History enthusiasts gather at the Museum

Alex Mann
Managing Editor

History enthusiasts enjoyed a rare treat on Sunday afternoon at the Hutchinson County Historical Museum as the Friends of the Library hosted a meeting for members and guests alike. Representatives from some of the regions oldest families had assembled to share stories of the earliest days of high plains settlement, and the boomtown days which put the region on the map. Though the flat landscapes of North Texas may seem dreary at first glance, the high stakes stories of fortune hunters, wildcatters, ranchers, and rig workers weave together to create fascinating local history, and the packed museum hall was eager to hear the accounts of Wesley Jarvis, Rick Say, Edward Turner, and Gary Alexander.

“My grandparents were J.C. and Cassie Alexander,” began Gary Alexander, launching into his own family's story, “They started out in Pennsylvania, thats where my granddad was born, and they heard about the oil boom in Oklahoma, and moved there.” Though many people have heard of the wild early days of the first boomtowns, Gary was able to drive home just how dangerous the region could be with one account in particular. “One of [granddad's] first jobs was delivering payroll to different towns,” Alexander says, “and one story he told my aunt was he was delivering payroll in another town, and a guy jumped on his car, pulled a gun on him, and said he wanted all the money; he knew he was delivering money. He argued with him, went a long with it, but he knew there was a rough spot coming up in the road. He got down there, gunned it, threw the guy off and went right along... it was rough times back then.” As Gary continues the story, he tells of how his grandfather eventually struck out to seek his own fortunes. “Finally my granddad got put out with Phillips, and he started his own drilling company, Hutchinson Drilling Company here in Hutchinson County,” he continues, “Thats where he ended up, with his own drilling company, and with that we got some of our own production, and he drilled some of the wells that I ended up with.” According to Gary, other members of the Alexander family had their own disagreements with Phillips, including Gary's great uncle Clyde. “My granddad's brother was vice-president of Phillips Petroleum.” Gary explains, “Frank Phillips and Clyde were up there at the Bartlesville country club, and Philips was making a lot of money back then. They got into an argument in the bathroom. Frank Phillips wanted to give all the excess money to the stockholders, and my granddad's brother said no, we need to pay that to the employees. They got into a fight, thats the way they did things back then, my granddad's brother slugged Frank Phillips to the floor... I don't know if either of them won, but I imagine Clyde got Franks attention.”

For other members of the panel, different aspects of the region's history held the most fascination and appeal. Rick Say was able to share the story of his family's long trek from Pennsylvania, to Oklahoma, and eventually Hutchinson County, but according to Say, the native cultures of the region will always hold a special interest to him. “The more I study this stuff, the more I find out this is a really interesting place to live in.” He says, “My dad, for fun, was a big collector and hunter of Indian artifacts. He instilled in me at a very early age that it was important, and would tell me stories.” With help from family friends and others, Say recounts the sizable collection the amateur archeologists were able to amass right here in the high plains. “They had a museum they built,” he says, “and things we'd collect on our digs all went down there. I was astonished every time I went down there about the things our families could find out there.”

Meanwhile for Wesley Jarvis, some of the strongest memories were of home and family, and the stories he heard of early settlement in the area. “We lived in a three room house with outdoor plumbing,” he begins, “The only plumbing that came into the house was one cold water pipe which ran up the north wall, and it was prone to freezing... I remember my crib being in the southwest corner of the main room, and I distinctly remember taking baths in a number two wash tub there, because that was the only room in the house that was warm. My dad kept his guns in what he called the 'gun box' in the third room, which was ostensibly the dining room, and I was always after him to show me the guns.” Despite the stark contrast to modern comforts and luxuries many take for granted today, Wes continues to recount the challenges of building anything at all in a region nearly devoid of lumber or building materials. “The best wood they got came out of the logging enterprises in Oklahoma, and most of it was shipped in. Either that or came flooded down the river.” He explains, “The superstructure of granddads barn that he put up in around 1911 or 13... was mostly trestle timbers. Up where we lived you could hear the [Canadian River] when it got up, it would roar. They would go down after the river went back down and find all the trestle timbers and drag them out. He collected lumber for several years... there were some timbers in there that were 20 to 24 feet long, 20 to 22 inches wide, and 12 to 14 inches thick, and you could see the grain starting at one end and going to the other... you cant find lumber like that now. They had to find their wood where they could get it.”

Though most people associate stories of pioneers to the mid 1800s, stories from Borger's own families paint a picture of more modern pioneers, striking out that the start of the 20th century seeking their own fortunes in black gold just as their forbears rushed west for true gold. In one sense these families that founded Hutchinson County and the surrounding communities can be seen as the last pioneers, but at the same time, they illustrate that the pioneer spirit is not bound by era, and to this day can be found within anyone willing to risk the odds and seek a better future.