Museum Memories

Submitted by Lucille Glasgow
Courtesy of Clay County 1890 Jail Museum - Heritage Center


The following are "Museum Memories" from the archives of the the Clay County 1890 Jail Museum - Heritage Center, where a collection of stories, newspaper articles and memories are located.  These articles have been published in the Clay County Leader and are there for copyrighted by the Clay County Leader & authors.  All articles are reprinted with permission as well as the articles posted on this site.  Please do not copy or redistribute any articles without the written permission of the Clay County Leader or authors.

If you would like to visit the the Clay County 1890 Jail Museum - Heritage Center,
please contact Lucille Glasgow for more information about the museum.


This ran in "Museum Memories" in the Clay Co Leader in April and May, 2003.  It was also printed in the West Texas Historical Association Yearbook 2002.

Beneath Arrowhead's Waters:  The Story of Halsell, Texas

The waters of Lake Arrowhead on the Little Wichita River about twenty miles southeast of the city of Wichita Falls covered acres of prime grassland and farm land that once constituted the community of Halsell, Texas. Its story needs to be remembered.

Letís imagine for a minute what this part of Texas looked like in the 1850s. In few places, if any, can you now stand and be out of sight of barbed wire fences, cultivated fields, roads, dwellings, utility poles, and other trappings of modern life. You can still see boundless stretches of buffalo grass, mesquites, and other trees that grow along creeks. Many places are covered in tall bluestem, waving burnt orange in the fall that take my mindís eye back to the time when the first whites rode across this area and talked of grass up to their horsesí bellies - good cattle country.

Clay County was more or less a thoroughfare for the Comanche and Kiowa Indians on their raids into the more settled areas to the east and south, like Wise, Jack, Palo Pinto and Young Counties.

After the Legislature authorized the formation of Clay County in 1857, a few ranchers moved in and settled along the Little Wichita River. A few settlers built rude cabins at the present site of Henrietta and organized the county in 1860. When the soldiers left to fight in the Civil War, the Indians raided, burned the buildings and drove the inhabitants back to Montague and counties east, resulting in the de-organization of the county in 1863.

DDD cattle on a 150,000 to 200,000 acre spread from the Van Dorn crossing on the Little Wichita west and southwest up Lake Creek to Holliday Creek and thence north to the present site of Wichita Falls. The east line ran from the Van Dorn crossing north to the Big Wichita River and up that river to the present site of Wichita Falls. Headquarters were in a dugout along the Little Wichita. A series of line riders moved along the boundaries of the spread and worked the cattle toward the center to prevent their mixing with those of their neighbors.

Two of these line riders working for Waggoner were 18- year-old George Halsell of Wise County and Pete Harding. On June 21, 1866, they were coming back into camp just after sundown. About four hundred yards from camp they stopped to water their horses at a small lake. Suddenly a band of yelling Comanche Indians came from behind a small hill. George was riding a fine horse but Pete was on a slow pony. George ran ahead but held back when Pete yelled not to be forsaken. Georgeís horse reared and plunged because of the yelling and shooting and Peteís ran ahead. George was firing his six-shooter but one Indian shot him in the backbone with a rifle. As he ran full speed across the prairie the horse tried to leap a ditch, failed to make it and fell backward into the ditch. The Indians came up, killed and scalped George. Pete got ahead and by hiding in a small hole of water overhung with long grass and moss and surrounded by a brush thicket, escaped detection. The cowboys buried George in a shallow grave the next day. His body was returned to the home place near Decatur several weeks later.

About this same time the Halsell family established a ranch in Clay County northeast of the Waggoner ranch, headed by one of Georgeís brothers, Glenn Halsell. Some other well known rancher names from this area and period of time are Belcher, Worsham, Dale, Ikard, Curtis, Scaling, Webb, Doss and others.

The Comanches and Kiowas continued to raid across Clay County down into Wise, Jack and Young Counties in the 1870s before they were finally contained on the reservations in present-day Oklahoma. A Mr. Koozier was killed in the village of Henrietta and his family kidnaped for ransom in 1870. Also in 1870 about 300 warriors under Kicking Bird almost wiped out some fifty men of the 6th U.S. Cavalry under the command of Brevet Major G. B. McClellan near the burned-out village.

In 1873 Clay County was reorganized with Henrietta as the county seat. It was the center of the buffalo trade in the early 70's and settlers came into the county to establish profitable farms on the rich prairie lands. Colonel Henry Whaley, considered the first permanent white settler in the county, came in 1869 and had a large farm along the Red River in northern Clay County, where he grew oats to sell to the army at Ft. Sill. Benvanue was settled near there in 1876.

