History of Comanche County, TX

July 06, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

 

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Chief on Comanche Square 2019

Most who come upon it know that the name Comanche comes from the tribe of natives who once occupied the land, although few would be able to tell you just where the name Comanche comes from. In a town full of so many friendly faces it comes to be a bit ironic that the name comes from the Ute tribes word “kimantsi”, which translates to “enemy” or “stranger” (the former word being what the Comanches were to the Ute’s for many years). The Comanche tribe called themselves “numinu”, their word for people.

Today the residents of Comanche County work hard to preserve their history, and it shows. This article will serve as a virtual tour, showcasing a handful of the counties’ many historical markers, as well as a few of its more interesting historical details. 

It would be hard to discuss the history of the county without first mentioning the counties’ robust museum. 

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Comanche County Museum

 

This museum boasts over 30,000 square feet of history, featuring artifacts ranging back over 150 years. The staff at the museum has worked tirelessly to categorize the areas rich history, with rooms dedicated to historical periods, military heroes, and the communities that makeup the county.

Entrance of Comanche County Museum

As soon as you walk through the front entrance there are relics to examine, from blacksmithing tools and farm implements to an old Model T. This front open-air addition also features a Barber Shop scene before leading into a large and air-conditioned (important in the Texas heat) main building.

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Old Time Barber Shop

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Central Room of Comanche County Museum

Here you will find a giftshop, as well as a welcoming and informative staff. It quickly becomes apparent how much work has been put into making this counties history more accessible. This is a place to be experienced, and worth an article on its own. In the photo above you can see the massive flint display, featuring arrowheads of all shapes and sizes, spearheads, atlatl projectiles and myriad native tools (some you can even touch!).  

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John Wesley Hardin

There’s a room dedicated to the scene of the infamous John Wesley Hardin and his murder of Brown County Deputy John Webb (of which there’s an article about on this site). There are also books about the events surrounding the murder, as well as a wall of photos and paintings of the men involved. The staircase from the courthouse where the case was heard is also found in the museum. Outside you’ll find the base of the oak tree his brother and kin were hanged from in the aftermath of the shooting. 

 

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Jack Wright Saloon Diorama

 

You’ll also find dioramas of the Jack Wright Saloon and a Native American campsite. There’s a room dedicated to saluting our veterans, with uniforms from bygone eras as well as weapons and stories of the veterans that called Comanche County home. There’s a room featuring vintage doll houses, as well as many rooms explaining the histories of the many communities in the area. Geodes and petrified wood pair with an exhibit detailing the life of famed geologist Robert T. Hill. There are multiple attractions on the grounds of the museum, including an explorable 19th century log and stone cabin. Plans are in the works for an outside exhibit showcasing a few of the wooden bridges that once served the county, along with a butterfly garden. With so much to explore you owe it to yourself to visit this slice of Texas history, guaranteed that when you do, you’ll find much to experience and the friendliest of people. The museum is free to visit but I’d encourage you to buy a memento and maybe leave a donation, that way we can keep the history alive. For more information visit https://www.comanchecountytxmuseum.com/.

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The Fleming Oak, Comanche Square 2019

Heading back into town from the museum you’ll find the city square. The square is steeped in Texas history. You’ll find nearly a dozen historical markers, the oldest log-cabin courthouse in Texas, a guided audio tour, as well as memorials to veterans of law enforcement and war. The oak in the photo above is the Fleming Oak, a storied tree that’s been preserved through care and sheer shotgun stubbornness.

 

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Fleming Oak Historical Marker - 2019

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Old Cora Courthouse – 2019

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Old Cora Courthouse Historical Marker – 2019

In the areas adjacent to the new and old courthouse you’ll find a guide to the many attractions in the city, as well as many shops and highly regarded restaurants. Many of these establishments rest in buildings that have served the community for over a century, with many stories to be told. It’s a perfect place to spend an afternoon and evening.

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Robert Thomas Hill Historical Marker – 2019

Although briefly mentioned when speaking of the museum, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give Robert Thomas Hill and the history of geology in Comanche County a bit more light. Being a state steeped in oil, geology is a field of interest for many Texans. A man considered the father of Geology in our state made his first forays into the field while living in the little frontier town of Comanche. His tale of coming join his brother in Comanche and the events that detailed his life would make for an enthralling Hollywood biopic. He was first employed with his brother at the local paper, The Comanche Chief. They soon became co-editors, until 1882 when Robert found his way to Cornell University – at the behest of his friend the local barber.

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The Comanche Chief Historical Marker - 2019

The paper is the oldest business in the county, and one of the longest running papers in the state. Robert thrived in the world of words, as he was a man with an insatiable thirst for knowledge, as well as a curiosity all Texans owe for the knowledge it produced. He started his explorations on the local hilltop known as Round Mountain, and when he died his ashes were scattered there. The little mountain has history of its own, becoming the hiding place of John Wesley Hardin in 1874. 

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Round Mountain - 2019

 

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Little Girls Grave – CR 185 - 2019

 

Heading northward from town on a single lane dirt road you’ll find a memorial. This memorial has been kept and guarded since the 1870’s, for over a century it’s left many with more questions than answers. It sits just outside of the community of Sipe (pronounced Seep) Springs, a once bustling oil town.

