The Peach and Melon Festival in De Leon, Texas

One of the oldest festivals in Texas….

By: Brandon Mangan

For nearly one hundred years, the first week of August has meant the same thing in De Leon, Texas.

For one, it means that thousands of pounds of watermelons are about to be devoured. Peaches too. There’s going to be a parade. Beauty pageants. Judging and auctioning of delectable desserts. Live music and dancing. A fairground full of vendors, a carnival boasting whirling rides and kaleidoscopic lights. Tractors spool and spin their tires, pulling giant sleds as their exhausts erupt with smoke. Sounds and scenes of joy in small town Texas. This bevy of attractions are part of an event that’s come to be called the De Leon Peach and Melon Festival, one of the oldest festivals in Texas, and it’s taking place from August 6th through the 10th this year. I don’t think you’ll want to miss it.

The festival has a storied history, originally taking place under the name of the “Free Fall Fair” in 1914. A few years later the town began growing watermelons commercially, only to realize that the melons the town grew were white hearted and of little value on the market. A committee was formed and a meeting was held. The town sent local resident L.B. Patterson to Weatherford to find good seed and to learn how to make it prosper. While there Mr. Patterson was invited to and later attended a social gathering centered on the slicing of copious amounts of melons. Mr. Patterson must have enjoyed himself. He was struck by it.

The experience brought him to send not one, not two, but three letters to the De Leon Free Press Editor about having a carving that year in De Leon. So, in 1922 the town had a watermelon slicing of grand proportion. Local melon growers made a deal with the City of De Leon. They’d provide the fruit if the City would get the word out about it and clean up after the event.

The rest is history.

In 1923 there were 1,000 melons set to be consumed and the town hasn’t looked back.

This year promises to build upon the past and put on the biggest festival yet. Featured food vendors this year will offer everything from brisket, donuts, to kabobs, fair classics like turkey legs and sausage on a stick. Cajun offerings will be available, as well as kettle corn, snow cones, fine mexican, afro-fusion and fire cooked pizza. There will also be boutiques and various merchants on the grounds each night.

The week begins Tuesday with pageants in three classes, culminating at 9:00 PM with the selection of the festival Queen. Wednesday brings judging of cakes, peach desserts, as well as melons and fruits. The Triple T Amusement carnival arrives, with rides beginning at 6:00 PM. That evening there’s a parade downtown (7PM), the kids tractor pull and the queen’s coronation (8:30PM), with the Cake and Melon auction taking place at 9:00 PM. Thursday the carnival begins at 6:00 PM, with an acoustic performance by famed Texas songwriter Walt Wilkins at 8:00 PM. Friday the carnival opens back up again at 6:00 PM, with the tractor pulls beginning at 7:30 PM. There will also be DJ David C and karaoke starting at 8:00 PM. 


Golden Saturday is a full day event, starting with the Watermelon Crawl 5K downtown at 7:00 AM. A Texas 42 domino tournament will be held at the City Hall auditorium at 8:00 AM. The seed spitting contest is downtown at 1:00 PM, followed by the free watermelon slicing the festival is named for taking place at 3:00 PM. That night the carnival is open again at 6:00 PM, with another night of tractor pulls beginning at 7:30 PM. Singer-songwriter Van Darian kicks off the music at 7:30, followed by Matt Hillyer of 1100 Springs and Phill Pritchett performing at 8:30 PM. The announcement of Miss De Leon rounds off the evening at 10:00 PM. The carnival sells arm bands each night, $30.00 at the grounds and $25.00 on pre-sale, available at the festival headquarters, located at 5401 Hwy 6, De Leon, TX 76444 and online at http://www.peachandmelonfestival.net/. We hope to see you there!

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Artist Feature/Brandon Mangan/Professional Photographer

By Sierra Dyson

Are you looking for a professional photographer in Comanche County, Texas to take your next family photos or capture your special day? Or perhaps you are an art connoisseur and enthusiast who is looking to learn more about the local artists in your area? Maybe you are just looking to hang pictures of beautiful landscapes on your wall?

Whatever the case, I encourage you to check out Brandon Mangan, an up and coming Professional photographer with a unique eye and knack for taking some of the most indescribable pictures I have ever seen. 

Brandon Mangan

Who is Brandon Mangan, you might ask? He is an extraordinary photographer and artist from Comanche, Texas. Born and raised in San Angelo, Brandon did not move to Comanche until 2014 which just so happens to be the year he began pursuing becoming a professional photographer. 

