Phyliss Miranda. . .Mother City of the Texas Panhandle

phyliss_miranda.jpgThe first piece of sage advice my mentor gave me when I took my first writing class … write what you know. That has proven to be so true; however, you don’t have to be a down and out, dirty gunslinger or cussed outlaw to write a scene about robbing a bank and high-tailing it off to parts unknown with your gang.

I’m not a horseman to say the least. As a matter of fact, I’ve ridden exactly twice. The first, a nag in Palo Duro Canyon who undoubtedly was celebrating his one millionth trip into the bowels of the canyon. He didn’t seem to mind that I was a novice because he had his own agenda. Apparently it made him no never mind whether we moseyed down the side of a rock wall or a trail. He had his principles. I think he only wanted to get back to the stables and get fed.  Not a good experience, but now that I look back, it gave me an idea for my Texas Ranger’s gelding, Stewball, in our July anthology GIVE ME A TEXAS RANGER. . . . “Stewball, about the ugliest horse in the world, but his name fit. Patches of white over red, reminding Hayden of a bowl of chili topped with cornbread. He hoped the sorry lookin’ critter was still tied up outside the saloon. The sucker had a tendency to become impatient, work his reins loose, and make a beeline for the first place he found food.”

GIVEMEATEXASRANGERlittleMy second riding experience was on an ol’ work pony named “Blackie.” I have no idea how wide he was, but I had to stand on the tail of a pickup to get on him and my feet never touched either stirrup. I looked like a cheerleader doing the splits on the back of a horse. I slipped right off, more like a boulder crashing down a gully, and never tried riding again. Of course, everything I write has to have horses. Duh, how could those good looking hunks of horseflesh, excuse the pun, get around? But, I had to research and talk to experts, in order to make my readers believe that I really can recognize the south end of a north bound gelding.

Long way of saying, if a writer doesn’t know how things work, we research and learn enough, so the reader doesn’t realize how little some of us actually know. I want my readers to believe that I was roped, hog-tied and thrown in the nearest hoosegow and write western romances for entertainment.

I love to walk-the-walk when it comes to settings, in particular. Oh, you can certainly read a lot about a town and do a fantastic job on showing it to the reader, but experiencing, feeling, hearing and smelling of the actual setting gives you insight that can really make a difference between writing a wonderful scene and an “Aha” moment.  I truly want every reader to love the settings that I’ve selected for my stories, enjoy its beauty and want to come back for a visit.

The Texas Panhandle is my love, as is Texas in general, so naturally, that is where my writing migrated… to the wide open, wild and forbidding country where buffalo roamed freely and the Kiowa and Comanche lived and hunted. To the naked eye the Llano Estacado (Staked Plains) where the Panhandle is situated appears to be level, but in reality its western edge is almost 2,000 feet higher than its eastern edge. Unlike other parts of Texas, we are still in our infancy. The Panhandle is so small that you only have to look down the street to see what’s going on, but big enough that you have to read the newspaper to learn the facts.

western shootoutMy story in the new anthology is called “One Woman, One Ranger” and is set in Old Tascosa, the second town settled in the Panhandle, although I had to change the name somewhat to fit my story. Several kernels of history from actual accounts of Old Tascosa, germinated into a story about how the highfalutin’ folks of Upper Tascosa wanted to make sure the rowdy, detestable citizens kept their distance in Hogtown, or Lower Tascosa. They would have never associated with people named Rockin’ Chair Emma, Boxcar Jane, Slippery Sue, and Gizzard Lips. Thus, for my story, Old Tascosa became Buffalo Springs along with its seedy residents restricted to a part of the town across the creek known as Buffalo Wallow.

But, I could have never told my story without forcing my characters to relocate from the oldest town settled in the Panhandle, Mobeetie, in order to stay one step ahead of the law. Both towns were founded only a year apart, some one hundred and thirty-five years ago. If it hadn’t been for Mobeetie, and one determined Texas Ranger Captain hell bent for leather on cleaning up the town, Tascosa would not have existed. Separated by only 135 miles, they soon became mirror images of one another.

buffaloMobeetie, originally named Hidetown and still referred to today as “Mother City of the Panhandle”, evolved from buffalo hunters’ camps and from the nearby Army post, Fort Elliott.    In the beginning (1875), it was the legal, business, and social center for this part of Texas. The town faded when the railroad bypassed it two years later; and in 1890 when the Army abandoned nearby Fort Elliott (the only military post ever established in the Panhandle), the town withered further.  What remained was totally destroyed by a cyclone…today I think it’d just be called a regular ol’ tornado.