Charlie was settled in 1878 in the northwest part of the county between Red River and the Big Wichita River in an area with soil rich enough to grow the usual crops of small grains and cotton, as well as fruits and vegetables. It also became a place where Indians from the reservations around Ft. Sill came to trade.

Newport and Shannon were settled in the extreme southern part of the county in 1872 and 1876. Also, Joy and Prospect came into being in the south central part in 1880 and Bluegrove farther north toward Henrietta in 1882.

In the late 1870's a little community existed about three miles south of the later site of Halsell. Shilo had a post office and a stage way-station in the home of Oliver Blake. In the mid 1880s a school was built to accommodate the children of about ten families in a seven-mile radius.

The Fort Worth and Denver City Railroad came through Clay County in 1882. Bellevue was begun as a shipping point on the road in the southeastern side of the county and Jolly in the same year between Henrietta and Wichita Falls.

Barbed wire came into general use in the area in the late 1870s and brought about the end of the open range. Ranchers began to sell off acreage to settlers who moved in to establish farms of 160 to 640 acres to raise feed crops, cotton and livestock. The communities grew up around a general store, blacksmith shop, church, school and post office.

The town of Halsell was begun in the late 1890s in the west central part of the county, largely through the efforts and influence of Harry and Julia F. Halsell. Glenn Halsell had died in 1888 and left his nephew Harry as manager of the estate which included the ranch in Clay County. Harry married Glennís widow, Julia F. They had their home in Decatur, in Wise County, but they spent a lot of time in Clay County. Later, Furd Halsell, Glennís son, therefore Harryís cousin and also stepson, was the manager.

Harry Halsell was a religious cattleman in spite of his being raised on the wild frontier in Wise County, beginning in 1865, and on cattle drives, in cow camps, in Indian fights from there west through the most tumultuous days of ranching in the Ď70s, and Ď80s,

Mr. Halsell financed two camp meetings each year during the early 1900s. He had tents erected near the Little Wichita River and invited families from the community to move in without charge during the meetings. He also furnished abundant food free of charge. Later, he built two different Methodist churches.

Mr. Halsell built the first store, a general merchandising establishment, to supply the needs of the farmers and ranch hands. He also built substantial residences for some of his former longtime cowboys. All of these were built in the immediate vicinity of a small hill known as the "mountain," surrounded by sloping hills and valleys covered with tall purple sage grass, much of it disappearing under the plows of the new settlers. The Little Wichita River ran through one of the valleys west of the mountain.

This first store was run by Charlie Saunders, James Swepston, Mr. Lynch and Lon Gibson. Charlie Saunders was the first postmaster of Halsell, from June 26, 1901, to February 13, 1903, with the post office probably in the general store. He was followed by James Swepston until May 2, 1904, when Harry Halsell was in charge until March 1, 1906. Other postmasters were Alfred A. Gibson (1906-07), Robert L. Edwards

(1907-10), Andrew J. Jasper (1910-18), and James M. Gibson until the post office was discontinued and the mail sent to Henrietta March 31, 1919.

Land for the Halsell Cemetery was donated by August Grinke (1846-1923). The first person buried there was Mrs. Bertha Kosanke (b. 1862) on January 1, 1899.

In 1900 the Shilo School was destroyed by wind and was not rebuilt. Shilo District #23 became Halsell District #23 with school opening in 1901 in a one-room building on the town site, about five hundred yards southwest of the mountain near the Albert Grinke home with Miss Alice Long Tannihill, the teacher. Several years later the building was moved two hundred yards northeast and had a room added.

In 1913 a modern two-story, six-room building was constructed about three hundred yards southwest of the mountain. This building accommodated a peak enrollment of some one hundred fifty pupils, with three teachers, in the heyday of Halsellís existence between 1910 and 1918.

Typical of rural schools of those days, Halsellís had a single outdoor toilet for use by both boys and girls, with a sentry posted outside. A big coal-burning box heater stood in the middle of each room for heat. Drinking water was carried from a nearby farm house and dispensed from the bucket with a common dipper to the pupils up and down the aisles. Lunches were carried to school in syrup buckets. Discipline was maintained by means of the switch generously applied to the backside of the misbehaving pupil, right in front of the entire class. Recess time brought games of catch, tag, kick-the-can, annie over, and others. Many pupils played hooky on April Foolís Day.

Students walked, rode horse back or in a hack or buggy or home made cabs to get to school. Halsell had a stable for the horses during the school day.

Reading, writing and arithmetic were stressed in these rural schools, producing many brilliant students who went away to college or did well in many walks of life. Spelling bees were usually held on Fridays, and plays, skits and speeches were often performed for the public. The adults of the community also participated in literary meetings on Friday nights. Skits, readings and poems were presented and enjoyed by all.

