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The History of 'Hidetown'

Hidetown

Sweet Town * Sweetwater * Mobeetie

Under the protection of Fort Elliott, Hidetown—a trading post established by buffalo hunters and later called Sweetwater or Sweet Town, became the economic and cultural center of the Panhandle.

Wheeler County was one of twenty-six counties created out of Clay County Territory in 1876, and named for Supreme Court Justice Royal T. Wheeler. The county was organized in 1879 by a petition signed by one hundred fifty qualified voters and was assigned jurisdiction over the Panhandle counties.

In 1879, Wheeler County was formally organized and Sweetwater, renamed "Mobeetie," became the county seat and the center of government for the twenty-six counties of the Texas Panhandle.

For the first time, settlers in the Texas Panhandle began the task of building a permanent community and developing a vast empty region.

Beginning as a buffalo hunters’ rendezvous, in 1875, the settlement near the Sweetwater Creek was known as Sweetwater, Sweet Town or Hidetown. The settlement was at first dominated by Charles Rath and Lee Reynolds of Dodge City, Kansas, who picked up hides and dropped off supplies there. The settlement covered 40 acres on the south side of the Sweetwater Creek. When it was discovered the settlement was located on the Military Reserve, the town had to relocate. Sweetwater moved about 2 miles northwest to section 45, closer to Fort Elliott.

Sweetwater was the first town in the Panhandle. It was built on Sweetwater creek 2 miles east from [the later] Mobeetie. It was built the same year that Fort Elliott started to build – 1875. There were about 150 persons living there, Chinese laundry, and a restaurant. The saloon men were Henry Fleming, Joe Mason and W. H. Weed. The dance hall man was Bill Thompson, brother to the noted Ben Thompson, gunman of Austin who was killed in San Antonio.

The restaurant was run by Tom O’Loughlin, and his wife, Ellen, the only virtuous woman in the town at that time. There were about 15 dance hall girls there then. There also was a barbershop and a big store that sold goods to the buffalo hunters. The store was owned by Bob Wright, Charles Rath, and a man by the name of Reynolds. They claimed they bought 150,000 buffalo hides.

Also in the town lived bullwhackers, mule skinners, buffalo hunters, and gamblers galore. Now this was the first town in the Panhandle.

W. L. R. Dickson was wagon master of a bull train – ten 7-oxen teams of three wagons to the team. I think he was running it for Lee Reynolds and company. I am not sure of this. His outfit brought lots of goods to Sweetwater and took back loads of buffalo hides to Dodge City, Kansas.

1931 letter from George A. Montgomery,
(Postmaster, Mobeetie, 1878-1886)
Pampa Daily News, Tuesday, August 7, 1934

"Mobeetie was patronized by outlaws, thieves, cut-throats, and buffalo hunters, with a large per cent of prostitutes. Taking it all, I think it was the hardest place I ever saw on the frontier except Cheyenne, Wyoming."

- Charles Goodnight

Charles Goodnight
Frontier Times, December 1929

"Henry Fleming built a stone building at Old Mobeetie and it was a saloon. Mobeetie was a tough place. As soon as saloons and gambling houses got started in Mobeetie bad women came in."
- John Woods (Buffalo Hunter)

First Recorded Tornado in the Panhandle

Tornado

"The cyclone (May 1, 1898) was the most terrible of Wheeler County memory. We were living in the Cap Willingham house, built by Judge Patton. That first day of May was so hot and still, and that night the cloud was upon the town before any one knew it. Our house was not disturbed, but just west of us several people were killed and injured. Judge Exum was the first I found. I wanted to move him to my home, but he said he was resting fairly comfortably and to leave him and see about the others. We buried him May 4th. Anna Belle Masterson had spent the night with her grandparents. I took her to the Jail. Her back had been injured. She was just a little girl, so I took her in my arms and carried her, but in the dark and over the rough ground I stepped into ruts and holes and made her suffer terribly.

"Next I went to the Masterson home. (It was the old Rising home.) Their house was of adobe framed up on the outside as many of them were. None of the others were seriously hurt, but the baby, who had been sleeping in a bed with a high headboard was dead. This headboard had been broken by the storm and bent over the bed, and the adobe wall had piled over on top of it. The baby had probably smothered to death, as there was no sign of injury on it. One strange thing was that there was a piece of glass on its chest next to its skin, but not a cut or scratch.

The year-old baby of the Palmer family across the street was blown half a block. Its cries led people to it. Its head was badly injured and it died before morning.

We made all efforts possible to find every one. The Huselby House was gone and nothing could be found of the family. Next morning there were several people found to have taken shelter in one of the business houses that had escaped distruction. I went up there and was talking with a woman and asking how they fared, and asked if the Huselby family were safe or did anyone know. She told me they were all unharmed. Then I found that I was talking to Mrs. Huselby herself. She was so disheveled and her face covered with dirt and blood, her hair down, and I had not recognized her.

Uncle Johnnie Stroker was dead when we found him, as was also a Mr. Wright. Mrs. I. N. Bowers, Sr., had been living down south and had married this Reverend Wright, and they had just come back to Mobeetie when this happened. Zula Bowers had married Frank Mulkins, and her mother and family were staying with them for a few days until they could find a house. Even the rock foundation of the home looked like a blast had been set off in it. Pearl Bowers, the youngest girl, was very slender. The next day it was reported that she had been blown trough a seven wire fence. One fellow jokingly remarked, ‘That’s nothing; as skinny as she is, she could do that and never touch a wire.’

Mother-like, the first thing Zula did was to see about her baby. It was quite limp, and with the surprising calm that seems to possess people at such a time, she carried it to her brother Newt and said, ‘Here, Newt, take the poor little thing, it’s dead.’ He took the baby and began shaking it about and found it was merely sound asleep. Not another one was really hurt except the old man.

There were five fatalities and several more whose death was indirectly laid to the cyclone, among them Mrs. Easley who ran an eating house, and the Postmaster, Jack Montgomery. My wife took care of Mrs. Montgomery when her son, Jack, was born a few months after his father’s death.

That was the second cyclone I had been through in Wheeler County, but the first one had not killed anyone and we had been able to laugh about most of it after it was over, but not this one."

The interview of Big Johnnie Jones
By Millie Porter

 

Memory Cups

The tornado of May 1, 1898 caused damage to all the houses, and especially the courthouse and jail. The roof of the jail needed new shingles. Abraham Finsterwald was hired as contractor to perform the labor. The needed materials were freighted in by wagons. The Sheriff had to keep the floor mopped when it rained and to recover County material that had been blown around.
- Millie Porter

After the 1898 tornado, the Courthouse and Jail had roof damage but were left standing. The business district was destroyed as well as thirty-two homes. The population of Mobeetie in 1898 was over 1,000 people, but the disaster began a steady decline.

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