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
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
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
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
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.
1. William Taylor, A
History of Clay County (Austin: Jenkins Publishing Co., 1972),
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.
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
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,
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,
Alter, Judy. "Harry
Halsell: Genuine Cowboy." The Cattleman (June 1983):
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
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
Gray, E. K. "History of
Halsell." Unpublished manuscript by early settler of Halsell.
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
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
Little Wichita River about 11 miles
southwest of Henrietta. Recorded in bk 37, p. 108, Clay County
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
"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
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.