by Michael Leamons
(Page 8, 1933-2011)
The following was published in the August 18, 1933 Valley Mills Tribune:
SKELTON OF MAN FOUND ON FARM NEAR HICO
While plowing in a field on his farm west of Hico, John Lane turned up some bones which looked like the bones of a human skelton [skeleton]. On digging carefully he found the complete skelton, and the position of the bones indicated that the man had been buried in a shallow grave in a sitting position. It was surrounded by arrow heads and other articles which indicated that it was the bones of a Indian. The bones were assembled and put on exhibit in Hico, and historical students have been very interested in it. Bosque County has yeilded [yielded] many interesting relics of the early Indian days and the number of Indian mounds found indicate that this section must have been a favorite hunting ground, battle field, and winter home of the Indians.
Another episode in the tug-of-war over alcohol played out in Hico during the summer of 1933. U. S. Senator Morris Sheppard of Texas, know as the "father of Prohibition" for having introduced the resolution for the 18th Amendment (which enacted Prohibition in 1920), chose Hico for one of 48 stops in his campaign against the ratification of the 20th Amendment (designed to end Prohibition). During his speech in Hico, he declared, "Old John Barleycorn is sitting up in his coffin hoping to come alive, but he will sit back down if Texas, on Aug. 26, will drive the first of 13 nails needed to keep him in his coffin." John Barleycorn was an old English folk song about alcohol, and in 1913, novelist Jack London wrote an autobiography by that title in which he described his struggles with alcoholism. The 13 nails Sheppard spoke of were the 13 states needed to vote against the 20th Amendment to keep it from being ratified. As history records, Sheppard was unsuccessful, and the Prohibition era came to an end.
According to the 1934 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, sometime prior to that year, the Assembly of God established a church at the southwest corner of East 4th Street and Highway 220 (the building now being used by the Seventh Day Adventists). It is possible the building had been the Mt. Zion School House near Langston's Crossing. That school was closed in 1935 and was said to have been moved to Hico for use as a church.
On the evening of June 7, 1934 a tragedy associated with the new Blair Field struck Hico:
WOMAN, TWO MEN DIE IN PLANE CRASH
HICO, Tex., June 7 --- Three aerial joyriders crashed to their deaths in a flaming airplane here last night. The dead, all from Hico, were Earl Lynch, 38, pilot, Miss Lola Mae Williamson, 26, and Bill Blair, 25, mechanic. The plane had made several trips over town, and most of Hico's 1,500 inhabitants saw it go into the fatal spin. The plane burst into flames before striking the ground, nose first, in a vacant lot. The bodies were burned beyond recognition.
According to a report in the Meridian Tribune, organizers' expectations were exceeded when it was estimated 10,000 were in attendance at the closing performance of Hico's 1935 Reunion.
Two local men, with enterprises dating back to the Depression, continued in business in Hico for over 50 years before closing-up shop in the 1980's and '90's. The first, J. C. Prater, at age 19 in 1926, began working at the Midland Barber Shop, which he bought two years later for $850. On a typical Saturday in the 20's, he opened "...the front door at 6:00 a.m. to a rush of 15 to 20 farmers who had not shaved for a week." If you couldn't make it to Prater's shop for a trim, no problem. "'I used to go over to the Nursing Home to visit my mother,' the Iredell native said. 'And the guys over there would always tell me they wished I had my barber tools, so I just bought an extra set. Keep'em in my car. So now I go to the nursing home, hospitals, houses - just wherever they want me.'" He started-out charging $0.40 for a cut; 57 years later, prices had gone-up to $2.50.
