Introduction and Interests
Quanah, Texas — History in Memories
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
I grew up in Quanah, Texas, from age 2 1/2 to 15. Quanah is the county seat of Hardeman County, which is bordered on the north by the Red River, with Oklahoma beyond. Quanah is 8 miles from the river. My father established a radio station there in 1951. The station's call letters, KOLJ, were from Dad's initials: Orville L Jenkins.
The town had a population of only about 3300. The county had only one consolidated high school, Quanah High School. But the radio station served a wide area covering several Oklahoma and Texas counties. The station still operates on its original frequency of AM 1150. At one point in its history, new owners changed the call letters to KREL. In October 2009, I got an email note from the current owner John White with this update:
"I just wanted to let you know the station is still alive and well and in fact I was able to get the original KOLJ call letters back this year. In June of 2008 the station was silenced following the collapse of its broadcast tower after a tornado came through. I was able to get the station back on-air and built a new tower and in the process was able to purchase the station from its previous owners."
On a visit back to Quanah for the Fall Festival in September 2011, I got to meet John White in person for the first time. It was great to learn more about the later history of the station and see how it is going with renewed vigor under John's creative leadership. John takes advantage of the Internet and modern technology, enabling KOLJ to provide many services for the community. John integrates the radio broadcast services with the multiple media available now, such as Facebook and other Internet services.
With the new technology, carrying a transmitter on his shoulder, John can broadcast direct from anywhere! He still broadcasts the Quanah Indian sports games, just like my father had done when I was a kid. I remember sitting in the skybox with Dad and Bob Stabler, while they were calling the Friday Night football game. In those days KOLJ was a daytime only station, so they would record the game, then reply it on Saturday! I was pleased to know John's current license allows low-power night broadcast, providing 24-hour broadcasting!
In October 2007, I was checking some references on the Internet, and for some reason looked up Quanah. I found an interesting writeup with photos in a Texas Travel site that has much interesting history and culture. There are more photos and information on QuanahNet.
Seeing some photos of buildings in the town brought back memories of childhood places and events. I got to go back for a visit in 2011 for the Fall Festival and School reunion. Again in 2013 this was possible and in these two visits I was able to renew acquaintances and visit some more landmarks.
The Hardeman County Jail
The police station and fire station were together in a facility on 3rd street, a couple of blocks south, across from the post office and next door to the Chevrolet dealer. One summer when I was about 14, I served as the radio dispatcher for the Quanah Police.
We had a couple of exciting events while I was on duty. There was a chase across several counties of north Texas, after a robber robbed a store. He was being pursued by the Texas Highway Patrol with the various localities cooperating as he progressed from west to east. The building for the fire and police station also housed the city administration offices. The fire department is still there, but the police are in another building on the next block south.
On the side street south across from the admin and police building was the auto parts store run by the Newsoms. In September 2011, I found it in the same location I remembered, run now by Gary Newsom! The Newsoms lived on the next block over from our house across the alley on 12th Street. They went to our church, First Baptist Church. Randy Newsom was the age of my brother Greg.
The Water Tower
I remember when they put in the new water tower across 11th street (Hwy 287) from our house. It seemed to reach the sky. It still stands in the middle of that block, the only structure, visible from almost anywhere in the town. This was the new primary water reservoir for the town, which had to pipe its water in from some distance away.
The town could get water from deep wells into the famous Permian Basin, a part of the great Oglala Water Reservoir. This extensive underground natural water reservoir has over the decades continued to get lower and lower. But the gypsum base of the land affected the water.
Only 9 miles west of us was the world's biggest gypsum mine, and the largest production plant of wallboard, which is called sheetrock there, or at least was when I lived there. In other parts of the country, I later heard the word drywall for this sheetrock wallboard. This industry was a major portion of our county's economic base.
I remember the name of the company as the Acme Bestwall Gypsum Company. It was owned by Georgia Pacific. I learned it is still operating. On certain days, with the West Texas plains winds, white dust would swirl in the air and settle over everything. On our house plot, we had our own well, which we could use for irrigation of the garden and lawn. This led to a white crust over the plants, because of the lime and gyp from the water. In the summer the city had to buy water from sources across the Red River in Oklahoma.
