Western Trips

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Places to Visit in Texas / Hillsboro

hill county texas courthouse
Hill County Courthouse
When you're looking for places to visit in Texas add Hillsboro to your vacation trip planner. Hillsboro Texas is easy to reach, located about 62 miles south of the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex in northern central Texas and just west of Interstate 35. If you're a Texas history enthusiast then Hillsboro Texas is a must stop.

Hillsboro Texas

Hillsboro, the county seat of Hill County, has quite a few historic buildings to see and is significant in Texas history. The town is well known for both it's courthouse and it's beautiful Victorian homes. Established in 1853, Hillsboro offers visitors a real good look at Texas' historic buildings and establishments. In the early 1900’s, Hill County was the second largest cotton-producing county in the United States.

Hillsboro was one of the first Texas towns selected in 1981 by The Texas Historical Commission for the state's Main Street Program. The Texas Main Street Program, part of the Texas Historical Commission's Community Heritage Development Division, helps Texas cities revitalize their historic downtown areas and neighborhood commercial districts by utilizing preservation and economic development strategies.

red rock saloon in hillsboro texas
Red Rock Saloon, Est. 1876, Hillsboro TX
Hillsboro and the Railroad 

As was the case with many towns, the railroad was also key to the growth of Hillsboro Texas. The railroad reached Hillsboro in 1881, the same year that the town was incorporated. The MKT, or often referred to as the Katy, brought jobs and more commerce to the town. The commerce attributed to the railroad also brought many immigrants into Hill County. By 1900 the population of Hillsboro was 5,000, and in 1903 the Trinity and Brazos Valley Railway began serving the town. In 1909 a new city hall with an attached fire and police station was constructed, and some city streets were paved. In 1915 Hillsboro received its first charter. The railroads continued to operate through Hillsboro into the 1930's. When the railroad left so did much of the towns prosperity.

Hillsboro Texas Attractions

The present Hill County Courthouse is one of several that had been constructed there. The first frame building courthouse was built in 1854. The year 1872 saw the first brick courthouse two stories high but it burned and was replaced by a fourth courthouse in 1874. The last courthouse was built in 1890 and designed by architect W. C. Dodson of Waco Texas.

hillsboro texas historic buildings
T.B. Bond Pharmacy, Est 1881
The Hill County Courthouse is a three story limestone building of Second Empire style. Courthouses you'll find in nearby Parker and Hood Counties were also designed by Dodson. The architecture also includes Classical revival and Italianate designs. The county courthouse was largely destroyed by an electrical fire in 1993 and was later restored to it's grand state thanks to donations. 

The Hill County “Cell Block” Museum is on the National register of Historic Places. The museum is located just one block north of the county courthouse in the old county jail. Prisoners were kept at this jail until April of 1983. After that the Hill County Historical Commission obtained the structure to restore and use as a county museum.

The T.B. Bond Pharmacy claims to be the oldest continuously operating  pharmacy in Texas. The pharmacy is located directly across the street south of the county courthouse.

katy railroad
Old Katy Railroad
 The Texas Heritage Museum located on the campus of Hill College is an excellent museum for those wanting to explore the rich history of the state. On the museum's front grounds is the "Official Texas State Memorial To Native Born Texas Medal of Honor Recipients." This memorial honors the 56 native born Texans who received the Medal of Honor.As part of the Texas Heritage Museum are a large collection of Audie Murphy's personal artifacts from WWII along with James Harris' Medal of Honor from WWII. Here you will also find a 3,000 volume library.  Hillsboro Junior College dates from 1923, was closed in  1950 and reopened in 1962 as Hill Junior College.

historic texas buildings
Old Farmers Bank Bldg., on Hillsboro town square

The Katy Train Depot served the Katy Railroad, also known as the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, is now home to the Hillsboro Area Chamber of Commerce. The Katy Railroad at one time offered passenger service between St. Louis Missouri and San Antonio Texas. 

The Old Rock Saloon  is on the National Register of Historic Places. Established in 1876 it is located south and  across the street from the Hill County Courthouse.

You'll also find these additional Western Trips photo articles interesting. They include Visiting Waco Texas, the home of Dr. Pepper...the historic frontier art community of Salado Texas...and the historic Driskill Hotel in Austin Texas. All of these combined offer some great additions to your Texas vacation planner.

Visiting Hillsboro Texas

Today's Hillsboro Texas has something for everyone. It's one of the interesting places to visit in Texas. History buffs will enjoy the many historic sites and venues listed above. There's a very popular outlet mall located along Interstate 35 and downtown Hillsboro features many antique stores, historic buildings and restaurants. If you're able to spend additional time in Hillsboro, you'll want to check out the Windmill B & B. The Windmill Bed and Breakfast is located in a 1910 Victorian home. The address is 441 Hill County Road 2421E, Hillsboro.

Hillsboro's location south of Dallas makes it a great stop while traveling to Austin and San Antonio and the Texas Hill Country.

(Photos from author's private collection)
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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Route 66 / Texas Panhandle

Traveling through the Texas Panhandle on Interstate 40 offers some very interesting stops regarding the old "Mother Road", Route 66. As you may know, Interstate 40 through Oklahoma, Texas and Arizona roughly follows Route 66. Many towns sprouted up in the Texas Panhandle aided by both the railroad and the famed highway.

route 66 texas
Route 66 in the Texas Panhandle
The Texas Panhandle Comes Into Being.

If you ever wondered how the Texas Panhandle came into being, it was the result of the Compromise of 1850. Prior to and even during the Mexican American War of the 1840's, Texas claimed a vast area in the west. Claims were made as far west as the Rio Grande in present day New Mexico. This began during the days of the Texas Republic in the 1830's. When the war ended, the federal government created New Mexico Territory. Issues necessitating the involved slavery and general sectional disputes. When the compromise was reached, Texas was allocated the over 25,000 square mile area which we call the Panhandle.