J. C. Prater at work in his Midland Barber Shop in 1992.
The second, Norvell Akin, at age 22 in 1936, began operating a full service gas station at the corner of Elm and Highway 6 (where Cole's now keeps its rental equipment). "Gas was 15 cents a gallon in 1936, and the biggest customers were farmers who would buy 3 gallons at a time for their equipment. Everyone would come to town Saturday, said Akin. Back then, he serviced Model T's and Model A's, not Hondas and Mazdas." He was forced out of business on August 30, 1989 by the, then, new EPA regulations concerning underground gas tanks. "'It's a shame,' he said. 'you work a lifetime and try to build up a business, and the government closes you down...I think there are more important concerns for the EPA than this.'" (If you're not from Hico, you probably never knew Norvell, but there's a good chance you knew his niece---Governor Ann Richards.)
During the 1930's, three Hico natives embarked on paths resulting in long and productive careers in higher education. The first, Zora McAnelly Fiedler, became involved in the Baylor Department of Nursing, ultimately attaining the office of Dean of Nursing, which she held from 1943 through 1951. Beginning in 1930, the second, Frances Hellums Hudspeth (granddaughter of the first flour mill operator), taught in the Austin public schools; then, in 1934, began working for the University of Texas (UT). Closely associated with Harry Ransom, who in 1958 founded what came to be known as the Harry Ransom Humanities Center (HRHC) and who later became Chancellor of the UT system, Hudspeth was intimately involved with the development and management of the HRHC and was the managing editor of the Texas Quarterly from 1958 until her death in 1972. Hudspeth, also, was counsellor for President Lyndon Johnson's daughter, Lynda, during her three years at UT. Evidently, Frances became intimate with the family. When Lynda wed Charles Robb (later to become the Governor of and, then, the U.S. Senator from Virginia), Frances contributed the "something old" to her wedding attire. Moreover, upon Hudspeth's death, President Johnson was named among her honorary pallbearers. The third, W. C. Perry, began his career in school administration in the Bosque River Valley at Iredell, Walnut Springs and Meridian during the 1930's and 40's and became Dean of Baylor University in 1952, a post which he held for almost three decades.
A Silent Video Clip of a Saturday in Downtown Hico, 1938
Courtesy of www.texasarchive.org
"Again, in 1939 a young man died in the depths of Blue Hole. On May 25, 17-year old James Dudley Richardson went to the creek with a group of friends. James was born in Fairy and had lived his life in the area around Blue Hole. After awhile, some friends noticed that he was missing. They combed the banks looking for their friend. Roy French recovered the body from the Blue Hole."
Although it wasn't nearly as vibrant as it had been prior to the Depression, according to a sketch in the May, 1939 issue of The Communicator, the Hico economy still had a lot going for it (page 1 , page 2). In 1940, with bond sale money and a WPA grant, a new gymansium was constructed using rocks salvaged from the Barbee gin at Old Hico; additionally, a stone cottage was built to house the HISD's home economics program. During this same time period, the WPA also built the underground drainage structure leading from Grubbs Street, down 4th Street and out to Jack Hollow.
On August 2, 1940, tragedy again struck Hico. This time, instead of a plane, it was a train. The article indicates the accident occurred outside of town, but local residents say it occurred at the railroad crossing on S. Elm Street, just down from City Hall.
Woman Succumbs to Crash Hurts
STEPHENVILLE, Texas - (UP) - Mrs. Hubert Keller, 35, died in a Stephenville hospital Saturday from injuries suffered in a an automobile -train crash when her husband was killed. Eight other persons were injured seriously when the automobile in which they were riding was struck by an eastbound M.K.T. passenger train at a crossing just outside of the Hico city limits. The entire party was en route to Meridian to attend church services at the time of the accident.
On August, 1 1941, Hico was honored by Governor Coke Stevenson's attendance at the 59th Reunion. (In 1948, in a close race and amidst allegations of voter fraud, Stevenson lost a bid for a seat in the U. S. Senate to Lyndon Johnson.) This was the last Reunion for several years, as the event was suspended at the request of President Roosevelt during they years of U. S. participation in WWII, as were other similar festivals across the nation.