I remember the city water always had the taste of iron and gypsum, but the taste became much worse, almost revolting in the summertime. Our well water tasted worse than the city water, but I expect it was quite healthy! But bottled water had not yet become the effete commercial product it is now. When we would water our hugely productive truck garden, the whole area would be white, from the high quantity of gypsum in our well water. Yep, this was sheetrock country – we watered our gardens with it, we washed our clothes in it, we drank it and we covered our walls with it!
I remember how amazed we were that this new water tower was going to be 100 feet high. Later in life, I used the image of this tower to gauge how high buildings and towers were!
The air raid/tornado siren was placed on top of that tower. This was active during the long tornado season we experience, being in part of the notorious Tornado Alley of North America. This was also the town's fire siren. We were only a few meters from it. That siren could be heard all over town, so it drove us nearly insane every time it went off!
The soda fountain shown here in the drug store on TexasScapes looks like the very same one that was there in our time when the store was Johnson's Rexall Drug Store. When I was in about the 5th to 7th grade I would do live commercials for Johnson's on my daily radio program on KOLJ.
I remember that one Mother's Day back in the 1950s it was in Johnson's Rexall Drug Store that my two little brothers and I together bought a camera for our mother. Dad took us in there and we all pooled our money to buy that Kodak Brownie camera. She used it until just a few years ago, bringing it with her on two trips to Kenya to visit us, and trips to many other places. It finally got too hard to buy the film for it, and she had to "upgrade" only a few years ago.
The QA&P Railway
The small picture near the end labeled "Museum" is the old railroad station for the Quanah, Acme and Pacific Railway. This was already a derelict when I was a kid. Passengers had to board at the main freight depot, about 2 blocks away over on Main Street at the RR tracks. QA&P was primarily a freight company by then, and was shortly afterwards absorbed into the Frisco line, before 1963 when I moved to Arkansas.
The QA&P was the first railroad in America in which a founding shareholder was an American Indian. Chief Quanah Parker, for whom the town is named, encouraged investment in the modern technology, considered a bane to the Plains Indians and the iron horse cut through hunting lands of the Native Americans. Chief Quanah was an original partner in the QA&P. Cattle shipping was a large part of the early transport business, and the cattle sale barn still was a big operation when I was living in Quanah.
For the Texas Centennial Celebrations (1958), they remodeled the old depot/station at 101 Mercer Street downtown, about one block west of Main, a block north of the Quanah Hotel. This was the exposition center for the Centennial of Quanah, and later became a permanent museum.
Acme was about 5 miles west of Quanah, on Hwy 287. Sometimes some of us would ride our motor scooters out to Acme. Cushman Eagles were really popular then, and there were a lot of them in Quanah. These filled a real need, as most of us had to work at various jobs and needed to get around town, as well as to school and other legitimate activities.
Winter Work and Play
I remember besides working at KOLJ and the Jenkins Laundry, I delivered the Sunday Oklahoman newspaper, like the Post Office, sun, rain, snow. There were some tough winter days on Quanah streets. But I remember some storms that shut the town down, and we had the run of the streets.
We could go out and play in the streets! We could go out and skate and skid our scooters on the ice-covered streets! But we were safe and careful – at least I was. And, remember, the dogs all ran loose in town, and some of them liked to chase the scooters.
And here's a confession – some of you can join me in this, I remember being in a group! I remember grabbing on to the back bumpers of a lone car when it would come slowly down the snow-ice covered street by Travis school. We would ski along behind the car for a few yards. Were we crazy or what? But it never seemed dangerous in the town where everybody knew everybody and we roamed all over town on foot or bike or scooter.
Farther west was the small town of Goodlett, about 9 miles from Quanah, I think. I remember the old Goodlett school gym had become a skating rink and we would go on Friday or Saturday nights to skate. Lots of church youth groups had parties at the Goodlett skating rink.
Also in Goodlett, my father had a Mexican restaurant for a while, not long, maybe a year or two. I remember they had a counter and display selling Mexican leather goods, like purses, belts and wallets.
