A Mother to the Cowboys

She was called “Mary” by her husband Charles Goodnight, the best-known cattle rancher in Texas. Her distinguished Tennessee family referred to her as “Molly.” And she was known affectionately as “Mother of the Texas Panhandle” by the cowhands she doctored, fed, and counseled. Mary Ann Dyer Goodnight was loved and admired by all.

She was fourteen in 1854 when she moved with her parents to Fort Belknap on the western edge of Texas settlement. Soon, both parents died, and Mary began teaching school to support her three younger brothers. She met the young cattleman Charlie Goodnight at Fort Belknap in 1864 and their courtship continued through Goodnight’s service in the Civil War. By the time they married in 1870, Goodnight had a well-established reputation for driving cattle along the Goodnight-Loving Trail to New Mexico and eventually on to Wyoming before he built a thriving cattle ranch at Pueblo, Colorado.

When Charlie Goodnight and his bride arrived in Pueblo, Mary was shocked to discover two men hanging from a telegraph pole. Goodnight writes in his Recollections: “I hardly knew how to reply, but finally stammered out in a very abashed manner: ‘Well, I don’t think they hurt the telegraph pole.’ This seemed to irritate her very much and she said: ‘I used to think I knew you in Texas, but you have been out here among the Yankees and ruffians until I don’t know whether I know you or not, and I want you to take me back to Texas. I won’t live in such a country.’ I agreed to this but insisted that she must first have a rest, and during the next few days made it a point to acquaint her with all the good ladies of Pueblo, whom she found quite as human as herself, and the trip back to Texas was soon forgotten.”

The Goodnight-Dyer Cattle Company thrived in Pueblo until the financial panic of 1873 and a severe drought. Goodnight formed a partnership with John George Adair, an Irish financier, to establish the first ranch in the Texas Panhandle in the lush green pastureland of Palo Duro Canyon. Adair, who was interested in investing in the cattle business, put up the financial backing while Goodnight was charged with running the entire operation. Goodnight made the first of many land purchases—12,000 acres for twenty-five cents an acre—and trailed 1,600 head of cattle into the canyon in the spring of 1876. Adair and his wife, Cornelia Wadsworth Ritchie Adair a highborn lady from New York, had fallen in love with the west on a buffalo hunt and viewed the investment and the trip to the canyon as a great adventure.

The two couples, one of Mary’s brothers, and several cowhands made the 400-mile journey from Colorado to Palo Duro Canyon the following spring. The entourage consisted of 100 head of the finest Durham bulls, four wagons loaded with six months’ supply of provisions, equipment, and horses to upgrade Goodnight’s Texas herd. Cornelia Adair rode the entire distance on a fine white horse while Mary Goodnight drove one of the wagons.

When the Goodnight/Adair outfit reached the rim of Palo Duro Canyon, a 1,500-foot deep gorge, ten miles wide, and almost 100 miles long, it was teaming with 1,000 to 1,500 buffalo. They gazed upon the new JA (for John Adair) Ranch, home of Charlie and Mary Goodnight for the next eleven years. It took several days to move all the stock and supplies along the trail that wound for four miles down to the Prairie Dog Fork of the Red River at the base of the canyon. After a few days exploring the area, the Adairs left, and Mary Goodnight set about adjusting to life in a two-room log cabin at least seventy-five miles from the nearest white neighbor.

Goodnight, in his Recollections claims that Mary was frightened that first night by the loud noises echoing off the canyon walls made by the buffalo during that spring mating season. Some accounts claim he had to convince her that dried buffalo dung made excellent firewood for her cook stove.

Charlie Goodnight devoted his boundless energy to enlarging the ranch, improving the stock, and blazing the Palo Duro-Dodge City Cattle Trail. Mary acted as surrogate mother for the cowboys—patching their clothes, sewing on buttons, and listening to their troubles. According to Crawford and Ragsdale in Women in Texas, Mary’s doctoring consisted of “coal-oil for lice, prickly pear for wounds, salt and buffalo tallow for piles, mud for inflammation and fever, and buffalo meat made into a broth for a general tonic.”

