Center of Texas Oak Tree

Center Oak
In 1871, a geographical survey determined the center of Texas to be in the tiny settlement called Hughes Store. In the middle of this settlement was a large oak tree which, according to the old timers, had been there as long as anyone knew. The survey crew decided this old oak tree was growing in the exact center of Texas and placed a "this is the spot" marker beside it. The tree shortly became known as Center Oak and a town began to grow around the tree to serve the needs of the hard working families living in the scattered ranch and farm houses.

Taking it's cue from the Center Oak, the town's residents voted to change the community's name to Center City, a rather intrepid declaration of their intention to become important. When places so small they can barely be called a town change their name to include "city," it's a sure sign the residents are people with vision and ambition. Perhaps Center City could have become an actual city if all the people's dreams came true and, for a while anyway, their dreams actually were well on the way to fulfillment. 

Several mercantile establishments opened and then a bank and a hotel were built. A blacksmith shop and several saloons came next. A gristmill opened and a post office was gained in 1874. Soon, stage and freight coaches began stopping in town for a change of horses, to drop off and pick up mail and to load and unload travelers.  Until a 2-room school could be constructed, classes were held for the children of the area beneath the old oak tree. Plans were made for Center City to become the seat of government for Mills County and a large plot of land which included the Center Oak was reserved for a courthouse. While plans were being developed for the courthouse and funds sought, the giant Center Oak tree provided shade for the court trials that were held under its spreading branches and a traveling preacher began holding church services beneath those same branches every other Sunday.

In 1885 however, the dreams for Center City to actually become a city were dashed when the railroad bypassed the town, choosing instead to establish a stop in Goldthwaite which then became the county seat. In the early 1900's, surveyors, using newer and more accurate tools, determined the geographic center of Texas was actually about 50 miles west of the Center Oak tree along a lonely, middle-of-nowhere section of Highway 377. Center City continued as an ongoing commercial center for a few years, but it lost any chance it had to actually fulfill the goal of those early dreams. Slowly, over time, with one or another business going under every couple of years, with the closing of the school and finally the closing of the post office in the mid-1920's, Center City simply gave up and reverted back to a settlement of scattered ranches and farms.

In the late 1930's, the state decided to widen Highway 7 between Goldthwaite and Gatesville. Construction plans callously called for removal of the old historic oak. The remaining citizens however, knowing the significance of the tree and perhaps feeling it stood as a symbol of their shattered but still remembered dreams, banded together in a show of will to protect it. Letters were written, meetings were held, threats against the road crews and their machines were made and the state conceded. The highway was re-routed 100 feet to the north. The Center Oak was saved and Center City went back to sleep.

Time has a way of slipping by and today it seems it has completely forgotten Center City. It's no longer listed on most state maps and appears on numerous "Ghost Towns of Texas" lists. Other than the 12 remaining residents, all that's left is a small combination general store and gas station, an old lodge building, a small church and the Center City cemetery which was established in 1874 and contains more than 500 graves. Sadly, the Center Oak tree died in 2011 after bearing witness to the birth and gradual death of a town and men's dreams. During its life, it provided shade for roving bands of Indians, cowboys, Texas Rangers, pioneers, ranchers and farmers, romantic picnics and lawless men being tried for their crimes. For the last 100 years though, all it has seen has been the changing of the seasons. It's not known for sure what caused such a magnificent old-timer to die. Perhaps like Center City itself, it just got tired and gave up the fight.

Postcard From The Smallest State Park in Texas

Located in the town of Grandbury, Texas, there is a grave in Acton Cemetery which is the smallest official state park in Texas. Buried within the fenced 0.006 acre plot is Elizabeth P. Crockett, Davy's 2nd wife (his 1st wife died in March, 1815 and Davy married Elizabeth who was a widow later that same year). Upon his death as a hero in the Alamo, Elizabeth was granted 1,280 acres of land in Texas for her husband's bravery and sacrifice in the cause of Texas freedom. She also received Davy's paycheck for his Texas military service - $24.