Halsell had several families with musical talent and many singings were held in private homes around the community. They also had a brass band ensemble. A community Christmas tree and program were held at the school house each year. Box suppers were an important social event, usually to raise money for a worthy cause. The girls cooked a delicious meal and put it in a decorated box. The boys bid on the boxes, trying to be sure to buy the ones belonging to their sweethearts.

Halsell was connected to the outside world by a stage line running from Henrietta over to Archer City along the old Butterfield Trail. The Halsell Cemetery was known as the 13-mile marker between the two towns.

In 1909 a railroad, known as the Henrietta and Southwestern, running from Henrietta through Halsell, Scotland, and on to Archer City, was completed20. The engine on the run was dubbed the Boll Weevil and usually pulled one passenger car and one freight car. The first engineer and fireman were Clabe Long and Carl Hilgenfeld. When the bridge across the Little Wichita washed out in 1919, it was not replaced.21

In the ten years of the railroadís existence, Halsell blossomed. The general store was moved down next to the railroad tracks and operated by J. M. Gibson, Bob Edwards, and Clabe Edwards. Another store was added nearby, operated by W. H. Carson. This store was bought by Bob Cash and was the last business to operate in Halsell. At that time it was used as a domino parlor and grocery store combined.22

J. F. Gregg, ran a drug store and Homer Whitmire had a barber shop, followed by Bob Jasper and Harve Rollins. The lumber yard was operated by Mr. Seaver and the blacksmith shop by Mr. Staats. Charlie Davenport ran a gin along the railroad and a cotton buyer was there to purchase the farmersí crops. Stock pens were built for holding cattle to be shipped. Before the coming of the railroad to Halsell, cattle were driven across country to Henrietta to be shipped to market.23

Some of the old timers remembered a circus coming to Halsell several times to add to the community entertainments of fish fries, Saturday afternoon baseball games and ice cream socials. Halsell was also visited by bands of traveling gypsies. Hunting rabbits and other small game with greyhounds or coon hounds was enjoyed by the men and boys. Shared Sunday dinners and quilting bees were also popular pastimes. One of the favorites of courting couples was to go down to the loading dock to watch the train pull in.24

In 1923 a country fair was organized by county agents Beulah Bradle and T. B. Lewis. Home-canned foods and baked goods competed for prizes, along with clothing, antiques, livestock, chickens, hogs and crop samples. Speeches, music, dinner on the grounds, visiting, and a baseball game rounded out a successful community affair.

The first automobile was seen in Halsell in 1910, the first one owned in 1912 by W. H. Carson. It was put out by Studebaker and was called an E. M. F. It carried the same license number, #73, for several years.25

Halsell had three doctors, with Dr. Whitmire being there the longest. Like all country doctors, he made his rounds on horseback with his instruments and medicines in his saddle bags.

After the railroad ceased to operate and as automobiles became more numerous and better roads were constructed, the population of Halsell, like that of most other rural communities, continued to decline. The Methodist Church closed in the late Ď50s and the school was consolidated with Henrietta in 1943. Floreine Brown Laughon was the last teacher. The Bob Cash grocery store-domino parlor continued to operate until the mid Ď40s.26

In the 1960s, using eminent domain in the courts, the city of Wichita Falls purchased land along the Little Wichita River, including the town site of Halsell, upon which they built Lake Arrowhead. It was a sad time for the farmers and ranchers who had settled the land, built up the community and enjoyed the bountiful results of their hard work, but water for a thirsty urban community took priority over the rural landowners.

Halsell Cemetery was part of the land that would be under water, so the contents of the 128 graves had to be moved to other cemeteries, most to Hope Cemetery in Henrietta but others to Joy, Newport, Pleasant Mound, Whitehill, Bluegrove and Wichita Falls.27

By 1966 the waters of Lake Arrowhead began to cover the rich grassland and farms of the Halsell community. The houses had been moved or left vacant, the school, the church and the store likewise. Only the "mountain" remained above water as a reminder of the town that was no more.

The oil industry also flourished in the Halsell area. Today, the oil derricks still stand in the lake, too expensive to remove and good spots to tie up boats from which to fish.

Now, Wichita Falls has its water supply, Texas has its Lake Arrowhead State Park, and former residents of Halsell have their good memories of a vigorous, prosperous, peaceful community that nourished them in their youth. Now, speed boats zoom across the waters where once raced the ponies of the cowboys and the Indians.

 

Notes

1. William Taylor, A History of Clay County (Austin: Jenkins Publishing Co., 1972), 50.
2. John M.. Hendrix, "Texas Cow-Towns: Henrietta," The Cattleman, October 1941, 12.
3. H. H. Halsell, My Autobiography (Dallas: Wilkinson Printing, 1948), 17, and Judy Alter, "Harry Halsell: Genuine Cowboy," The Cattleman, June 1983, 113.
4. Taylor, 69.
5. Ibid., 74, and J. P. Earle, History of Clay County and Northwest Texas (Austin: The Brick Row Book Shop, 1900; facsimile ed. 1963), 7.
6. Taylor, 75.
7. Ibid., 75, 77.