Little Girl’s Grave Headstones

Amongst an eclectic offering of toys, flowers, stuffed animals and hundreds of pennies lie two headstones. The older looking of the two poses a simple question: Who is the little girl? Age 3, 1870. It’s said that in 1870 a family was traveling this trail westward when their child fell from the wagon, dying from head injuries. There’s also speculation she died from disease. Whatever befell the girl, she rests here now. A few years later a cemetery was established just a few miles away, but the girl remained. This is a story that has haunted and intrigued generations, so much so that the tradition of adorning this little one’s grave site still exists.  Today you can visit and pay your respects, leaving a penny and a thought. 

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Gravesite in Sipe Springs Cemetery

A few miles from the solemn marker of an unknown girl lie a brother and sister, the epitaph on their gravestones simply reading “Happy and gay, to school they went one day. But thank God they are not dead, Just away.” The two children that rest here were victims in one of the worst catastrophes in the history of Texas – the New London school explosion of 1937. New London was an area rich with the spoils of the oil boom that was taking place at the time – it was home to one of the wealthiest school districts in the nation. In 1932 a large school was constructed from steel and concrete, at the cost of 1$ million (closer to $18 million today). In the original design of the building there was to be a boiler and steam heating system installed in the large area beneath the school, the school board opting instead to install gas heaters throughout. A common practice of the time was for residents to tap into existing residue gas pipelines from the oilfield in order to take advantage of the natural gas that traveled through the pipes. This untreated gas was volatile, and odorless. A leak developed in the system, and before long the gas had filled the subterranean levels of the school. On the afternoon of March 18th, 1837 an instructor turned on an electric sander, igniting the gas. The reports of eyewitnesses record the walls of the school expanding, before the roof lifted from the building and collapsed upon itself. A two-ton piece of concrete was thrown 200 feet, smashing a nearby Chevrolet. The explosion was heard up to four miles away, alarming residents to head to the source of the sound. A massive rescue effort was undertaken, with Texas Rangers, the highway patrol, the Texas National Guard and even a local troop of Boy Scouts being summoned to the scene. At some point in the evening it began to rain, those involved in the rescue effort working tirelessly through it all. Seventeen hours later the site had been cleared. It’s estimated that there were over 600 people in the school that day and that only around 130 escaped without serious injury. Half of them did not survive. A young Walter Cronkite was called to the scene, later stating “I did nothing in my studies nor in my life to prepare me for a story of the magnitude of the New London tragedy, nor has any story since that awful day equaled it.” In the aftermath of the disaster the Texas Legislature began mandating that thiols be added to natural gas, the strong odor from which now makes leaks detectable.

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Mote Gravestone

Heading east from Sipe Springs you’ll find yourself in the second most populous city in the county, De Leon. This town has its own history as the peanut capital of the world, a crop turned to by local farmers after the drought and boll weevil devastation of the early 1900’s. This transformed the county from a cotton producing area to one of the largest producers of peanuts in the nation. 

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De Leon Peanut Company Historical Marker – 2019

The town was also bolstered by the Texas Central Railroad, which due to the creation of the Peanut Company later became known as “The Peanut Line”. The depot was created and Texas Central laid out the town on April 10, 1882. The town became the primary shipping point for cotton before turning to the peanut crop. From De Leon we’ll head first east and then south, to the community of Comyn.

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Comyn-Theney Historical Marker – 2019

Although little remains of the town that was Comyn, it was one of the first outlying communities to be established in the county after the removal of the Comanche in 1875. Here W.F. Catheney set out to make a thriving home for his family and friends, before having the town named for the man who built the railway depot. The school still bore Theney’s name. This community was neighbored by that of Jones Crossing, the birthplace of Lt. Governor Ben Barnes. Like many of the surrounding towns the area grew precipitously during the turn of the century oil boom, afterwards sharing much of the same declining fate. 

Jones Crossing Historical Marker – 2019

Although the historical marker is now housed in the county museum you can still visit Jones Crossing, a place still frequented for its fishing and scenery. This river no longer needs to be forded, as a bridge was constructed in 1899. On sunny afternoons you’ll find eager anglers hanging their fishing poles from its sides. 

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Jones Crossing – 2019

If you continue southward, you’ll find yourself crossing the bridge at Proctor Lake (which you can also find an article about on this site), named for the nearby town of Proctor. 

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Lake Proctor at Flood Level - 2016

The community of Proctor began as Mooresville, named for Thomas O. Moore who moved there in 1872, with his family behind back in Galveston. After returning to Galveston to fetch his family he found them ill and partnered with his friend Alexander Watson Proctor, sending him ahead to establish a mercantile building. As there was already a Mooresville in Texas, the town was eventually named Proctor. A building was erected for a post office in 1873, followed by a community center and school in 1876. The little town was moved in the 1890’s when the new Fort Worth Railroad missed the town by a mile, with Alex Chisholm buying the site for ranchland. 

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Mooresville Cabin – 2019

Today a relic from the original Mooresville can be explored at the Comanche County Museum. You’ll also find a historical marker detailing the life of Thomas Moore’s sister Mollie, a renowned poet, playwright and from all account’s a highly interesting woman. She also wrote what may be the most impartial history of John Wesley Hardin’s time in Comanche county. 

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Mollie E. Moore Historical Marker - 2019

So, this tour ends where it began. Although this list is far from exhaustive, I hope that it presents a few of the many reasons you may find yourself wanting to spend some time visiting Comanche County. There’s much to experience and much to learn, as well as ample opportunity to make a bit of history for yourself. Tell them I sent you!

 


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