The Texas Panhandle would eventually be an area noted for cattle ranching. It was in the Texas Panhandle where the famous XIT Ranch operated within it's 3 million acres. 

The Railroad and the Texas Panhandle

These are the towns you'll find today driving west from Amarillo Texas. These include towns such as Vega, Adrian and Wildorado Texas. The economy of these towns were generally ranching and agricultural. The first boom era was ushered in with the railroad.

vega texas
Vega Texas
While the Denver and Fort Worth Railroad put Amarillo on the map,other railroads were building into Amarillo Texas. Mergers and acquisitions took place and eventually the Chicago, Rock Island and Gulf Railroad was completed.

By 1910, a rail line was built from Amarillo west to the New Mexico border. The Rock Island would eventually run to Tucumcari New Mexico where it would join up with a Southern Pacific line and offer service from Chicago to the west coast. This line would be in direct competition with the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad.

Route 66

After the Texas Panhandle towns of Adrian, Vega and Wildorado came into their own due to the railroad, they would find themselves directly on the path of America's Route 66. When Route 66 came into being in 1927, American's finally had a numbered highway that would extend from Chicago Illinois to Santa Monica California.

magnolia gas station texas
Magnolia Station
Adrian Texas

Texas Panhandle towns west of Amarillo suddenly had an influx of cross country travelers. Motels or motor courts sprung up. Restaurants and gas stations suddenly grew by leaps and bounds. Adrian Texas represents the halfway point between Chicago and Santa Monica. One thousand and one hundred and thirty nine miles in either direction.

Vega Texas

The first store to open in Vega Texas was in 1903. At one time this was a busy town along Route 66. Vega had cafes and gas stations, three small hotels and auto repair shops. The town's name came from the Spanish word "Vega" which means meadow. Drive past Vega on Route 66 today and you'll still see the Vega Motel sign. The motel was built in 1947 when post war traffic on Route 66 was humming along and it still operates today. 

Drive into the center of Vega today and you'll see the restored 1920's era Magnolia Gas Station. The Magnolia Petroleum Company was formed in 1911 after the consolidating of several other oil companies. More mergers would take place. The Magnolia stations sold Mobil oil and gas. It's most recognizable symbol is the Greek horse "Pegasus" which still can be seen on top of the old Magnolia Building in downtown Dallas Texas which is now the Magnolia Hotel.

vega texas motel
Vega Motel on Route 66
Wildorado Texas

Wildorado Texas came into being in 1900 when the Rock Island Railroad came through the Texas Panhandle. Wildorado published it's own newspaper by 1909. When the rail lines were built the town site was mapped out. Just as with Adrian and Vega, Wildorado's growth blossomed after World War Two thanks to old Route 66.

Side Trips Off the Interstate

It's so easy these days to drive right past historically interesting sites and landmarks when traveling the Interstates. Because it follows much if the old Route 66, Interstate 40 through Texas is an excellent example. When you drive west of Amarillo you'll see the signs of the town's names and you'll also see signs pointing out where sections of the old Mother Road still exist. If you have the time I think you'll find a short detour through some of these towns a worth while stop. Lots of old Route 66 nostalgia is guaranteed.

amarillo texas santa fe depot
Old Santa Fe Train depot, Amarillo
If you drive west from Oklahoma City on Interstate 40 before reaching the Texas Panhandle there are many interesting stops. One is historic Fort Reno just about twenty miles west of Oklahoma City.

You'll enjoy our Western Trips article on Fort Reno. Drive a bit further west to Erick Oklahoma and you can visit the Roger Miller Museum.  The singer songwriter was born in Erick and the town has put together a very interesting museum concerning his career.

You'll also enjoy our photo article on the Roger Miller Museum. Another interesting Western Trips photo article is Tucumcari along Route 66.

All of these attractions and many more are along the old Route 66 and now easy to reach via Interstate 40. You'll also want to set aside some time to visit the old Route 66 area of Amarillo. The Mother Road went through the center of the city and there's plenty of interesting structures and shops still standing from the era.

(Photos from author's private collection)

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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Missions San Antonio

Visitors to San Antonio Texas have an opportunity to explore several old Spanish Missions. Western Trips visited the missions San Antonio has to offer and in this article we wanted to highlight Mission Concepcion whose original name was Mission Nuestra Senora de la Purisima.

mission concepcion san antonio texas
Mission Concepcion, San Antonio TX
There are four missions within within a national park just south of the central city of San Antonio. The four mission churches within San Antonio Missions National Historical Park are active catholic parishes. All of these mission/churches hold regular religious services.

You will also enjoy our Western Trips photo articles on the Mission San Jose and the Alamo in San Antonio.

The Construction of Mission Concepcion

Mission Concepcion was founded in 1716 by the Franciscans. The mission was transferred to it's present site in 1731 and today looks very much as it did that year. The mission you see today took about twenty years to build. It was constructed in typical Spanish Colonial architecture. The mission walls are 45 inches thick and constructed with limestone. The twin bell towers were likely topped with crosses such as the ones seen there today. The stones that the Indians used to construct the mission and the other buildings on it's grounds actually came from a quarry located on the mission grounds.

Mission Indians

As mentioned above, the Spanish missions in San Antonio were constructed by the local Indians. This practice was part of the overall mission goals, that of teaching many of the Indians to become artisans.

mission concepcion
One of the two bell towers
The Spanish missions, whether in Texas, New Mexico or California had the purpose of both converting the Indians to Christianity and as serving as a symbol of Spanish rule. The missions were to serve as notice to other countries that Spain had established their rule. Teaching the Indians to be farmers, artisans and Christians was all a part of Spain's effort to settle the region. The missions represented both church and state on the frontier.

Mission Concepcion was formally dedicated in 1755. Today Mission Concepcion  is the oldest unrestored stone church in America. It is located within the national park at  807 Mission Road, San Antonio.

