That Time In Texas When A Monkey Was Killed Crossing The Road

Town limit sign near the site where
a monkey made a fatal mistake.

The first settlers in Archer County, Texas were ranchers and today, ranching is still the main driver of the area's economy. In 1886, Sam Lazarus purchased the land owned by the Stone Cattle and Pasture Company and established a ranch. He sent to Kansas for Tom Mankins, an experienced ranch foreman, to come down and manage his cattle operation and erected a house for Tom to live in.

In 1890, the Wichita Valley Railway laid tracks across the Lazarus Ranch to connect Wichita Falls with Seymour. They laid a spur line to the ranch headquarters by Tom's house to facilitate cattle shipment. Tom established a supply store at the end of the line as a supply point for the local cowboys and railroad workers to purchase essentials. 

In 1908, Charles Mangold purchased the whole operation and established several business's, including a small hotel, located next to the main rail line. He plotted a town site and began advertising lots for sale. By 1912, enough people had established residence in the community that a post office was applied for. The first name submitted for acceptance by the post office was Mangold, but there was already a town by that name so it was rejected. The next name submitted was Mankins, to honor Tom Mankins. This was accepted and the town of Mankins was officially born with 55 people calling it home. The town continued to grow as a supply point for the surrounding area and eventually included several stores, a thriving bank, two churches, several hotels, restaurants, its own telephone exchange, two schools educating over 400 students and a moving picture theatre.

During this time, a local cowboy, Dick Dudley, gained fame for being a superb horseman, able to ride even the meanest, rankest wild horse. In 1914, a traveling wild west show came through the area and offered cash prizes for cowboys who thought they could ride several of the unbroken wild horses the show had. Dudley rode them all, one after the other, collecting all the cash prizes. While collecting his winnings from the owner of the show, Dudley found out he was having financial difficulties and was trying to find a buyer. Dudley returned his winnings for sole ownership of the show, the contracts of the performers and all of the show's assets. Under his guidance, the show traveled throughout the small tows of West Texas. Although not a roaring success financially, Dick managed to turn a small profit. More importantly, he discovered he very much enjoyed show business.

Dudley expanded the show to include circus-type acts and carnival attractions like rides, games of chance and side-shows such as "Elephant Boy" and "The Snake Girl." During its heyday, the show employed as many as 250 people.  For four months every winter, the show, the animals and most of its employees settled in Mankins for the off-season. For 70 years, well into the 1980's, the town benefited from the influx of winter residents and the additional cash they brought in, but ultimately, it wasn't enough.

Dick Dudley's stone house in Mankins
The consolidation of the ranches and farms and better roads making it possible for residents to live and shop in larger cities began taking a toll on the town. Another limiting factor was the continued lack of potable water. Often, the town required water to be brought in by rail or water tanks. Fewer residents meant fewer students in the Mankins school district and in 1947, it consolidated with the Holliday school district and the school closed its doors. The depopulation continued until the post office closed in 1958. Today, Mankins is a virtual ghost with an official population of just 10 hardy souls, a few empty houses and scattered debris documenting lives of the past.

Abandoned structure in Mankins

For many years, travelers told of seeing elephants, zebras and other exotic animals roaming around among the homes and in cages along the road as they passed through Mankins. One time, a semi-truck driver noticed one of the elephants was standing right beside the highway. Unfortunately, he was staring at the elephant when a monkey who had escaped from his cage decided to run across to the other side of the road. The driver didn't see him in time, the monkey wasn't fast enough and Mankins remains the only place in Texas where a monkey was killed while crossing the road.

Another abandoned building in Mankins.

Cowboy Capital of the Texas Panhandle

The town of Tascosa was once known as The Cowboy Capital of the Texas Panhandle. Unofficially, it was also known as the Gunfighter Capital of the Texas Panhandle. Tascosa came into being in the mid-1870’s on the vast prairie of the Texas Panhandle. It was surrounded by huge ranches like the LS Ranch which grazed 50,000 head of cattle and covered 4 counties as well as part of New Mexico and the 3-million acre XIT Ranch. The Dodge City Trail ran right through the middle of town which was there strictly to serve the cattle drovers and cowboys who worked the ranches – supplies, whiskey and girls. Less than a mile east of Main Street was “Hogtown,” so named for the collection of “less beautiful” girls who serviced the cowboys.  Homely Ann, Gizzard Lip, Rowdy Kate, Boxcar Jane, Panhandle Nan, Slippery Sue, Frog Lip Sadie and Big Dog Jenny all were kept busy by the boys who came to town after spending weeks out on the lonely trail or riding the prairie with none but other men and cattle for company.

In the 1880’s, the population reached a high of 400, but the entire region was lawless. Billy The Kid escaped his pursuers from New Mexico to spend time playing cards, racing horses and having shooting matches with Bat Masterson. The first permanent resident of Boot Hill was Bob Russell, a former cowboy who quit to open a saloon in town. Unfortunately, Bob was by all accounts a mean drunk and he all too frequently imbibed in his own product. He got into an argument with a local store owner, Jules Howard, and a few evenings later, after a large amount of liquor, he staggered into Howard’s store, pulled his gun and fired off a shot, missing Jules by a wide margin. The store owner, who was stone cold sober, had seen Bob heading his way and was waiting with his 6-shooter drawn. After Bob’s wild shot, Jules fired three shots, hitting his target in the chest, head and trigger finger. Bob was placed in a pine box and buried the next day, minus one finger.

Tascosa's Boot Hill
Several months later, the second resident of Boot Hill was planted. Fred Leigh came to town while driving a cattle herd to market up north. After spending most of the day in a saloon, he drunkenly mounted his horse and rode through town shooting his revolver. At one point, he shot the head off a resident’s pet duck which chose the wrong time to cross the dirt street. The county sheriff arrived and with a posse of four men, including the duck’s owner, confronted Fred. When the cowboy reached for his gun, the sheriff blasted him off his horse with his double-barreled 12-gauge shotgun.  Within the next year, eight more men would be buried in Boot Hill. All died of gunshot.

In 1886, a gunfight erupted over a girl. A cowboy was caught flirting with the girl another cowboy considered his. He shot and killed his rival, but then the dead man’s friends came after the killer and then his friends got involved. By the time it was all over, there were four dead, including an innocent shop owner, and four more men badly wounded.

Still maintained, but rather sad and lonely
out in the middle of nowhere
Until the early 1890’s, there was an average of a gunfight every two weeks. Fortunately for the participants, most occurred after much alcohol had been consumed and the bullets either missed a vital organ or totally missed their intended targets. Often, sobering up after a day in jail, the combatants would shake hands and go back to cowboy work. However, not all fights ended so amicably. A total of ten gunfights were recorded with fatalities. All became forever residents of Boot Hill.

During the late 1890’s, Tascosa began to decline as cattle drives ended and roads made it easier to go elsewhere. In 1915 the county seat was moved to Vega and Tascosa’s business owners and residents went with it. The adobe buildings were abandoned and began to crumble into dirt piles.

Cal Farley’s Boys Town now occupies the old town site. All that remains is the 1884 stone courthouse, the reconstructed schoolhouse and Boot Hill, the forever home of pioneer Tascosans who lived, fought, and died in the Cowboy /Gunfighter Capital of the Texas Panhandle.