Bob Nelson, who also grew up in Quanah, and was one of the Cushman Eagle group, wrote me in March 2010 to comment on the role of Fred Koch, whose family I know from the Quanah Tribune-Chief newspaper, in the restoration and historical focus in Quanah:
"Fred Koch has been instrumental in preserving some of the buildings downtown and in reviving interest in the town's heritage."
While in Quanah for the 2011 All-School Reunion and Fall Festival, I got a chance to see some of the restored buildings and ongoing projects Fred has been fostering, through the Three Rivers Foundation. This is a cultural heritage and arts foundation with offices in Quanah and Crowell, in Foard County south of Quanah.
I had the delightful thrill of meeting an old school mate Carolyn Chapman Wilson, who is the Director of Arts for the Foundation. They are in the process of restoring many of the old business buildings on Main Street. They have a beautiful ballroom in what used to be the M E Moses Variety (5-10c) Store. The School Reunion had their closing banquet in the ballroom. The Foundation has many cultural projects going on several levels.
Carolyn and her staff are cataloguing a donated collection of 60,000 classic vinyl LP record albums, now in the climate-controlled storage basement of the Foundation's ballroom. Oh, and Carolyn showed us the beautiful and functional bar they bought from the set of the old TV series "Gunsmoke"! I was so excited with everything I forgot to take a picture of the bar and the beautiful ballroom and main salon!
Hardeman County was a big ranching area. Cotton had also been big there when I was very small. I remember for the first few years in Quanah, we lived about a mile south of the city limits on the Crowell Highway, now Texas Highway 6. The family just north of were an old couple named Jenkins, too, but they were not kin to us. Their son Hayden Jenkins was the veterinarian. I remember walking across the huge field to visit them. Mrs Jenkins would give me cookies!
We rented the house on a cotton farm, while the owner, Hamp Stepp ("Old Man Stepp"), continued to raise cotton. I used to talk with Hamp's son Alvie when he was out there to supervise the cotton picking. I remember I was quite young at the time. I could not have been over 6, since we moved from the farm into town before my 7th birthday.
I would stand out in the edge of the field past the east end of our house talking to Mr Alvie about the crop and the cotton picking operation, while the pickers were working. He told me about the plant, the cotton, how the cotton forms in the bolls and then is picked. I always enjoyed learning how things worked, how things grew, how crops were managed and harvested.
Alvie had a daughter about a year younger than me named Mattie. In September 2011, on a visit to Quanah for the All-School Reunion, I met Alvie's son Malcolm.
My wife and I went out to see the farm, and found the house was still standing, as I remembered it. Malcolm, also in town for the reunion, drove up and we had a good long visit. They are still farming the place, and we saw a cotton picker in the edge of the field just past the house.
We lived on this cotton farm through my first grade of school, then moved into town, to 909 West 11th Street, on the west end of town. Eleventh Street of Quanah was the cross-country highway US 287. US Highway 287 was the major north-south route from Port Arthur, Texas to Choteau, Montana.
It was going basically east-west as it went through our part of the country after coming northwest out of Fort Worth. From Quanah 287 heads on out to Amarillo before angling up to the northwest. This highway is still heavily traveled with commercial traffic. Since our time there, Quanah has built up its tourist trade around its colorful history.
Cotton farming gradually diminished over the years. Wheat was the other major crop I recall. Driving through the area in recent years, I still see wheat growing, but less land than I remember seems to be under wheat cultivation. Of course, with the ranching in the area, hay fields were a beautiful contribution to our flat and featureless land area.
Caddy-cornered from our house, across from the lumber company, were the Fitzpatrick's. They lived there and operated a gasoline service station and store beside the house. In those days we called these stations "filling stations." Maybe that was the hold-over frontier word. The Fitzpatrick's son David was a couple of years older than me. (No, it must have been more than 2 years.) I would sometimes go across the highway and visit with them. I remember helping pump gas at times when David was on duty.
Laundry and Lumber
Across Combs Street (the north-south street next to our house) was the Bland Lumber Company. After Dad sold Radio Station KOLJ in about 1961, we continued to operate a business across Combs Street from our home. While we still owned the radio station, my father had bought the corner lot on Combs Street and 11th and started a coin-operated laundry. In this business I learned the mechanics of washing and drying machines. I helped my dad repair and totally overhaul these machines. After some time, Dad added a coin-operated dry-cleaning business.
