Hico, TX: The Business Emporium

by Michael Leamons
(Page 2 of 6)


Pioneer Days


Old Hico Historical Marker
On south side of FM 1602 just west of Honey Creek.


Hico is situated in a region of mixed woodlands and prairies which, reportedly, when encountered by early explorers was "...covered with flowers nearly every season of the year" and was known to the Comanches as "Teha Lanna" or "Land of Beauty".[3] To those who followed, it was known as "the Grand Prairie" or, more specifically, as the "Lampasas Cut Plain" portion of that prairie.[4] The first white settlers arrived around 1854. By 1856, several families had established homesteads in the vicinity of Honey Creek [5] in the northeastern corner of what, two years later, would be formed into Hamilton County from portions of Comanche, Bosque and Lampasas Counties.[6] Those first settlers, the Fuller*, Malone, Anderson, Steen, Barbee, [5] Boykin, Medford, Norris and Self families[7], didn't receive much of a welcome---severe drought gripped the area in 1856 and 1858.[8]


Zachariah Hardin
Zachariah "Zack" Medford, came prior to 1854.


Among those contending with the drought was the Zachariah Medford family, which had settled in a log cabin on the north bank of the Bosque River, about a block west of the present-day Highway 281 Bridge. Pioneer families tended to be large; Zachariah's was exceptionally so. On the frontier, it was common when a spouse died, for the surviving spouse to remarry. Such was the case with Medford, who ended up having 3 wives, who bore him 23 children. The first child was born when Zachariah was 21, the last, when he was 61.[9] When the moon was bright, the Medfords would conceal their horses in the thicket where City Park is now located because, "The Indians would make their raids on moonlight nights, but were afraid to enter a thicket after dark."[8] The land where the cabin stood was originally patented by the Republic of Texas to James Hollingsworth, who assigned the claim to Shewbael (Shubal) Marsh on Feb. 6, 1846.[10] Shubal, one of the "Original 300" of Austin's Colony, had come to Texas from Maine in 1824.[11] In 1856, when Marsh's will was probated, a portion of the property was conveyed to his daughter, Annie. Still a minor, Annie leased the property to Medford and later sold it to his son, "Holl".[10] Medford may have been leasing the property from Shubal, as well, because a daughter, Mary Ellen, was born to the Medfords in the Hico vicinity on December 11, 1853.[12] Neither Shubal nor his daughter, Annie, ever lived in Hamilton County; however, another daughter, Abbie (Grubbs), later settled on her portion of the Hollingsworth patent.


A few years after the Medfords' arrival, in 1860, newlyweds J. R. and Martha Malone Alford moved into the community from Freestone County with a small stock of dry goods and opened a store. Sometime during those early years, probably with the opening of Alford's store, the settlement came to be known as "Honey Creek Trading Post". That name, however, didn't last long. A weekly mail route passed near the trading post, as horseback deliveries were made from Meridian to Resly's Creek, Cora (the original county seat of Comanche County) and Brownwood[7]. Since there wasn't a post office at the trading post, however, the rider didn't stop. To improve their situation, the settlers asked Alford to petition the appropriate authorities in Washington, D. C. for a post office. A name had to be submitted with the petition; postmaster-to-be Alford chose "Hico", the name of his hometown in Kentucky. The petition was granted, and the new post office opened for business on October 4, 1860. Together, the Hico and Hampton (opened in 1859 and re-named "Hamilton" in 1874) post offices[8] served the county's 489 residents.[13]


Dr. J. R. Alford
J. R. Alford, many years later.