In the late 1830's, the land Elizabeth had been given by the state of Texas was still ruled by Comanche Indians and they didn't care that Davy's wife had been officially given some of their land by the white man's government, they still considered it theirs. It wasn't until the 1850's that Elizabeth, her daughter Matilda and her grown son, Robert, and his family felt it was safe enough to move onto the property she owned. By then nobody was sure of the boundaries so Elizabeth had to hire a surveyor. Having no money to pay for the survey and paperwork, she agreed to give the surveyor half of the property. The Crockett family finally moved onto their remaining 640 acres on Rucker's Creek about 6 miles outside Grandbury in the 1850's. She resided there until her death on January 31, 1860. From the day she was notified of Davy's death in 1836 until her own death, she only wore "widow's black" clothing.

Four years later, Matilda also passed away and was buried next to her mother. Robert died in 1889 and was buried next to his mother. Elizabeth's grave was originally marked with a simple headstone, but in 1911 the Texas Legislature authorized $2,000 for "the erection of a monument over the remains of Mrs. Elizabeth Crockett." In May, 1913, a 28-foot tall marble monument was placed at the head of her grave and unveiled in a public ceremony by Elizabeth's great-granddaughter. On top of the monument is a statue of Elizabeth shading her eyes from the sun and looking west, perhaps waiting and watching for Davy to come home. The 3 Crockett graves were fenced in and declared a state historic site until 1949 when the 12 by 21 foot site was declared a Texas State Park.

Bonnie & Clyde - Little Known Facts

The Bonnie & Clyde Ambush Museum in Gibsland, LA.
The building is the site of the former Canfield's Cafe
where Bonnie & Clyde stopped for sandwiches 45
minutes before their death. The museum is owned
and managed by "Boots" Hinton, the grandson of one
of the lawmen who ambushed and killed the outlaws.  
Bonnie Elizabeth Parker was born in Rowena, Texas on October 1, 1910. When she was just 4 years old, her father died so her mother moved herself and her 3 children to Cement City, an industrial suburb of Dallas. By the time she was in high school, Bonnie was a top student, winning contests in writing, spelling, and public speaking. In her junior year though, she met Roy Thornton, also a high school junior, and fell deeply in love with him.  She had grown up wanting to be a famous actress, but the love-birds dropped out of school and married on September 25, 1926 just six days shy of her 16th birthday. Roy soon proved to be a womanizer and small time crook, often leaving Bonnie alone for weeks at a time while off with another woman or serving short stretches of time in jail for petty crimes. In January, 1929, he was sentenced to a term of 5 - 8 years for robbery and Bonnie moved back in with her mother. She found a job as a waitress in a local cafe, but she often complained of the boring and lonely life she was leading. At the cafe, one of her regular customers was Ted Hinton, a postal worker who would later join the Dallas sheriff's office and become a member of the 6-man posse who would have a meeting of a totally different kind with Bonnie on May 23, 1934.

Clyde Chestnut Barrow was born on March 24, 1909 in Ellis County near the town of Telico a few miles southeast of Dallas.  Clyde, his parents and 6 brothers and sisters moved to the slums of West Dallas in the early 1920's, sleeping at night under their wagon until their father earned enough to buy a tent large enough for them to all sleep in. Clyde's first passion was music. He became a good guitar player and taught himself the saxophone. He wanted to make his living playing in a traveling band. In 1926 though, Clyde rented a car to go see a girl who had broken up with him. He failed to return the car on time and he was arrested for theft of an auto. He gave the car back and the charges were dropped, but he was soon arrested again when found riding in a truck with his older brother Buck. The back of the truck just happened to contain a number of stolen turkeys. After a short stint behind bars for the stolen turkeys, Clyde decided to join the navy. He went to the recruiting station but before arriving there, he stopped and got a tattoo on his left arm which said, "USN." During his military physical, it was found he still had some lingering effects from his boyhood bout with yellow fever which resulted in his medical rejection for naval service. 

