Here is a story about a prairie town that kept moving to be close to the railroad and even changed states in doing it. It is adapted from an original story titled “Pioneers of the Prairie”, written in 1967.
“The Panhandle of Texas with its broad, sweeping, fertile prairies, its numerous streams and springs of pure running water, magnificent groves of ash, elm, and cottonwood, is now opened for the settler and the farmer. Already the cabin of the squatter along the creek bank half hidden among the trees and the sod houses of the settler loom up as a castle upon the broad limitless prairie. But they stand lonely and are but the forerunners of the farm houses, the villages and the cities, that will soon ornament every slope, and crown every hill. Millions of acres are yet awaiting the coming of the home seeker. Millions of acres of rich alluvial soil that needs but to be turned to the sunlight, and the seeds dropped upon it, to return a bountiful harvest of golden grain.”
This poetry of the Panhandle is a description of Lipscomb County, Texas in 1886, which appeared in “The Panhandle Nester”, a newspaper published by J. M. McDonald. The writer’s vision and enthusiasm for the future of Lipscomb County was probably shared by all the prairie pioneers.
Settlers first came into Lipscomb County about 1880, and the immigration movement was really gathering momentum by 1886. North of Lipscomb County was No Man’s Land – the Oklahoma Panhandle. Until this became part of the Oklahoma Territory in 1890, it was a lawless haven for fugitives and gunmen.
Before settlement began, only a few cowboys herding cattle and a few roaming Indians occupied the Texas panhandle, No Man’s Land and Kansas. Though the first Lipscomb County settlers maintained that the rainfall was sufficient, a drought in 1885 and 1886 in the area hit the cattlemen hard. This dry spell was such a rough one that an early settler wrote on a board nailed across the door of his cabin:
- 250 miles to nearest post office.
- 100 miles to wood.
- 20 miles to water.
- 6 inches to hell.
- God bless our home.
- Gone to live with the wife’s folks.
The pioneer families in this area lived in dugouts until sod houses could be constructed. The next problem confronting the settlers was that of fuel. They burned cane heads, immature corn nubbins, broom corn seed, or anything that promised to give heat, but the greatest source of supply was “prairie coal” or cow chips. They burned real coal when it was available, and if they had money to pay for it. As the country became more thickly settled, they had to range farther and farther to get their needed supply of cow chips.
The story was told that when a lady first came from the East, she wore a glove and carefully put each cow chip in the stove. Six months later she was putting cow chips in with one hand and stirring gravy with the other.
At the turn of the century, homesteaders came in a steady stream to Beaver County in what is now the Oklahoma panhandle. In 1892, the land was opened for homesteading. The cost was $15 to file, and the terms were that you had to make improvements within six months and maintain residence on the land for five years. Each adult could claim a quarter of a section of land.
In comparison, the land in Lipscomb County had three classifications: state school land, dry and watered, and railroad land. The Houston and Texas Central Railroad owned each alternate section of land over most of the county and only a five-mile strip of this land across the north line of the county was for sale, at $2.50 per acre. The dry lands were available at $2.00 per acre with terms of one-thirtieth down and five per cent interest yearly. At the end of three years, the land could be paid for or payment could be deferred for thirty years by paying the five percent interest annually. Many of the settlers preferred to pay the five per cent interest annually rather than make full payment.
By the turn of the century, several sod towns, namely “Sodtown”, near Logan, and “Soddy Town”, just southwest of North Ivanhoe, had disappeared, but tales of these saloon towns were told and retold. During the dust storms of the 1930’s, the skeleton of Soddy Town emerged revealing the foundations, numerous whiskey bottles, and a rusty pistol.
These colorful sod towns were gradually replaced by more stable ones – towns designed to build and develop the prairie. The first Ivanhoe Post Office was established in 1892 at a ranch house on the Cox Ranch in Beaver County, Oklahoma Territory. The founder of the actual town of Ivanhoe was Willis E. Mitchell who came with his wife, Emily, from Mt. Vernon, Illinois, in 1901. Mr. Mitchell liked to tell how he arrived in Beaver County with an old pair of mules, a covered wagon, his wife, and a few groceries. He staked a claim to a quarter section of land and headed for Woodward where he mortgaged the mules and wagon for $25. He used this money to buy a supply of groceries, brought them to his claim and started selling, using a tent for his store and home. Later he combined the tent with a half-sod, half-dugout dwelling.
The Post Office was moved from the Cox Ranch house to the Mitchell store in 1901, and with it came the name “Ivanhoe”. The pioneer had far to go to buy the necessities of life. In the very early days, wagons were sent to Liberal, Kansas, or Dodge City, Kansas. After the Santa Fe was built through the southern part of Lipscomb County, Higgins was an important trading place. Settlers from Beaver County made the drive of several days with wagons to Higgins, crossing Wolf Creek at the Moreland crossing. There are still traces of these well-traveled roads across many grassy sections.
