by Michael Leamons
(Page 7, 1908-1932)
The commerce of the boom years experienced one set-back: the Flood of 1908. A letter by Jenn Wilm Davis, dated April 27, 1908 provides a vivid first-hand account: "...the whole town is out of meat, fruit, vegetables and everything fit to eat. I tell you I'm starving on what I have to live on. Friday nights storm here was terrible. We heard pistol shots, the fire bells, mill whistle, and all kinds of distress alarms, but it was too dark to see what was happening and too hard to get out, but at daylight we could look out the front door & see the river was clear up to the railroad and the houses floating off."
Amidst the flood so poignantly described by Ms. Davis, twenty-two houses were swept away.  During the preceding three weeks, heavy rains had been experienced area-wide. When reporting on the flooding in Hico, the Carbon News indicated 18 inches of rain had fallen in Carbon and that some areas had probably received even more. In the weeks following the flood, throughout North Texas the rains continued. On May 26th after a 15 inch rain, the Trinity River in Dallas crested at 52.6 feet, a record which stands to this day. In that flood, five people were killed, 4,000 were left homeless and millions of dollars of property damage was incurred. Throughout the region the railroad infrastructure was dealt some heavy blows. A steam shovel and large crew of workers were sent to the Hico area to repair damages to the railroad. The Texas Central decided to reduce the risk of future flooding by raising the bridges and road bed upstream of Hico by some eight to ten feet.
The Billings House in the 1908 Flood
From the Depot looking south.
Collier's Gin and Steam Laundry after the Flood of 1908.
Railroad Bridge 3 Miles East of Town
Makeshift bridge at City Park after the Flood of 1908.
Later a permanent bridge was built at City Park.
Evidently, in addition to the old Mill (now Elm) Street Bridge and the railroad bridge in the third photo above, the flood took out another bridge over the Bosque just west of town, because 5 months later a newly constructed one at that location collapsed:
Hico, Tex., Sept. 25. --- The last span of the 140-foot steel bridge over the Bosque River, six miles above Hico, had just been completed and a large number of citizens gathered to have a photograph taken standing on and near the structure. There were about 20 on the bridge. Four mules and two gentlemen in their buggies were also on the bridge, and just as everything was in readiness to have the photo taken, the entire structure fell, hurling many of the crowd into the river. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt.
"Saturday night [August 7, 1909] between ten and eleven o'clock the citizens of Hico were startled by two pistol shots which rang out loud and clear on the still night air, and many of those who were still down town hurried in the direction from which the sounds came, Railroad street, and they were horrified to find Charlie Malone, a well known citizen of Hico [grandson of pioneer Thomas Malone and also the one previously convicted, then exonerated, of violating the Local Option law], breathing his last, his death being caused from a pistol ball entering his heart. The shot which caused his death was fired by J. W. Caraway, night watch and policeman, and Mr. Caraway claims the killing was in self defence..." There were no witnesses to the killing. At the trial, it was said that Caraway had been in front of City Hall with the Chief of Police and another officer when "...they heard a noise in the direction of Malones building that sounded like a pistol shot." The others hurried off towards Malone's saloon (the building still stands on the north side of N. Railroad near Elm---C. H. Malone is stamped into the threshold), while Caraway "...went in the hall to put up his watchmans clock, and secure his pistol..." Caraway then went to Malone's and found Malone with a couple of friends and was told the noise had been "...caused by the carbureter [carburetor] on Malone's auto." The friends left and Caraway tried to get Malone to go home. Allegedly, Malone said, "No you have made me go home my last time, I'm not going home until I get good and ready." Malone then attempted to shoot Caraway, who knocking Malone's gun up, drew his own gun and fired at Malone. Caraway stood trial for murder in Hamilton, where one headline proclaimed: "More Than a Hundred Witnesses From Hico." The case lasted two and a half days, but it only took the jury seven minutes to reach a verdict of "Not guilty."
Poster from 1907.
With the publication of the following on November 25, 1909, it would appear local attitudes toward blacks hadn't yet improved. The article's author, Editor Edgar A. Heath, died a few months later.
"Richard & Pringle's minstrels which were booked to appear in the Opera House Wednesday night were unable to give a performance here on account of the fact that nine of the coons [term referring to a type of black minstrel] in the show took French leave of the manager at Dublin, preferring oblivion in the capitol city of peaceful valley to fame and fortune in the metropolis of the Bosque. They heard some wonderful tales in Dublin about the way coons were dealt with who dared to desecrate the soil of this city by treading on the same, and having had some lively experiences at Big Springs they decided to quit the show rather than risk their lives among the people of Hico.---Hico News-Review"
The above simply echoes sentiments expressed by Editor Heath some three years previously in this piece, "To we of the Southland where the negro is a very perplexing problem, there is an advantage about Hico which we would impress upon prospective residents. It is that there is an unwritten law that no negroes be allowed to reside in the city. There are none now and it remains for the future to determine whether there ever will be. This is a very material advantage to a city, as we all know." An exception was made for the blacks who worked at the Oil Mill, but they were required to remain on the premises and dwelt in cabins specially constructed for their use. (In his 5 years in Hico, the author has never heard anyone expressing opinions like those above.)