5th Aircraft Repair Unit, Floating, Brigadier General Clinton W. Russell
During WWII, six Liberty ships were converted into floating aircraft repair depots. One, the Brigadier General Clinton W. Russell, was named after one of Hico's own. Clinton Warden Russell was born in Hico in 1891 to Dr. William E. and Mollie Anderson (daughter of pioneer settler, John Quincy Anderson) Russell. He graduated from A&M in 1911. "Russell graduated from West Point in 1913, and participated in General Pershing's Expedition to Mexico later that year. He served in various capacities at a number of Flying Fields during WWI, including that of commanding officer of Rich Field, Waco, Texas during the spring and summer of 1918. He eventually reached the rank of Brigadier General." During WWII he was appointed Chief of Staff, General Headquarters US Army Air Forces. In 1942, while on active duty, he died of a heart attack and was buried at West Point.
Hico in the 40's
After his return to Hico following the conclusion of WWII, Dr. Homer V. Hedges collaborated with T. A. Randals and others to sell minimum stock options to raise funds to build a hospital. A site for the hospital on Highway 281 was purchased on January 2, 1946. Construction began that April, and the building was completed in early 1947.
"For awhile it seemed that the people didn't care whether or not they took [the Reunion] up again after four years of wartime remission. But after thinking over the promises made to service men during those years, it was decided that the community would throw a big party for them when they came home and would do it at Reunion time [in 1946] with the biggest and best homecoming welcome that could be staged...A good crowd estimated at five thousand lined the streets of Hico for the parade that got the picnic started again...Bill Blanton, candidate for Congress, gave the scheduled address and Schafer Shows had their neat, clean carnival attractions..."
Sometime after 1935, all the Katy's passenger service was eliminated except that provided by a small diesel locomotive known as the "Doodlebug". According to a 1947 schedule, Train No. 35 (the Doodlebug) left Waco at 7:00 a.m. and travelled 226 miles before reaching the end of its route in Stamford at 2:30 p.m. After a quick turn-around and name change, ten minutes later Train No. 36 began the return trip, arriving in Waco at 10:10 p.m. The train consisted of "...two cars, passenger and mail-express...On June 3, 1950, the Doodlebug made its final run between Waco and Stamford...Large crowds assembled at stops all along the way...At Hico, both fire engines were brought out, and they 'blew all the whistles in town.' Several hundred people gathered to 'tell the friendly crew goodby.'" Thereafter, for several years the Doodlebug was used to convey peanuts between Dublin and Gorman.
Katy's M-12 "Doodlebug" at Cisco
Clairette Postmaster Conda Salmon hanging a mail
bag to be snagged by the next train as it passed.
While on the topic, Clairette was named for a popular brand of soap.
In November, 1949, an elderly Hico woman with deep roots in the community, Lelah Latham Horsley, was murdered by her husband, Mack Horsley. Lelah had cared for her aging parents until both had passed away. Then, she married Mr. Horsley, who had six children by a previous marriage. The two began keeping house at Lelah's parents home on Lena Street. Mack, who in a written statement confessed to murdering Lelah, had spent several months in a State Insane Asylum in 1934 and 1935, divorced his first wife in 1936, and, married Lelah in 1945. He said the two had often quarreled about his children and that when Lelah turned around to get some creamer for her morning coffee, he dropped two mercury bichloride tablets that had been prescribed for the treatment of an infection into her cup. Shortly thereafter, Lelah was found unconscious by someone rooming with the couple. She was taken to the Hico Hospital, where she died a few days later, never having regained consciousness. Horsley was re-committed to a State Insane Asylum and stayed there the rest of his life. Not long after Lelah's death, the Latham house was rented by none other than "Brushy" Bill Roberts, who had recently made public his claim of being Billy the Kid. On December 27, 1950, while walking from the Latham house to the post office, Robert's fell over dead from a heart attack.
With a baseball pedigree stretching back to Hico's original, early 1900's team, Kal Segrist, Jr., carried the tradition forward, having played with the University of Texas in 1949 and 1950, when the team won consecutive national championships. In 1951, enticed by a $50,000 bonus, Kal signed up with the New York Yankees, where he played beside the likes of Mickey Mantle. In 1955, he was transferred to the Baltimore Orioles. From 1968 to 1983, he was head coach of the Texas Tech Red Raiders baseball team, winning 2 national championships. Kal is often seen in Hico while visiting the family homestead.
