when the Kansas City, Mexico and
Orient railroad cut through West Texas
in 1911. The name honored William F. Barnhart, the land agent who obtained the
right of way for the company’s tracks west of San
Because of the Orient’s location between major rail
lines on the north and south, Barnhart quickly became an important shipping
point for the vast chunk of real estate in between. Cattle
and sheep poured
out of West Texas on trains loaded
The town had everything the cowboys
and railroaders needed: A hotel, cafes, a bank and a theater. A weekly newspaper,
the Barnhart Range, provided the town with local news.
Given the remoteness
of West Texas, old-fashioned trail
drives continued to Barnhart long after their heyday elsewhere. In fact, all those
cattle coming through began to cause local ranchers problems. To protect their
pastures from over-grazing, ranchers started putting up more fences. That ended
what may have been one of the last semi-free range holdouts in Texas.
To get around the problem, the Ozona-Barnhart
Trap Co. was organized in 1924. A long, narrow swath of leased or purchased land
stretching 34 miles from south of Ozona
to Barnhart became Texas’ last major cattle trail, a corridor one newspaper labeled
“the world’s most unusual highway.” Along it acreage for a series of six “traps”
or pens – as important to cattle movement in those days as locks are to the Panama
Canal – was acquired by the company and fenced to hold traveling livestock.
company assessed five cents a head each night for cattle kept in one of the traps.
Sheep, for one cent a head, could also be kept overnight in the traps. All a trail
boss had to do was tell Ted Adkins, the company’ Barnhart-based weigher, how many
animals had stayed in a trap and pay him for that amount. No paperwork required.
If a sheep shipper needed help getting his animals motivated to board a train,
Adkins could furnish two lead goats – Lou and Whitney. Their follow-the-leader
services cost 50 cents a carload.
Meanwhile, the railroad constructed
large holding pens adjacent to its trackage at Barnhart. With ample infrastructure
to serve a rancher’s needs, sometimes
as many as three trail drives a day hit town while trains with as many as 75 cattle
cars hauled West Texas livestock to
its problems. In April 1934, the town’s former postmaster pled guilty in federal
court to “conversion of funds.” Barnhart, stuck pretty much out in the middle
of nowhere, definitely lacked in the law and order department.
point in 1934, the town solicited assistance from the brother of one of the state’s
best known peace officers, Texas Ranger Capt. Frank Hamer, to pacify its lawless
element. That man was Harrison L. Hamer, a former ranger and just about as quick
on the trigger as his older, more famous sibling. Frank Hamer had presided over
the bloody demise of the outlaw couple Bonnie
Parker and Clyde Barrow that May, but brother Harrison had laid low a badman
or two himself.
“Harrison is doing quite a bit of cleaning up in our town
among the trash,” wrote his sister Alicia Cumbie to their mother on Aug. 20, 1934.
“And they sure are getting hostile. This place sure needs someone to clean it
up but he is sure up against a tough dirty bunch. He has a bunch of them in jail
The bad guys may have been “a tough dirty bunch,” but Hamer, who
apparently only stayed in Barnhart a short time before returning to his home in
Del Rio, lived to old age and
died of natural causes. Though what Hamer did in Barnhart seems to have generated
practically no newspaper coverage, he evidently prevailed in restoring order.
was not Barnhart’s only problem in 1934. While that year the Associated Press
declared Barnhart the busiest livestock shipping point in the nation, not every
outbound train held jostling beeves. At the depth of the Depression, the federal
government had begun buying cattle and having them shot to reduce supply, hoping
to revive a market that had practically dried up. Ranchers got paid on the number
of cowhides they shipped out and sheep skinners made good money turning their
knives on dead cattle.
The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe eventually bought
out the Orient, but Barnhart continued to flourish as a cow town through the 1940s.
The advent of better roads and the widespread use of cattle trucks signaled an
end to Barnhart’s era as a major shipping center and 20th century Dodge City.
Tales" column ©
See Also: Texas Ranching
- Ranching, Cattle Drives, Cowboys & more
great grandma's grocery store. It was the Red and White and closed sometime in
the 1950s." - Lauren Miles.|
Did you know that Barnhart was the world's biggest livestock place to take your
animals on the train? If you go down there you will see the water tank that used
to give water to the steam engines. I got all of this from my grandma. She was
there. - Lauren Miles, June 01, 2007
My uncle Lloyd Chambers worked for the Santa Fe and lived in Barnhart. He had
four children. Janet, Betty and twins Steve and Cleve. During the 1960's my brother
and I would visit Barnhart for two weeks every summer. It was the greatest place
to spend a summer. There were dances at the old school on Saturday and going swimming
at Buck Owens' stock tank. It reminded me of the town in "To Kill a Mockingbird."
Everyone knew everyone and they weren't afraid for their kids to go see the neighbors.
We had the run of the town and had lots of fun. - Richard Chambers Snyder,
Texas, June 11, 2006
- Texas Escapes' 1,000th Town, first published November 16, 2004
Escapes, in its purpose to preserve historic,
endangered and vanishing Texas, asks that anyone wishing to share their local
history, stories, and vintage/historic photos of their town, please contact
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