The missions name is in honor of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception and Juan de Acuña, the Marqués de Casafuerte. The Marqués was Viceroy of New Spain (present day Mexico) when the mission transferred to the area near the San Antonio River in 1731.

See our Western Trips article...The Bluebonnets of Burnet Texas

The Spanish Mission Alamo

The fifth mission in San Antonio is the Alamo. The Alamo's original name was Mission San Antonio de Valero. It was the first Spanish mission built in San Antonio but is not within the boundaries of the national park. The Alamo is operated by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. It's place in history was the Battle of the Alamo involving among others, Davey Crockett, James Bowie and William Travis. The Alamo is located just east of what was then known as the settlement San Antonio de Bexar.

san antonio missions national historical park
Mission Concepcion portal and archway
Exploring Mission Concepcion and the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

The national park in San Antonio is set up to be a driving tour to the four missions within it's boundary. The four missions include Mission Concepcion, Mission San Jose, Mission San Juan and Mission Espada.

Visiting the four missions will take between two and four hours. There are roadways between each mission site. There's a lot of interesting history to see.

To begin your tour from downtown San Antonio, the National Park Service offers the following directions to the park Visitor Center at the Mission San Jose site. It's a good idea to begin your tour at this Visitor Center. San Jose Mission is the second mission south of San Antonio. Mission Concepcion was the first and is located just north of Mission San Jose. At the Visitor Center you can view exhibits, obtain park maps and other information to begin your tour.

missions san antonio
View of Mission Concepcion stonework
Directions From Downtown San Antonio and the Alamo Area

Travel south on South St. Mary’s Street. Approximately one mile south of downtown, after passing beneath railroad tracks, South St. Mary’s becomes Roosevelt Ave. Continue on Roosevelt 4 miles to a large stone structure on your left: Mission San José. At the first stop light past the mission turn left onto New Napier Ave. Follow the signs into our parking lot or bus lanes, as appropriate.

When you start your tour at the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park Visitors Center be sure to ask about the times of guided park ranger tours of the grounds at Mission San Jose. Mission San Jose still has it's large walls around the compound with built in rooms. There's a lot of history that goes with it and a guided tour is well worth the time.

(Photos and article copyright Western Trips)

Friday, December 21, 2012

Texas Train Rides / Heartland Flyer

Western Trips highlights railroads in Texas. One passenger railroad route that is a lot of fun and even educational to ride connects Texas with the state of Oklahoma. The Heartland Flyer connects Oklahoma City and Fort Worth Texas. The Heartland Flyer operates 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Service on this route began in 1999 after a twenty year absence of rail service between Oklahoma City and Texas.

heartland flyer train
Heartland Flyer
The Heartland Flyer

The Heartland Flyer is operated by Amtrak and  operates as a regular train as well as an excursion train between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth.

 In addition to this, the Heartland Flyer in Fort Worth Texas also connects to the Texas Eagle, Amtrak's long distance train service between Chicago Illinois and San Antonio Texas. Arriving in Fort Worth from Oklahoma City, a passenger can connect to the Texas Eagle and then in San Antonio connect to Amtrak's Sunset Limited which offers long distance service between New Orleans Louisiana and Los Angeles California. The Heartland Flyer therefore can be part of a fun family excursion trip or a means for those in Oklahoma to connect to Amtrak's national cross country system. The Heartland Flyer is usually made up of two refurbished Superliner Coaches and a Superliner II Coach/Cafe Car. The Superliners are the two level rail cars.

Fun Excursions on the Heartland Flyer

For travelers wishing to take a sightseeing trip to Oklahoma City from north Texas there are plenty of great historic sites and museums to visit. As part of the Trails & Rails program, on certain dates National Park Service guides from the Chickasaw National Recreation Area are onboard the Heartland Flyer between Oklahoma City and Ft. Worth. Trails & Rails is a partnership program between the National Park Service and Amtrak. The Trails and Rails program provides rail passengers with educational opportunities that highlight an appreciation of a selected region's natural and cultural heritage.

ardmore oklahoma amtrak station
Heartland Flyer Station, Ardmore OK
Heartland Flyer passengers will be introduced to the rich cultural heritage of Oklahoma and Texas, the storied history of the area, the geological story of the region and descriptions of the Oklahoma and Texas landscape including it's animals and plants. The historic role of the railroad in the area is also discussed. All of this is provided by volunteer tour guides. Obviously, the Heartland Flyers Trails and Rails program makes a great fun and educational family outing.

Chickasaw National Recreation Area is in south central Oklahoma, between Dallas, Texas and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, the area where the Heartland Flyer operates. The museum collection at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area includes historic objects and archival material directly associated with the park and the early settlement of the town of Sulphur Springs.

The Chickasaw National Recreation Area museum is located about 95 miles south of Oklahoma City and about 15 miles north of Ardmore Oklahoma in the town of Sulpher.

amtrak heartland flyer
Amtrak's Heartland Flyer
The Rail Route

Much of the 206 mile rail route of today's Heartland Flyer follows the old Chicago-Houston "Lone Star" rail route. 

The Lone Star was an Amtrak train that served the cities of Chicago, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, Fort Worth and Houston with intermediate stops in between. For three years stating in 1971, the train was named the "Texas Chief." This was the same name used while the line was operated by the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad. At the request of the AT & SF, the name was changed to the Lone Star. There was another earlier Lone Star train. That one was operated by the St. Louis Southwestern Railway and ran between Memphis Tennessee and Dallas Texas. That service was discontinued in 1952.

The Lone Star, operated by Amtrak since 1974, discontinued service in 1979 due to budget cuts.

Two additional Western Trips photo articles you'll enjoy are Texas' Historic Katy Railway and the Frisco Railroad and Santa Fe Dining Car China. The Frisco ran from St. Louis Missouri to San Antonio Texas over this same route.

heartland flyer depot
Ardmore Oklahoma
The Heartland Flyer and Fun Sites to See in Oklahoma City and Fort Worth

One excellent venue is the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. The museum is located at 1700 N.E. 63rd Street, Oklahoma City OK. See western and military collections of uniforms, firearms, saddles, rodeo exhibits, a full frontier town exhibit and much more.