Kal Segrist, Jr.. Image courtesy of Baseball-Birthdays.net .
Following WWII much of rural America, including Hico, experienced decline as many migrated to the major metropolitan areas. An era ended in 1951 when the last nine bales of cotton shipped from Hico by rail were loaded on an outbound train.
After a 20" rain fell over a 9 hour period on May 23, 1952 , the Bosque River again overflowed its banks, reaching levels 1.6' higher than those of 1908. Several residents, watching the river rise from the Elm Street Bridge, were warned by someone from upstream that a 20' wall of water was headed their way. Most ignored the warning, only to beat a hasty retreat when the wall of water came into view. Oddly enough, the flood came amidst the seven year drought of the 50's. Several spreader dams were built in the Bosque watershed during the 50's, particularly in the Green's Creek area, and the Bosque no longer floods as it once did. The local agricultural economy was hurt by the drought, the flood and the withdrawal of land from production under a Soil Bank Program (now known as CRP).
In April, 1953, the Hico Hospital and Clinic Board of Directors voted to approve the sale of the Hospital's land, building and equipment to the City for $35,000. A proposal to issue $38,000 in bonds for the purchase of the hospital was placed before voters on May 16th and was approved by a margin of 146 to 78. Shortly thereafter, the City established a three member board to oversee the hospital and appointed Dr. Hedges to the same. As a condition of the sale, previously he had agreed to serve on that board for five years.
Declining agricultural production ultimately resulted in the loss of the railroad. Freight service along the Katy was ended in 1965-66, and the tracks were removed. In 1968, the railroad right-of-way was deeded to the City, and shortly thereafter, while citizens debated what to do with the old depot, it burned. With its population dropping to 925, in 1970 Hico's fortunes reached a nadir.
Depot Destroyed by Fire
Old Railroad Bridge Over Jack Hollow
Last Vestiges of those Steel Rails of Growth and Prosperity
Signs of economic improvement first appeared in 1974 when construction of the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant began. Some of the locals who had moved away to find employment returned. And, due to a housing shortage in Glen Rose, some of the construction workers settled in Hico. Also, on July 10, 1979, the City Council announced its intentions to issue $500,000 in bonds to pay for an extension to the Hico Hospital. The project was put out for bid that October, and by the end of the month a $321,000 contract had been awarded.
In 1982, Sandra Ethridge (now Lawton), later to become Hico's mayor, and her husband bought, and subsequently restored, an old house on North Street, built in 1901 by investor J. Van Steenwyk. From time-to-time they would hear strange noises, but dismissed them as normal for an old house. One day when Sandra was alone downstairs, she heard footsteps in the bedroom above. Grabbing a hammer and rushing upstairs, all she found was a door ajar and an empty room. When she mentioned the incident to her husband, he told how the weekend before he had dreamed about a small woman hovering over him and had awakened "fanning the air and shouting, 'Get away.' But of course no one was there and he went back to sleep." When he awakened that morning, what got his attention was that the golden necklace he had worn to bed had been removed from around his neck, re-clasped and placed on the pillow beside him. His hands were too large to open the clasp and the chain was too tight to slip over his head, so Sandra always removed it for him. He also shared how he couldn't keep the door to the upstairs bedroom, where the footsteps had been heard, closed. He had gone so far as to drive a nail and run a rope from the nail to the doorknob, only to find the knot untied, the rope on the floor and the door ajar. The two didn't feel threatened by the spirit, so they resigned themselves to sharing their home with an unseen guest. As Sandra reported, "Skeptics of course came to our home---but very few left as skeptics. Our spirit would perform for guests: always walking in the bedroom just above the east end of the dining room. Many dinners were interrupted by a guest racing upstairs to see who was making the noise..." only to find an empty room. In 1986, a 95-year-old gentleman by the name of Murray Cole, whose family had lived in the house many years before, paid Sandra a visit. No mention was made of the unseen guest. When asked about the upstairs bedroom, Murray said his sisters, Mabel and Willoughby, had shared the room until their family moved-out in 1927. Over the next few months, Murray returned for several visits, eventually sharing how his sister Mabel had been killed in a tragic car accident. Sandra was convinced Mabel had been their unseen guest, and was now at rest "...because since the moment Murray first walked into the house, until this very day, we have never heard another noise or experienced an incident of any kind..."