Most of the early settlers made their living ranching, "...though some wheat, corn and tobacco were cultivated."[5] A few engaged in trade, freighting supplies in from Waco. "...these trips were made in large covered wagons with two, two-mule teams or horse teams. Ike Malone, Sr. [Martha Alford's father] was the most prominent 'freighter' and he made regular trips to Waco and back to Hico, Comanche and Brownwood. Besides beef and hides that he carried to Waco, there was some cotton to be carried...On his return trip he would bring sugar,coffee, flour, salt and other commodities."[8](Per J. J. "Mage" Smith, by wagon, the trip to Waco took 3 days.)[14]


The establishment of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in 1861 suggests many of the early settlers were Baptists. Isaac Reed was the first pastor.[8] "Affectionately known as 'The Old Irishman,' Reed normally carried a six-gun for protection and road horseback to his various preaching appointments. Often during church his gun and Bible would be laid side-by-side." [15] (In 1838, Reed's paternal grandfather, namesake and predecessor in the ministry had been instrumental in organizing the Old North Baptist Church near Nacogdoches, purportedly the oldest continuously functioning Baptist Church in Texas.) [16]


Evidently, early-on, provisions were made for educating the community's youth. Patillo Fuller (head of one of the families listed on the Old Hico Historical Marker)* is documented as having taught school in 1860 in a one room log structure where, "The seats were made of split postoak logs, and the pupils worked at tables made of pine, with tallow candles used for lighting purposes on dark, early winter days."[17]


Oldest House in Hico


The settlers were faced with numerous hardships. In an 1861 letter to the editor, one Hamilton County resident lamented, "Some of our citizens are doing without bread and have no money to buy it. The fact is there is no money in the county."[18] In addition to the privations of frontier life, the county's pioneers were confronted by the isolation created by a primitive transportation system, financial losses to cattle rustlers and the dangers posed by some of the indigenous peoples. The nearest Indian tribes, the Waco, Tawakoni and Tonkawa[6] were generally friendly. The same could not be said of the Comanche, whose homeland, the Comancheria, extended across some 240,000 square miles of prairie to the west and northwest of Hico.


Map of Comancheria
Comancheria


Frontier Militia Companies


In 1860, responding to reports of increasing Indian hostilities, Governor Sam Houston ordered local militias be formed in the frontier counties. Later, when the War Between the States broke out, to maintain those militias men on the frontier were exempted from service in the Confederate Army. There were two units in the area, and Hico men served in both.[5]


Emotions Run High on Secession


On February 23, 1861, Texas conducted an election on the question of secession. Statewide, the motion carried by a 3 to 1 majority. In Hamilton County, the vote was 86 "for" and 1 "against".[19] The author of the previously cited letter to the editor was of the opinion, "There would have been no vote against seccession, if the voter had understood the matter."[18] A week prior to the vote, the citizens of Hamilton County had been called together for a "Mass Meeting" to consider a report that the Chief Justice (the office now referred to as County Judge) of Hamilton County, James A. McBarron, Esq., was an abolitionist. Reportedly, 2/3rds of the county's residents were present, and many wanted to hang the Chief Justice; though invited to the meeting, for some reason, McBarron chose not to attend. A jury of 12 was appointed and, after hearing the evidence, concluded that McBarron was "an Abolitionist and a dangerous man" and required him "...to leave our county, in the space of five days or else abide the verdict of an indignant community". Fifty-five of those present signed the verdict, which was adopted "without a dissenting voice."[20] Demonstrating "discretion is the better part of valor", McBarron chose not to appeal the decision and departed for regions unknown. Perhaps having been born in Pennsylvania to Irish immigrants, McBarron was opposed to slavery; nevertheless, he proved loyal to Texas. As a member of the Texas 23rd Cavalry, he perished in 1864 in the Red River Campaign, leaving behind a widow and young son.[21]


The County's next Chief Justice, Dr. William B. Reed (not a trained physician---more an herbalist), was a member of the Hico community and the father of Pastor Isaac Reed. Since he was one of the few slave holders in the county, the voters didn't have to worry about him harboring "dangerous abolitionist" sentiments. While in office, Reed and his son, Pleasant, volunteered for a 3 month stint in the Confederate Army and were stationed in Galveston. They were discharged, but then called back. While at home on leave in early 1863, apparently, both fell victim to a smallpox epidemic[22] which took a heavy toll as it swept through the county.[8]