Bat MastersonBut before its demise, Old Mobeetie was a favorite “recreational town” for itinerant adventurers, cowboys, buffalo hunters, and freight haulers. There were gambling houses and dance halls, each with lots of female employees who arrived by freight wagons from Dodge City, Kansas City, and St. Louis. At one time, the tiny town sported over a dozen saloons. One old-timer said that some of the inhabitants “thought about seeing how tough a place could be and still be called a town.” Soldiers from Fort Elliott lookin’ for a good time contributed to its rowdiness, as did hundreds of cowboys hitting town on payday.

The legendary lawman, buffalo hunter, and a survivor of the Battle of Adobe Walls, Bat Masterson, surveyed the town of Mobeetie, but spent much of his time in the gambling halls. In a well-known fight over a poker game in Henry Fleming’s saloon, Masterson killed a soldier. Masterson shot him in self-defense, but not before taking a bullet to his stomach (which led to him having to use his famous cane.) A hail of shots followed, and a dance hall girl Masterson was living with at the time, Molly Brennen, was killed.  She is buried in the cemetery at Mobeetie not far from Louise Houston, the granddaughter of General Sam Houston. Of interest, more than two-thirds of the cases docketed in the first year of Wheeler County where the lawless town was situated involved fighting or some form of revelry, many connected with dance hall girls.

MollyBrennenGraveOl'Mobeetie

By 1882, the second town in this area, Tascosa, was founded when Texas Ranger Captain G. W. Arrington conducted a general clean up of Mobeetie, sending large numbers of fancy women, gamblers, con artists, and outlaws, as well as cattle and horse thieves westward towards the toughest and most lawless town of all the wild frontier … a shoot-’em up western booze town … Old Tascosa.  And, Lower Tascosa or Hogtown didn’t get its name because they raised hogs, but because the inhabitants acted like swine and visitors always came away hog-drunk. Below is a picture of the old Mobeetie jail.

mobeetietexas,strapironjail

Growing up, I visited Old Tascosa many times and spent hours walking-the-walk, particularly enjoying the serenity of Boot Hill where renegades and law-abiding, God fearing men and women are buried, many without the benefit of clergy. The cemetery borrowed its name from the Dodge City, Kansas, cemetery … a place for men who died with their boots on.

I only became passionate about Mobeetie when I was researching the rodeo for my story for our second anthology called Give Me a Cowboy.  A special writer friend arranged an interview with a man she grew up with … a real-life ol’ time rodeo star who lives in the area. That began my love affair with the Mother City of the Texas Panhandle’s historic cemetery and stone jail which still stands today.

Have you visited a place that totally took you back into time?

Guest Blogger
Updated: May 3, 2010 — 3:20 pm

26 Comments

  1. Hi Phyliss, what a great blog! You had me laughing out loud a few times. I am in Texas right now and totally loving it. Hill Country. I know that’s way different from the Panhandle LOL. My first time in Texas and I loved every second. I learned to ride while here and did pretty well for an old nag LOL.

    The place I’ve been that totally takes me back in time is Concord, Massachusettes. Standing on North Bridge, visiting Louisa May Alcott’s house, and Emerson’s Old Manse really took me back.

    Thanks for the wonderful post. oxoxoxxoox

  2. Phyliss, I love the history of the Panhandle. They might’ve lagged behind some parts of Texas in being tamed and settled, but my gosh, they didn’t waste any time in getting with it when they got started! Love the bit about Bat Masterson. He was an interesting fellow.

    Looking forward to seeing you today. Hope you’re getting lots of rest and not overdoing.

  3. The place that totally took me was Robert’s E. Lee’s home in Arlington, VA. A great view too!

  4. When I was a kid my parents took me to St. Elmo, Colorado. I was in heaven, transported to a place and time of old. I had forgotten about that place until I read this post. Thank you!