Was "Brushy Bill" Roberts (on the left) really "Billy the Kid"?
In 1986, after putting together a souvenir booklet, The Hico Legend of Billy the Kid, in honor of the Old Settlers Reunion's 100th Anniversary (no Reunions were held for 4 years during WWII), local newspaper editor and Justice of the Peace, Bob Heffner, became curious about the facts of "Brushy Bill" Robert's claim to being Billy the Kid and started investigating. Eventually convinced "Brushy Bill's" claim was true, in 1987 Hefner commissioned local author and artist, James Rice[FN1], to fashion a statue of Billy (located on Main Street just north of Highway 6), opened the Billy the Kid Museum and launched an annual Billy the Kid Day celebration. Former Baylor Dean, W. C. Perry, returned to Hico to speak at the February 9th unveiling of the statue. New Mexico author and advocate of "Brushy Bill's" claims, William Tunstill spoke at an April 11th dedication of the same. In subsequent years, Hefner authored and co-authored several books documenting the evidence supporting "Brushy Bill's" claim . Over the years, the Legend has attracted numerous visitors to Hico.
James Rice's Billy the Kid Statue on Pecan at Highway 6.
Due to regulatory issues, the Hico Hospital closed its doors in 1987. Later that same year, the facility was rented by George Baxter as a treatment center for people with chemical addictions. The center continued in operation until April, 1990. In July, 1989 after only holding the post for two months, J. M. Blakely resigned as Mayor. A special election was called for January 28, 1990, but no one signed up to run. Mayor Pro-Tem Glenn Marshall received 41 of the 66 votes cast; the others were split between 9 other non-candidates. Marshall didn't want the job, because except in the case of ties, he would lose his vote on the business which came before the Council. In the next regular election cycle, Sandra Ethridge ran for and won the office of mayor, serving two terms.
In 1990, uninvited and unexpected, Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon Michael Lowe of Waco and his attorney showed-up at a City Council Meeting announcing plans to conduct a rally in Hico's City Park. Having no policy regulating the use of the park by outside entities, the Council was in a difficult position. Constitutionally protected rights of assembly and free speech can't be violated arbitrarily. Ostensibly, intimidated by the prospect of unpleasant and expensive litigation, no one obstructed Lowe's plans. Later, the park policy was changed. Whether due to those changes, or for other, unknown reasons, no more rally's have been conducted in City Park. This unfortunate incident gave rise to unfair publicity and baseless rumors about Hico. 
At a meeting on August 19, 1991, contingent upon the Farmers Home Administration forgiving the outstanding debt on the old hospital, the City Council voted to sell it to an investor who planned to use it as an assisted living facility. In Febrauary, 1992, a contract with W. B. M. Management Group for $15,000 was executed by Mayor Ethridge. The facility was remodeled and began operating under the name of Honey Creek Place.
In 1992, the City Council embraced a citizen initiated plan headed up by the Civic Club for improving the downtown by creating an "Esplanade" in the center of the 100' wide main street (built that wide to provide room for team-drawn wagons to turn around). Curbs were poured; brick pavers were laid; gazebos were built; benches and ornamental lights were installed; and, trees, shrubs and flowers were planted. The downtown began to revive. In 1994, Jersey Lilly's Mexican Food Restaurant opened. Soon, on Saturday nights, live music and the opportunity to ride in a horse drawn carriage greeted patrons of Jersey Lilley's and downtown visitors. Another attraction came to town in 1996, when First National Bank commissioned western artist Stylle Read to create a mural featuring longhorn cattle and "Brushy Bill" Roberts.