Claiming to be a sort of documentarian his entire life, Brandon states that,

“Having a camera, a notebook and the ability to use them has always been important to me.” He grew up spending a lot of time outdoors and claims, “ the weather and the landscapes I’ve seen have left a big impression on me. I feel tied to them.”

With that being said, he soon realized that he wanted to be able to capture the beauty he saw in the world in a timeless photo that would last a lifetime. With each photo he takes, Brandon tries to convey a sense of gravity and magnitude in his photos, whether they’re of people or places.

Proctor Lake, Comanche County Texas

When asked about what inspires him, Brandon replied,

“Inspiration is tricky. Most of the time it’s all around me if I’ll just take the time to open up to it. I remember when I was in college reading about John Cage and there was this quote of him saying something to the effect of if something is boring for 2 minutes, try it for 4. If it’s boring for 4, try it for 8, etc.

The point is that if you look at or think about something long enough, you’re almost bound to find something interesting about it, or in this case something that lends inspiration. It’s as much a personal mindset as it is the subject. I think the night sky is my biggest inspiration when it comes to photography, the first time I took a picture of it, I heard a little voice in the back of my head say ‘well, guess I’ll be doing this for the rest of my life’, like it was some sort of reluctant confession.” 

Taken in 2016, Brandon’s favorite creation is the photo that captured everything in nature that inspires him to pursue photography and what he talked about above. He had the idea to get a photo of the stars above a field of bluebonnets which he’d found at Proctor Lake. Brandon went out early in the wildflower season to test the idea, (He wanted the Milky Way above them but would have to wait a few weeks for a new moon,) and wound up taking what is probably his most well-known and a favorite photo.

It was a simple depiction of bluebonnets set against the night sky and it seemed to resonate with people as it was shared and seen by over 100,000 people on Facebook. Brandon even had people from other countries messaging him about it! 

When asked about his future plans and where he will go from his newfound popularity online, Brandon stated that he will,

“Go wherever the good Lord wills him.” Furthermore, he said, “I have plans and goals but I lean more on the faith that each good choice gets me closer to where I’m supposed to be. I will continue to grow my photography but the livelihood and health of my family is my driving force, they’re my biggest concern and what I shape my life around. If I can take care of that, well the rest is gravy.”

Now that you have heard a little bit more about who he is, the work he does, and what inspires him, I am sure you are dying to hear where you can go to see these photos for yourself.

Well, Brandon’s work is available for purchase and viewing online at his website www.brandonmangan.com and he also has a facebook page dedicated to his work https://www.facebook.com/mistrmangan. Additionally, he can be contacted at info@brandonmangan.com for anything that can’t be found on the website, as well as for custom sizes or questions about print options and quality.

He suggests that people contact him before they buy, especially for anything they plan on putting on a wall. That way he can help them get the best fit and format for the finished product. This professional photographer is also available for custom work, from family portraits and events to photos of places that are near and dear to people. 

Are you an artist located in Comanche County and interested in being featured? CONTACT US.



NonProfit Feature/Comanche All Pets Alive

By: Sarah Childers

Our first nonprofit feature for the County is Comanche All Pets Alive, better known as CAPA. They are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit located in Comanche County, Texas.  Their primary goal is to help the homeless and shelter animals in the area find forever homes or rescues and when possible, to prevent animals from entering the shelter in the first place. They are made up of 7 members that volunteer countless hours and untold amounts of personal funds in order to rescue, rehabilitate, and rehome unwanted animals in Comanche County, Texas. We want to add that they do an amazing job.

Their most recent rescue involved a dog who was recently abandoned. He was found chained up, dirty, dehydrated, and terrified. Luckily, this organization was able to intervene the day before a massive heatwave came into the area with temperatures reaching upwards of triple digits.

Sadly, this is a scenario that plays out in every part of the state with the testament of just about every shelter in the state being overrun this time of year.

On a brighter note, CAPA also utilizes their platform to reunite lost pets with owners, as well as provide freedom rides to various parts of the country where animals are able to find their forever homes. These animals get to experience the fortune of going to an area in the U.S. where there are actually waiting lists for adoptions.

CAPA will also admit that one of the best parts of animal rescue is to get pictures and updates from their adopters. Check out this spoiled rotten boy. This is Scruffy, aka George. He was dumped out in the country a year ago and just look at him now! We think he is quite content.