The Fort Worth Stockyards has been a top Texas attraction for many years. Located on the west side of Fort Worth, the Fort Worth Stockyards features restaurants, the Stockyards Museum, the Cowtown Coliseum, the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame, an old time photo parlor, a vintage steam locomotive and train that runs between Grapevine Texas and the Stockyards, a stable and much more.

The Greater Southwest Historical Museum- Located in Ardmore Oklahoma, this museum  collects, preserves, and interprets the social, cultural, and economic history of South-Central Oklahoma, with special emphasis on Ardmore and Carter County. Their collection includes everything from an early electric car to one of the earliest examples of a steam pumper fire engine.

National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame-  Located at 1720 Gendy Street in the Cultural District of Fort Worth, the museum is within walking distance of the Will Rogers Memorial Center and the Museum of Science and History. Among the many exhibits in this 33,000 square foot facility are information, photos and artifacts regarding the cowgirls place in western history. You may also want to try riding a bronc. The bronc at the museum is a life size model modified from training bulls used by rodeo riders.

(Photos from author's private collection)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Pioneer Farm

hay rake
Hay Rake

Western Trips explores the world of the pioneer farm and the pioneer farmer.

At the bottom of this photo article we have listed several fun and educational venues where farming during America's frontier era is exhibited. These sites include frontier farm houses, frontier farming equipment and stories of these adventurous pioneers. You'll want to check out these sites because they can make excellent additions to your vacation or road trip planners and they're perfect outings for the entire family.

The very first settlers on the plains typically chose land along a stream or river. Water was an absolute necessity. Droughts could cut off river water but at least by locating near water there was a chance that enough could be provided for the pioneer farm house, the stock and irrigation. By locating near a stream there always was the prospect that water could be drawn from a well perhaps twenty to sixty feet deep. 

Where to Farm 

The Homestead Act of 1862 provided 160 free acres to the head of a family who resided on the land for five years. The land could also be acquired after only six months for $1.25 an acre. This act helped many people get started in frontier farming but only 160 acres were not enough to efficiently operate a farm in the plains where semi-arid conditions existed.

spike tooth harrow
Spike Tooth Harrow
Two other federal acts helped the Great Plains farmer gain more land. The first was the Timber Culture Act of 1874 which granted a farmer another 160 acres if they planted and maintained trees on a portion of the land. After that came the Desert Land Act in 1877 offered the pioneer farmer another 640 acres for $1.25 per acre if he agreed to irrigate the land within three years.

The other option available to increase one's land holdings was to purchase it from the railroads who were given millions of acres through a federal land grant. Some pioneer farmers, if they were financially able to, found this the better option since farming near the railroads meant easier access to markets. The railroads heavily promoted the sale of their land. The railroads had two reasons to promote the selling of granted land. One was for the money received. The other was that by selling their land they were indirectly promoting more pioneer settlement on the plains and more settlement meant more business for the railroad.

pioneer wind mill
Wind Mill for water pumping
The Water Witches

During this era there was also the services available from what were called the "water witches". These were people who would, for a fee, walk over a farmer's land with a "Y" shaped stick, the joint end pointed to the ground, and attempt to find where underground water could be found. These people were also called "diviners". If they were successful in locating a spot where they told the pioneer farmer water could be found by digging a well they would collect their fee and depart. The key was for the diviner to leave with his fee before the digging began. After they left, the farmer would dig for water at that spot. If water was found, which did happen at times, the diviner would build a reputation. If water was not found, the water witch would already have left with his fee and the plains were big enough to find another client far away.

Underground water was much easier to get at near a stream. The other alternative was by digging a well, possibly over 100 feet or more deep. Hand pumping usually couldn't bring the water to the surface and wind mills like the one shown above were used. The wind power turned a crank which pumped up the water. The fin on the top blade kept the blade facing toward the wind.

farm ring roller
Ring Roller
The only other alternative was to collect water in a cistern but this method rarely produced enough water to sustain a farm household, especially in the semi-arid western Plains.

Working the Land

Even using improved farming equipment, the pioneer farmer, sometimes referred to as a "sodbuster", would often have a difficult time cutting sod and tilling. The reason was that the roots ran very deep and intertwined to form sod sometimes twelve feet thick. Even after cutting up the grasslands of the western plains, the farmer would often find that the topsoil blew away. This is why the two biggest problems facing a western plains pioneer farm were finding adequate water and contending with the windy plains climate. Without mountains to interrupt the winds, the plains region was and is prime tornado territory.

antique steel farm tiller
Steel Tiller Center
Natural Disasters Possible with Each Season

Other problems facing the pioneer farmer were natural disasters. Flooding and the dreaded prairie fire were the bane of the plains farmer. Essentially, every season had difficulties lurking. The spring season meant floods. The summer could bring drought. The fall season could bring with it prairie fires. During the fall grasses were limp and dry. There were many ways for these dried grasses to catch fire. Lightening and campfires were the main culprits. Once a prairie fire started it was basically impossible to control. The raging fires would destroy any crops that were in it's path but the land was so sparsely settled that danger to human life was secondary. What a pioneer farmer might do to avoid the flames himself was to burn out an area around him thus depriving the wildfire of fuel. This is of course similar in a way to how modern day wildfires and forest fires are contained. The last season, winter, usually brought freezing temperatures and blizzards.

Pioneer Farm Equipment

A pioneer farm on the Great Plains required agricultural machinery such as improved steel plows, threshing and haymaking machines, seed drills and windmills to pump water from deep underground.

farmstead potting shed and root cellar
Potting shed and root cellar
Included is a "spike tooth harrow" pictured above.This piece of farm equipment has straight teeth on horizontal bars and is used to smooth and level plowed soil or seedbeds for planting or sowing. Another farm tool pictured above is the "hay rake". The hay rake has two purposes. It collects hay or straw into "windrows" which are rows of cut hay or straw.  The hay rake also turns over hay allowing it to dry.  The "ring roller" pictured above is made out of two dozen cast iron disks and is used to break up farmland after plowing.

