The October 27, 1921 issue of the Lubbock Avalanche carried a front page article with the headline “Funeral of John R. Ralls Attended by a Large Concourse of Friends From All Over the State.” It was held in the town of Ralls, Texas, about thirty miles east of Lubbock on Highway 82. The number of attendees was “into the thousands,” the article added and noted that friends came from Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma to pay their respects.
John Ralls was the founder and namesake of Ralls, Texas and had recently died due to complications of a stroke that he suffered a few days prior. Mr. Ralls, born November 13, 1862 in Monroe County, Georgia, was the oldest son of the children born to John R. Ralls (1834 – 1880) and Martha Fannie “Minnie” Bird Ralls (1837 – 1896).
His father, John Ralls II, had passed away in May of 1880 when John was seventeen years old. For about the next four years John helped his mother to run the family plantation of 1,000 acres in Georgia and take care of his younger siblings. When he was around 21, he moved west to Texas. There he lived in several places where he clerked in stores until he opened his own store in a small community named Belcherville, in Montague County, Texas. After the Indian Territory opened up to settlers, he relocated to Terrell, Oklahoma and later to Ryan, Oklahoma in 1894 where he remained until about 1906. That year, he is said to have traded the store in Oklahoma for 10,000 acres of land to Crosby County (established in 1876) in West Texas.
Crosby County was named for Stephen Crosby (1808 – 1869) , who had served as Texas Land Commissioner in the 1850s and 1860s. It was made up of land that was formerly part of Young and Bexar counties. Its county seat was originally Emma but due to the pending the demise of that town, Crosbyton became the county seat.
In Crosby County Ralls operated a cattle ranch near the old town of Emma, whie it was still in existence. At that time, the old Santa Fe Railroad did not extend to the immediate area and Ralls is said to have traveled to Chicago to promote the expansion of the railroad in West Texas. He was initially unsuccessful. After a series of events, including another company’s privately financed feeder line, the local railroad line, owned by a livestock company, expanded around 1910, bypassing Emma, but with the right of way passing through the ranch owned by Ralls.
The origin of Ralls, Texas: After the rail line bypassed Emma, Ralls was inspired to start his own town. In 1911, with the help of W. E. McLaughlin, he laid out the town site that later became the city of Ralls. Ralls gave away and sold home sites to people to populate the new community. He also personally financed the relocation of businesses from Emma to the new town. Ralls was incorporated as a Texas city some ten years later and by that time, it had 113 residents. For a while there was no train depot in Ralls, but one was finally established about 1915 after one of the branches of the Santa Fe Railroad acquired the feeder line. The town has continued since its early days. Its population has ranged from about 1,300 in 1930 and has since hovered from that level to a high point of over 2,400 residents in 1980.
Ralls is located at the junction of U.S. highways 62 and 82 and State Highway 207, about thirty miles east of Lubbock in west central Crosby County. John Ralls is credited for having donated the land for a new school in 1911 that held its first session in 1913. Early on, Ralls had been joined by his brother Percy Bayard Ralls (1878 -1963), a rancher and businessman who lived nearby and raised his family. A Chamber of Commerce was organized in 1917, and Percy served as its first president.
According to the above noted newspaper article, Mr. Ralls’ memorial service was held at the family residence. At noon that day, all the businesses in Ralls closed and the procession formed including school children, his many friends and members of his Odd Fellows and Masonic lodges. By 1 o’clock the procession reached the family home where it split in two sections surrounding it before continuing on to the cemetery. The crowd was estimated to be around 1,500 people, more than could have been accommodated in any local building.
The newspaper article concluded with these sentences. “Perhaps never before in the history of West Texas has such a great crowd been present at a funeral. John R. Ralls was universally loved and respected by all who knew him, and in his death not only our town has sustained an irreparable loss, but this entire section of Texas will feel the loss of a sustaining and guiding hand.”
When John Ralls died, he was survived by his former wife Dollie, his brother Percy and many members of the extended Ralls family. At the time of his death, Ralls was almost 59 years old. John Ralls is buried in the local Ralls Cemetery as are other members of his extended family.
Though this type of thing is not ordinarily published in newspaper articles, after Mr. Ralls’ death, an area newspaper printed the his will, apparently in its entirety. In so doing, the article lists the various beneficiaries having a potential interest in his estate.
Records and accounts do not always agree, though we happen to be living in an era when more official documents may now be available than in years and decades earlier when some of the older accounts may have been written. Some accounts state that John Ralls had married the former Dollie Martin in 1906 and that the couple was also divorced before his death. The latter appears to be true. On the subject of the year of their marriage, the Fort Worth Gazette issue of November 6, 1890 reports their marriage on its front page. Further, the couple is also listed as husband and wife in the 1900 federal census. Mrs. Ralls is referred to as his widow in various newspaper articles and also in her own obituary. Mrs. Ralls survived Mr. Ralls another 35 years, passing in 1956. Although they were apparently divorced, after she died, Mrs. Ralls appears to have been buried in the family mausoleum.
Sources include “Builders of the Southwest” edited by Seymour V. Connor (1959), various newspaper articles and other material.
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