The pioneer era began in this county with the establishment of Fort Belknap in 1851. Fort Belknap was a frontier fort built to protect the early settlers from the Indians, mainly the Comanches and Kiowas. Belknap was a weekly stop on the famous Butterfield Overland Stage Route that lasted only four years from 1857 to 1861.
In 1854, two Indian reservations were established. The upper Indian reservation was established at Camp Cooper now in Throckmorton County. The hostile plains Indians, the Penateka Comanches were located at this reservation. The lower reservation, called the Brazos River Indian Reservation, began adjacent to the western edge of Wildcatter Ranch and Resort and extended into present day Graham covering some 68,120 acres (about nine square miles). Some 2000 Indians occupied this lower reservation, mainly members of the following : Anadarko, Caddo, Teaucana, Waco, Cherokee, Choctaw, Delaware Nation, Shawnees, and Tonkawa tribes.
Although the lower reservation held the friendly agrarian Indian tribes, a trust was never established between the locals and the Indians. In 1858, a party of Indians, led by Choctaw Tom, was allowed off the reservation to hunt in Palo Pinto County near Ioni Creek. Eight Indians were massacred without provocation by a group of whites from nearby Erath County. All, but one, were killed as they slept in their blankets. In May 1859, a confrontation between a group of whites led by John R. Baylor, former upper reservation Indian agent, and a group of Indians let by Chief Hatterbox resulted in the Chief's death plus the deaths of two of Baylor's men. Major Robert Simpson Neighbors, Commander Special Indian Agent, ordered the removal of the Indians in July 1859 much in part to the depredations and the unsympathetic attitude of the soldiers at Fort Belknap. Major Neighbors moved the Indians without loss of life to a new reservation in Indian Territory, in present day Oklahoma.
Fort Belknap closed in 1859 and the next fifteen years were extremely dangerous times in the Young County area. With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the state of Texas set up the Frontier Battalion at Fort Belknap giving the settlers little protection due to the thin ranks of troops in the region. Comanche and Kiowa groups began raids against the settlers almost immediately. The census of Young County decreased from 592 in 1860 to 139 during the War years.
These events set the stage for one of the largest and deadliest Indian raids History comes alive in the history of the Texas called the Elm Creek Raid. On October 13, 1864, a band of Indians estimated in excess of one thousand raided settlers' homes along Elm Creek in northern Young County. Seven settlers and five Texas Rangers were killed. Six women and children were taken hostage, including the wife and two children of the African-American frontiersman and noted Indian fighter, Britt Johnson. Johnson, who was away at the time of the raid, eventually went into Indian country to the north, took up with the Indians, and through bartering the Indians secured the release of the hostages with the exception of a baby girl and a twelve year old boy.
These were perilous times for the settlers of Young County. Following the Elm Creek raid, the county found itself in disarray. Belknap, the county seat, had difficulties finding men to serve in public office, so in 1865, Young County became disorganized. Young County records show that the county documents were ordered moved to Flag Springs, north of Graham. The county records were eventually moved to Mesquiteville, present day Jacksboro.
On May 16, 1869, a fight of historical note occurred near the community of History comes alive Jean in Young County. This battle, called the Salt Creek Fight, lasted six hours. Captain Ira Graves along with eleven associates held off in excess of fifty Indians. Everyone in the party was injured and three were killed.
In 1871, while on a trip for supplies, Britt Johnson, Dennis Cureton, and Paint Crawford were ambushed by Indians on the Southern Overland Stage Coach road in northern Young County and were killed. Frontier hero Britt Johnson fought a valiant fight and records show there were over 100 cartridges near his mutilated body. All three men were buried by troops from Fort Richardson who happened upon Histroy comes alive the bodies of the three dead men.
Civil War General William T. Sherman arrived in Texas in the spring of 1871 to inspect the area due to letters concerning Indian depredations in the area. On May 17, with his entourage of less than twenty men, he traveled from the Fort Belknap area through to Fort Richardson. Little did he know that in the area of Cox Mountain in eastern Young County he was being watched by a hidden group of Kiowas numbering around 100 and led by Chiefs Satana, Satank, and Big Tree. The Indians decided not to attack, because their spiritual leader, Owl Prophet, persuaded them not to do so.
