History of Plainview, TX

Hale County and the Texas High Plains are one of the last frontiers and one of the earliest habitats of North American man.

The history of man in this great plateau is known to trace as far into the past as 5,000 to 7,000 years before the birth of Christ. Those early "West Texans" were nomadic tribesmen whose entire life was the pursuit of the great bison, a predecessor of the modern buffalo, but twice the size of his later descendants, depending on the massive animals for food, clothing, shelter and the symbols of religion.

Where it was possible, the nomads evidently ran the huge animals over bluffs and falls and pounced on the few that were killed and disabled. Hale County's Running Water Draw was a favored watering place for the nomad. And the draw's bluffs and cuts were a handy place to "do in" a few of the nomads' food source.

One of those cuts was just southeast of what would eventually become downtown Plainview. That find and the fossil bone deposit that went with it would become the object of repeated archaeological study. The point itself, and others found at the kill site, were so distinctive among the examples of the early Americans killing and butchering tools that it would become known as the Plainview point, establishing a time and a place for man of the plains and offered some indication of his sophistication.

The nomad and the bison lived on, however, the Plains' first encounter with a new kind of man wasn't to arrive for thousands of years.

It was the 16th Century before the first of the new men began arriving on the Plains. It was after the Spanish had come west and decided to explore what was north of Mexico. Coronado and Cortez passed through this country, perhaps watering at the draw, as they made their exploratory searches for gold, silver and new places to claim for their sovereign.

In the post Civil War years, a last generation of frontiersman began looking for a new Frontier. For many, West Texas was it.

Buffalo hunters, cattleman and a few settlers wandered westward. Between them and what they sought stood the Comanche Indians-fierce, proud nomads who were said by military men of their time to be the greatest light calvary that ever existed. The Comanche's resisted the influx of white men wanting their hunting grounds and buffalo. And, so with the settlers came the U.S. Calvary.

Shortly after the Civil War the U.S. Army formed the 9th and 10th U.S. Calvary regiments made up of freed and enlisted slaves led by white officers. First one and then the other was dispatched to occupy West Texas and to protect the citizenry.

In the early 1870's General Randall Slidell MacKenzie would lead the 4th U.S. Calvary through West Texas to finally chase down and end the reign of the last great Comanche war chief, Quanah Parker, the son of a Comanche chief and captured farm girl Cynthia Parker.

With the end of the Comanche problem and with U.S. Centennial fervor in Austin, Hale County was legally created in 1876 and named for Lt. John C. Hale, a hero of the Battle of San Jacinto during the Texas revolution.

Only a year later, the country's first permanent white resident showed up for a look at what he expected to turn into a Methodist religious colony. He was Horatio Graves, a minister from New York.

A year later he was back to buy 16 sections of land. Five years later, he'd created the county's first community, Epworth, named after the English birthplace of John Wesley. Nine years later he and Epworth were both gone, but it was a beginning.

Close on Grave's heels were Texas cattlemen looking to more range land for what was fast becoming Texas' resurrection from the Civil War and Reconstruction. They were men like Col. C.C. Slaughter businessman, Indian fighter, rancher and one of the greatest promoters the early Texas cattle industry ever had; men like T.W. and T.N. Morrison and W.D. Johnson who put together Hale County's first ranching operation. They brought with them the Circle L and XIT.

Settlers-farmers-were already arriving by the time Slaughter and the Morrison brothers put together their Running Water Land and Cattle Co. in 1883. Only three years later Z.T. Maxwell staked out a quarter section of land around the Hackberry Groves; his friend, Edwin L. Lowe, an attorney and former Arkansas legislator appeared to claim an adjacent quarter section. The next year the two of them established the town site of Plainview and one Thornton Jones arrived to set up the new population center's first grocery store in a tent.

By 1888, there were enough people for Hale County to move from legal existence to an organized county with Plainview as the county seat.

From there the transition from dugouts along the draw to a young, yet modern city, was in terms of most historical things almost instantaneous. The city had schools in 1889, doctors in 1890 and its first bank by 1900.

With the influx of ideas the city quickly became a cultural center for the area.

In the early days of settlement, the way to prospering Plainview was either by wagon out of the rest of Texas, up the Caprock and into Hale County or by rail to the end of the line in Amarillo (later Canyon) and then across the beaten tracks southward.

All that changed behind the drive of a few of Plainview's prominent citizens who convinced Santa Fe Railroad that the way south had to be through the areas leading city. In 1907, the railroad arrived and the rest of the world had the kind of easy access that would make another major event truly significant.

In the early days ranching and farming has been contingent on West Texas' capricious weather which was enough to drive more than a few would-be residents on to other pursuits in other places. Underlying that sometimes harsh weather was the availability of water from the vast aquifer which in the early days drew water so close to the top of the soil that the low places, like Running Water Draw, always carried water and a water well often amounted to nothing more than driving a pipe into the ground and putting a windmill over it.

In 1910, some civic leaders decided that irrigation from that underground water source was the way to success. A local banker, J.H. Slaton, agreed to underwrite a test well on his land and a couple of well drillers, G.E. Green and J.N. McNaughton, set to work. In 1911, from 130 feet below the surface, the Slaton Well began pumping 1,700 gallons of clean, pure water per minute. Green followed up by developing a hollow-shaft, right-angle-gear drive irrigation pump that could run off an automobile engine, a contrivance that made modern irrigation financially possible for the West Texas farmer.

With rail service (Fort Worth & Denver brought east-west service to Plainview not long after Santa Fe established north-south service) and with water, the boom was on.

Plainview was already a small modern city-it had quality schools, two colleges, an opera house, a modern courthouse and a great deal more-when land promoters began seriously selling the irrigated paradise that surrounded the city.

W.P. Soash in the midwest and the Texas Land & Development Co. based in Plainview spread the word of clear, flat, fertile land with plenty of water. They hauled people in by rail passenger car from all over the country, loaded them in touring cars and took them out to see their could-be home. Texas Land & Development Co. actually went so far as to build its own lake near the Santa Fe Rail Station, a lake fed almost entirely by underground water and demonstrating, the company hoped, how much water there was in this seemingly semi-arid land.

The salesmanship worked and Plainview boomed only to be slowed by the horror of the Great Depression, and then to be revitalized by a renewed boom in the year after World War II when irrigated farming truly took hold and modern farm equipment made large scale cash crop farming truly possible.

Plainview is now the heart of one of the country's most productive agricultural areas and, as a city, it has also begun to make the transition from being a strictly agriculture oriented center of commerce to offering a diversity of business and industry opportunities.

Plainview is old enough and mature enough to recognize and appreciate its roots, but it is also young enough to still consider itself a place of opportunity for anyone with frontier spirit enough to take advantage of the opportunities.