Donald Webb with Jersey Lilly's Owners' Jody and Hilda Littleton
In 2004, in an effort to attract more business to Hico, Mayor Stan Bundy launched the Texas Steak Cookoff patterned after one in Magnolia, Arkansas. In that same year, the Hico Booster Club began hosting Six-Man Super Saturday, where area six-man football teams engage in pre-season competition. Both of those events proved successful and annually attract thousands of visitors. Encouraged by all the progress, more businesses began moving into downtown Hico. Outside money was invested in building purchases and remodeling projects. Also, during this period, a couple of oilfield service companies set-up shop on the outskirts of town. In 2009, the twice-a-year Homestead Antique Fair made its debut, drawing yet more visitors to Hico. Through the tourist and energy industries, Hico had successfully emerged from the doldrums of the 70's and 80's.
The national economic downturn that began in 2008 dampened the local economy, but plans have been laid for continued economic growth. In 2011, with the help of professionals from Texas A&M TEEX Program, the community developed an Economic Development Plan , identifying local resources which could be tapped to promote economic growth, such as: the historic buildings, the 50-some-odd acre park system and the high volume of traffic on Highways 281, 6 and 220.
The Hico community has been confronted with its share of hardships: Indian depredations, cattle rustlers, the challenges of moving a town, devastating fires, floods, pestilence, difficult economic circumstances and drought. In succession, each of those challenges have been faced and overcome. The people of Hico have persevered and have taken the steps necessary to move forward. Surely, amidst some of the more trying times, they could identify with the sentiments of old Job, "...the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." Their heirs, those of us who now reside and conduct our daily affairs in Hico, continue to overcome life's challenges as we pursue dreams of a better tomorrow. We invite you to come, join our community and help make those dreams come true.
More details of Hico's history can be discovered among installments of Mary Huggins' newspaper column, "Persons of Historical Interest in Hico..." (which include biographical sketches of Frank Wiseman, Isaac Malone, John Quincy Anderson, Isaac Steen, Capt. J. C. Hutchingson, Thomas Malone, Dr. Daniel Pingree, Judge James Clay Barrow, Shewball Marsh, Col. W. M. and Abbie Marsh Grubbs, Mattie Segrest, and Dr. Homer V. Hedges.) A biographical sketch about Dr. William E. Hubbert's father, Dr. Thomas Jefferson Hubbert, who also practiced in Hico is available as well. Additional information on Hico people, places and events can be accessed through the "Visitors-Only in Hico" fly-out menu on the top left side of this page.
Area historical markers can be located at the Texas Historical Commission Atlas . Wikipedia also lists information about Hico. People and Places: Gazetteer of Hamilton County and the Hamilton County Public Library both provide records concerning Hamilton County and Hico. Copies of a map of Hamilton County prepared for the Hamilton County Historical Society in 1964 which documents the road network present in 1890 and provides notes on a number of Indian raids as well as the location of many cemeteries and schools can be purchased at the County Clerk's Office. Digital Sanborn fire insurance maps for Hico, beginning in 1893, are available on-line through the Texas State Library System . Free access to the system can be arranged through many libraries.
Back Issues of the Hico News Review are available at the Texas Tech Southwest Collection (Jan. 11, 1929 thru Dec 26, 1974) and at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas in Austin (1907-1919). Finally, a more in-depth presentation of the Billy the Kid Legend is available in another portion of this website.
|[FN1]||James Rice, an award winning author and illustrator of children's books, moved to Hico in 1980, where at one time he served as the Hico ISD Band Director. His first book, Cajun Night Before Christmas was published in 1979. During his career, Rice authored 60 books. Over 2.5 million copies of his books have been published. Rice passed away at his home in Hico in 2004. He was not directly related to Capt. J. M. Rice of the Frontier Militia|