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 Texas : Features : Columns : History by George
by Louise George
Louise George
Author: Personal interviews with Texas Panhandle men and women born in the early years of the twentieth century rewarded me with hundreds of stories illustrating their everyday life. I like to share those stories just as they were told to me.
These days, it’s easy to get from here to there – and fast! We can have breakfast at home, drive an hour to get to the airport, fly to any point in the country – New York, Miami, San Francisco – and be there in plenty of time for dinner. And for the most part, the vehicles that take us to our destinations are quite comfortable – nice soft seats, controlled temperatures, maybe some good music and a snack or two along the way while we’re zipping along the highways or streaking through the skies. People who grew up in the early 1900’s either walked, rode on a horse or in some sort of wagon, and if they were really lucky, on longer trips they traveled by train. They could not have imagined how easy our going from place to place would be. On the other hand, we can only try to imagine how difficult their travel was. For instance, imagine riding in the bed of a wagon over a bumpy trail across the prairie hour after hour under a blazing sun, or in a sudden downpour, a dust storm or a cold winter’s wind, with only an old quilt to sit on or use as a shield against whatever elements the weather threw at you. Add three or four irritable siblings and tired, grumpy parents and for a child it must have been sheer torture. It wasn’t always so miserable, though. Sometimes, there was fun and excitement involved in their travel. These folks remember.

Ada Hutton was born in Fargo, Oklahoma in l897. Her father, who worked primarily in railroad construction, moved his family frequently in order to go where there was work. In her own words she tells about traveling in a covered wagon in about 1904.

“We lived in Fargo for a while and then my father got a job in Trinidad, Colorado, and he talked my mother into going up there. So, we went up there in a covered wagon. I was too young to remember that, but we lived up there for a while, and my father worked up there and when he got a little money saved, then we got in the covered wagon and went to Dalhart because there was work there. I remember a little bit about that trip.

“Life in a covered wagon? Well, there wasn’t anything real exciting about it. We just rode in the wagon all morning and we’d get out and eat our lunches and then we rode in the wagon some more. There were lots of wagons on the road, drawn with horses and mules, and we met lots of people along the way, some were farmers and some weren’t. We carried food with us to cook. It took a long time to cook anything out like that. It took a long time to get anywhere too, but we finally got to Dalhart. I don’t remember how many days it took us, but it seemed like a long time.”

Buck Buchanan was born in 1908. While he was still quite young, his family moved to Texas. His father came first to get settled in his new business and find a house for the family. Buck tells how the rest of the family traveled to their new home.

“My parents were married in Erick, Oklahoma, and Dad filed on a claim there in Indian Territory. You had to live on a place three years to live out the claim. After Dad lived out the claim, he traded the land for the newspaper at Old Hansford. Old Hansford was on Palo Duro Creek about five and a half miles from where Spearman is now. There wasn’t any Spearman then. I remember Mother, my brothers, J.B. and Monroe, who was just a baby, and me riding in a mail hack to Old Hansford. We rode the train to Guymon and then we rode in the mail hack. That was before cars, and riding in the mail hack was the only we had of getting there. Back then, you could pay so much to ride with the mail man. I don’t remember how much it was, of course.”

Cindy Kennedy, one of four girls, lived on a farm near Wildorado. Family trips to Amarillo were in a wagon. Cindy remembers how good it was to get home.

“We used to pick up bones and iron, and we had a wagon we put that stuff in. When we got enough bones and iron, we’d go to Amarillo and sell it. It was cow bones and I guess it could have been buffalo bones. I don’t know how long they had been there. It was just stuff laying out on the prairie. The money we got was used for things we needed.

“I remember how my legs would blister in the afternoon going home, because we’d be going west. We didn’t wear pants then, just dresses. It was about twenty miles home. When we came to Amarillo and were going home, we went through Soncy, and then we went through Bushland, and then we came to the house on the hill, and went over the hill, and went down the hill pretty fast and then we were home. We always looked forward to the hill.”

Zuleika O’Daniel grew up on a farm located southwest of Hart and about twenty miles from Tulia. Zuleika spent many hours in the saddle going to school and riding pasture, but when the family went to Tulia, they took the wagon.