The photo left is a potting shed and root cellar exhibited at The Heritage Farmstead in Plano Texas. 

See our Western Trips photo articles about the Victorian Pioneer Homes and a Tour of Homes of the 1800's as well as a Visit to Post Texas, the town built in 1907 by cereal magnate C.W. Post.

Visit Pioneer Farm Exhibits

Pioneer Farms is located at 10621 Pioneer Farms Drive in northeast Austin Texas.

Living History Farms located in Urbandale, Iowa, tells the amazing story of how Iowans transformed the fertile prairies of the Midwest into the most productive farmland in the world.

Nelson Pioneer Farm located at 2211 Nelson Lane,Oskaloosa, Iowa.  

The Heritage Farmstead site in Plano Texas, a northern suburb of Dallas, features a Victorian farmhouse and various out buildings with a large collection of frontier farm equipment. 

The Prairie Museum of Arts and History in Colby Kansas features a sod house, one room school house and many other exhibits of the frontier era.  

Pioneer Village in Minden Nebraska has buildings and over 50,000 exhibits. Among their exhibits is a prairie sod house and a wide collection of antique tractors.

Heritage Park and Museums in Dublin California, just east of the San Francisco Bay Area features a large farmstead exhibit including a large collection of antique farm equipment, a barn and farm house, a schoolhouse and a church dating to the latter 1800's.

(Photos from author's private collection)

Monday, December 17, 2012

Western Army / Fort Reno

fort reno oklahoma
1887 Fort Reno Guard House
Western Trips visits Fort Reno Oklahoma, the site of a unique western army fort that operated from the time of the Indian Wars through World War Two.

 Oklahoma historic sites are plentiful. The state is home to many very interesting historic sites that span from the times of the Indian Wars and Indian Territory days through the mid 1900's. Fort Reno is certainly one of these sites.

A Perfect Addition to Your Western Trip

If your western road trip takes you to the Oklahoma City area you'll want to add this stop to your vacation road trip planner. Fort Reno is located just a few miles north of Interstate 40 and only about 26 miles west of Oklahoma City and just outside El Reno Oklahoma.

Fort Reno is also near another historic event which was the Battle of the Washita. This was the battle or massacre of Southern Cheyennes and their peace seeking Chief Black Kettle and his wife in 1868. The conflict involved eleven companies of the 7th Cavalry under Lt. Col. George A. Custer along with additional army troops. Today, the site of the massacre is the Black Kettle National Grassland, about 100 miles west of Fort Reno. Also at this site is the Black Kettle Museum in Cheyenne Oklahoma. The Black Kettle Museum chronicles the Southern Cheyenne and early settlement of the area and is an excellent companion trip to your visit of Fort Reno.

fort reno buildings
1891 Officers Quarters
An Historic Western Army Fort

Fort Reno was established in 1874 but came to it's present location in 1876. The fort was named by General Philip Sheridan in honor of General Jesse L. Reno, a career army officer, who died in the Battle of South Mountain in 1862. This was the same year as the Battle of the Little Bighorn further north in Montana and at a time that the present state of Oklahoma was designated as the Indian Territory. Fort Reno is also located where a branch of the famous Chisholm Cattle Trail once ran.

One of the fascinating aspects of Fort Reno is the time in history that the fort was operational. Fort Reno was an  outpost for the "buffalo soldiers" in the late 1800's who played a big role in the Indian Wars in both the plains and the southwest...played a role in Oklahoma's entrance into statehood in 1907...was an military outposte during World Wars One and Two and was the site of a German POW camp during the Second World War. Virtually all troops at the fort left to serve during the Spanish American War. That's quite a lot of history for one former western army fort.

fort reno cavalry
Ft Reno 1934 Cavalry Barracks
Fort Reno was abandoned in 1908 just one year after Oklahoma gained statehood but operated as an army remount depot all the way until 1949. A remount depot supplies the army with mules and horses. The remount depot also bred horses for the cavalry. Troopers at this remount station trained cavalry horses and mules for military use. After 1948 all animal breeding became the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture. In addition to being on the National Register of Historic Places, Fort Reno is also home to the U.S. Department of Agrriculture's Grazinglands Research Laboratory.

Also, see our Western Trips photo articles on Fort Union New Mexico where wagon ruts from the old Santa Fe Trail days can still be viewed and a story about historic Fort Concho Texas and it's Indian fighter commander Ranald Mackenzie.

indian territory map
Indian Territory Map
Operating in the Middle of Indian Territory

As many know, the Oklahoma Land Rush which opened the territory to white settlement came with a lot of complications beforehand. Troops at Fort Reno made several evictions of the "Boomers" from the Unassigned Lands of Indian Territory for ten years prior to the opening for settlement in 1889. The troops were also involved with the subsequent land runs in 1892 and 1894.

Fort Reno troops were also called on to settle disputes between the tribes already residing in Indian Territory. Much of the trouble arose from political differences between the tribes. At that time the territory was the home of the "Five Civilized Tribes" that had been forcibly relocated to Oklahoma from the southern U.S. Having all of these tribes living in a relatively small area raised challenges for all involved, the Native Americans and the western army.

Fort Reno Buildings and Grounds

Unlike many western army forts, Fort Reno was originally built with wood, brick and stone. To help construct the fort a sawmill was built. Fort Reno today includes 25 buildings of historic significance and the Post Cemetery located one mile west of the Old Quadrangle or Parade Grounds.

fort reno army fort
Fort Reno Commissary building
Interred in the Fort Reno cemetery are the remains of pioneer citizens, military personnel, victims of the Northern Cheyenne outbreak, and World War II German prisoners. The post chapel which you can visit today was built by members of Hitler's Afrika Korps. During the Second World War During World War,  94 acres of the forts lands was designated as an internment work camp for German Prisoners of War. More than 1,300 Germans were brought to Fort Reno by railroad. Guards at the POW camp were from the U.S. Army's 435th Military Police Escort Guard Company.

