Mobeetie, Texas

Mobeetie is generally considered to be the first town to arise and also remain in the Panhandle of Texas. It now is located in Wheeler County. Its origin dates back to the mid 1870s when trading in buffalo hides was economically profitable. Trails were established where traders from northern states including Kansas would interact with buffalo hunters. The settlement that sprang up became known as Hide Town or Hidetown.

The United States Army elected to build a fort nearby after the Second Battle of Adobe Walls. Under the leadership of Colonel Nelson Miles, the Army began to set up Fort Elliott in early 1875. Fort Elliott was named for Major Joel Elliott who was killed in the controversial Battle of Washita in southern Oklahoma between the United States Army and members of several tribes, primarily the Cheyenne, in 1868. Under the leadership of General Phillip Sheridan, George Armstrong Custer (then a lieutenant colonel) and others including Elliott, the Army attacked a group of villages at daybreak in the winter, killing an estimated one hundred Cheyenne. Elliott was among the Army casualties.

A temporary post was set up in early 1875 with elements of the 5th Infantry and 6th Cavalry roughly thirty miles west of the border of Indian Territory near a water source known as Sweetwater Creek. The location also had nearby timber that could be used for the necessary structures. The fort was later staffed by “Buffalo Soldiers” who were made up of the 9th and 10th Cavalry and 24th and 25th Infantry. The purposes of the fort were to help maintain the border of Indian Territory and allow trade and cattle drives to take place. The relative stability of the area made it possible for settlements such as Mobeetie to be established and remain. Fort Elliott was in service for about fifteen years until its closure around 1890.

During Fort Elliott’s existence, a number of soldiers and officers of note served there. One of the officers was Henry O. Flipper, the first West Point graduate of African American descent. Another officer was Emerson H. Liscum, who would go on to serve the United States Army during the Civil War, Indian Wars, Spanish–American War, and the Philippine–American War. Liscum was killed in battle in China during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 while commanding the 9th Infantry. Also serving at Fort Elliott was Frederick Dent Grant, the eldest son of President Ulysses S. and Julia Grant. F. D. Grant would go on to serve as United States Ambassador to Austria-Hungary.

The town of Mobeetie benefited significantly from the fort, since eventually the buffalo were almost eliminated from the area and with this, the buffalo hide trade died out. Some service businesses remained and there were saloons, gambling houses, eating places and the like. A post office was applied for in 1879. The name Sweetwater was originally submitted, taken from the name of the nearby creek, but there was already a town in west central Texas by that name. Another name was needed and the word mobeetie was suggested. It was an “anglicized” version of the Comanche name for the actual water source, or simply sweet water, though there is at least one account that it meant buffalo droppings. In any event, the substitute name was accepted and a settler by the name of George Montgomery served as its first postmaster. That same year, 1979, Wheeler County was organized with Mobeetie as its first county seat (eventually to be replaced by the younger town of Wheeler).

Mobeetie added a jail and court house. Its population peaked at about 1,000 people according to one account while other estimates set the maximum population at under 500. Its decline was aided when Fort Elliott was decommissioned and abandoned in 1890.

While it was not the first recorded loss of life in Texas due to a tornado, on May 1, 1898, a twister struck the town, killing under one dozen individuals and causing property damage, including damage to the business district. Among the dead was former postmaster George Montgomery. Mobeetie was not centrally located in Wheeler County and in 1907 the town of Wheeler was voted to serve as the county seat.

One would think that two miles could not make that much difference but when a rail line was completed two miles away from Mobeetie, businesses and the post office relocated to the railroad, calling the new settlement New Mobeetie. Both communities still exist.

Notable people who are connected to Mobeetie in some way include Morris Charles “Morrie” Rath who played six seasons in Major League Baseball between 1906 and 1920. Morrie was the son of Charles Rath (1836 – 1902), a former buffalo hide trader who opened one of the first mercantile businesses in Mobeetie.

Sam and Margaret Lea Houston’s youngest son, Temple Lea Houston (1860 – 1905) served as district attorney out of Mobeetie for about two years beginning in 1882 and ending when he was elected to the Texas senate. Temple was married to Laura Cross Houston. They remained in the area and two of their daughters died in 1887 and are buried in the Mobeetie Cemetery. Louise, two years old, died of cholera in Mobeetie and Samantha, five years old, died of injuries sustained in a fall down a staircase while the family was staying at a hotel in Austin. Timothy Dwight Hobart (1855 – 1935) was a manager of the old JA Ranch and later served as mayor of nearby Pampa. Hobart had come to Texas from Vermont in 1882 to work for a land company, living and working out of Mobeetie as his headquarters for a time. He later served as manager for various land companies until 1924 when he became manager of the JA Ranch. James McIntyre (1846 – 1902) was a gunfighter, Texas Ranger and author. His biography includes accounts of his experiences and activities on both sides of the law.

James Nathan Browning (1850 – 1921) was raised on farms and ranches and was self educated. Browning came to Fort Griffin and engaged in a cattle partnership with his brother. While living there, he became interested in the law and studied with a local lawyer named Stribling. He was admitted to the bar in 1876 and afterward practiced law and served in various capacities including justice of the peace and county attorney. In 1881, he was appointed district attorney by Governor Oran M. Roberts and moved to Mobeetie. Eventually, he and his family relocated from Mobeetie to the Amarillo area. His entry into politics included his election as a Texas representative where he served five terms. Browning went on to be elected twice as lieutenant governor of Texas serving under Governors Joseph Sayers and S. W. T. Lanham.

Of the old structures, the old jail building remains along with some other structures. The former jail building now houses a museum. Of Fort Elliott, only the old flagpole still stands.

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