A Different Kind of Indian Encounter


Many of the settlers' encounters with the Comanche ended in tragedy. One, in the fall of 1863, didn't. Patillo and Henry Fuller and some of the other men of the community had gone on a hog hunt. One evening while in search of their camp, young Ship Tabor, unexpectedly, rode into the midst of some Indians skinning a beef. Knowing how they loved horses, Ship sent his horse towards the Indians and shinnied up a tree. "The Indians then began riding around the tree, yelling like demons and using their bows in a manner indicating their intention to shoot him. He would present his gun, when they would laugh and jabber in great glee. He said it might have been fun for them but it was a serious thing for him." The Indians took his horse and left. By then, night had fallen. Afoot, Ship made his way through the darkness to the home of Dr. Reed's widow. When the men returned from their hog hunt, "Uncle Henry Fuller, who was a very religious man, said to him, 'Ship, did you think about praying?' Ship replied, 'Uncle Henry, I would have prayed, but I was afraid to shut my eyes, for fear the d----d things would catch me.'"[23]


The Battle of Dove Creek


Though the conflict occurred not far from present-day San Angelo, Postmaster Alford and other members of the area militias were called upon to respond to some Indian movements which culminated on January 8, 1865 in the Battle of Dove Creek , "one of the most controversial conflicts in the annals of Texas Indian warfare."[24] Unfortunately, the militia, along with a contingent of Confederate regulars, were led into battle by one, misguided and obstinate, Capt. Fossett of the Confederate Frontier Regiment,[25] against some 700 peaceful Kickapoo, including women, children and old people. To avoid trouble, the Kickapoo had been keeping well to the west of the settled areas of Texas as they travelled from their home in Southern Kansas to a new home in Mexico, where some of their fellow tribesmen had already settled.[26] The tribe had secured permission from landowner R. F. Tankersley to make camp on the banks of Dove Creek, in return for the favor, they retrieved some of Tankersley's horses that had gone missing.[25] In the early stages of the conflict, it was "...reported on good authority that an Indian 'went out from the encampment with two children to Captain Fosset...and unarmed with his hand raised' informed the captain that 'they were friendly Indians.' In reply Fossett told the Indian that he recognized no friendly Indians in Texas 'and thereupon ordered him shot.'"[24]


Alford described the ensuing conflict: "After four days we came upon them camped in a thicket on Dove Creek...We found the Indians in their wigwams not suspecting any trouble until we began firing on them...After fighting about one hour and they getting the best of it and killing and wounding several of our men, we were ordered to fall back..."[27] Having lost most of their horses and leaving most of their possessions behind, the Kickapoo escaped into Mexico, suffering 15 fatalities, while their attackers suffered 25. "It was a battle that embittered the Kickapoo for many years to come as they made cross border raids from Mexico into Texas looking for retribution."[25]


The fatalities and defeat suffered during the battle were but the beginning of the militia's woes. Following their dismal encounter, with only 1 blanket each, the men faced a long, cold, wet and miserable night. The dead had been left on the battlefield, and the supply wagons were 30 miles away. About midnight, the rain turned to snow. One account reports snowfall of 12" to 14",[24] while another reports 2' to 3'. Looking back from 1927, one eyewitness claimed it was the "...worst snow storm that we have any history of in these parts."[23] That next morning, they tried to leave, but the snow was too deep. A number of horses were killed to stave off starvation. The second morning after the battle, the militia began the long trek home, using mules equipped with make-shift travois constructed of poles, rope and wet blankets for transporting the wounded. On the third day, they encountered the supply wagons. A week after the battle, they finally made it to the settlements on the Concho, stopping at the ranch of John Chisum (the soon-to-be New Mexico cattle baron whose path would cross that of Billy the Kid) near the confluence of the Concho and Colorado Rivers (where Lake Ivie now is). The wounded who had died during the journey were buried at Chisum's before the men headed-out on the final leg of their journey home.[24]


Several factors contributed to the unexpected turn of events at Dove Creek, but one is quite surprising---the militia were out-gunned. In Kansas, the Kickapoo had assisted the Union Army with some engagements against Indian tribes friendly to the Confederacy and had been equipped with Enfield rifles[28], while, per one of the Confederate regulars, the "...flop-eared militia, as we called them, were armed with all kinds of firearms, shotguns, squirrel rifles, muskets and pistols."[24]