Again, one of the fascinating things about this Oklahoma historic site is how many tasks Fort Reno was assigned during it's decades of operation. 

fort reno oklahoma post chapel
Fort Reno Post Chapel
The fort buildings have been going through an ongoing restoration program thanks to several grants including a large one from the National Park Service.

Visiting Fort Reno

Fort Reno Oklahoma hosts events throughout the year. These include tours, reenactments, car and motorcycle cruise events, a Christmas celebration and several other gatherings. Fort Reno's Visitor Center in addition to having many excellent artifacts on exhibit helps to educate the public through historical interpretation.Some of the interesting artifacts include Frederick Remington art work after his visiting the fort. German POW letters are exhibited, images of the Cheyenne Indians, clothes of the frontier era and much more.

To reach the Fort Reno Visitor Center from Interstate 40, take exit 119. You'll see several signs that guide you north a few miles to the fort entrance.

Two good books to explore this subject further include Fort Reno and the Indian Territory Frontier by author Stan Edward Hoig and  Black Kettle: The Cheyenne Chief Who Sought Peace But Found War by author Thom Hatch.

(Photos from author's private collection)

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Friday, December 14, 2012

The Western Newspaper

The western newspaper was as big a part of frontier town life as the livery stable, the sheriffs office and the saloon. In many ways, a frontier town wasn't a real town without the perceived presence of a newspaper. As the frontier kept moving west it didn't take long for a newspaper to pop up. The first newspaper to begin publication west of the Alleghenies was in Pittsburgh in 1786. The first west of the Mississippi was in St. Louis in 1808. Gradually through the mid 1800's newspapers would begin all across the west. The Black Hills Pioneer began publication in 1876 during the great mining boom in Deadwood, Dakota Territory.

Daily Alta California newspaper bldg, 1851
Western Trips has visited several good venues that exhibit authentic antique printing equipment from the days of newspapers like the Tombstone Epitaph, the Phoenix Daily Herald, the Bismarck Tribune and the Oregon Spectator. Photos of several of these printing mechanisms are featured throughout this article.

At the end of the article we have listed several excellent museums that exhibit many of the printing presses used in the old west.

Who Ran the Western Newspaper?

If you use western cinema as a guide, you'll believe that the western newspaper owner/editor in a frontier town was a crusader for justice...a seeker of truth...a person of wisdom...a pillar of local society. The real truth was that newspaper owners/editors varied in personality and mission as in just about any other career. During the 1800's there were no journalism schools as we know of today and therefore no set way of reporting, writing or for that matter running a newspaper.

Chandler and Price Hand Press
Two things that were important for anyone starting a newspaper in a small western town in the 1800's was to be relatively young and not expecting to get rich quick. Being young was helpful for two reasons. Stamina and strength were required to operate some of the early print presses and with the hours required, not having heavy family obligations was a good thing.

The tediousness of operating printing equipment was enough for many to give it up. You could say that there were easier ways to make money. Some who traveled to the California gold country to set up a newspaper found themselves struck with the gold bug themselves.

The Old Western Newspaper

If you research articles from western frontier newspapers chances are you'll often notice both grammatical errors and words misspelled. Some of this had to do with phraseology of the times as well as a lack of education of the editor. The good part was that many of the paper's readers were of the same background and spelling errors were not an issue nor were many of them noticed.

Type cabinet
Just like today, sensational headlines were used to attract attention. In a western frontier town this wasn't too difficult to come up with. This was an era of personal journalism and libel laws were loose to say the least.

Another fact was that often more than one paper would pop up in a town and more times than not a squabble would erupt between the two paper's editors. It wasn't uncommon for one to call the other a liar in print. Sometimes this led to violence or threat of violence. An editor could also infuriate a group of citizens which could lead to a mob descending upon the editor's office.

One noted incident involved Mark Twain during his time as a reporter for the Virginia City Nevada Territorial paper. Twain was in Nevada City during the early 1860's when the mining boom was in full swing. Because of an unflattering and accusatory article Twain wrote about the owner of a competitor newspaper the story goes that Twain was challenged to a duel. It's an interesting tale and one with several versions of what ensued.

Washington Hand Press
Apparently there was no duel but the feud did cause Mark Twain to suddenly depart Nevada City for good. Twain hastily moved to California  where he then went on to write his "Roughing It" and "The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County". The last being a publication that would springboard his career as a national writer.

Newspapermen of the old frontier not only wrote and printed the news but often times made the news as well.

Trying to Make Money

While being caught up with the around the clock duties of news gathering, editing, printing and then distribution, there was scant time left for an owner/operator to try to make money. This was especially true with one man operations. In the early days being both the printer and editor was more the rule than the exception. Many small papers went broke and usually it didn't take long.

Small start up papers would often solicit for items in their editorials to stay afloat. They would accept merchandise as cash payment. When the town grew and stabilized and more and more businesses opened up, some publishers actually had a fair amount of financial success. The bread and butter for a small town frontier newspaper were legal notices that had to be put in print. These typically included land and timber notices. Another revenue source was the printing of political notices and candidate advertising. In addition, revenue was obtained from subscription sales which the paper tried hard to get paid up in advance. Cash flow was a real concern if one wanted to be able to order new printing supplies.

Yet another opportunity for the frontier western newspaper to make money was with printing jobs for the local territorial or state government. Much of this depended on the towns location.