However, Dear Reader, they can really use your help in the form of a donation, foster, or adoption right now. Every donation is tax deductible and will go towards making this world a much better place to be in. Even if you don’t have funds to donate, you can give your time in the form of fostering an animal, or even giving one a forever home. To get involved feel free to contact with the methods listed below:

Donations can also be sent via PayPal to: Comancheapa@gmail.com

Website: www.Comancheapa.org

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CAPATx2014/

In addition, we here at Visitcomanchecountytx.com want to remind everyone reading this article to SPAY OR NEUTER your animals.

Do you have a nonprofit organization that services the entire County of Comanche? Are you interested in reaching close to 25,000 people? We would be honored to feature you, free of charge, here on Visitcomanchecountytx.com! CONTACT US HERE

More Comanche County History, Part 3

By: Brandon Mangan

This article is continued from the previous article titled More Comanche County History, Part 2

We are picking up where we left off by visiting the community called Comyn (pronounced “COMEEN.”)

Comyn-Theney Historical Marker – 2019

Although little remains of the town that was Comyn, it was one of the first outlying communities to be established in the county after the removal of the Comanche in 1875. Here W.F. Catheney set out to make a thriving home for his family and friends, before having the town named for the man who built the railway depot. The school still bore Theney’s name. This community was neighbored by that of Jones Crossing, the birthplace of Lt. Governor Ben Barnes. Like many of the surrounding towns the area grew precipitously during the turn of the century oil boom, afterwards sharing much of the same declining fate.

Jones Crossing Historical Marker – 2019

Although the historical marker is now housed in the county museum you can still visit Jones Crossing, a place still frequented for its fishing and scenery. This river no longer needs to be forded, as a bridge was constructed in 1899. On sunny afternoons you’ll find eager anglers hanging their fishing poles from its sides.

Jones Crossing 2019

If you continue southward, you’ll find yourself crossing the bridge at Proctor Lake (which you can also find an article about on this site), named for the nearby town of Proctor.

Lake Proctor at flood level 2016

The community of Proctor began as Mooresville, named for Thomas O. Moore who moved there in 1872, with his family behind back in Galveston. After returning to Galveston to fetch his family he found them ill and partnered with his friend Alexander Watson Proctor, sending him ahead to establish a mercantile building. As there was already a Mooresville in Texas, the town was eventually named Proctor. A building was erected for a post office in 1873, followed by a community center and school in 1876. The little town was moved in the 1890’s when the new Fort Worth Railroad missed the town by a mile, with Alex Chisholm buying the site for ranchland.

Mooresville Cabin 2019

Today a relic from the original Mooresville can be explored at the Comanche County Museum. You’ll also find a historical marker detailing the life of Thomas Moore’s sister Mollie, a renowned poet, playwright and from all account’s a highly interesting woman. She also wrote what may be the most impartial history of John Wesley Hardin’s time in Comanche county.

Mollie E Moore Historical Marker 2019

So, this tour ends where it began. Although this list is far from exhaustive, I hope that it presents a few of the many reasons you may find yourself wanting to spend some time visiting Comanche County. There’s much to experience and much to learn, as well as ample opportunity to make a bit of history for yourself. Tell them I sent you!

Comanche Farmers Market

By: Sierra Dyson

Are you looking for locally sourced ingredients for your next dinner or maybe some goats milk soap that in my opinion is absolutely divine? What about farm fresh eggs? Then you really need to get down and visit the Comanche Farmers Market.

Located at 101 West Central Comanche, Texas, the Comanche Farmer’s Market was created on April 16, 2016, in order to revitalize the county and promote local farmers, artists, and vendors. The market is open on the first Saturday of each month from 9:00 A.M. until noon starting in March and ending in December. It takes place around the south side of the Comanche Courthouse and Square. Vendors set up their booths in the parking lot and along the sidewalk. They sell various handcrafted items and produce grown locally. For example, locally harvested honey will be available for purchase along with farm fresh eggs, homemade jelly and preservatives, different types of salsas, herbs, infused oils, goat’s milk soaps, loaves of bread, pies, cakes, and jewelry.

Additionally, woodwork of various kinds will also be scattered throughout the market for your viewing and buying pleasure. With that being said, I highly encourage you to make the trip down to Comanche the first Saturday of the month in order to see what this smalltown market has to offer, you won’t regret it. Furthermore, if you are interested in becoming a vendor yourself please call or text 325-330-3666 or email TexasHandmadeSuds@Gmail.Com to reserve your spot. For even more information about what the Comanche Farmer’s Market is about please visit their facebook page at Comanche Farmer’s Market@ComancheFarmersMarket.