Despite the constant wind and the loneliness from going six months to a year without seeing another white woman (Comanche squaws came into the canyon with Quanah Parker’s band.) Mary claimed that was the happiest time of her life. Charlie Goodnight made a peace treaty with the Comanches that both he and Quanah Parker honored: Goodnight would give two beeves every other day to Quanah Parker’s band until they could find the buffalo they were hunting as long as the Indians did not take cattle from the JA herd.

Mary Goodnight said in later years that a cowboy brought her three chickens in a sack, and they became something she could talk to. They ran to her when she called and tried to talk to her in their language, following her as she went about her chores. She wrote in her diary that during the day she could hear the gunshots of commercial buffalo hunters who swept the plains killing the bison for their hides, even if a calf was standing next to its mother. At night she could hear the orphans bawling, alone and starving among the rotting carcasses that were left behind. She insisted that Charlie bring the orphaned calves home and by nursing them with three gallons of milk a day she restored them to health and helped establish the Goodnight buffalo herd.

The Goodnights cross-bred some of the buffalo with range cattle, calling the new breed “Cattalo.” Mary established her own herd and commissioned artist J.C. Cowles to paint scenes of the ranch. In 2011, eighty descendants of the great southern plains bison that Mary Goodnight was instrumental in saving were released to roam on 700 acres of the Caprock Canyon State Park in the Texas Panhandle.

After John Adair died in 1885, Goodnight worked for a couple of years in partnership with Cornelia Adair before he and Mary left the JA Ranch taking as their share a 140,000-acre spread and 20,000 head of cattle to land that became known as Goodnight Station. As railroads, fencing, farmers, and townspeople moved into the Panhandle, Mary helped establish Goodnight College, a post-secondary school, in 1898. As a result of their generosity, churches, schools, and other organizations in the Panhandle were named for the ranching pioneers.

Mary died in 1926 and her headstone reads: “Mary Ann Dyer Goodnight: One who spent her whole life in the service of others.

Mary and Charles Goodnight, Courtesy Charles Goodnight Historical Center

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Post, Founded By a Cereal Magnate

C. W. Post was an inventor. His imagination ran the gamut—designing better farm implements, improving digestion with breakfast foods, creating a model town, and making rain by

C.W. Post

C.W. Post

detonating dynamite—a genius that lived before folks talked about bipolar, instead they called him peculiar.

Born in 1854, Post grew up in Illinois, attended two years of college at the future University of Illinois, and at seventeen dropped out of school to work as a salesman and manufacturer of agricultural machines. He married at twenty, had a daughter, Marjorie Merriweather Post, and during the next fifteen years he secured patents on farm equipment such as cultivators, a sulky plow, a harrow, and a haystacker. The periods of intense work,

Post and daughter, Marjorie Merriweather Post

Post and daughter, Marjorie Merriweather Post

followed with bouts of depression, led in 1885 to Post suffering his first nervous breakdown.

Leaving his stressful manufacturing occupation, Post moved his family to Fort Worth in 1886 where he bought a 200-acre ranch, began a real estate development company that laid out streets, built homes, and constructed a woolen mill and a paper mill. A second breakdown came in 1891, followed by extensive travel in search of a cure. Post entered a sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan, run by John Harvey Kellogg, a medical doctor who used holistic treatments that focused on nutrition, enemas, and exercise. Dr. Kellogg, along with his brother, invented corn flakes as a breakfast cereal. Following Dr. Kellogg’s regime, Post soon recuperated, and because he decided that coffee was poison, he devised a breakfast cereal drink called Postum. In 1897 he created Grape Nuts cereal and in 1904 he called his new corn flakes Elijah’s Manna until the religious community complained. The name soon became Post Toasties.

Post and his wife, after living apart for several years, divorced the same year that Post Toasties hit the market, and Post remarried before the year was out. His breakfast foods business was raking in millions. Advised by his doctor to move to a drier climate, Post bought 225,000 acres of ranchland and platted his vision of a model town in the Texas Panhandle at the foot of the Llano Estacado, or Caprock, one of the largest mesas or tablelands on the North American Continent.