You'll also enjoy our Western Trips articles on Tombstone Arizona and the Tombstone Epitaph and several Historic Stops in Frontier America. Also see our article on Breckenridge Colorado / Historic Mining Town and Year Round Resort

Columbian Jobber
Antique Printing Equipment 

Johann Gutenberg invented the movable-type printing press around the 1440s. Amazingly enough, for some 500 years afterward, raised-and-reversed letters were inked and pressed against paper to create an impression. Over the years quality did indeed improve.

Today, when you travel around the country, there are a great many exhibits of printing equipment that were used by newspapers and other community publications in the latter part of the 1800's.

The Columbian Jobber shown above was manufactured from 1878 to 1891 by Curtis & Mitchell of Boston. Although a clam shell press, this press has a device which provides a pause in the action of the platen to facilitate feeding.

For a good many years, printers would have to hand set each letter at a time. They would store the letters in a type cabinet similar to the one shown above.You can imagine the time it took to put out even a one sheet paper. If you were both the printer and editor you had an around the clock job.  

Professional printers were often journeymen. typically they would be paid for the amount of lettering they worked with. In some instances skilled printers were paid a fairly good salary. In 1895 Kansas, a skilled printer might earn $8 per week.

Ink and printing supplies exhibit
See the Frontier Printing Presses

You may very well wish to add some of the following venues and museums to your western road trip planner. These sites exhibit a good collection of antique printing presses that made the western newspaper possible.

The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City features a western town layout with stores, a livery, offices, a church and a newspaper office with a good collection of printing equipment. This exhibit gives you a good idea of how the equipment was set up for use.

The New Mexico History Museum/ Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe New Mexico also has an entire print shop set up exhibiting a wide collection of various antique printing equipment and supplies.

Another excellent venue to add to your road trip is the International Printing Museum located in Carson California. For twenty-one years, the International Printing Museum has been devoted to bringing the history of books, printing and the book arts to life for diverse audiences. Carson is a southern suburb of Los Angeles just north of Long Beach.

Three additional sites where you can explore the world of frontier printing equipment include the Charitan County Historical Society and Museum in Salisbury Missouri, The Museum of Printing History in Houston Texas and the Childress County Heritage Museum in Childress Texas.

Some excellent books to explore this subject further include Newspapers in the Old West by author Robert F. Karolevitz and The Business of Newspapers on the Western Frontier by Barbara Lee Cloud.


(Photos from author's private collection. Photo of Alta California newspaper building from the public domain)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Santa Fe Railroad / Dining Car China

santa fe railroad dining car
Cochiti Dining Car interior, California State Railroad Museum
The Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, often referred to as the Santa Fe Railroad, was one of the most glamorous passenger trains during the golden age of railroading.  One of the more popular features of Santa Fe trains were their Fred Harvey dining cars and their reputation for good food and a good time. Fred Harvey was successful in many hospitality endeavors. His management of the Santa Fe dining cars was legendary. Harvey began serving meals on moving trains as another way for the AT & SF Railroad to offer unparalleled service to it's passengers. Harvey already had established himself as a top rate hotel, restaurant and tour operator and the extension into the railroad dining car business was natural.

Santa Fe Super Chief China

You'll find an excellent museum and historic exhibition in Frisco Texas, a northern suburb of Dallas. The founding of Frisco Texas, it's strong connection with the Misouiri, Kansas and Texas Railroad, the MKT, and life in an early frontier environment is all presented in fine detail at the Frisco Heritage Museum.The original china was made available to the public in two sales held in 1971.

mimbreno china
AT & SF Mimbreno china teapot
Among their collections is china that was used on the Santa Fe Railroad's "Super Chief " dining cars. During railroad's golden years, most railroads had their own distinctive designs used on everything from plates, cups, towels, playing cards and just about anything the passenger would regularly use. The Pullman cars which usually operated as a franchise managed by the Pullman Palace Car Company also had their names and logos on many items.

The Santa Fe Railroad adopted the southwest and Indian cultures as a major way the rest of the country would view their railroad. Much of this was coordinated by Mary Colter who worked for the railroad beginning in 1910 and served as it's chief interior designer and architect. Colter worked at this capacity for both the railroad and for Fred Harvey.  Many of the features you see today relating to the old Santa Fe train stations and Harvey Houses and dining rooms are part of Colter's legacy.Other well known creations designed by Mary Colter include the Desert View Watchtower constructed in 1932 at the Grand Canyon National Park's south rim. Also, the interior designing of the famous El Tovar Hotel, the Lookout Studio at the Grand Canyon south rim, the Phantom Ranch buildings at the canyon's bottom and the designing of Bright Angel Lodge at the south rim. In total, Mary Colter has twenty-one projects for Fred Harvey.

mimbreno designs
AT & SF Mimbreno cup and saucer
The Mimbreno china shown in this article was part of that. This type of china was used on AT & SF Railroad dining cars right up until passenger service was discontinued in 1971.The china seen here was produced exclusively for the AT & SF Railroad from 1936 to 1970 by the Onandaga Pottery Company. Today, authentic pieces like the ones displayed here are considered quite rare. Railroad china is a sought after artifact by collectors. Reproductions which claim the same high quality are offered by several companies. Any collector would want to verify production methods, etc before purchasing any reproduction.

Three additional Western Trips photo articles you'll enjoy are the Cochiti Dining Car ... A Tour of the Old La Posada Harvey House in Winslow Arizona...and a Tour of a Pullman Car.

Mary Colter and the AT & SF China

The Mimbreno China that was utilized by the Santa Fe Railroads's Super Chief dining cars were all about the Southwest. Mary Colter was given the commission to design AT & SF Railroad china based on the concept of the Mimbres Indians.
mary colter santa fe china
Mimbreno Mary Colter creation

The Mimbres Indians lived in the Mimbres Valley in southwest New Mexico. Archeologists believe that the Mimbres Indians evolved from the Mogollon culture. It's believed that the Mogoillon culture evolved from the Anasazi Hohokam cultures. The most famous artifact from the Mimbres culture was their pottery. Their pottery had designs based upon animals and geometric forms.  Like other elements of the train's interior, Mary Colter's china adapted the Mimbres likenesses of birds, turtles and fish to contemporary life. Colter's original designs had shades of brick red with charcoal accents.

mary colter mimbreno china
Animal designs on salt and pepper shakers
What eventually happened to the Mimbres culture is unclear. They were essentially unknown until the early 1900's when essays were published by Jesse Walter Fewkes.Institutions involved in Mimbres research during the 1920's included the School of American Research, the Museum of New Mexico, the Peabody museum of Harvard University, beloit College, the University of Minnesota and the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles California. Most researchers believe that the Mimbres Indians possibly drifted southward and combined with other cultures there.