More Comanche County History, Part 2

By: Brandon Mangan

Last week, we shared an article titled “More Comanche County History, Part 1.”

This week, we are picking up where we left off with “More Comanche County History, Part 2.” This article will begin with the Robert Thomas Hill Historical Marker:


Robert Thomas Hill Historical Marker – 2019

Although briefly mentioned when speaking of the museum, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give Robert Thomas Hill and the history of geology in Comanche County a bit more light. Being a state steeped in oil, geology is a field of interest for many Texans. A man considered the father of Geology in our state made his first forays into the field while living in the little frontier town of Comanche. His tale of coming to join his brother in Comanche and the events that detailed his life would make for an enthralling Hollywood biopic. He was first employed with his brother at the local paper, The Comanche Chief. They soon became co-editors, until 1882 when Robert found his way to Cornell University – at the behest of his friend the local barber.

The Comanche Chief Historical Marker – 2019

The paper is the oldest business in the county, and one of the longest running papers in the state. Robert thrived in the world of words, as he was a man with an insatiable thirst for knowledge, as well as a curiosity all Texans owe for the knowledge it produced. He started his explorations on the local hilltop known as Round Mountain, and when he died his ashes were scattered there. The little mountain has history of its own, becoming the hiding place of John Wesley Hardin in 1874.

Round Mountain 2019


Little Girl’s Grave CR 185

Heading northward from town on a single lane dirt road you’ll find a memorial. This memorial has been kept and guarded since the 1870’s, for over a century it’s left many with more questions than answers. It sits just outside of the community of Sipe (pronounced Seep) Springs, a once bustling oil town.


Little Girl’s Grave Headstones

Amongst an eclectic offering of toys, flowers, stuffed animals and hundreds of pennies lie two headstones. The older looking of the two poses a simple question: Who is the little girl? Age 3, 1870. It’s said that in 1870 a family was traveling this trail westward when their child fell from the wagon, dying from head injuries. There’s also speculation she died from disease. Whatever befell the girl, she rests here now. A few years later a cemetery was established just a few miles away, but the girl remained. This is a story that has haunted and intrigued generations, so much so that the tradition of adorning this little one’s grave site still exists.  Today you can visit and pay your respects, leaving a penny and a thought.

Gravesite in Sipe Springs Cemetery

A few miles from the solemn marker of an unknown girl lie a brother and sister, the epitaph on their gravestones simply reading “Happy and gay, to school they went one day. But thank God they are not dead, Just away.” The two children that rest here were victims in one of the worst catastrophes in the history of Texas – the New London school explosion of 1937. New London was an area rich with the spoils of the oil boom that was taking place at the time – it was home to one of the wealthiest school districts in the nation. In 1932 a large school was constructed from steel and concrete, at the cost of 1$ million (closer to $18 million today). In the original design of the building there was to be a boiler and steam heating system installed in the large area beneath the school, the school board opting instead to install gas heaters throughout. A common practice of the time was for residents to tap into existing residue gas pipelines from the oilfield in order to take advantage of the natural gas that traveled through the pipes. This untreated gas was volatile, and odorless. A leak developed in the system, and before long the gas had filled the subterranean levels of the school. On the afternoon of March 18th, 1837 an instructor turned on an electric sander, igniting the gas. The reports of eyewitnesses record the walls of the school expanding, before the roof lifted from the building and collapsed upon itself. A two-ton piece of concrete was thrown 200 feet, smashing a nearby Chevrolet. The explosion was heard up to four miles away, alarming residents to head to the source of the sound. A massive rescue effort was undertaken, with Texas Rangers, the highway patrol, the Texas National Guard and even a local troop of Boy Scouts being summoned to the scene. At some point in the evening it began to rain, those involved in the rescue effort working tirelessly through it all. Seventeen hours later the site had been cleared. It’s estimated that there were over 600 people in the school that day and that only around 130 escaped without serious injury. Half of them did not survive. A young Walter Cronkite was called to the scene, later stating “I did nothing in my studies nor in my life to prepare me for a story of the magnitude of the New London tragedy, nor has any story since that awful day equaled it.” In the aftermath of the disaster the Texas Legislature began mandating that thiols be added to natural gas, the strong odor from which now makes leaks detectable.