  5. Tanya, I love the Hill Country. My kids just moved back to Amarillo from San Antonio, and I’ll sure miss going down there. Over the last 5 years, I spent so much time there that I thought I was going to have to move my official residence to Bexar County! LOL It is so different from the Panhandle. I’d love to hear about your first riding experience which might not be too different from mine. Have a great trip and enjoy Texas. I’ve traveled a lot up in Massachusetts, spending a couple of holidays in Cape Cod, but never Concord. Looks like a must to be added to my travel wishes. Hugs, P

  6. Linda, travel safe. I really love Bat Masterson, and he made a cameo appearance in my novella in “Give Me a Texan”, as you will recall. I felt compelled to know as much about him as possible in order to write true to life, so I read two books and numerous articles about him. He had a very colorful career. Most think of him as a gambler, buffalo hunter, and lawman, but he was also a journalist. He collapsed at his desk from a heart attack after penning his final column for the New York Morning Telegraph and died in 1921. I thought that was interesting. Be careful on the road, and I’ll see you later today. Hugs, P

  7. Hi Phyliss, great post, I have never been much of a horseman myself have only been on one a few times. I have never been to Texas either but love reading stories set there. I have been really hooked on the western settings lately and can’t wait to get Give Me a Texas Ranger. I have the other two books and loved them!

  8. Phyliss:

    Wonderful stuff about Tascosa and Old Mobeetie.
    We’ve always heard that it takes one Ranger for one riot. In GIVE ME A TEXAS RANGER, I wrote a novella that showed the only time in Ranger history that all the Rangers were needed for the same job was to stop a prizefight in El Paso. Guess who was called in to officiate the match? Mr. Bat Masterson, himself. Funny how that man got around. –DeWanna

  9. Thanks for adding to my history knowledge. This was great.

  10. Loved reading about my favorite part of the country. I’m like you, I love walking the land.
    Great job. Jodi Thomas

  11. Love the blog, thanks so much! Write what you know, sounds easy, but it isn’t. Like you said, who has robbed a stagecaoch? I think imagination and research go hand in hand in such a situation, and wonderful historical info, loved it! All the best for your release!

  12. Hi Phyliss! Welcome back to the Junction. I would have liked to see Mobeetie back “in the day.” It must have been one heck of a place. Thanks for the great post.

  13. Thanks for sharing a piece of history with us… I love how much is shared on this blog… always something interesting to be learned!

  14. No doubt Lee’s home is beautiful, anon1001. I was there once, but it’s been a lot of years ago. Peaceful, as I recall. Renee, I’ve never been to St. Elmo, Colorado. What part of Colorado? Now, I’m intrigued and need to check it out. I’m glad to see that I’m not the only person who doesn’t ride, Quilt Lady. Keep staying hooked on western settings because there’s a lot of dern good books coming out over the next few months. Thanks for the kind comments about our other books. “Give Me a Texas Ranger” is due out July 1st, and we can hardly wait. You’ll be first in line to get a copy, I bet. Hugs, Phyliss

  15. Enjoyed reading the comments. I just finished a good book about this area by Ralph Compton called The Palo Duro Trail.
    I’ve seen the area and it really is beautiful.

  16. Great post, Phyliss! And I, too, love to walk the land. The places that take me back are the Montana area and Wyoming — as well as Vermont and upper state NY. : )

  17. Phyliss:

    I once almost didn’t write a book because I was afraid I didn’t know enough about a particular place in Arizona and circumstances didn’t allow me to go there to walk the land. But I hitched up my petticoats and dug into the research. I was thrilled later when a fan from the same area read the book and asked me when had I lived there. So, it’s not only wise to write what you know…but write what you can make the reader believe.

    –DeWanna (who’s wheelchair bound and can’t always walk the land.)

  18. Karyn, so true. It isn’t as easy to write as some think. Before I began writing and found out that authors buy their undies at WalMart and put them on the same way I do, I thought they were anointed or something. It helps to have talent, but Jodi Thomas (who knows Texas better than about anybody I know) always said that the key is perseverance.

    I love to research, so much that at times I have to really stop and say…enough is enough. I read fifteen articles about something I’m only going to use for five minutes, but many, many times it sets off something in my mind that develops into a story line or scene.

