Humphreys’ History

The school in Humphreys closed in 1961 and is now used for storage for cotton farmers

The former elementary school in Humprheys, Jackson County, OK is a bit on the sunny side.

Even though Jackson County (Oklahoma) is home to the air force base at Altus, it is full of ghost towns. Many of them lost population during the Great Depression, but it wasn’t until the latter half of the 20th century when the communities lost their schools (to me, the loss of a school is the hallmark of a ghost town).

I visited Humphreys in southeastern Jackson County and took a picture of its school, which closed in 1961. This was the “new” elementary school, at least for a while. Three teacherages (teacher homes) sat across the street, but they have been razed. I got a lot of my information from two extremely knowledgeable and pleasant people, Bill and Louise Snodgrass, who came out to talk to me. Mr. Snodgrass attended school in Humphreys. He was born not far from the Red River in a half dug-out. Ms. Snodgrass was the former county clerk of Jackson County!

There is nothing better than hitting the road with a vague destination in mind. You’ll never know what – or especially who! – you’ll find.

Bill and Ms Louise Snodgrass of Humphreys M. Snodgrass was the county clerk of Jackson County for nine years

Bill and Louise Snodgrass from Humphreys shared A LOT of history with me. Lovely people whom I’m so honored to get to know, even in passing!

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Your mom may have gone to this college, Napoleon.

The buildings at McKenzie College, j depicted in photographs in the WPA Guide to Texas

From 1841 to 1868, McKenzie Institute (also called McKenzie College) was the pride of Clarksville, Red River County, Texas.

Until the end of the Civil War, high schools and colleges along the old southwestern frontier were invariably private (also called “by subscription”) and available only to the free middle class. Even with limited educational opportunities, a solid classical foundation remained very important, as the institute’s ad in the Dallas Herald (Aug 9, 1856) attests. Smith Ragsdale, by the way, was the Reverend McKenzie’s son-in-law.

Many of its students volunteered for service in the Confederacy, which left the school with a limited enrollment. The mandates of public schools during the Reconstruction era (by 1876, the Texas Constitution guaranteed free public schools throughout Texas) and the lack of tuition forced the institute to close its doors.

An advertisement for McKenzie Institute was published weekly in the Dallas Times Herald in August 1856

Spelling may have been an optional class at McKenzie – can y’all spot the spelling error in the ad?

KY town

Another advertisement in an 1866 newspaper, this time for an academy at Kentucky Town, Grayson County, TX. Until the railroads bypassed it, Kentucky Town was a very prominent community in the 19th century. During the Civil War, William Quantrill and his notorious guerilla gang even camped out here, and the citizens did not take kindly to him.

KY town tombstone

Today, not much of the town – named after the origin state of its settlers – remains. It does have a pretty neat cemetery, though.

Published in: on April 26, 2018 at 2:03 am  Leave a Comment  
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Lone Grave

Along a county road in Jackson County, Oklahoma, lies the lonesome grave of Joel Moseley, 1846-1890.

Aaron or Prairie Hill school grave at side of road 2

Mr. Moseley was born in Georgia and, at one point, made his way to Texas. He died when Jackson County (organized in 1907) was still part of Greer County, Texas until the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the land between the North Fork and the Prairie Dog Fork of the Red River belonged to Oklahoma Territory.

Aaron or Prairie Hill school grave at side of road 4

Mr. Moseley may have died on a cattle drive (if it was a long distance cattle drive, it would have been the Great Western or Dodge City trail). He was buried along the trail, as the nearest cemetery was ten miles away.

Locals knew about the grave, which was ringed with native stones and featured the granite headstone placed by his daughter, a Texas school teacher. They became concerned when the land surrounding it began to erode, so the county commissioner and his crew encased Mr. Moseley’s resting place in concrete along a culvert to keep him where he belongs.

I stumbled upon the grave when I was driving out to the old Aaron school, and found the information above from Find a Grave.

Aaron or Prairie Hill school 5

The Aaron school in Jackson County, Oklahoma (near Altus).

The prairie is full of surprises.

Published in: on February 4, 2018 at 8:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Simply, a Vexing Question

Every time I give a presentation on ghost towns, invariably I’m asked this question: “What exactly is a Ghost Town? And why are you wearing that shirt with those pants?”

While I usually just shrug off the latter question, the first one is one of my favorites, because the answer is actually fairly obvious.

Dundee school close up

Ghost Towns come in a variety of different ways: they might have several paved roads, or they only exist as a cemetery, or they are surrounded by people’s well-kept homes, or they have a post office, or they have a city hall, or they are inside a state park. Whatever and however they represent, the constant in a ghost towns is that it no longer has a school.

Believe it or not, the United States has always been a big believer in education. A mere 30 years after the Puritans came ashore, they formed Harvard. In quick succession, several other schools opened, with an emphasis on literacy and reason… the idea being that men and women both should be able to read the bible and conduct trade in a free market economy. Their zeal to be educated led the colonists to read treasonous philosophies, print banned books, and question authority. After all, Thomas Paine would not have been well received by a people who could not exhibit critical thinking skills.

Thus, often the first public building erected by a fledgling community was not a courthouse or a church, but a school (in Texas & Oklahoma, I’ve discovered that many towns’ first building was the Masonic Lodge, which doubled as a school during the week). Having a school meant the town believed it had a future. Schools embodied optimism.

Dougherty school door
As modern economies of scale encroached on communities, centers of trade began to shift (when you want to visualize “economies of scale,” just think about a local hardware store versus Home Depot, or the small grocer versus Wal-Mart). Kids who might have stayed in their towns after graduation discovered that they had to move to larger cities to take advantage of opportunities there. Their progeny went to the larger schools, which became ever larger, and so on – until the small town schools had to close their doors.

There’s nothing sadder than a shuttered school. It’s as if the locks on the doors murdered the very soul of the community. No longer are school events like football season, the big dance, or the open house the focal point. Everyone in a town – regardless if one had a kid in school or not – invested in the school in some way. Without it, the citizens of those towns lose their commonality.

Bucher School-side

Little towns like Ravenna (Fannin County, Texas) or Dougherty (Carter County, Oklahoma) might not like having me denote them as “ghost towns.” After all, they still have town halls and post office, and maybe a gas station or two. But, without their schools, they only exist as an outpost of the bigger cities in their midst.

And that is the simple answer to a seemingly complex question.

Published in: on February 15, 2013 at 10:09 pm  Comments (1)  
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