Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Day 112: Where The Buffalo (No Longer) Roam
Inadale to Snyder. 20.8 miles/2112.8 total
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
I’m leaving beautiful downtown Inadale on Highway 84, heading west by northwest to Snyder.
It’s partly cloudy, with a strong breeze blowing up from the Gulf of Mexico. At the moment it’s in the low 60s, and should get up into the mid-70s.
I’m on a plateau. Around me, as far as the eye can see, are plowed fields and wind turbines. Noticeably absent right here are prickly pear cactuses. Lots of mesquites, but no cactuses. I’m impressed with how, taken out of context, this could be the flatlands of Indiana, complete with the turbines. The mesquites, not yet leafed out, could be boxelders or some other junk trees. Oak trees and scrubby pines are visible in the distance around the little farm houses. I guess this is a habit of mine. Pretending I just opened my eyes and was wondering where I am.
After a couple of hours I veer off of U.S. 84 to take the business route into Hermleigh, which I enter at 7.7 miles. This town seems to be devoid of any consumer-based businesses, with the sole exception of a Fina gas station with an Allsups convenience store out on the highway, about a quarter of a mile from the center of town. The population is around 300. Nevertheless, Hermleigh's past is a bit more glorious. It was started in 1907 by two land owners, R.C. Herm and Harry Harlin. Originally they were going to name it “Hermlin,” after both men, but the post office said that was too close to Hamlin, another place nearby. (This seems like an oddly picky attitude for the post office to take, considering that there are duplicate Snyders in Texas, and two of some other places, too.) At any rate, the townsfolk settled on Hermleigh, a rather poetic choice. The place actually had its own newspaper at one time, which if you could see what I see now would amaze you. But then, there was a time when newspapers were much more common. The railroad went through, too, which of course meant something. But here’s a factoid out of left field: during the second decade of the 1900s the town briefly changed its name to Foch, to honor Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the French hero of World War One, but reverted back to its original name shortly after the war. Notice they don't do that kind of thing any more. Probably just as well. Towns would be renaming themselves after winners on Dancing With the Stars.
Hermleigh does have its own schools, though, and still has a post office. The team name is the Cardinals, which is written proudly in red on the water tower. The streets of Hermleigh, like those of Roscoe yesterday, are utterly quiet. And why shouldn’t they be? It’s midday, school is in session, and there’s no reason to be driving around here. House after dreary house goes by, stuccoed, paint peeling, until I get to the main intersection, where I turn left and head to that Fina station. So much for Hermleigh.
Much later I leave Highway 84 and get on U.S. 180, taking that into the outskirts of Snyder, population 10,783, and begin a long slow ascent into the center of the city. I pass the Purple Sage Motel, advertised on a billboard several miles back. Although Snyder has about the same population as Sweetwater, it gives the impression of being much more viable, at least if the number of extant commercial establishments is any indication (and I think it is probably the only indication worth mentioning in this context). Here there are more motels, more gas stations, more car dealerships, more shops. To be sure, Snyder appears to have its share of closed up places, but the downtown, where you typically expect the devastation to be worst, is alive and well. There’s more money here, for sure.
And for what it’s worth, Snyder has the distinction of being the home town of Powers Boothe, certainly one of the very best cowboy/bad guy/tough guy actors to come down the dusty trail during the last quarter of the twentieth century. Snyder also is the home of Western Texas College, a two-year vocational school. I pass a sign that says, “Scurry County, Where Oil Flows and Cotton Grows.” That probably sums it up. The few houses I see from the road look better than anything I saw in Sweetwater, too.
A historical marker tells about the Roscoe, Snyder & Pacific Railroad, a short line that connected to the Santa Fe and Texas and Pacific. It was started in 1909 by Winfield S. James and H.O. Wooten, the father of Ina, after whom Inadale was named. Ah yes, the old RS&P.
In the center of town there’s the modern, avant garde Scurry County Courthouse. It’s about three stories high, square and completely windowless, faced with red granite sheets like the one in Sweetwater, with doors on all four sides, a flat overhanging roof, and concrete accents. It’s late now, but I’ll definitely check it out on my next off day. At the corner of courthouse square is a statue of a bison, next to a historical marker telling about J. Wright Mooar, 1851-1940, champion buffalo hunter. Born in Vermont, he came west at the age of fifteen. In 1876 he killed a rare albino buffalo, one of only two known to have been killed in Texas. Its hide was displayed at the St. Louis World’s Fair. Old J. Wright Mooar was personally responsible for killing over 22,000 buffaloes, a record probably unsurpassed. Holy shit. A one-man extinction crew. But here on the plaque they’re bragging about it. It makes me wonder why they don’t have a statue of him here, instead of one of his victims. I think it must have been Mooar who coined the phrase, “The only good buffalo is a dead buffalo.”
So this started as a buffalo hunting area. A guy named W.H. Snyder began selling supplies and general merchandise to buffalo hunters and got the place named after him. Then once all the buffalo were out of the way, the cattle ranchers started fencing the place off. And that's pretty much how it went. I heard a story on the news recently about a rancher somewhere in Texas who was raising buffalo for meat. But they kept straying into his neighbor's ranch, because buffaloes don't really respect barbed wire fences, and generally just trample them down. So one day this happened for the fifth time or so, and he called to ask his neighbor (a cattle rancher) if he had seen any of his buffaloes on his land. The guy said yes, and that he'd taken care of the matter. What he did was to shoot 55 of the guy's buffaloes. So let that be a lesson to any of you would-be buffalo farmers. J. Wright Mooar didn't spend all that time killing all those buffaloes so you could bring them back.