    Thanks for the kind welcome, Tracy. It’s always fun to spend time at the Junction. And, Colleen appreciate the nice words. When we stop learning, I figure it’s about time to stop livin’.

  19. Avatar

    We will have to hit the Panhandle the next time we go to Texas.
    Your new story sounds like it is a good one. I look forward to reading it.

    Two places come immediately to mind when I think of being taken back in time.

    Fort Ticonderoga in New York State has a rich history dating g
    from the 1600’s. It played an important role in the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, and the War of 1812. We attended their first Highland games in the mid-1970’s. The evening program was a concert by a bagpipe and drum band from Canada. We sat inside the walls around the parade ground at the center of the fort. The area was lit only by torches and we had clear skies and a million stars overhead. The pipes started playing outside, echoing off the hills, as they marched into the fort. It still gives me chills today to think of that night. We were surrounded by darkness, all you could hear were the pipes & drums plus an occasional command, and in the stillness you could smell the leather of the pipes. We truly were transported back over 200 years.

    The second place is Mesa Verde, Colorado. We have visited many times. On days when it is not crowded with tourists, you get a feel for the way of life hundreds of years ago. I still want to go to Chaco Canyon which I am sure will be a more powerful experience.

  20. Great post, Phyllis! One place I’ve visited that takes me back in time is the Fortress of Louisbourg in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Louisbourg was the centre of several struggles between the French and English during the 18th century, around the time of the French and Indian war. The fort and the accompanying village have been painstakingly restored, and you can almost feel the long-ago occupants watching you. I’d love to write a story set there one day.

  21. Thanks for dropping by, Deborah and DeWanna, who just happens to be one of our coauthors in an anthology series. You girls always have a lot of sage advice. Wow,Patricia, your Ticonderoga experience sounds so awesome. Thanks for sharing. Another “must see” added to my list. And, Jennie guess I’ll add Louisbourg. I’ve never been to Nova Scotia and it sounds wonderful. If you all don’t hear from me for a while, you’ll know I’m traveling to all of the wonderful places I’ve never been.

  22. Thanks for dropping by, Deborah and DeWanna, who just happens to be one of our coauthors in an anthology series. You girls always have a lot of sage advice. Wow,Patricia, your Ticonderoga experience sounds so awesome. Thanks for sharing. Another “must see” added to my list. And, Jennie guess I’ll add Louisbourg. I’ve never been to Nova Scotia and it sounds wonderful. If you all don’t hear from me for a while, you’ll know I’m traveling to all of the wonderful places I’ve never been. (I apologize if this is funky, but for some reason I’m having trouble with my computer this afternoon. Taking a long time to send everything, and some things are being rejected. Computer ghosts or something.)

  23. Hi, Phyliss,

    I’m a native Texan, but there are so many little
    towns and cities with stories and histories that I have never heard of. Thanks for sharing these tales
    of this particular area of the Panhandle with us.

    Pat Cochran

  24. My Dad, Mom and I went to a chili cookoff in a ghost town in Rosemond, CA once, many years ago. It was awesome. The judges were old time western actors, like Rory Calhoun and Ben Johnson. We decided to leave the ‘cookoff’ area and venture into the ghost town portion. Oh my, I stepped through a time warp. I saw in my minds eyes a bustling town and turned around when I heard a man’s voice call out to me. It was Ben Johnson in full cowboy dress saying “hello pretty lady”. My Dad took a picture and I was in heaven. That was a great memory. Thank you for stirring it up for me.

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W

    countrybear52[at]yahoo[dot]com

  25. Thanks,Karen, I love upper NY, also. I think we’ve talked before about this but the name originally given to Amarillo by the railroad was Oneida. My husband and I have traveled the area several times and absolutely love. Generally, it’s when we’re returning from our friends’ farm in Mont Pelier, Vermont.

  26. Thanks to everyone for giving me such a warm welcome here at Wilflower Junction. Sure hate to leave, but these ol’ bones are sayin’ it’s time to hit the hay. Like my Grandpa said, “the sun’s going down and that’s God’s sign to get to bed or he’d leave it up longer.” Good night and sweet dreams to all you all. Phyliss

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