A few weeks ago, I attempted another storm chasing trip. My previous storm chasing trip in 2014 netted no photogenic tornado sighting, so I thought I should try again. Unfortunately, my 2017 trip was no different – barely any storms. So, off we went on a road trip through Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico to pass the time.
The great state of Texas has may quirks. Cadillacs buried in the middle of a field in Amarillo, giant road runner statues, famous 60,000 square foot convenience stores that sell snacks called Beaver Nuggets, and hundreds (maybe thousands?) of historical markers along its highways. Texas loves its history; there’s even an app that will tell you what’s on each historical marker in case you miss one while whizzing by at or above the 75 mph speed limit.
One historical marker for the lost town of Espuela led us on a side trip down dusty dirt roads deep into the heart of unpaved Texas territory. What remains of this town – founded in the 1870s by settlers and dismantled in 1910 when the last of its land was sold to a private ranch operation – is the lone cemetery.
I love cemeteries. I have an unnatural fascination for visiting them, especially the super old ones that can be found all over New England, like the famous Sleep Hollow cemetery in Concord, MA where Henry David Thoreau rests or Ye Antientist Burial Ground in New London, CT that has graves dating back to the 1650s. Visiting a cemetery can tell you a lot about a town’s history.
Finding this cemetery was a bit of an adventure. There is only a small sign embedded on a rock near the road.
The sign reads:
In 1870, J. H. Parrish built a dugout on the west bank of Duck Creek a half-mile southeast of this site. He farmed and established a small store serving travelers and, later, cattlemen and buffalo hunters. As the last of the Native American tribes left this area in 1876, commercial buffalo hunters moved into the region. They left tens of thousands of buffalo carcasses in their wake. From 1879 to 1884, this area was free range land for 30 cattle outfits. The Espuela Land & Cattle Company purchased most of the free lands and 20 sections of public domain territory from the state, fencing 569,120 acres. The company purchased most of the free range cattle, and located their headquarters about two miles west of what became the Espuela townsite.
By the mid-1880s, the community that had begun with Parrish’s small store was the largest in the county. Parrish platted the town and became its first postmaster in 1883. A one-room schoolhouse replaced a dugout already in use by the children and their teacher. Dickens County was created that year, and Espuela became first the temporary and then the permanent county seat. In summer 1891 the town boasted a gristmill, blacksmith shop, several stores, a hotel, a bootmaker, a saloon, a newspaper, civic organizations and a cotton gin. Neither a courthouse nor a jail were ever erected. On March 8, 1892, another election was held because of boundary issues surrounding Espuela, and Dickens was voted the county seat.
Though many settlers and businesses moved on, the town of Espuela survived as long as the Land & Cattle Company existed. In 1905, the company sold the Spur Ranch near this site to E. P. and S. A. Swenson. The post office moved to the new town of Spur in 1910. All that remains of the town of Espuela is the cemetery.
One of the most interesting graves is also one of the oldest marked graves – one belonging to Freighter Combs who “died of a gun shot wound” in 1877. I did a search about Freighter Combs when I got home. Apparently, according to this piece written by John Montgomery, this man is a big part of Espuela history. He is the first white man on record who was killed by another white man. His first name was not Freighter; rather, that name described his occupation at the time of his death. No one knew his real first name since he was just passing through town. There are many unmarked graves in Espuela cemetery, but I could find no explanation as to why his grave is marked with a nice (and expensive?) headstone.
To walk through this cemetery is to walk through the history of an almost-forgotten town. You can trace family trees and see what families in nearby towns and counties return to bury their dead here. Small seashells and other trinkets adorn the graves as a reminder that the town of Espuela may be gone, but those who rest here are not forgotten.
Interested in visiting Espuela Cemetery? Google Maps coordinates 33.575492, -100.895328 will get you there.