A spring near the Mitchell’s was the water supply for many settlers in the area. When the stream near the store froze in winter, Mr. Mitchell cut the ice in squares and stored it in a straw-lined dugout in the side of a hill. In the summer time, the Ivanhoe families could buy ice for ice cream or cold drinks.
With an eye to developing a town, Willis Mitchell had the town of Ivanhoe platted on the section lines west of this first location in 1906. The Mitchell General Store was housed in a new frame building and other businesses began to appear … Bill Courder owned another general store. Jack Marshall had a blacksmith shop. Roy Jenkins had a livery barn and Jap Adams had a hotel. The North Ivanhoe School was just north of the town and a Methodist Church was erected.
The railroads were extending farther and farther out on the prairies, and when the Beaver Valley and Northwestern Railway survey crossed Beaver County two miles south of Ivanhoe, some of the residents wanted to move to a location on the proposed line. The new town of South Ivanhoe was surveyed and platted in 1909. This new location was two miles south and one mile west of “Old” or North Ivanhoe and lay on the proposed railway line. With the Ivanhoe Band starting off the festivities, an auction was held to sell the lots in South Ivanhoe. After the band finished playing a few numbers, the auction started and the lots sold so successfully that an intermission was never taken for more band numbers. The entire town moved except for the Methodist Church. By 1911, the town was well located and the first big summer celebration was held. Activities included a baseball tournament, bronco riding, races, and square dancing. It lasted for two days.
The growth of South Ivanhoe was encouraging and the citizens felt that the railroad was all they needed to become a town of note. They watched apprehensively as yet another railroad survey was made in 1913, south of them, in Texas. The South Ivanhoe citizens took a “wait and see” attitude. When the graders and trucks moved in and began building a branch line out of Shattuck, Oklahoma to Spearman, Texas, there was no doubt left that the railroad had bypassed them. On August 2, 1917, Thomas C. Spearman of Cook County, Illinois, had the town of Follett platted and on December 10, 1917, had out-lots to the town platted. The town was named for Horace Follett, a locating engineer for the Santa Fe Railroad.
A railroad official met with the South Ivanhoe town fathers and asked them to move their town six miles south to what would become Follett, Texas. Many of the men were reluctant to move, contending that one move was enough. Meanwhile, a celebration for the Follett town site and new railroad line drew crowds from the entire area. One old timer said, “Everybody was there.” They drove in their cars along the railroad survey.
Lots in the new town were sold and many of the South Ivanhoe businessmen bought them while the debate dragged on about moving to Texas. Finally the majority of the merchants agreed that they were ready to move and engaged Mr. Willingham of Amarillo to move them. The buildings, loaded onto large trucks by horses, were pulled into Texas by a steam driven tractor.
“Moving Day” for the Montgomery Hardware Company building, first structure to be moved from Ivanhoe to Follett, was clearly remembered by Rev. Alvin L. Moyer. He had come to Ivanhoe in mid-December, 1917 to visit his sister, and stayed to watch the relocation.
“Arriving at Ivanhoe, I found the Montgomery Hardware Building being raised off its foundation,” he wrote. “Rolling equipment consisted of cast iron wheels two feet or more in diameter, with 12-inch wide faces, and spaced far enough apart to admit heavy square timbers. These wheels were arranged in pairs under each corner of the building.”
“Late one afternoon, after the necessary preparations were completed, a stream threshing engine was hitched to a heavy chain attached to the rolling equipment and the building began to move down the street. Many of the Ivanhoe residents assembled to watch the departure.”
“The weather was sunny and bright that day and the ground was dry and firm, so the rolling gear functioned very well. I rode on the front end of the building behind the engine as far as the east-west Texas line road where I dropped off to return home. The engine and building continued on the now historic six-mile journey across the fields to the new town-site.”
One merchant, 0. A. Crump, simply boarded up the shelves of his grocery store. The store was loaded one day, left early the next morning, and Mr. Crump was selling merchandise by four o’clock that afternoon. The other merchants followed Mr. Crump’s example and the businesses lost little operating time in the process of moving. The White House Lumber Company hurriedly erected a frame building before the first business from Ivanhoe arrived, thereby laying claim to being the first business in Follett.
For a few months after the move to Texas, the town got its mail at one of the stores, though still addressed, “Ivanhoe, Oklahoma.” In 1918, a post office was established, and the mail came directly out of Shattuck, Oklahoma on the train.
So, just be careful how you use the term “Okie” when you’re down in Texas. Some of them used to be Okies!