Caprock Escarpment or Llano Estacado

Caprock Escarpment or Llano Estacado

Calling his new town Post City, he threw himself into his new business, the Double U Company (meaning double utopia), which was charged with fulfilling his grand plan—a place where ordinary families could find a home or a farm site at a reasonable price and borrow with little money down at low monthly rates. Although Post hired a manager for the enterprise, he directed every minute detail of the new town from his homes in Michigan and later in California, racing madly back to Post to solve each problem. Until 1910 when the Santa Fe Railroad arrived, the nearest railhead lay eighty miles away, which meant bouncing over unpaved ruts in mule-drawn hacks to reach his flourishing village. Since the new town had to be built from scratch on the semi-arid plains, Post purchased two-dozen freight wagons and mules to haul the supplies for building the infrastructure and constructing every home and business. Post sent plans for the houses, mostly bungalows, which he favored, and for the aesthetics, including shade trees planted thirty feet apart on each side of the highway for two miles leading in and out of town. He built a school, churches, and a department store. He took great pride in the hotel, insisting that Postum and Grape Nuts be served at every breakfast. He tried,

Algerita Hotel

Algerita Hotel

unsuccessfully, to force the workmen whom he hired from the surrounding ranches to eat his special breakfast diet. He paid excellent wages, but he expected the same level of perfection from those who worked for him as he demanded of himself.

Parks sprouted around town, Bermuda grass covered the lawns, and orchards began producing fruit. Determined to keep out the bad element, Post hired someone to see that his model community did not serve alcohol in any establishment, and if a business did not follow the guidelines, it was shut down immediately. Brothels, of course, were not permitted.

Street Scene, Post 1920s

Street Scene, Post 1920s

Two big problems plagued the place—water and weather. Post had wells and reservoirs dug, hauled and piped water from the top of the Caprock, all without sufficient success to meet the needs of the growing community. Stories he had read of the rainstorms that occurred after major battles in the Napoleonic Wars and the tales that Civil War veterans told of rain following heavy cannon fire, led to his rainmaking experiments. In 1910 he tried attaching two pounds of dynamite to a kite and igniting it, then decided that was too dangerous. He placed four-pound dynamite charges along the rim of the Caprock and detonated one every four minutes for several hours. In 1912, Post exploded 24,000 pounds of dynamite and a little rain fell after that battle, as Post called each effort to force rain from the clouds. Success was intermittent—sometimes light rain fell, other times it did not. He had almost instant rain after he placed 3,000 pounds of dynamite in 1,500 sticks; however, critics said Post held his experiments during the time of the year when rain usually fell.

By 1914 Post was again suffering from overwork, exhaustion, and abdominal pains. He remained at his California home, claiming to wean his town from his constant attention. The public realized for the first time that Post was not well when he cancelled a speech in New York that he was scheduled to deliver denouncing President Woodrow Wilson’s income tax law. In March, a private railroad car raced from California to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where Post had surgery for acute appendicitis. The surgery was called successful, but after Post returned to his California home, his health did not improve. Believing he had stomach cancer, Post committed suicide on May 9, 1914, some accounts say from a gunshot wound.

Marjorie Merriweather Post, his twenty-seven-year-old daughter, inherited his businesses and his vast fortune—one of the largest of the early twentieth century. She used her business acumen, which she had learned at the side of her father, to expand his enterprises into the General Foods Corporation, becoming the wealthiest woman in America. She lived the lavish life of a socialite, an art collector, and an internationally recognized philanthropist.

Marjorie Merriweather Post, Heiress

Marjorie Merriweather Post, Heiress

From “Booger Town” to “All-American City”

A friend told me that in the 1920s her father’s job of hauling construction materials in the Texas Panhandle required that he drive through Borger.

Thomas Hart Benton's painting, "Boom Town," depicts Borger's Main Street.

Thomas Hart Benton’s painting, “Boom Town,” depicts Borger’s Main Street.

The place had such a bad reputation that her father carried a loaded .45 on the seat beside him. On one occasion a man jumped on the truck’s passenger-side running board. Her father, fearing for his life, grabbed his gun and fired out the window, past the man’s head. The fellow fell, and her father just kept driving.

