by James Villanueva
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles about the 100 years history of Slaton to be published in The Slatonite in this year leading up to the city’s Centennial Celebration in 2011.
On that hot summer day, June 15, 1911 – they arrived.
It is written, by various historical articles and documents, that on the hot and dry summer day – typical to most west Texas summers – of June 15, 1911, people came by horse and buggy, by team and wagon, by train and on foot to a new town in hopes of new opportunities.
On a special excursion train, J.F. Utter of Amarillo was the first conductor to bring passengers into the city of Slaton. For the first time that day, many heard the familiar sounds of train whistles blowing across West Texas skies.
Some brought lunches and, with their families in tow, beneath, “improvised shade by means of wagon sheets and tar-paulins, they ate in the hot sun or under sparse shade of the mesquite trees.” Wrote Rev. Lowell C. Green in a 1953 issue of The Slatonite, He was the former Lutheran pastor of Slaton and Posey.
According to Green’s research, the crowd gathered early and included, in the group, many prominent railroad officials some of whom had come from as far as Topeka, Kansas.
It was on that afternoon, land lots were sold to Slaton’s first citizens.
Of course, the planning of the event that took place that summer day began years prior on a small farm surrounded by a great and vast field where, aside from a coyote yelp in the night or the chirping of cicadas, it was deafening silence that overtook much of the Texas plains in the late 1800’s – before the trains.
On September 1, 1879, the original town site of the future city of Slaton was patented by the state of Texas to Eli Stilson and J.I. Case. The land was located on Survey 41 and Survey 44. The site was later sold to the Western Land and Livestock Company.
This transaction led to the great 10A Ranch being sold to J.W. Kokernot and H.L.Kokernot. It is believed that settlement on the land thrived because of the Kokernot’s and soon the land was sold, once again, to J.C. Phillips. During this time, Santa Fe Railway was in the early stages of buying land for a projected town in West Texas.
The Santa Fe Railway Company was making progress in providing countrywide train transportation. Within this area, there was a need for a division point with facilities for servicing the trains. Since the land for the town site had been established, representatives of the Santa Fe turned to the task of establishing a city.
The sale transaction of the town site was completed on April 15, 1911 according to various documents. W.B. Storey Jr. was sent from Chicago by the Santa Fe Railway to buy land for the projected town. The Pecos and Northern Texas Railway Company of the Santa Fe system proposed to create a new division point and city in their newly acquired plot.
The town was to be named after local rancher, O.L. Slaton and the plot layout would duplicate that of Washington D.C. – a pinwheel style downtown.
On May 11, 1911, the streets and alleyways of Slaton were dedicated in a document to the public. The first people to arrive in Slaton, stayed in tents while buildings and houses bloomed around them. According to Green, preparation for the opening day included a very ambitious advertising program. Printed circulars, describing the lay of the land and promising ample water, were distributed up and down the Santa Fe system from Lubbock to Kansas.
Vyola Hubbard, one of the first settlers in Slaton wrote in an essay in 1979, “To be young in a young town is something quite unique and altogether different from being young in a town that was old when you were born. The people were mostly youthful – full of confidence. Those daring that the horse and buggy were growing old, and beginning to fade, would not have risked leaving their comfortable homes and lives for the uncertainty of a boomtown.”
So it was on that hot summer day, June 15, 1911 – they arrived.
A boomtown was born.