This won’t come as a galloping shock to anyone who knows me, but I love history, especially Texas history. And particularly, LOCAL Texas history. In other words, I enjoy learning about the history of this area, and the pioneers, settlers, and early day ranchers who came here in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. What follows is a list of some of the books I have especially enjoyed that contain stories of those first settlers.
Any study of Haskell County has to begin with the very fine Haskell County History by Mr. R.E. Sherrill, first published in about 1936 or 37, and reprinted (without updates) in 1965. In the book’s Foreword, Mr. Sherrill states that the book began in response to a request from Prof. C.C. Minatra, who was the Superintendent of Haskell Public Schools from 1918 to 1923. Apparently, the good professor wanted something he could use in helping teach local history to his students. The book went through a number of revisions and reorganizations before finally being published more than a decade later. It includes material on the earliest white settlers to the region, establishment of the first communities, agriculture commodities, the coming of the railroads, local politics, crop yields, and much more. It’s not exactly “light bedtime reading,” but if you want to hear the authentic remembrances of early-day pioneers, this is a great treasure.
Another great resource is Haskell County and Its Pioneers, written by Rex A. Felker and published in 1975. This book begins with a review of the county’s history, early day political officeholders, and stories of interest. It has extensive articles about different businesses and the various churches within the city of Haskell, but the real treasure is the extensive collection of family histories – dozens of names of folks who helped build this community and whose grandchildren and great-grandchildren still live here.
A more recent offering is Haskell County, published in 2010 by the Haskell County Historical and Genealogical Society. This little softcover book is available from Arcadia Publishing as part of their “Images of America” series and is primarily a collection of fascinating black and white photographs, many of which have been shared from private family archives.
Mr. C.H. Underwood of O’Brien has written A History of the Upper Forks of the Brazos River. This little book, recently published, tells the story of how the Salt Fork and Double Mountain Fork of the Brazos come together to form the river that flows across much of Texas. It’s an enjoyable read that I highly recommend.
If you want to learn a little more about cowboy culture and life on the early-day range, I suggest Life on the Texas Range, photographs by Erwin E. Smith, and text by J. Evetts Haley. This book contains about a hundred crisp photos of cowboys and livestock on the range, which were selected to be exhibited during the Texas Centennial of 1936. Many of the pictures are of cowboy life up on the Caprock and in the Panhandle region of Texas but would have been very similar to early day ranch life in and around Haskell County.
The Cowboys, part of “The Old West Series,” published by Time-Life Books, is another book I have enjoyed. You’ve probably seen these books with their imitation leather binding – they’re available in just about every second-hand store everywhere. There are numerous volumes in this series that are entertaining reading, but I think this is one of the best. It includes information on Cowboy and Western history and culture in general, not just this area.
Finally, I think every community in the area has at least one book that tells its history and celebrates the story of those who braved the frontier that I would encourage you to read – and that’s not limited to just Haskell or Jones County, either. Many of those books are available in the Haskell County Library, in the genealogy section. But be advised – because of their extreme rarity, most of them cannot be checked out, but you’re welcome to read them there. And I would encourage you to do so.
It’s a frontier that’s waiting for you.