However, a day later a wagon train owned by Captain Henry Warren and Associates and carrying corn from Weatherford to Fort Griffin (north of Albany, Texas) was not so lucky. Under ominous thunderstorm threatening skies, the Indians streamed out from behind their hiding place called Spy Knob attacking the circling wagons and brutally killing seven of the twelve teamsters. This History comes alive incident has become known as the Warren Wagon Train Massacre. The five who managed to escape hid in the trees near Cox Mountain and later provided Sherman himself with the blood chilling account of the raid. The three Indian chiefs were later apprehended at the Fort Sill reservation. Satank was killed trying to escape and Satana and Big Tree were brought back to stand trial at Fort Richardson. Both received death sentences, which were later commuted to life.
In later years, both were released. Big Tree actually ended up converting to Christianity and entering the ministry. Satana, however, went back to his old ways and eventually killed himself by jumping out of the second story of the Huntsville prison. It can be said that the character Blue Duck in Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove corresponds in many ways to the real life Satana.
The last confrontation in Young County occurred in July of 1874 when thirty-five men of the Texas Frontier Regiment engaged 100 Indians at Oliver Loving's ranch in the Lost Valley area of eastern Young County, near the Jack County line. The Indians, who had killed a Loving ranch hand, John Heath, just days before, killed and wounded several Rangers. The years of battling the settlers, the slaughter of their main food source, the bison, and enhanced operations by the federal government's military, finally resulted in the Comanche and Kiowa warrior's demise. In June of 1875, the last Comanche warriors were settled at the Fort Sill reservation. Among these was the famous Comanche Chief Quanah Parker
In the same era of the Indian-Settler confrontations, the Texas cattle industry had its beginnings. In 1866, probably the most famous partnership in the history of cattlemen was formed between the former Texas Ranger scout and Indian fighter, Charles Goodnight, and one of the first Texas cattlemen, Oliver Loving. Loving began driving cattle from Texas north and east in the 1850's. When these markets became not as attractive, he teamed with Goodnight to blaze a trail west, enduring heat, cold, lack of water, and the ever present Indian danger. They were encouraged by their first trip west, when they made large profits at Fort Sumner, New Mexico selling cattle to the U.S. government who was desperate to feed their starving Navajo Reservation Tribe.
They continued their drives until in 1867, when Loving was fatally wounded in an Indian raid on the Pecos River. The drive had been delayed and Loving went ahead to notify the buyers of the delay, making a fatal decision in traveling by day instead by dark. He and One Armed Bill Wilson stood off a much larger band of Indians, but Loving's wounds caused gangrene and he died in New Mexico. The next year in one of the longest and most famous funeral processions ever staged, Goodnight and Oliver Loving's son, Joe, brought Loving's body back to Texas as per his last request. Oliver Loving is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Weatherford, Texas. It was Oliver Loving's son, James C. Loving, that was instrumental in forming the Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association in 1877, under an oak tree on Fourth Street in Graham. Click here to view a letter written from Oliver Loving to Governor Lubbock in 1862 when Oliver Loving lived in the Graham area.
Charles Goodnight, who lived well into his 90's, continued his cattle business and was responsible for many innovations in this business, including introducing the Beefalo and the designing of the chuck wagon.
In 1872, with the Indian problem under control, Colonel Edwin Smith Graham and his brother, Gustavous Adolphus Graham founded the city of Graham. The adventurous brothers traveled from their home in Kentucky and established a salt works on Salt Creek. It was adjacent to these salt works that "Uncle Gus" surveyed and plotted a town site with unusually wide streets, large blocks, and spacious commerce parks. Today, Graham's town square is recognized as the largest in the nation. The town became the county seat in 1874, and in 1879 the Northwest District Federal Court was established.