On January 5, 1930, Bonnie had lost her waitress job and with her husband still in jail, was staying in West Dallas helping out a female friend who had broken her arm. She was making hot chocolate in the kitchen when Clyde and a friend stopped off at the house for the friend to visit the girl with the broken arm. Clyde walked into the kitchen and it was love at first sight for both of them. The crime spree began soon after and "the legend of Bonnie & Clyde" slowly became entrenched across America over the next four years.

Marker at the ambush site. Some
people shoot it, some leave
flowers, some deface it with
graffiti, others leave bullets
and shotgun shells. 
At about 8:45 on the morning of May 23, 1934, Bonnie & Clyde stopped at Ma Canfield's Cafe in Gibsland, Louisiana for breakfast. They ordered 2 sandwiches and 2 coffee's to go. At 9:15, they were driving down Louisiana Highway 154 about 8 miles south of Gibsland when they slowed down because they saw the car of someone they knew pulled off to the side of the road like it was broken down. With no warning and before the car even came to a stop, six law enforcement officers, including Ted Hinton, one of Bonnie's regular customers when she was working as a waitress, opened fire with shotguns, automatic rifles and hand guns. The shooting stopped only when the officers had used all of their ammunition. There were over 150 bullet holes in the car. Clyde had been hit with 17 shots; Bonnie 26. When the officers got to the car, Bonnie was found leaning against Clyde, her head on his shoulder, a half-eaten sandwich clutched in her right hand. She was still wearing her wedding ring given to her by Roy Thornton when she married him at age 15. Visible on the inside of her right thigh was a tattoo, two interconnected hearts labeled "Bonnie" and "Roy." On the floor behind Clyde, officers found his saxophone. 

Word of the ambush quickly circulated when 4 of the officers went into town to telephone their respective bosses. Before the undertaker could get to the site, a large crowd of people had gathered around the death car and the two officers who had remained behind to guard the scene couldn't control them. Individuals began reaching in the car and cutting off pieces of bloody clothing to take for souvenirs. Broken glass from the shattered windows was taken, several guns were taken from the car and when the coroner finally showed up, he found people cutting patches of hair from the bodies. He had to chase away one man who was trying to cut off Clyde's left ear with his pocket knife and another man who was trying to cut off Clyde's trigger finger. Additional police finally arrived and pushed back the growing throng of onlookers and souvenir hunters.

The side of the remote road where Bonnie & Clyde's
car came to a stop after being shot over 150 times
with rifles, shotguns, and pistols. 
The coroner had the car with the bodies still inside towed to the Conger Furniture Store and Funeral Parlor in downtown Arcadia. He called H.D. Darby, a young undertaker in nearby Ruston to assist him with the bodies. Just 13 months earlier, Darby and a lady friend had been kidnapped by Bonnie and Clyde during a robbery. They were both later released unharmed about 50 miles from Ruston. He said the outlaw pair had treated them kindly and had even given them some money so they could get back home. He also reported that Bonnie had asked him what kind of work he did. When he told her he was an undertaker, she laughed and replied, "Maybe someday you'll work on me." He did.

The side of the road where the lawmen hid in a stand
of trees when they ambushed Bonnie & Clyde. 

The 6 lawmen who took part in the ambush were each promised 1/6 of the reward money. At that time, rewards totaled over $150,000. After the deed though, most of the state, county and other organizations reneged and never paid. In the end, each of the 6 lawmen received $200.23 and a few souvenirs.

Bonnie & Clyde wanted to be buried together, but Bonnie's mother refused to allow it. She hated Clyde, blaming him for her daughter's life of crime and death. Clyde is buried next to his brother Marvin with a double headstone marking their graves. It is inscribed with the phrase, "Gone but not forgotten." Bonnie's grave, also in Dallas but in a different cemetery, is marked with a simple stone inscribed with her name, birth and death dates, and a poem - "As the flowers are all made sweeter by the sunshine and the dew, so this old world is made brighter by the lives of folks like you."