Mote Gravestone

Heading east from Sipe Springs you’ll find yourself in the second most populous city in the county, De Leon. This town has its own history as the peanut capital of the world, a crop turned to by local farmers after the drought and boll weevil devastation of the early 1900’s. This transformed the county from a cotton producing area to one of the largest producers of peanuts in the nation.

De Leon Peanut Company Historical Marker – 2019

The town was also bolstered by the Texas Central Railroad, which due to the creation of the Peanut Company later became known as “The Peanut Line”. The depot was created and Texas Central laid out the town on April 10, 1882. The town became the primary shipping point for cotton before turning to the peanut crop.

Be sure to check this marker out next time you are in De Leon, Texas. Don’t forget to visit the Terrill Antique Car Museum or explore the downtown area as well. You are also welcome to browse another page that can give you more history about De Leon, Texas.

For Part 3, we are going to go from De Leon and head east and then south, to the community of Comyn.

Stay tuned…..

More Comanche County History Part 1

Here is more Comanche County History for your reading pleasure…

By: Brandon Mangan

Chief On Comanche Square 2019

Most who come upon it know that the name Comanche comes from the tribe of natives who once occupied the land, although few would be able to tell you just where the name Comanche comes from. In a town full of so many friendly faces it comes to be a bit ironic that the name comes from the Ute tribes word “kimantsi”, which translates to “enemy” or “stranger” (the former word being what the Comanches were to the Ute’s for many years). The Comanche tribe called themselves “numinu”, their word for people.

Today the residents of Comanche County work hard to preserve their history, and it shows. This article will serve as a virtual tour, showcasing a handful of the counties’ many historical markers, as well as a few of its more interesting historical details.

It would be hard to discuss the history of the county without first mentioning the counties’ robust museum.

Comanche County Museum

This museum boasts over 30,000 square feet of history, featuring artifacts ranging back over 150 years. The staff at the museum has worked tirelessly to categorize the areas rich history, with rooms dedicated to historical periods, military heroes, and the communities that makeup the county.

Entrance of Comanche County Museum

As soon as you walk through the front entrance there are relics to examine, from blacksmithing tools and farm implements to an old Model T. This front open-air addition also features a Barber Shop scene before leading into a large and air-conditioned (important in the Texas heat) main building.

Central Room of Comanche County Museum

Here you will find a giftshop, as well as a welcoming and informative staff. It quickly becomes apparent how much work has been put into making this counties history more accessible. This is a place to be experienced, and worth an article on its own. In the photo above you can see the massive flint display, featuring arrowheads of all shapes and sizes, spearheads, atlatl projectiles and myriad native tools (some you can even touch!). 

John Wesley Hardin

There’s a room dedicated to the scene of the infamous John Wesley Hardin and his murder of Brown County Deputy John Webb (of which there’s an article about on this site). There are also books about the events surrounding the murder, as well as a wall of photos and paintings of the men involved. The staircase from the courthouse where the case was heard is also found in the museum. Outside you’ll find the base of the oak tree his brother and kin were hanged from in the aftermath of the shooting.

You’ll also find dioramas of the Jack Wright Saloon and a Native American campsite. There’s a room dedicated to saluting our veterans, with uniforms from bygone eras as well as weapons and stories of the veterans that called Comanche County home. There’s a room featuring vintage doll houses, as well as many rooms explaining the histories of the many communities in the area. Geodes and petrified wood pair with an exhibit detailing the life of famed geologist Robert T. Hill.

There are multiple attractions on the grounds of the museum, including an explorable 19th century log and stone cabin. Plans are in the works for an outside exhibit showcasing a few of the wooden bridges that once served the county, along with a butterfly garden. With so much to explore you owe it to yourself to visit this slice of Texas history, guaranteed that when you do, you’ll find much to experience and the friendliest of people. The museum is free to visit but I’d encourage you to buy a memento and maybe leave a donation, that way we can keep the history alive. For more information visit https://www.comanchecountytxmuseum.com/.

The Fleming Oak, Comanche Square 2019

Heading back into town from the museum you’ll find the city square. The square is steeped in Texas history. You’ll find nearly a dozen historical markers, the oldest log-cabin courthouse in Texas, a guided audio tour, as well as memorials to veterans of law enforcement and war. The oak in the photo above is the Fleming Oak, a storied tree that’s been preserved through care and sheer shotgun stubbornness.

