Western Trips

Western Trips

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Panhandle Plains

The Texas Panhandle is so named because it is an area at the top of Texas, northwest Texas to be precise, which in a large way resembles the handle of a pan. This is an area of Texas very much rich in history which today has an economy consisting of agriculture and petroleum.

panhandle plains museum
Panhandle Plains Historical Museum
The largest city in the Texas Panhandle is Amarillo although it's not the oldest. The area's history is steeped in the ranching industry and was the home to perhaps one of the most, if not THE most, historically significant ranch in all of Texas, the XIT.

Western Trips traveled to the Texas Panhandle and had the opportunity to visit one of Texas' most magnificent museums regarding the Panhandle.

The Panhandle Plains Historical Museum located at 2503 4th Avenue in Canyon, Texas is also on the campus of West Texas A & M University. This is a museum that opened in 1933 as a 12,500 square foot facility. In 1968 the museum doubled it's size and today it's the largest historical museum in Texas.

Canyon Texas is located about twenty miles south of Amarillo along Interstate 27. Canyon is also just twelve miles west of popular and historic Palo Duro Canyon State Park. Palo Duro Canyon is well known as the site of the JA Ranch which was owned by Charles Goodnight and John Adair. The ranch is still owned by Adair's heirs. The JA Ranch was established in 1877.

remington civil war revolver
Remington 1861 Army Revolver
The Museum Collection

The Panhandle Plains Historical Museum exhibits their collection on two floors. There is also a third floor research center that is open to the public with museum admission during normal operating hours. This research center stores historical records, manuscripts, maps and photographs. Another interesting exhibit is the T Anchor Ranch House. This is a ranch house constructed during the 1870's and moved to the museum site in 1975. You'll find this ranch house on the east lawn outside the museum.

The museum offers thirteen permanent exhibits which cover art, paleontology, archeology, weapons, agriculture, petroleum, transportation, geology and much more.In essence, the museum exhibits everything pertaining to the Texas Panhandle and Plains. 

Panhandle Plains Pioneer Town

One very interesting permanent exhibit we found is the Pioneer Town. This is a replica of an old Texas Panhandle town which includes everything from adobe casitas, a jail, a bank, a church and more. The construction was the result of extensive research to make certain all structures were authentic replicas. The turn of the century era replicated covered the period 1890 to 1910.

pioneer town
Pioneer Town Western Union Office
Rare 1800's Weapons

Among the 1800's firearms exhibits at the museum is a Remington 1861 Army Revolver. This particular revolver was a percussion model commonly referred to as "cap and ball". This revolver came out just after the 1860 Army Colt and both this Remington and the 1860 Colt were popular during the Civil War years. Some have said that the Remington had a bit more accuracy than the Colt and records indicate that more Remingtons were purchased during the war than Colts. Remington produced two versions of this model revolver. The second version improvements came about simply from war experience. The first was called the Old Model and the new version the New Model. Not real creative but pretty simple to understand. 

Both Remington models were built with an eight inch barrel, a six shot cylinder and fired .44 caliber cartridges.The total length of the Remington 1861 Army Revolver was fourteen inches.

A 1903 Ford

The Panhandle Plains Historical Museum helps tell the story of the Texas Panhandle region at the turn of the twentieth century with a very rare car indeed. The museum displays a 1903 Ford Model A. Many remember the Ford Model A coming out in the late 1920's replacing the long popular Model T.  Henry Ford however actually did build his first Model A before his Model T and the museum is quite fortunate to have this vehicle on display. 

1903 Ford Model A
1903 Ford Model A
When you first look at the automobile it has the design characteristics of a carriage. This was true with many very early automobiles if for no other reason the cars (horseless carriages) were often built by carriage companies. When you view this 1903 Ford it looks very much like a carriage minus the horses.

Below is a link to our AutoMuseumOnline site and the photo story about the 1903 Ford Model A.

1903 Ford Model A

The Chuckwagon

If you're going to explore the days of the big cattle ranches in the Texas Panhandle you'll no doubt come to learn about the all important chuckwagon. Just as important to the cattle drive as the trail boss and drovers was the chuckwagon. 

See our Western Trips photo article on the Goodnight Ranch House in the Texas Panhandle. 

The Goodnight Ranch House in Goodnight Texas

Many historians credit the Texas rancher Charles Goodnight, often referred to as the Father of the Texas Panhandle, with inventing the chuckwagon. Goodnight reportedly employed the chuckwagon on his first cattle drives running from west Texas into New Mexico and then north to Colorado. This was the famous Goodnight-Loving Trail. 

santa fe railroad signs
Texas Panhandle railroad brochures
C.H. Guenther and San Antonio's Pioneer Flour Mill

The Panhandle Plains Historical Museum has a very interesting and authentic chuckwagon exhibit. You might notice the sacks of flour in the wagon. These are from the Pioneer Flour Mills in San Antonio Texas which was founded by a German immigrant named Carl Hilmar Guenther. After first settling in Fredericksburg Texas, Guenther moved to nearby San Antonio and founded Pioneer Flour in 1859. By the time of the cattle drive chuckwagons, Pioneer Flour had been in business for many years. 

The Pioneer Flour Mill operates to this day and is a popular tourist attraction in San Antonio. Visitors today can explore the original Guenther family home which was built in 1860. The restored home contains the River Mill Store, conference rooms, a museum with period furnishings, and an excellent restaurant. If you do have an opportunity to visit the Guenther House you would be wise to plan having a meal at this unique restaurant.

Below is our link to the Western Trips photo article of the Guenther House in San Antonio Texas.

A Visit to the Historic Guenther House

 Glenwood Antique Stove

Another interesting exhibit in the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum collection is an antique Glenwood Stove. This cast iron stove was a necessity for real frontier civilization. The Glenwood Stove and Range Company was located in Taunton Massachusetts and advertised their stoves and ranges for both cottages and mansions. The company's stoves and ranges came in so many styles and sizes that there would be one to fit any size kitchen. The company had huge furnaces smelted pig iron at temperatures of 2,600 degrees.

All of the stove manufacturers of the era made stoves that would not only do the job but they built them attractively as well. Manufacturers sold their stoves by a variety of means. Mail order catalogues, department stores, general stores were all used to distribute the stoves.

1900 glenwood stove
Glenwood Stove exhibit
Visiting the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum

The museum is located in Canyon Texas at 2503 4th Avenue. If you're traveling along Interstate 40 in Amarillo, you'll want to take Interstate 27 southbound for about twenty miles take exit 110. Go south on U.S. Hwy 60/87 which turns into 23rd Street and take it to the center of Canyon. Make a left on Fourth Street and the museum is two blocks on your left.

If you plan on visiting the museum you'll want to couple it with a visit to Palo Duro Canyon State Park. The park is only twelve miles east of the museum and makes a great Texas Panhandle companion trip. 

(Photos from author's private collection)

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