On December 9, 1909, it was reported that the prohibitionists in Hico had won a round in the long-running tug-of-war over the sale of alcoholic beverages. They carried the day with 92 votes to spare.
In 1910, the Texas Central Railroad was bought by the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway Company and, thereafter, was affectionately known as the "Katy" (K. T.). That same year, in a maneuver to shore up its status as a railroad hub and bolster Hico's economy, the Hico Commercial Club. offered to secure the right-of-way and provide a $30,000 ($700,000 AFI ) cash bonus to the Temple Northwestern Railway (TNR), if it would reroute a line planned from Gatesville to Stephenville through Hico instead of Hamilton. TNR started the project, but the endeavor failed. A competing railroad provided the service via the originally proposed route.
Hamilton, Texas, Sept. 9  ---The local option election held here, including Hico and Carleton justice precincts, resulted in a victory for the prohibitionists by a majority estimated at 300. The campaign was hard fought on both sides and great interest was manifested by the people.
A peek inside the Archeaological Bulletin, Vol. 7, No. 4, page 104a.
In May of 1910, following the death of Editor Heath, newspaperman William Wilson Straley moved from Nebraska to Texas to assume the duties of editor of the Hico News-Review. In addition to news, Straley nurtured an interest in antiquities, particularly in those connected with North America's earliest inhabitants. In 1908, he wrote a pamphlet on some Indian artifacts he had discovered near Comanche, Texas, his boyhood home. Straley, who served on the board of the International Society of Archaeologists, edited and published it's Archeaological Bulletin in Hico from 1914 to 1918. Wilson also published a couple of historical studies while in Hico. One, Soldiers and Their Deeds, referenced earlier in this history, provides accounts of Hico's Confederate Veterans; the other, Pioneer Sketches: Nebraska and Texas, is a collection of previously published historical columns authored by Straley.
James A. Parkerson ********* William Wilson Straley
One of the articles in Straley's Pioneer Sketches was about Hico resident James A. Parkerson, who in 1911 claiming to be 118 years old, was considered by some to be the oldest man then living. The dates October 22, 1793 and November 17, 1911 are inscribed on his tombstone in the Hico Cemetery. A web page touching on Parkerson family history casts doubt on Parkerson's age because of the different birth years claimed by him in various census records and newspaper interviews, "In 1870 he said he was born in 1820; in 1880 he said he was born in 1818; in 1900 he said he was born in 1813; in his 1905 interview he said he was born in 1805, and in 1910 he said he was born in 1793." In 1920, editor Straley left Hico, bound for a new job in Missouri with the Kansas City Star.
On July 8, 1913, the City Council lowered the boom on out-houses. Within the area where the Ford Brothers, Company was providing sewer service, the City Marshal was directed to notify anyone with an out-house to tear it down.
In 1913, the same year the electric power plant was built, Willard H. Black of Clifton, with encouragement from the Commercial Club, purchased property with the intent of building a creamery and poultry packing plant. From the time Black's plant became operational, until "...1924, Hico was considered the largest turkey dressing center in Texas...The turkeys were...removed to the ice house [Hico Ice & Cold Storage] for storage. The ice company provided 100,000 cubic feet of storage..." Once chilled, the turkeys were shipped by refrigerated rail cars (as many as 65 in a season) to markets as far away as New York, Boston and Chicago.
With regard to population (1,635), and probably economic activity as well, Hico reached a peak between 1910 and 1920 which has yet to be surpassed.
Shipment to the Dodge Dealer in the Lower Floor of the Opera House
"Recreation in the early period of Hico included an Opera House, the Palace Theater, [a Pool Hall, a Marching Band, a swimming pool on the north bank of the Bosque just west of Elm Street] and a Roller Rink located south of the railroad depot under a tent."
Several young men from Hico served in the armed forces during WWI, "The War to End All Wars". A collection of 76 letters written during the war by soldier Tom Woods, son of school-builder Jack Woods, to his sweetheart and bride-to-be, Lottye Fewell, were recently discovered by a homeowner tucked away in a shoebox in the attic. The letters are on display at the Tyrell Historical Library in Beaumont and on their website . In one letter, Woods' describes racial attitudes reminiscent of those held by the mobs of the previous century:
"These Northern boys can't understand why we treat a negro so bad down here but it is because there is not so many in the north. They do not know as much about them as they ought to. They think it is funny that the blacks and whites don't eat in the same places...I never will forget about getting arrested in St. Louis one time for breaking a chair on a negro's head. He came in and sat down at the same table I was eating and I told him to move. He gave me some of his smart talk and naturally I had to hit. When they brought me up before the Judge I told him I was from Texas and I was not use to any such stuff as that..."