Old Cora Courthouse

In the areas adjacent to the new and old courthouse you’ll find a guide to the many attractions in the city, as well as many shops and highly regarded restaurants. Many of these establishments rest in buildings that have served the community for over a century, with many stories to be told. It’s a perfect place to spend an afternoon and evening.

To be continued…..

Terrill Antique Car Museum

The Terrill Antique Car Museum is located at 500 North Texas Street in De Leon, Texas. The museum opened in 2004, however, the owners, Feltz Terrill and his son have been restoring old cars together since the late 1970s. When they couldn’t find a part they needed for one of their cars, they headed to their machine shop and made it themselves. While Feltz Terrill passed away in 2017, his son Feltz Jr. has kept the legacy alive by maintaining the museum as well as the Terrill Machine Shop which fabricates parts for antique automobiles for customers around the world including fuel pumps for Buicks, Packards, Pontiacs, and other old non-mainstream collectible cars. With that being said, the Terrill Antique Car Museum specializes in Pre-WWII cars as well as “oddball stuff” as Feltz Jr. likes to call it. For example, some of the cars in their collection include a one of a kind, Coffin Steam Carriage, Crow-Elkhart Cloverleaf, REO Speedwagon 3/4 ton truck,  a 1927 Pierce Arrow touring car, a 1931 Studebaker, Series 54, Six Cylinder Regal Tourer, a 1929 Model A Ford Roadster, a rare 1901 Coffin steam car, created by Howard Earle Coffin which has spent 34 years in the Henry Ford Automobile Museum until now, and many more pieces. The museum is even listed on the North Texas Car Museum Trail which is composed of must-see stops for car enthusiasts in North Texas. Therefore, if you are a car connoisseur or are looking for something fun to do with your family then stop on by the Terrill Antique Car Museum in De Leon, Texas. You can also visit their FaceBook Page for more information. Also, be sure to check out what else Comanche County has to offer.

Comanche County Museum

Here is some information you will need for your next daytrip to Comanche County, TX. Be sure to plan to drive around and take a look at all the available Historical Markers.

This article was written by Sierra Dyson.

The Comanche County Museum is located at 402 Morman Road in Comanche, Texas. The museum’s start actually began with the Comanche County Historical Society which was created in 1973 with the specific purpose of building a museum for the surrounding area in order to preserve its history. The council inspired Jow Maxwell, a local tax consultant and attorney, to donated 3.2 acres of land to them to use to build the museum on in June of 1975. Locals then spent three years gathering artifacts to display in the museum, which officially opened to the public in October of 1978. Originally, the museum had one large room and five side attractions set up. Today, however, the museum boasts fifteen different rooms dedicated to preserving the history of the county. For example, there is a John Wesley Hardin themed room, a Robert Thomas Hill room, an antique doll room, a veteran salute, and many other rooms open for viewing. Additionally, there is a blacksmith area, a workshop, supply room, and office visitors can look at as well. Overall, the museum strives to fulfill their mission statement by, “Preserving history, heritage, and artifacts to honor the hardships, challenges, and triumphs of our Comanche County Founders and pass on this history, knowledge, and legacy to current and future generations.”

With that being said, the Comanche County Museum invites you and your friends to come on down and see everything they have to offer. They are open Wednesday through Saturday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM and by special appointment. The cost to attend is by donation only.  For more information call 325-356-5115.

Comanche County Outlaw

The 21st Birthday of John Wesley Hardin

By: Brandon Mangan

John Wesley Hardin, Abilene, Kansas – 1871

The day of May 26th, 1874 is a day of infamy in Comanche County. It didn’t start that way. The residents of Comanche awoke with a spirit of excitement – horse races were being held northeast of town and people across the area would be traveling to witness sport and join in the festivities that come with such events.

