WICHITA DAILY TIMES
SUNDAY, JANUARY 12,1934
Clay County Resident Recalls Days When Settlers
Worked in Groups as Protection Against Roving Indians
By Ed F. Bulls
NEWPORT, Texas, Jan 11 Uncle Joe Welch, a resident of this section for more than 60 years talks interestingly of pioneer days when the first settlers had to work together in armed squads, while building their first small shacks, ready to fight back the attacks made by the roving bands of Indians back in those days.
The above picture of Uncle Joe was taken at his home three miles north of Newport, as he talked of the early days of Newport and surrounding country. The picture shows him examining a top of his cream separator on his back porch, before the aged pioneer realized he was being photographed.
Mr. Welch came to this country In the early 70's with his uncle, Dr. W. C. Welch, and they were among the first settlers. Dr. Welch was one of the first settlers of Newport and put in the first stock of drugs in the community.
Prior to the establishment of the town of Newport, a few settlers had obtained a post office five miles east of where the present town of Newport stands. This was in 1874, and the post office was named "Bear Hill." The first postmaster was a Mr. J. H. Hardy. The post office got its name after a large bear had been killed on the hill one day after Hardy, L. Hancock, Mr. Marlett and a few others had returned to the place from chasing a band of Indians who had made an unsuccessful attack upon their settlement. This post office got mail once a week from Gainesville; it was carried on the back of a mule. But in 1879 after the town of Newport was organized, a petition was drawn up and sent to the postoffice department requesting that the office be moved to Newport and that a Mr. Rivers be appointed postmaster. The requests were granted.
Town Gets Name
After the town of Newport was laid off there was some discussion as to what the name of the new town should be. A Mr. Norman wanted to name it after his pretty daughter, Mandy, and others wanted to name it after their daughters. They finally agreed to compromise and take the first letter of the names of the seven builders of the town, and let those seven letters be the name of the town. Commencing with "N" for Norman, "E" for Ezell, "W" for Welch, "P" for Pruitt, "0" for Owsley, "R" for Reiger, and "T" for Taylor.
The first buildings of the town were of lumber sawed from native oaks and commonly called "rawhide" lumber. A little saw mill in the valley north of Newport on the Shipp place furnished material for the first shacks erected in the community. Much of the old material can be found in barns and out houses all over this section.
The first school in the settlement was in 1878 In a one-room log cabin about a half mile south of Newport and about 300 yards north of the Newport cemetery. G. W. Ford was the teacher.
Mr. Welch recalled that his uncle, Dr. W. C. Welch, bought the first mowing machine ever run in Clay county in 1878, and they did quite a lot of mowing with the machine, and sometimes went as far west as the Archer county line. He says the grass then was almost as high as his head and was heavy set. After frost in the fall the grass would topple over and underneath would be green grass all during the winter protected by the heavy grass overhead. Stock would thrive all during the winter months without feed, Mr. Welch said.
In 1881, John Eubanks, Billie Ireland and Ed Pickett bought the first threshing machine in this section, and he says the machine was of the Nicholas & Shepherd make. During the fall they operated a gin with the engine. The gin was a one 60-saw stand. The thresher was hauled around by a six-ox team. H. B. Garrett, one of the first settlers, put up the first mill two miles north of town at his farm. Mr. Welch says he has seen wheat cut in the morning, threshed and carried to the mills, ground, brought back and baked for the threshing hands for dinner the same evening.
Shortly after the town of Newport was organized and the post office obtained, a new mail route was secured from Fort Worth to Decatur, Crafton, Newport and on to Archer City. The mail was received once a week and carried on horse back.
Mr. Welch tells about the slaughtering of the large number of buffaloes in 1876 & 1877, and says that Ten Mile prairie west of Newport was literally strewn with the carcasses. They were slaughtered for their hides which brought $1 apiece at Fort Worth, Dallas and Weatherford. He says that there were no flies here then, and that they first came in 1880 with the moving of the large herds of cattle by Dan Waggoner who would drive them through in herds from 3,000 to 6,000
every week. These drives, in 1879 & 1880, were of cattle being taken to ranches in Wichita, Archer and other counties.
J. M. Stillwell was the first justice of the peace this country ever had, and "Fat" Hardy was the first peace officer. He states that they held court quite often in those days and that the town was "wild" with as many as four saloons and one ten pin alley running all the time.
Mr. Welch names the first settlers of 1872 as follows: L. Hancock, Mr. Hardy, John Mccracken, J. L. Barnes, John Gilbreath, Mr. Marlett, Dick Sandifur, Dave Turner, and others whose names he cannot recall. Soon after the post office was obtained in 1879 they got their first newspaper, the Atlanta Constitution. Mrs Bell Miller secured the first club for the paper with five subscribers.
He says that old Fort Jacksboro was the nearest place for the protection from the Indians. The last Indian fight was on a hill two miles west of Newport in 1878, Mr Welch said. Some time prior to this there was an old fort at Buffalo Srings, northwest of the present town. This fort was used for the protection of the surveyors who were sent out to survey the various land grants. The old stone walls of this fort are still standing and the old spring is still in use. Later there was a store on the east bank of the creek and grist mill on the west bank. At this old grist mill in later years, Cooper Wright, who was sheriff of Clay county, was shooting it out with desperate character when Col. J. B. Young, another pioneer of the community, joined Wright in the battle and possibly saved his life. Colonel Young was shot in the foot by the bandit and limped the rest of his life. Cooper Wright was sheriff of Clay county continuously for 18 years and will be remembered by all the old-timers of this section.
Mrs. Bell Miller, mentioned as securing the first club for the Atlanta Constitution, was well know over Clay County and died about two years ago. L. Hancock, mentioned as one of the first settlers of 1872, was the father of J. M. and R. L. Hancock now living at Newport.
Mrs Welch has been serving the Newport community for many years as justice of the peace, and besides he operates a small broom factory at his home. He makes brooms from straw grown in south Clay county. He is 78 years old and is hale & hearty and expects to live many years yet.
©Times Record News
This article reprinted here with permission of the Wichita Falls Times Record News.