That story prompted me to check out Borger, a town near the Canadian River, an hour drive northeast of Amarillo. When oil was discovered in the area in March 1925, A.P. (Ace) Borger, a man known in Oklahoma and Texas as a shrewd land promoter, went into partnership with John R. Miller, purchased 240 acres and laid out the town site—named Borger, of course. It only took ninety days of advertising the sensational discovery of “black gold” for the population to reach 45,000—mostly oilmen, roughnecks, panhandlers, bootleggers, and prostitutes—causing the new town to be known as “Booger Town.” The following October Borger was incorporated, and John Miller was elected mayor.

Early Downtown Borger

Early Downtown Borger

There was great progress—a railroad spur arrived; a school district opened; and the three-mile-long Main Street boasted a hamburger stand, a hotel, and a jail. Steam-generated electricity and telephones were available before the end of the year, and before water wells were dug, tank wagons delivered drinking water. However, Mayor Miller had an associate, “Two-Gun Dick” Herwig, who led an organized crime syndicate that opened brothels, dance halls, and gambling facilities along present Tenth Street. Robbery and murder became common practice. With the blessings of local authorities and the king of the Texas bootleggers, W.J. (Shine) Popejoy, illegal moonshine stills and home breweries flourished.

Traffic Jam, Main Street, Borger

Traffic Jam, Main Street, Borger

Governor Dan Moody, by the spring of 1927, had received enough complaints and requests for investigations that he sent a detachment of the Texas Rangers under captains Frank Hamer (famous in 1934 for tracking down and killing Bonnie and Clyde) and Thomas Hickman to clean up the town. Some of the rough crowd departed, but after the district attorney was assassinated in 1929, Governor Moody imposed martial law and sent in the Texas National Guard to restore order.

It was August 1934 before the violence finally came to an end. Town founder Ace Borger, had established himself as president of the Borger State Bank. When the bank failed, Borger was given a two-year prison term for taking deposits while the bank was insolvent. While his conviction was being appealed, Borger was at the post office when he was shot dead by the county treasurer, Arthur Huey. It seems that Huey, a long-time rival of Borger’s, was angry because Borger had not bailed him out of jail when he was arrested for embezzling county funds. Huey shot Borger five times with a Colt .45 pistol, and then took Borger’s gun from his pocket and shot him again before shooting another man who died a few days later. Ironically, Huey claimed self-defense and was acquitted. Three years later he was convicted of theft of county funds and sent to prison.

Borger’s struggles did not end with the violence. The Great Depression and the Dust Bowl brought new challenges. The economic crash caused the price of oil and gas to drop, which ended the boom years. Carbon black produced during the oil heyday left a residue of soot that was blown by winds of the Dust Bowl, covering the town in dark-colored grime. The population shifted as Okies, farmers from Oklahoma who lost their land as a result of the Dust Bowl and the Depression, arrived looking for work in the local oil refineries and plants.

Despite the economic problems that came with the Depression, the young men employed during the New Deal by the Works Project Administration (WPA) laid new red brick streets and replaced the boomtown shacks with permanent buildings. World War II introduced a second boom as local oil refineries worked to meet the demand for synthetic rubber and other petroleum products.

By the 1960s the area around Borger was one of the largest producers of oil, carbon black, and petrochemicals in Texas, but automation in the plants meant the loss of jobs, which resulted in a mass exodus. Faced with another decline, the citizens began a citywide renewal—cleanup of the old federal housing and the empty storefronts—proving that “Booger Town” had finally grown up. Borger’s brand new reputation won the 1969 National Civic League designation as an “All-American City.”

Today Borger is a thriving industrial community that serves as an important shipping center for agricultural and petroleum products. The revitalization of the downtown, including the update of building facades and the opening of the Hutchinson County Historical Museum, better known as Boomtown Revisited, followed the restoration of the Morley Theater. Borger has come a long way.

Hutchinson County Historical Museum, known as Boomtown Revisited

Hutchinson County Historical Museum, known as Boomtown Revisited

First Lady of the Texas Panhandle

Called “Mary” by her husband Charles Goodnight, the best known cattle rancher in Texas; referred to as “Molly” by her distinguished Tennessee family; and known affectionately as “Mother of

Mary Goodnight

Mary Goodnight

the Texas Panhandle” by the cowhands she doctored, fed, and counseled, Mary Ann Dyer Goodnight was loved and admired by all.