Post-War Indian Troubles


Hamilton County experienced numerous Indian troubles during the first 16 months following the War: "...three people were killed, two wounded, and one child captured and then reclaimed. Four cattle and 215 horses were stolen." [29] The most notorious of these incidents occurred in July, 1867 when a band of Comanches led by a red-headed, white man attacked the school at Warlene Valley on the Leon River. (School was held during warm weather due to the difficulty in heating the primitive schoolhouse.) Shot through with numerous arrows, schoolmarm Ann Whitney died as she helped her students escape. One of them, Olivia Barbee of Hico, who had been boarding with a nearby family so she could attend school , was captured, but slid off her captor's horse, when he was distracted, and hid in some dense underbrush. [8]


"In 1869 [when Ike Malone and John Quincy Anderson were sent to represent Hico's Mt. Zion congregation at the organizational meeting of the Paluxy River Baptist Association] the danger of Indian attack made it necessary for all of the messengers to keep their pistols strapped to their waists and to post a guard on their horses. Following the Sunday evening service the Puluxy community was raided by Indians who stole horses. On Monday morning the visiting messengers assembled just long enough to adjourn before rushing home to protect their own families."[5] As the area became more settled, the frequency and intensity of the Indian raids diminished. The last raid in the Hico area occurred in 1875 when some horses were stolen at Martin's Gap.[29]


Is There A Doctor in the House?


Dr. H. A. J. Snellings Capt. "Rube" Segrist
Dr. H. A. J. Snellings & Bro-in-law Capt. "Rube" Segrist


For all practical purposes, prior to 1870 the answer would have been, "No." Shortly thereafter, Dr. Henry Andrew Jackson (H.A.J.) Snellings, the first professionally trained physician, showed-up in Hico, where he practiced medicine until his death in 1890.[30] He had attended Southern Botanico-Medical College in Macon, Georgia.[31] (Accompanying Snellings on the move to Hico were his sister and brother-in-law, Captain "Rube" and Mattie Snellings Segrist, whose family still possesses their original homestead.) Although this next physician didn't arrive in Hico proper until 1895, Dr. James Hopkins Wysong, who had studied medicine at Tulane, began his medical career in 1873 in neighboring Bosque County.[32] In June of 1875, Wysong, J. A. Alford and 20 others went before the examining board of physicians in Meridian. Alford obtained his license, practiced medicine for the next 40 years[33] and operated pharmacies in both Hico and De Leon. [34]


The Alford Safe
1850's safe in City Hall vault bought from Alford for $100 in 1903.


Hico in 1870


From 1860 to 1870, the county's population had increased by only 244, to 733.[13] The previously mentioned small pox epidemic hadn't helped. Tom Stinnett provides this glimpse of Hico as it appeared when his family arrived in 1870: "In those days there were no roads to speak of, we just traveled in the general direction of Hamilton until we got to Clifton, and from there a road led to Old Hico...There were two small stores at Old Hico when we arrived there, which carried a few supplies. Uncle Ike Malone and Faggard and Day owned the stores. A man named Clemens owned a saloon, and 'Rocky' Martin kept a hotel. This hotel consisted of one big log room, with a shed room across the back, and a cabin in the back yard for a dining room and kitchen. Many were the travelers who stopped at this pioneer inn, for it was on the main trail leading to West Texas, and at this time there were many people from the East going West."[35]


Tom Stinnett family
Tom Stinnet Family courtesy of Great Grandaughter Pat Ross.


Outlaws and Frontier Justice


Stinnet went on to reveal worries over hostile Indians were being replaced with worries over outlaws, "...at times things got rather rough. Several men were killed while we were living there. Father [Capt. Rufus Stinnet] served as justice of the peace from 1872 until he died in 1894. W. H. Fuller [Patillo's son] was the first deputy sheriff appointed at Old Hico and he and my father were 'the law' for a good many years."[35] According to local historian, Oran Jo Pool, "In the early seventies, the lawless element [in Hamilton County] became so bold that the district judge had to be escorted in and out of Hamilton with armed deputies."[36]
This account, as well as a later one describing freighter Ike Malone's encounters with outlaws, can be found in "Ike Malone, Westerner" : "Once several desperados hijacked Ike's freight wagon near Iredell at Johnson's Peak. They stole his team of horses, his money, and his boots. Ike walked barefoot more than ten miles back to town, rounded up a posse, and chased down the bandits near Gatesville. The posse took the men back to Hico and hanged them, then wrapped the bodies in a wagon sheet and buried them in a single grave some fifty feet from 'respectable people.' Ironically, the bandits have the best grave marker in the cemetery; it prominently bears the names of the owners of the wagon sheet and of those who paid for the marker."[29]