That Woods harbored such racial prejudices is not surprising in view of some of the materials that had been published in the News Review under Editor Heath, while Woods was coming to manhood.
WWI Armed Forces Members from Hico
Woods' Letters (photo by Dave Ryan of the Beaumont Enterprise)
Along with the hard knocks, there were positive developments. In 1918, Mr. Alvin A. Fewell bought the local shoe shop from Will Newsome and continued on with the business of shoe repair and leather work for 41 years, eventually earning the rank of Hico's "oldest business in continuous operation under one management." "Once, he spent most of his time on bridle and saddle work and making car tops." But as he opined in a 1959 interview when closing up shop, "Nearly all that business is gone now...Many's the shoe sole and heel I've put on, too, but there's not so much of that any more either."
Also, in early 1919 scores of oil men converged on Hico to investigate conditions in an oilfield being developed in nearby portions of Erath County, identified at the time as one of the biggest wildcat plays in North Central Texas. Several companies had already begun drilling. By April, some wells had been drilled to a depth of about 3,000', but most were just getting started and were only down to 400' to 500'. The ones 3,000' deep were expected to penetrate the oil sands soon. In addition to the flurry of oilfield activity, there was a lot of other economic activity within the area, as attested to by the above ad for a thousand laborers for the 1919 harvest run by the newly formed Hico Chamber of Commerce  in the October 8, 1919 issue of the San Antonio Express.  Amidst all this economic foment, in 1920 local voters approved a $50,000 school bond initiative; then, in 1921 a new High School was constructed adjacent to the 1893 facility.
Succeeding W. W. Straley as editor of the Hico News-Review was A. Garland Adair. While in Hico, he was designated as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. During his career, he served as editor of several papers. In the late 30's as Chairman of the American Legion Texas Centennial Committee, he helped raise money, through the issuance of the Texas Centennial Half Dollar, to open the Texas Memorial Museum in Austin, where he served as curator of history for a number of years. He co-authored several book and edited a series of periodicals on Texas history.
Texas Centennial Half Dollar
In 1922, Hico Printing Company, publisher of the News-Review, filed for bankruptcy. The paper was then purchased by John M. Aiton, who also served as editor. Aiton had five sons, all in the newspaper business.
Around 1922, the Pentecostals developed a presence in Hico. The Apostolic Church is shown on the 1923 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map as being located on the north side of Iredell Road, just west of the Jack Hollow bridge. When the church began, it had about 65 members, but it had no pastor, so Mrs. Dolly Fenn Linch and Mrs. Delilah Barlow Stewart were in charge of the services. The building was no longer present on the 1934 Sanborn map.
After the initial frenzy in 1919, the area experienced a lull in oil exploration activity. It began to pick up again in late '21 and early '22 with the Laney Wells, located near Clairette. Laney No. 1, at 2,700' had come in with 3 million cubic feet of wet gas. It was abandoned, however, after the derrick had been pulled down while trying to fish out tools that had hung up in the well. Then, with high hopes, drilling began on Laney #2. The firm managing the field, Texas-Iowa Oil Syndicate, opened an office in Hico. After the well was completed, a demonstration was conducted for the benefit of local citizens and potential investors, including a Mr. St. Clair of New York who was "planning a big development campaign in this field...The well was opened up to its full capacity and lighted...as the pressure came on with a deafening roar, flames shot up high in the air, reaching far above the top of the derrick...It was a sight never to be forgotten. The roar of the gas...was startling, while the sight of the flame was dazzling...The crowd...gradually fell back farther and farther from the well as it roared out its mighty message of promise of hidden wealth..."
In May of 1923, amid much exuberance and optimism, editor Aiton of the News-Review exclaimed, "The long expected and long hoped for event has occurred. Mr. Edward Beckert of New York, representing eastern oil and financial interests, has signed up several drilling contracts embracing a lease area of something like nine thousand acres...The biggest drilling campaign ever staged in a wild cat field will be in full swing here soon, and thousands of dollars will be spent in testing out the section north and northeast of Hico...judging by the promise of Laney No. 2, it means that untold riches will be uncovered in this immediate section within the next few months...every landowner in this section will have a fortune in royalty income...millions of dollars will be spent...and that within a short time, Hico will become a city of many thousands of people and the headquarters of hundreds of oil concerns..." Unfortunately, as history bears witness, Hico didn't become an oil boom town. It is reported that, in later years, the Laney Wells were used to store natural gas. Sometime during the 1960's the Lonestar gas main south of Fort Worth was closed due to an ice storm. Downstream portions of that line were then supplied from the gas stored in the Laney wells.