She was fourteen in 1854 when she moved with her parents to Fort Belknap on the western edge of Texas settlement.  Soon, both parents died and Mary began teaching school to support her three younger brothers.  She met the young cattleman Charlie Goodnight at Fort Belknap in 1864 and their courtship continued through Goodnight’s service in the Civil War.  By the time they married in 1870 Goodnight had a well-established reputation for driving cattle along the Goodnight-Loving Trail to New Mexico and eventually to Wyoming before he built a thriving cattle ranch at Pueblo, Colorado.

When Charlie Goodnight and his bride arrived in Pueblo, Mary was shocked to discover two men hanging from a telegraph pole.  Goodnight writes in his Recollections: “I hardly knew how to reply, but finally stammered out in a very abashed manner: ‘Well, I don’t think they hurt the telegraph pole.’  This seemed to irritate her very much and she said: ‘I used to think I knew you in Texas, but you have been out here among the Yankees and ruffians until I don’t know whether I know you or not, and I want you to take me back to Texas.  I won’t live in such a country.’ I agreed to this but insisted that she must first have a rest, and during the next few days made it a point to acquaint her with all the good ladies of Pueblo, whom she found quite as human as herself, and the trip back to Texas was soon forgotten.”

The Goodnight-Dyer Cattle Company thrived in Pueblo until the depression caused by the financial panic of 1873 and a severe drought led to Goodnight forming a partnership with John George Adair, an Irish financier, to establish the first ranch in the Texas Panhandle in the lush green pastureland of Palo Duro Canyon.  Adair, who was interested in investing in the cattle business, put up the financial backing while Goodnight was charged with running the entire operation.  Goodnight made the first of many land purchases—12,000 acres for twenty-five cents an acre—and trailed 1,600 head of cattle into the canyon in the spring of 1876.  Adair and his wife, Cornelia Wadsworth Ritchie Adair a highborn lady from New York, had fallen in love with the west on a buffalo hunt and viewed the investment and the trip to see the canyon as a great adventure.

Palo Duro Canyon

Palo Duro Canyon

The two couples, one of Mary’s brothers, and several cowhands made the 400-mile journey from Colorado to Palo Duro Canyon the following spring.  The entourage consisted of 100 head of the finest Durham bulls, four wagons loaded with six months’ supply of provisions, equipment, and horses to upgrade Goodnight’s Texas herd.  Cornelia Adair rode the entire distance on a fine white horse while Mary Goodnight drove the team to one of the wagons.

As the Goodnight/Adair outfit reached the rim of Palo Duro Canyon, they gazed into the new JA (for John Adair) Ranch—a 1,500-foot deep gorge, ten miles wide, and almost 100 miles long teaming with 1,000 to 1,500 buffalo—home of Charlie and Mary Goodnight for the next eleven years.  It took several days to move all the stock and supplies along the trail that wound for four miles to the Prairie Dog Fork of the Red River at the base of the canyon. After a few days exploring the area, the Adairs left and Mary Goodnight set about adjusting to life in a two-room log cabin at least seventy-five miles from the nearest white neighbor.  Goodnight, in his Recollections claims that Mary was frightened that first night by the loud noises echoing off the canyon walls made by the buffalo during that spring mating season.  Some accounts claim he had to convince her that dried buffalo dung made excellent firewood for her cook stove.

While Charlie Goodnight devoted his boundless energy to enlarging the ranch, improving the stock and blazing the Palo Duro-Dodge

JA Ranch Cattle Brand

JA Ranch Cattle Brand

City Cattle Trail, Mary acted as surrogate mother for the cowboys—patching their clothes, sewing on buttons, and listening to their troubles.  According to Crawford and Ragsdale in Women in Texas, Mary’s doctoring consisted of “coal-oil for lice, prickly pear for wounds, salt and buffalo tallow for piles, mud for inflammation and fever and buffalo meat broth for a general tonic.”