Besides the laundry business, we also had a hugely productive truck garden. In the summer, we operated a truck stop vegetable stall in front of our house, selling the produce. On the quarter block (1/2 acre) plot, we raised all the vegetables we could eat, can, sell and give away. We also took phone orders and delivered to homes. We also had a fruit and nut orchard in the yard and garden, the full 1 acre of our plot. We learned a lot about organic gardening, nutrition, and working with the pattern of nature. We continued to operate the "farm" and the laundry business for a couple more years before we moved to an Arkansas farm.
Cattle ranching continued to be a major business for Quanah and Hardeman County. Incidentally, it was in Quanah that I started my minor career as a rancher, with one calf I raised as a 4-H Club project. From this I parlayed my modest earnings into a small cattle herd.
The basic cattle investment became a major operation for us when we moved to Arkansas in 1963. My dad and I were partners in the cattle business, till I gradually sold off my share to pay for college expenses in the latter 60s.
Name of Honor
I commented that the town of Quanah was named after the Comanche chief Quanah Parker. Quanah Parker's mother was a white woman, from whom he took the name Parker. I have read several books about the chief. In 2009, I read a book about Quanah Parker that had a lot of info about his life, and cited letters from his friend Burk Burnett, and others, in his later business and personal associations. (Burkburnett, Texas, near Wichita Falls, is named after Burnett.)
This book is The Last Comanche Chief: The Life and Times of Quanah Parker (Edison, NJ: Castle Books, 2007), by Bill Neeley. Neeley says on p 228 that the town was named in honor of Quanah, Parker, in 1884. In May of 1890, Quanah himself made a statement about this which was quoted in the Quanah Tribune-Chief Newspaper of 23 May 1890. (This was still the name of the paper when I lived there, and still is. The owner was a man named Koch. When he died his wife continued to run the paper. I knew her.)
Neeley quotes the words of Quanah from the article:
"It is well, you have done a good thing in honor of a man who has tried to do right both to the people of his tribe and to his pale faced friends. May the God of the white man bless the town of Quanah. May the sun shine and the rain fall upon the fields and the granaries be filled. May the lightning and the tempest shun the homes of her people, and may they increase and dwell forever. God bless Quanah. I have spoken."
Neeley says a bit later on: "Quanah frequently visited the town named for him. At times he dressed in his traditional Indian costume, and just as often, he wore a business suit with a stylish hat and diamond breastpin" (p229).
Quanah maintained contacts with his Parker relatives in Texas, and this has continued to this day, with an annual Parker reunion in Quanah, to which Indian and white Parkers come. There is a monument on the court house square commemorating this. I gather from the story and background Neeley provides that the town was named for Quanah because he was actually held in high esteem, even loved by the people of that area.
2011 Quanah Reunion Photos
Quanah — The Last Comanche Chief
*** OBJ Summary Introduction More OBJ Info ***
OBJ's Short Biographical Resume Dr. Obiwan's Computing History
So Many Opportunities in One Lifetime So Many Languages, So Little Time
OBJ Educational Background Living and Working in Kenya
OBJ Residences and Occupations "Where Am I From?"
For more on Quanah Parker and Quanah, Texas, on the Internet:
Cynthia Ann Parker, A Circle of Love – Crosby County Pioneer Memorial Museum
KOLJ – Listen Online
QA&P – The Handbook of Texas
Quanah High School Alumni Association
Quanah - Facebook
Quanah High School
Quanah Parker — Comanche Lodge
Quanah Parker — TexasEscapes
Quanah – Wikipedia
Quanah, Texas – TexasScapes
Three Rivers Foundation
Three Rivers Foundation Building Restoration
Traces of the Quanah, Acme & Pacific
US Highway 287
First notes on Quanah written in October 2007
Finalized and posted on Ideas and Interests 13-14 November 2007
Revised September 2008 and September 2009 and September 2011
Last edited 30 November 2013
Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2007, 2009 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Please give credit and link back. Other rights reserved.