As you may recall, Willard Black was supposed to have opened a creamery along with his poultry processing plant. It appears that never happened, but in 1923 Harry Gleason and the Hico Ice & Cold Storage did open a creamery. For years, W. E. Needham made regular runs along the creamery's forty-mile-long milk collection route from Carlton to Meridian. The milk was processed into ice cream, butter and dried milk and shipped to markets around the state. Black may have missed an opportunity with the creamery, but the poultry business in Hico was prospering. In the fall of '23 a poultry organization was created. Thirty-one railroad carloads of turkeys, with about 28,000 pounds to the car, were shipped from Hico during that year. And, during a single week, a carload of eggs was shipped. Black's and Gleason's ventures stimulated growth in local poultry and dairy operations, providing alternative sources of revenue for local farmers.
In 1923, the Hico Review Club was organized. That same year, editor Aiton of the News Review applauded action by Hico's School Board---action which, today, would probably be considered sacrilegious by many:
At about the time the Review Club was organized, Hico also produced an aspiring poet, George Hardy, who attended U.T. and worked on the Longhorn Magazine. He was included in Texas Writers of Today as published in 1935. The University has a collection of his letters to a young woman, some sent from Hico, which are interlaced with verse like this:
I heard a sound within the night,
A haunting eerie cry
Like sobbing of icicled reeds
When winter passes by;
Like bitter weeping in an hour
When all the world is still,
And ashen days are shadow-blown,
And winds are mad with chill.
Oh, never have I heard before
Such agony, such aching---!
Don't let it trouble you, my dear,
T'was just my heart a-breaking.
George Hardy at UT.
A strange tale from the February 4, 1924, City Council minutes, "By motion and second that the two vagabond mules be condemned to die and execution be performed by City Marshal E. Anderson. Carried."
In 1925, through the generosity of Hico National Bank President W. Pitt Barnes, the Bluebonnet Country Club was established. In January, 1928, the City took over management of the Ford Brothers sewerage system which, for reasons now unknown, was on the verge of being shut down by court order. On June 12, 1928, an election was conducted to see if the voters would approve propositions related to: 1. the construction of permanent street improvements; 2. the issuance of $38,000 in bonds for the waterworks system; and, 3. then issuance of $37,000 in bonds for a sewer system. Voters approved all measures by large margins. The City ended up purchasing the sewer plant from the Ford Brothers in September of that same year for $5,600 and assumed outstanding liabilities of $4,000 plus interest. The City's tax rate that year was $1.40 with $0.33 for water works bonds, $0.32 for sewer bonds, $0.20 for streets, $0.05 for parks and $0.50 for current maintenance and operation expenses. A $55,000 contract for improvements to both the water works and the sewerage system was let that November. Another modern amenity was added to the community a couple of years later, in 1930, with 15 planes present and amidst a demonstration of stunt and acrobatic flying, Blair Field was opened.
Airplane at Blair Field
Hico's Creamery was growing. By 1926, annually, it was purchasing $100,000 of milk. Then, in February 1929, the firm expanded its operations, putting in a new milk collection line from Stephenville to Huckabay where it was estimated, daily, an additional 710 gallons of milk could be collected. As one might guess, what with the impending October stock market crash, 1929 wasn't the best of years to be in an expansion mode. With the crash, money became tight. Harry Gleason closed the Hico Ice and Cold Storage along with its Creamery, the last of the Wieser family's local operations, and moved to New Mexico. As further confirmation that Hico's boom years had come to a close, on December 1, 1933, the National Bank of Hico, with which the Wieser enterprises had been closely connected, was absorbed by the First National Bank.
Brothers Jerry and Burrell Barrow, their siblings and spouses migrated from Alabama to Hico in the 1890's. Burrell's son, J. C. (James Clay) Barrow, II served as an alderman for 5 years, as mayor for 16 years (1922-32 & 42-48) and as county judge for 6 years (1932-38). As mayor, J. C. was the Master of Ceremonies at the Grand Opening of Blair Field. Jerry's son, Archie (or A.B.), settled in Abilene and operated 10 to 12 furniture stores stretching from Dallas, to Lubbock to Odessa. Another son, Grady, started the funeral home later operated by the Rutledges and now by the Sternes. (Evidently, in the early 1900's caskets were sold through furniture stores.) The family had a very distant cousin who would stop by the funeral home for an occasional visit, Clyde Barrow, the Dallas outlaw made famous by the 1967 movie, "Bonnie and Clyde."
Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow