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BACK IN TIME: Early Midland organizers were not always too serious - Odessa American: Good News

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BACK IN TIME: Early Midland organizers were not always too serious

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Posted: Thursday, October 2, 2014 5:00 am

MIDLAND In its earliest days, the people who actually started Midland were not always completely serious about the task they were undertaking. At least that is the impression left by some of the documents preserved in the Midland County Historical Museum.

In fact, sometimes a researcher can get the feeling that some of the history collectors had their tongue firmly planted in their cheek. Of course, sometimes they were completely serious. One example contained in a history of Midland County written half a century after the founding of Midland by early day newspaperman C.C. Watson stated, “In every step of the way in bringing Midland County into being, its organizers were profoundly serious. That their modus operandi was crude, and that their proceedings were resultantly humorous in an extreme degree perhaps did not appeal to them, but viewed by this latter day writer, an adequate description of those early day activities would tax the genius, the artifices of a Bill Nye or a Mark Twain.”

Watson stated, “The Midland Town Company, composed of seventeen men from Northern states, Illinois, Ohio, and others, had one, to them, formidable rival, in the person of John Moody.”

The town of Midway or Midland had already been laid out, surveyed “and county organization was about all that was lacking to enable the town to steam ahead upon its course of commercialism. An initial sale of town lots in one day had netted the Town Company $53,000 and that organization naturally wanted things their way. Moody was their stumbling block. He had already laid out our present day Moody Addition. The Town Company wanted the court house located centrally in their holdings; so did Moody.”

Which faction would win the struggle to locate the courthouse — the Midland Town Company or John Moody?

Prior to the organization of Midland County, the land was “an unidentified portion of the then huge Tom Green County, a county so large that some of the belligerent countries of Europe could be lost in it, and yet so thinly populated that when Midland County was organized it was hard put to find enough citizens of legal qualifications to hold an election — so hard put, in fact, that a few outlying sheepherders had to be voted, and possibly a saddle horse or two …”

Watson noted, “With the advent of the Texas & Pacific Railway several towns had come into being along its route, notably among them Abilene, Colorado (City), Big Spring and Pecos. As early as 1885 these places were flourishing frontier towns, trading centers with vast trade territories, and just why Midland County was a bit tardy in organization is not altogether clear.” Then Watson wrote, “Avoiding arduous searching through hazy records that possibly exist, the writer depends mostly for facts of these chronicles upon the memories of our older citizens, mainly our aged townsman, Mr. T.B. Wadley, who came to Midland — then no more than the Town Company’s Office, the section house, and possibly a nearby shanty — in 1884. He was present at its organization and became the county’s first treasurer.” Organization of the county was completed on March 25, 1885 and the first officers were elected in on June 15, 1885. They included A.B. Rountree, clerk; E.B. Lancaster, judge; Theo Ray, sheriff; T.B. Wadley, treasurer; and Robert T. Zane, county attorney.

Another early day Midlander, Bert Rawlins, who at one time was editor of the Midland Gazette, offered a sidelight to the establishment of the county. Rawlins wrote that “in organizing the county, it was discovered there were not enough regular inhabitants in the proposed county and city to justify the organization.”

That problem was remedied, Rawlins stated, “by announcing a town lot sale in Midland and getting excursion rates on the T. and P. from as far east as Colorado City. The days of the sale the visitors let us have their support by signing the petition and the matter was adjusted. It was first put to the Postmaster’s department that the town should be called Midway, on account of the half-way position between Fort Worth and El Paso, but it was discovered a Midway Post Office already existed in the state, so a change was easy.”

Watson’s history went on to note that John Moody, who had already been appointed presiding judge for the election to create Midland County, had already surveyed and laid out a town to be called Midway. Wadley was asked by the town company to seek the help of J.S. Curtis, the most prominent sheepman and citizen of the county, who told Wadley, “Have the Town Company to deed the land and put $5,000 in escrow in the Colorado bank for the building of the court house. The rest will be all right.”

The town company called over from Pecos Judge R.D. Gage for advice on ways to ensure safety for their interests. Gage told them, “You know Moody’s predilection for poker and booze. Get him in a game tonight and get his drinks mixed.

“Failing this, be prompt in the morning, with watches moved up 20 minutes, and stay with it!” the judge concluded. The next morning “Moody meandered over…from about where the Midland Hotel now stands to Rathburn’s printing office, about where the Scruggs Motor Company is located, got his tickets for the election and walked to the place of holding said election, now occupied by Everybody’s Store. He was met where The First National Bank stands.

“Moody, you are late.”

Moody retorted, “No such a blankety blank thing!”

Six watches each showing 20 minutes ahead of Moody’s were shown to him. “They laid him down right there, took the tickets and Trace Service, carpenter, had already been selected presiding judge. Half an hour or such a matter later Midland County’s 16 legal citizens and some three or four Mexican sheepherders, saddle horses, etc. had voted Midland County was declared an established fact, and sovereign within her confines.”

With that, Midland and Midland County were off and running.

Editor’s Note: Information for this article came from the files of the Midland County Historical Museum, the article “History of Midland County” by C.C. Watson and the books “The Pioneer History of Midland County, Texas 1880-1926” and “Land of the High Sky.”

Odessa, TX

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