Despite the constant wind and the loneliness from going six months to a year without seeing another white woman (Comanche squaws came into the canyon with Quanah Parker’s band) Mary claimed that was the happiest time of her life.  Charlie Goodnight made a peace treaty with the Comanches that both he and Quanah Parker honored:  Goodnight would give two beeves every other day to Quanah Parker’s band until they could find the buffalo they were hunting as long as the Indians did not take cattle from the JA herd.

Mary Goodnight said in later years that a cowboy brought her three chickens in a sack and they became something she could talk to.  They ran to her when she called and tried to talk to her in their language, following her as she went about her chores.  She wrote in her diary that during the day she could hear the gunshots of commercial buffalo hunters who swept the plains killing the bison for their hides, even if a calf was standing next to its mother.  At night she could hear the orphans bawling, alone and starving among the

Buffalo

Buffalo

rotting carcasses that were left behind.  She insisted that Charlie bring the orphaned calves home and by nursing them with three gallons of milk a day she restored them to health and helped establish the Goodnight buffalo herd.

The Goodnights crossbred some of the buffalo with range cattle, calling the new breed “Cattalo.” Mary established her own herd and commissioned artist J.C. Cowles to paint scenes of the ranch.  In 2011, eighty descendants of the great southern plains bison that Mary Goodnight was instrumental in saving were released to roam on 700 acres of the Caprock Canyon State Park in the Texas Panhandle.

After John Adair died in 1885, Goodnight worked for a couple of years in partnership with Cornelia Adair before he and Mary left the JA Ranch taking as their share a 140,000-acre spread and 20,000 head of cattle near land that became known as Goodnight Station. As railroads, fencing, farmers, and townspeople moved into the Panhandle, Mary helped establish Goodnight College, a post-secondary school, in 1898.  As a result of their generosity, churches, schools, and other organizations in the Panhandle were named for the ranching pioneers.

Mary died in 1926 and her headstone reads:  “Mary Ann Dyer Goodnight: One who spent her whole life in the service of others.”

Texas Panhandle Nobility

In the late 1870s word spread across England of the fabulous money—returns of thirty-three to fifty percent on investments—to be made in American cattle ranching.  Two British aristocrats, Sir Edward Marjoribanks the Baron of Tweedmouth and his brother-in-law John Campbell Hamilton Gordon, Earl of Aberdeen, established the “Rocking Chair Ranche” in 1883.  Courting dreams of a vast English-style estate, the two “cattlemen” bought 235 sections in the Texas Panhandle counties of Collingsworth and Wheeler and began stocking their land with 14,745 head of cattle and 359 ponies.  They laid out the town of Aberdeen with a ranch house, corrals, and a store as the nucleus of their envisioned cattle empire.

The inhabitants of the Texas Panhandle in the 1880s, in true frontier spirit, did not take to the high-minded notions of the English.  West Texans considered themselves equals whether they owned extensive cattle ranches or only a few steers and a dugout.  The English ranchers, unfortunately, held to their Old World attitudes regarding master and servants.  In response to their references to cowboys as “cow servants” their establishment became known as “Nobility Ranch.”

J. John Drew, an Englishman who partnered in the original scheme to sell cattle ranch land to British investors became general manager of the Rocking Chair.  He got along well with the “cow servants” and knew cattle, but he wasn’t scrupulously honest.

Baron Tweedmouth’s younger brother, Archibald John Marjoribanks became assistant manager and bookkeeper at the ranch.  Uninterested in the life of a rancher and known among the cowboys as “Archie” or “Old Marshie”, Archibald spent his days drinking and gambling in Mobeetie saloons and hunting with his purebred hounds while drawing an annual salary of $1,500.  The “Honourable Archie” never associated with or rode with the cowboys.  Soon, even men who prided themselves on always being fair in their cattle dealings began openly rustling cattle from “Nobility Ranch,” apparently with Drew’s knowledge.imgres

Everyone in the Eastern Panhandle except Archibald knew of the thefts, and that rustlers and disgruntled cowboys were openly stealing from the ranch.  Drew, who maintained the loyalty of the ranch employees, kept for himself 100 cows for every one stolen and reportedly shipped more cattle than he recorded for the ranch.  For a time the ranch prospered, but the thievery began to show in the financial reports.  Without prior notice Lord Aberdeen, Baron Tweedmouth, and other investors showed up at ranch headquarters demanding an inventory.  Drew directed the cowboys to drive cattle around a nearby hill and back several times to make the count increase by several hundred and satisfy the “Lords of the Prairie” that the ranch operated an increasingly large herd.