Even though the Indian days were gone, Young County and Graham continued to have several colorful frontier happenings. The only man ever legally hung in Young County was Jack Post for the murder of G.B. McDermott. On October 28, 1881, an estimated 1,000 people, one of the largest crowds ever assembled in Graham, watched the noose slip twice before he was hung. Jack Post is buried in an unmarked grave in the old Eastside cemetery or "Boot Hill" in east Graham. In June 1881, the McDonald brothers, Dee and Nick, and their cousin Pete were apprehended for the murder of J.E. Martin, Postmaster and merchant of Belknap. On January 1, 1882, all three unsuccessfully attempted to escape from the Young County Jail and were killed in a shootout in the alley behind the jail. All three are buried in unmarked graves in the old Eastside Cemetery in Graham.
One of the most sensational outlaw incidents in Young County was that of the Marlow Brothers incident, 1888-1890. There are at least four published books and a movie, The Sons of Katie Elder, based on this incident. Marlow, Oklahoma, was named for Dr. William W. Marlow, the father of these illustrious Marlow Brothers. The complete story is long and complicated but it's a story well worth researching. Three of the brothers are buried in Finis Cemetery, History comes alive about fifteen minutes from Wildcatter Ranch and Resort. The location where they were apprehended after their jailbreak is on the ranch and the Dry Creek ambush site is very close to the ranch. The Marlow house is gone but the barn near the house is still standing. The bottom floor of the original 1878 Young County jail (now an antique store), is still standing.
There is no question very few areas have had such a colorful past in the frontier era as this area of Texas. Probably just as colorful was the beginning of the oil and gas production era. Spurred on by the news of the Titusville discovery in Pennsylvania, the Graham brothers drilled the first gas test well in the state of Texas in 1872. Looking for fuel to run their salt works, they drilled to 400 feet, finding mainly salt water with a trace of gas. The first oil well drilled in Young County was by Bruce Knight in 1904 on property owned by Judge J.F. Arnold near the Miller Bend area. From 1912 -1919, several non-commercial wells were attempted, and it was not until 1920 that the first producing commercial well was brought in by Panhandle Refining Company. On July 4th, the McCluskey #1 came in at 6800 BOPD, recovering over $1,000,000 of revenue in the first eight months of production.
This kicked the oil boom off in earnest and towns such as South Bend, Eliasville, and Bunger grew up almost overnight. Other communities such as Oil City, Ming Bend, Harding, Lake City, Pleasant Valley, and Herron City, which was located right across the river from Wildcatter Ranch and Resort sprung up and disappeared within a matter of two or three years. In the first decade of production, almost all of Young County was explored with many new fields causing boomtowns to be established. The most prolific well ever made in Young County was drilled on the other side of Connor Creek very near Wildcatter Ranch and Resort. The Sinclair Moren #1 was discovered in 1923 and recovered 3,000,000 bbls of oil before it was plugged in 1975 by the current operator of the lease, Echo Production, Inc.
Echo's owners are also the founders of Wildcatter Ranch and Resort. More recently, Echo Production was involved with another famous Young County well. In July 1985, the Graham National Bank #2 blew out catching on fire and toppling the derrick in a matter of minutes. The fire burned for seven days before being capped by the famous oil well fighting team of Boots and Coots. Luckily no one was injured and most of the incident was filmed and will be available to view at the ranch.
Although the 1920's were mainly about oil, one other historical occurrence is worth mentioning. On Christmas Eve 1927, four men dressed as Santa Claus robbed the First National Bank of Cisco, located sixty miles south of Graham. After killing a policeman and taking hostages, they headed north where they met a roadblock at South Bend, about nine miles south of Graham. Two of the robbers escaped and roamed the Brazos River bottoms for about two days until making their way into Graham. One of the bandits was apprehended under the loading dock of the Radford grocery warehouse. Ironically the building is now owned and operated by Echo Production, Inc. This event is portrayed in a book, The Santa Claus Robbery, written by A.C. Greene.
This summary has really just touched on the history of the area. Our plans are to bring this history alive to our guests at Wildcatter Ranch and Resort. Every one of our rooms has historic themes and our staff will tell many of these stories to you, probably around a campfire or on location of the happenings. Books, films, and videos on these historical happenings will be available at our ranch library. What makes the Wildcatter Ranch unique is the manner in which the staff makes guests feel they are a part of these colorful events through stories and activities.