Horse Thieves Tombstone Old Hico Cemetery
Tombstone in Old Hico Cemetery


J. J. "Mage" Smith, whose family moved to Hico from Arkansas in 1874, spoke of another hanging on Gilmore's Creek just west of Carlton involving 3 alleged horse thieves. Per Smith, the 3 were hung on the same limb, and their combined weight caused the limb to sag enough to where the toes of the end thief touched the ground. He "...quit kicking, then cut himself free after the crowd left."[14] The survivor later described the harrowing incident in a sworn affidavit: "After the men left I cut one of the men down, he was dead. I wish I had cut the other poor fellow down as he might have lived, but I was scared."[37]


Captain J. C. Huchingson, who also came to Hico in 1874, claimed during those early days there were "...many cattle thieves..." and "...there was more booze drunk then than now and there were more drunk men. Rough men would sometimes ride in and 'shoot up the town.' At different times they entered his store and shot up through the ceiling. At that time they knew nothing of the 'parole system.' There was a 'business committee' to take men out and hang them or shoot them if they had committed crime."[7]


First Round in the Alcohol Tug-of-War


Perhaps the rowdiness described by Huchingson explains why, in 1875, citizens of Hamilton and Lampasas counties, respectively, petitioned the Texas Constitutional Convention for a "local option" to prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages. Their request was granted. It was the beginning of a protracted tug-of-war between "pro" and "anti" alcohol forces within the community which continues to this day.[38]


Trading Post Days Left Behind


The population of Hamilton County, including Hico, surged during the 1870's as residents of the Deep South, like the Huchingsons and Smiths, sought to escape the economic and political hardships of Reconstruction. The new settlers brought many more acres into production. During the decade, the population increased almost nine-fold, from 733 to 6,365, and the acreage under production experienced a similar increase.[6] This period gave rise to the cattle drives so often portrayed in "Westerns," as Texas cattle were driven to railheads in Kansas and, then, shipped to markets in the East. Cattle from Hico were driven over a branch of the Chisholm Trail which exited the county just west of Carlton.[36] According to Stinnet, "That was a cowman's paradise in those days. Grass was knee-high to a man anywhere on the prairie and curly mesquite grass covered the valleys. Great herds of cattle were driven out every year. The young men of the settlement went up the trail every spring and got back home by fall."[35]


Old Hico Gin
Last remnants of Old Hico, the Barbee Mill. In 1938-1939, the stones were used by the WPA to build a gym for Hico ISD.[36]


Adding to the pioneers' many other troubles, in 1877 the county was hit by a freakish weather pattern, "...frosts occurred every month with the exception of July and August. The frost on 10 June, 1877, killed all of the corn crops."[8] Nevertheless, life went on, and growth in the county brought the same to Hico, where, by 1879: "There were three stores of general merchandise operated by Capt. J. C. Hutchingson, W. A. Barkley, and Ike Malone. Barkley operated a drug store in connection with his mercantile establishment; Tom Spafford ran a blacksmith shop; and there was a saloon."[5] John Barbee , Olivia's father, operated a corn mill/cotton gin and Huchingson operated a cotton gin as well.[39] "There was a school building in which church services also were held, and a Masonic lodge was organized [in 1877]." [5] (Early records of the Masonic Lodge testify to the alcohol problem in Hico previously alluded to by Capt. Huchingson: "The early years of the Lodge were marred by frequent trials due to the excessive use of liquor." )[40]


Eclipse July 29, 1878
Pastel drawing by E.L. Trouvelot, Meudon Collection.
Hico in Prime Viewing Corridor for the Great Eclipse of 1878 [41]