Additionally, a feud developed in 1890 between settlers and squatters of Southern Collingsworth County, who wanted Pearl City to be the county seat and the Rocking Chair faction that had laid out Wellington for that purpose.

The Rocking Chair cowboys also caused the Great Panhandle Indian Scare in January 1891 when they killed a steer for supper, accidentally incinerated the carcass of the animal and in the process let out some loud whoops and celebratory gunfire.  Although Indians had been run out of the Panhandle for at least ten years, settlers living in the remote region continued to be nervous.  A woman living near the commotion rushed with her two children to report the blood-curdling war whoops.  The news of an impending slaughter went out over the telegraph at the train station.  Citizens barricaded themselves, waiting in terror for the attack.  A hardware store in Clarendon sold out of guns and ammunition.  Finally, the Texas Rangers mustered to defend the terrified citizenry only to discover that the noise came from Rocking Chair Ranch Cowboys having a good time.  It took three days to calm the frightened community, and the episode became known as The Great Panhandle Indian Scare.

By 1891 the Rocking Chair herd was so reduced that the entire range had to be searched to produce two carloads of calves for market.  The owners tried bringing charges against Drew, but community feelings against the Englishmen made it impossible to impanel a jury.  The ranch was sold in 1895, and all that remains are the names of Wellington and Rocking Chair Hills in the northern part of Collingsworth County.

English Nobleman in Big Spring

Texas claims its share of frontier characters—buffalo hunters, Indian fighters, gunslingers, and cowboys—who roamed and sometimes helped settle the vast western regions.  The remittance man, although a less well-known frontier character, represents a few hundred wealthy Europeans, mostly Englishmen, who found themselves exiled in the wilds of West Texas.  Although these nobles lost their positions at home, their families continued financial maintenance (remittance) in an apparent effort to keep them out of sight.

Joseph Heneage Finch, Seventh Earl of Aylesford, fits the bill as a remittance man.  He held claim to one of the finest estates in England until his life blew up in a scandal that shook British nobility, including such personages as the Prince of Wales (future King Edward VII), and Lord Blandford Churchill, uncle of the future Sir Winston Churchill.  It seems Finch accompanied the Prince of Wales on a goodwill trip to India in 1875-76 only to abruptly leave his sponsor and return home to confront his unfaithful wife and her lover.  After a divorce that shook the highest levels of English society, Finch lost his estate, and left for adventure in America.

Seventh Earl of Aylesford, Joseph Heneage Finch

Upon arriving in New York, Finch met Jay Gould, president of the Texas & Pacific Railroad, who described the cheap land and good turkey and antelope hunting in West Texas.

With former buffalo hunter John Birdwell serving as his guide, the earl bought a 37,000-acre ranch northeast of the new railroad town of Big Spring in 1883 and stocked it with $40,000 worth of cattle. Birdwell warned Finch that cowboys “don’t cater to big names and such, so we’ll just call you ‘Judge.’ ” From then on, the “Judge,” became popular with the local cowhands for his tales of hunting in India with the Prince of Wales and for footing the bill for their drinking parties.

Storytellers say Finch bought a saloon, tended bar himself, and at the end of the party gave the establishment back to its former owner.  We know he satisfied his yen for mutton, which did not sit well with local cowboys and cattlemen, by building his own meat market, the first permanent building in Big Spring.  He lined the walls of his lodge with an amazing collection of hunting gear and after the structure burned, he bought the Cosmopolitan Hotel.  Some folks say he bought the hotel because he and his friends needed a place to party for one night.  He gave the hotel back the next day with the understanding that there would always be a room for him and his buddies.  On January 13, 1885, after throwing a lavish Christmas dinner and drinking party that lasted two weeks, the Seventh Earl of Aylesford, died in his hotel room at the age of 36.

A Texas Historical Marker in Big Spring tells the English nobleman’s story.