Texas Plains Trail Region

Participant in the Texas Historical Commission's
Texas Heritage Trails Program

Old Tascosa and a Shirttail to Hang On To

Once known as “Cowboy Capital of the Plains,” the community of Old Tascosa provided an easy crossing along the Canadian River during the cattle-drive days of the late 1800s. The Plains Trail Region community drew an assortment of frontier characters to its location during its heyday, including cattlemen and cattle thieves, the Comanche and Comancheros, trade goods and contraband, and an assortment of lawmen and outlaws. Although Mexican sheepherders established the first permanent settlement here in 1876, the arrival of Charles Goodnight and his droves of livestock inspired a boomtown. Old Tascosa grew rapidly into a rowdy outlier and its location, hundreds of miles from the era’s frontier line, attracted entrepreneurs as well as criminals who enjoyed the community’s lack of authority and restraint.

Conflicts were settled mano-y-mano (i.e. gunfights), resulting in a roster full of dead bodies, including many still wearing their boots. So many, in fact, that the deceased received their own cemetery, Boot Hill, named after the famous graveyard in Dodge City, Kansas. Today, despite its disreputable past, Boot Hill Cemetery provides an ideal picnic spot for heritage travelers. Old Tascosa’s prosperity was cut short in the early 1880’s thanks to the introduction of fencing and its quick decline would come as a surprise to the community, considered the Oldham County seat, with its newly built sandstone courthouse. The 1884 courthouse actually served twelve of the surrounding counties for a short period. But by 1887 the Tascosa community was completely surrounded by barbed wire, isolating the town and its citizens. It was also the year the railroad arrived, laying tracks several miles away. Citizens moved to the tracks, abandoning Old Tascosa and the courthouse with it.

By 1915, the county seat had moved as well, reassigned to nearby Vega courtesy of county voters, and Old Tascosa became a ghost town. The townsite fell into private hands, becoming part of the expansive land holdings of Texas rancher Lee Blivins. Son Julian and his wife Berneta moved into the courthouse, converting it into the family home and later donated the entire townsite to help establish Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch in 1939. Farley’s privately-funded child and family services organization continues to operate on the Old Tascosa townsite today. The surrounding countryside provides a place for young boys and girls who, in Farley’s words, need “a shirttail to hang to” while the restored courthouse serves as the Julian Blivins Museum. The museum houses memorabilia relevant to the history of Farley’s enterprise as well as artifacts of Old Tascosa and the Panhandle cowboy culture.        

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