The school was described by "Mage" Smith as being a simple 28' long, rectangular log building with no windows, a dirt floor and a clapboard door on the west end. There was no fireplace; when a fire was needed, it was built on the floor. There weren't any desks; hewn log benches were provided. George Holland "Holl" Medford hired a teacher for $30 to $40 per month and allowed area children to attend for $1 per month; orphans attended free. Classes usually ran for about three months during the summer. Twenty-five to thirty students within an 8 to 10 mile radius came to Medford's school.[14] Like the Smiths and Huchingsons, Rev. Samuel Rodgers and his sons J. C. and J. P. came to Hico in 1874. Though Presbyterians, since there wasn't a Presbyterian church in Hico, the Rodgers united with the Baptists. The father preached on Sundays and taught school during the week. When his health failed, J. P. was elected teacher.[36] On July 29, 1878, quite a stir was created during afternoon recess when everything went dark due to a total eclipse . Rodgers, "...thought world coming to end..." and dismissed the students.[14]


Ike Malone G. H. Medford
Deacon Isaac "Ike" Malone*******George Holland Medford


Shameful Vigilantism


In 1879 after thieves had broken into Ike's home and threatened to kill him, it was reported, "When the alarm sounded, the people of Hico rallied and rode down the bandits near Waco." The posse returned the culprits to Hico and locked them in "Holl" Medford's log shed which served as a jail."[29] The January 10, 1879 edition of the the Brenham Weekly Banner describes what happened next:


---A terrible tragidy [tragedy] has been committed by a mob at the town of Hico in Hamilton county. Constable Barron had in charge two men, Ike Parker and Geo Barker, charged with robbery. The constable placed the prisoners under guard to await trial. During the night seventy-five men came upon the guard placing them under arrest marched them off while others shot the prisoners to death as they lay in bed. The mob then went away as quietly as they came.[42]


"Hico citizens placed the bodies on display for several days so people who came from miles around could 'view the end of a life of crime.'"[29] A rather bizarre account of Medford's shed and its "ghosts" was published in 1882 in the Hico Times, the town's first newspaper.[43]


(Based on his research on Ike and Old Hico, descendant Steven Malone has published a historical novel, Sideshow at Honey Creek, as an e-book .)


An Archeaological Find


From the Denison Daily News, August 21, 1879: "Mr. J. C. Huchingson, of Hico, informs us that parties employed in digging a well in his yard recently discovered at a depth of thirty-two feet from the surface, imbedded twenty-eight feet deep in solid rock, a petrified ear of corn and a bone resembling the collar-bone of a human being, both of which looked perfectly natural and in a perfect state of preservation. ---Bosque Co. Blade."[44]


Young John Gaston Barbee


Old Hico Ends in One More Tale of Violence


The last tale of Old Hico began with a quarrel between John Barbee and his son, Jim. One account claims Jim pulled a butcher knife on his father. In any event, young Jim left home and ended up working in the Panhandle for the Jingle Bob Cattle Company (the name of Chisum's operation after it moved to New Mexico). He and another young cowboy, Jim Harkey, shared a cabin. Both came in early on New Year's Day of 1880 and were loafing around the cabin. Upon learning of the episode with the knife, Harkey began "chiding" young Jim. Perhaps that gave rise to what followed. "Jim [Harkey] started to fix something to eat, and he was singing 'Yankee Doodle'. Barbee told him that anybody who would sing a song like that was a d----d fool. Jim thought Barbee was joking, so he said, 'You're a liar, that's a d--n good song.'" Barbee responded by shooting Harkey. Returning fire, Harkey killed Barbee. Two freighters, who had just arrived, witnessed part of the altercation. After telling them about the shooting and what to do with his possessions, Harkey died. The freighters cut a wagon sheet in half and buried both men. Upon learning of his son's death, John retrieved the body for burial in the Barbee family cemetery.[45]



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Bibliography


*The "Old Hico" historical marker lists the names or initials of the male heads of households except in the case of M.A. Fuller . Evidently, those involved in placing the marker didn't realize M.A. were the initials for Mary Ann. Her husband, Patillo Fuller, had passed away sometime shortly after 1867, resulting in her initials being used in numerous legal documents and census records.[46]

 

 






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