See Original Santa Fe Railroad China

In addition to the Santa Fe Railroad china on display at the Frisco Heritage Museum in Frisco Texas, a fine collection is on display at the California State Railroad Museum located in Old Town Sacramento California. At the California museum, which is one of the largest in the world, on display there is also the Cochiti Dining Car that was part of Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe's Super Chief train. The photo at the top of this article show the place settings inside the Cochiti Dining Car.

Another excellent venue displaying a wide range of authentic railroad dining car china is the Galveston Railroad Museum in Galveston Texas. 

(Photos from author's private collection)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Adobe Homes

The Southwest region of the United States has several very interesting sites for those wanting to explore the world of authentic adobe architecture. Many adobe homes and buildings today are at historical sites from New Mexico to California.

adobe structure
Adobe ruins at Rancho de Taos NM
In an area like the Southwest where building materials were in short supply, settlers of the early 1700's made homes of adobe brick. They used a technique well known in both the New World and Old World. The oldest structures of the Southwest region of the United States still standing are buildings made from adobe used in both homes and Southwest missions. Because wood was generally in very short supply as well as masonry materials, adobe structures were the the choice of early shelters

Making Adobe Bricks

To make adobe, the southwest settlers pulverized soil and added water and typically straw. This made a thick paste. They then molded bricks about four inches thick. These adobe bricks weighed about 40 to 50 pounds each. After building a foundation of uncut stones, the dried adobe bricks were laid in rows and mortared with thick mud. After the mud dried a coat of mud plaster was spread over it. The mud plaster is essentially the same substance used to produce the bricks except without the straw. The roof was made of pine log beams supported by crisscrossed poles. These were then covered by brush for insulation.

An adobe "kiva" fireplace served for both cooking and heating the interior. The floor was usually tamped clay. The family would sleep on the floor and eat their meals off of low tables. Chili peppers and corn were baked outdoors in an earthen oven.

kiva fireplace
Kiva fireplace
The Spanish Plaza Concept

Spanish settlers in New Mexico built settlements as fortified villages. The adobe homes were built around a plaza with all windows facing inward toward the plaza. The only doors leading out of the one story adobes were made wide enough for only one animal and one person to enter at one time. The fortified plaza concept protected the village from Indian attack. The plaza was usually large enough for the residents to plant gardens and orchards.

There are many Spanish Mission sites where today you can see the fortification walls. These include Mission San Jose and the Alamo Mission in San Antonio Texas.

Surviving Original Adobe Structures

Some of the best authentic adobe structures that survive to this day can be found in New Mexico.What is described as the Oldest House in the U.S. is the De Vargas Street House, located at 215 East De Vargas Street in Santa Fe New Mexico. The adobe house is thought to have been built in 1646. The house is in the Barrio de Analco Historic District and as you can see from the photo has been restored with exterior stucco.

oldest house in us
Restored Oldest House in the U.S. at Santa Fe NM
In Ranch de Taos, just a few miles south of the Taos New Mexico, there are several adobe ruins at the site of the San Francisco de Asis Mission Church. The church has been restored beautifully. Adjacent to the church are old adobe ruins which at one time were part of the surrounding settlement.

If you drive to the historic settlement of Puerto de Luna about ten miles south of Santa Rosa New Mexico and Interstate 40 you'll find several authentic adobe structures which today are ruins. While these small houses are empty and greatly deteriorated, you'll still get a good glimpse of what authentic adobe architecture looks like.

Two other excellent sites to see original adobe ruins are Fort Union New Mexico just west of Interstate 25 between Las Vegas NM and Raton NM in the northeast area of the state. At Fort Union you'll also be able to see surviving wagon ruts from the Santa Fe Trail days.

Another is in Pecos NM at the Pecos National Historical Park. Pecos is about 25 miles east/southeast of Santa Fe NM along Interstate 25.

Additional Western Trips photo articles you'll find interesting are the Spanish Mission San Francisco de Asis in Rancho de Taos NM and San Felipe de Neri church and mission in Old Town Albuquerque NM. Also, see our photo article on the Pecos National Historical Park in Pecos NM.

The New Adobe Homes

There is probably no better place where the basic concept of adobe structure has survived than in Santa Fe New Mexico. Not only is the adobe style of architecture used in Santa Fe but is also a significant part of the city's building code. Tucson Arizona is another city with roots steeped in adobe style construction. Sometimes these structures are referred to as Santa Fe Style or Pueblo Style.

old adobe ruins
Original adobe structure in Puerto de Luna NM
Adobe bricks made of soil and straw deteriorate over time. The vast majority of these original structures have essentially fallen over. Some that have deteriorated have been restored such as in the case several mission churches in New Mexico.

Adobe style homes are comfortable, eco-friendly and are especially practical in dry climates. Adobe/Southwestern style homes are usually one-level and have flat roofs, covered porches. The adobe style homes being built today are essentially made of wood frames covered with stucco. The designs remain the same with round log beam supports on the ceiling which are called "vigas". In the Pueblo Revival architecture of today, the vigas are used more for ornamental rather than for functional weight bearing purposes. Vigas today average 10 inches in diameter and about 15 feet in length.

Many adobe styles are asymmetrical in design with stucco walls over either the wood frame or brick and with  irregularly placed windows.

(Photos from author's private collection)