8. "Postmasters by Post Office," "Shilo, Clay Co., Texas," Postmaster Tracking System, U. S. Postal Historian, Washington, DC.
9. Viola Blake Shepherd, member of Blake Family, interview by Peggy Shepherd, Bluegrove, Texas, 15 January 1990.
10. Taylor, 77.
11. E. K. Gray, "History of Halsell," (unpublished manuscript by early Halsell settler, 1962), 2, and Clay County Deed Records, bk. 65, p. 14 (1913), and bk. 49, p. 315 (1904).
12. Halsell, 194, and Clay County Deed Records, vol. X, p. 309 (1889).
13. Gray, 3.
14. Ibid.
15. Ibid.
16. "Postmasters by Post Office," "Halsell, Clay Co., Texas."
17. Mildred Wines, former resident of Halsell, interview by author, Henrietta, Texas, 24 February 2001, and Clay County Deed Records, bk. 37, p. 108 (1895).
18. Gray, 6.
19. Ibid., and Clay County Deed Records, bk. 65, p. 15 (1913).
20. Charles P. Zlatkovich, "Henrietta and Southwestern," Texas Railroads (Austin: University of Texas and Texas Historical Association, 1981), 87.
21. Gray, 5.
22. Ibid., 3.
23. Ibid., 5.
24. Nelson Hopkins, former resident of Halsell, interview by Mildred Wines, Henrietta, Texas, 23 February 2001.
25. Gray, 5.|
26. Florene Brown Laughon, interview by Mildred Wines, Henrietta, Texas, 23 February 2001.
27. Paul Hawkins Funeral Home records of moving Halsell Cemetery remains, Henrietta, Texas, 1966.

Bibliography

Alter, Judy. "Harry Halsell: Genuine Cowboy." The Cattleman (June 1983): 112-115.

Deed from Edwards & Stokes to Halsell School District No. 23 trustees, Lots No. 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 in Block
     6 in the Edwards & Stokes Addition to the town of Halsell. Filed in bk. 65, p. 15, Clay County Deed
     Records
, 8 October 1913.

Deed from National Bank of Kansas City to Julia F. Halsell, land in Clay County on waters of Little Wichita
     River, 1254.7 acres out of the Wm. Walker survey and 741 acres out of the Mial Scurlock Patent. Filed in
     Vol. X, p. 309, Clay County Deed Records, 28 September 1889.

Earle, J. P. History of Clay County and Northwest Texas. Austin: The Brick Row Book Shop, 1900; facsimile
     edition 1963.

Gray, E. K. "History of Halsell." Unpublished manuscript by early settler of Halsell. ca. 1962.

Halsell, H. H. My Autobiography. Dallas: Wilkinson Printing Co., 1948.

Hawkins Funeral Home records of moving of Halsell Cemetery remains. Henrietta, Texas, 1966.

Hendrix, John M. "Texas Cow-Towns: Henrietta." The Cattleman XXVIII (October 1941): 11-37.

Hopkins, Nelson. Interview by Mildred Wines, Henrietta, Texas, 23 February 2001.

Laughon, Florene Brown. Interview by Mildred Wines, Henrietta, Texas, 23 February 2001.

Patent from Gov. of Texas J. S. Hogg to August Grinke, 101.1 acres of land situated on the waters of the
     Little Wichita River about 11 miles southwest of Henrietta. Recorded in bk 37, p. 108, Clay County Dee
     Records
, 29 January 1895.

Plat of original town of Halsell and plat of Edwards & Stokes Addition to Halsell. Recorded in bk. 65, p. 14,
     Clay County Deed Records, 8 October 1913.

"Postmasters by Post Office." "Halsell and Shilo, Clay Co., Texas." Postmaster Tracking System, U.S. Postal
     Historian, Washington, DC.

Power of Attorney from H. H. Halsell and wife Julia F. Halsell to John Gose to sell certain subsections of
     land in Clay Co. together with the unsold lots in the town of Halsell, sections nos. 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, and
     24. Recorded in bk. 49, p. 315, Clay County Deed Records, December 1904.

Shepherd, Viola Blake. Interview by Peggy Shepherd, Bluegrove, Texas, 15 January 1990.

Taylor, William. A History of Clay County. Austin: Jenkins Publishing Co., 1972.

Wines, Mildred. Interview by author, Henrietta, Texas, 24 February 2001.

Zlatkovich, Charles P. "Henrietta and Southwestern," Texas Railroads. Austin: University of Texas and Texas
     Historical Association, 1981, p. 87.

 

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