“The first trip I remember going to Tulia, it was in a wagon and it took all day. Then we spent the night and got our groceries and everything together the next day, and then the third day we went home. It took all day. We didn’t have roads and lanes to follow like we do now. We’d just cut across pastures and open peoples’ gates and go on through and close them and then angle across that section of land and open another gate. We didn’t have square corners to turn like now. We just angled across pastures.

“The first time I remember going to church it was in a wagon, and it was cold. In winter a lot of times you didn’t go and a lot of times when you did, you sat down in the bottom of the wagon on a quilt because you’d freeze to death up in the seat. It took a while to get there too, because it was about four miles to church.”

Mable Stockton was a year old in 1907. That was the year her parents, with their five daughters, moved to a farm ten miles east of Amarillo.

“My father loved horses and animals and he was so good to them. His stock was just kept first class all the time, whatever he had. All of us girls rode horses and donkeys. We had a donkey to ride to the mail box. We’ve got a picture somewhere of all of us trying to get on that donkey at once, all five of us.

“That song about the surrey with the fringe on the top, we had one of them. That was our Sunday-go-to-meeting buggy. And, it was great. We had a lot of fun when we went to the fair. Mama would prepare all the meals and we’d all pile in that surrey and go spend the whole day at the fair. It was a lot of fun. I look back at those days and that was something great. Of course, you didn’t have much entertainment on the farm. They were so busy working all the time.”

Foy Dawkins, age 96, grew up near Goodnight, Texas. His father was a fairly successful farm and ranch owner and the family enjoyed the security of that position during the early years of the depression. Foy spent a good portion of his young life in the saddle and from that viewpoint witnessed the plight of some people who weren’t as fortunate as his family.

“We rode horseback to school and on the railroad between us and the school house, I’ve seen many and many a guy riding the rails under them cars. Then, they wouldn’t let people ride inside the boxcar, but they’d crawl in under the car and ride on some iron rods. I don’t remember exactly how it was, but you could see them in under there. They couldn’t get off until the train stopped. They might go plumb out to New Mexico before they could get off. Sometimes those guys would get in boxcars and they’d kick them off. Sometimes when the trains were rolling, they’d kick them out of there, bulls, they called them bulls, the railroad police. During the depression, there were numbers of them riding those cars. You’d see as many as fifteen of them riding a flat car. Those were rough times. They were looking for a job, most of them, but some of them were just going places. I never done that in my life, but I used to want to. I was afraid to.”

Ola Covey, of Pampa, was born in 1906 and grew up in the small town of Mena, Arkansas. In her own words she shares the excitement of traveling on the train when she just a girl.

“I remember the trips we took to Washburn, Missouri to see my Grandfather Hoog. We’d go up there on holidays and all. It wasn’t far and we’d go on the train. I loved to travel on the train. We’d always want to get by the window and we’d have the window open and the sparks would fly and sometimes you’d get the cinders in your eyes and it would get your clothes all black from the cinders that come off the fire from the engine, but I liked it just the same. We liked it real well, travel on the train. Of course, it seemed like quite a journey in those days. Well, it was quite a journey. The mileage wasn’t so far, but it took us quite a while.

“I never did get to go up in the engine room or anything like that, but I told you about riding the caboose up in the cupola on the freight train there from Mena, didn’t I? No? Well, I’d better tell you about that. Aunt Dossie fixed us a basket lunch one time and I went with Uncle Date, his name was Dayton, but he was called Date, when he was going on his run. We rode up in the cupola on the caboose. I remember real well how that train sounded, too. That clackety-clack was pretty loud back there in the caboose where we were at the very end of the train. It was rough, but I didn’t care. We had our lunch up there, fried chicken and fruit and everything. I’ll tell you right now, you talk about kids getting to ride their first ride in the airplane – that’s nothing compared to that ride up there in that cupola on the train. It was a great experience. I’ve never forgotten that. It was just wonderful.”

Mable said their Sunday-go-to-meeting surrey was great and Ola told us her ride on the train was a great experience. Foy admitted he secretly yearned to hitch a ride on a train. However, it is unlikely that their pleasant recollections would inspire anyone looking at the whole picture to want to return to the ways they had to travel from place to place.
© Louise George
History by George - April 17, 2005
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This page last modified: April 17, 2005