Life for the men and women of that period demanded a certain amount of grit, for those who decided to settle the Comanche Territory it demanded it in spades. These early settlers earned the title of “briar-breakers”, arriving in 1854 to clear the brush and chisel out a place for themselves in the expansive Comanche Territory. They were on their own. The closest supplies to be had required riding nearly three hundred miles, oftentimes in yoked wagons over roads that were little more than pairs of rock and stump-strewn ruts. The Leon River would gorge itself on rains as it still does today, overflowing its banks and stranding return parties who could spend weeks contemplating their homes and families just a few miles from where they were forced to camp in wait. This was the state of affairs for nearly two decades, and the families that remained, forged deep bonds fighting to flourish in a part of this country many of us now call home. After years of tribulation from battling the native elements and people, the area began to see a great amount of growth. With the close of the Civil War there was an exodus from the more war-torn areas of the south, many of those who left their home states ended up in Texas, some in Comanche. After two decades of surviving Comanche raids the natives were rounded up and driven to reservations in 1874. This allowed the western part of the state to be settled and made Comanche one of the last bastions of civilization for those who were to venture that way. In 1873 the newly established Comanche Chief reported a town of 700, with twenty businesses to boast.

Map of Texas 1854, Author: Henry Lange, 1821-1893.

One of the families making up those early 700 were the Hardins. The family was well renowned in the state, one member signing the Texas Declaration of Independence, another serving as a member of the Texas Congress. A descendent of these men, the young Joe Hardin had moved to town in 1871. He was well received and before long did work as a lawyer, real estate agent, and eventually as postmaster. His parents soon followed suit, with many of their children in tow. Of their children the most notorious was without doubt the outlaw John Wesley Hardin. Earning the outlaw designation at young age John Wesley or “Wes” had taken many lives before ever stepping foot in Comanche. He was born in Bonham, TX in 1853. When he was 15, he was in a wrestling match with a former slave, who reportedly ambushed him the next day. Wes shot him and fled. He went on to kill three Union soldiers looking to arrest him, his family hiding their bodies in his wake. In the six short years between that time and the Comanche races, he’d killed over two dozen men (conservatively), had a run in or two with Wild Bill Hickok, and escaped custody of the Texas State Police.

May 26th was Wes Hardin’s 21st birthday and he’d arranged the races to take place on the occasion. The days leading up to the races had been filled with rumor. A Brown County deputy by the name of Charlie Webb had recently arrested the son of a Mrs. Waldrup, owner of a ranch Wes Hardin and his compatriots had spent an evening at in Logan’s Gap. Although there are differing accounts of what was said at dinner that evening, it is agreed that Mrs. Waldrup had taken issue with the deputy, and the cordial group of cowboys she was hosting took issue with him as well. In the weeks preceding the races it was whispered that Webb spoke of arresting Wes Hardin if the law in Comanche wasn’t up to the task. By the day of the races this rumor had become the notion that Webb and fifteen other deputies from Brown county had come to Comanche to arrest Wes Hardin and kill his associate Jim Taylor (who had a $500 bounty at the time).

The morning of the races Hardin, Taylor and the rest of their band were seen coming towards the square while loading shotguns, preparing for the potential gunplay to come. It had yet to commence by afternoon. Although both Webb and Hardin were present, in Hardin’s words “he didn’t make any breaks”. Hardin and his gang took the day.  His horse Rondo won the first race, his cousins horse Shiloh won the second, and Dock his brother Joe’s horse won third. It’s claimed that Wes Hardin won $3000 (what would amount to close to $60,000 today), fifty head of cattle, a wagon, and fifteen saddle horses. Not a bad take for a 21st birthday. Ready to celebrate the group raced the afternoon sun back to town, bringing ruckus and gunfire along with them.

Comanche Square, 1876

The gang caroused from one saloon to another, Hardin purportedly throwing handfuls of gold pieces to the bar, calling the patrons to come up and whet their thirst. With time the drink took its toll, tensions rose and the air became weighted with violence. Word was sent to Sheriff Carnes and he deployed deputy Frank Wilson to order Hardin and his men out of town before trouble ensued. Wilson found Hardin at the Jack Wright Saloon, where he’d called the crowd to the bar for another drink. According to Hardin he’d already called on his younger brother to prepare a horse and buggy before meeting them at the Wright Saloon, buying another drink for the crowd being a last call of sorts. Wilson walked into the saloon, telling Wes he was looking to speak to him. Hardin sauntered outside after Wilson, telling Wilson they’d gone far enough a few paces from the door. It’s said that Wilson relayed the message that Hardin should be making his way home as not to cause any trouble and reminded Hardin that it was a violation of the law to carry a pistol. Hardin threw open his coat claiming his pistol was back behind the bar – hiding the fact that another laid beneath his vest. Hardin told the deputy he would go back in for a cigar and leave as soon as his brother arrived with their homebound buggy. Before his brother could arrive and before Hardin could return to the bar for a cigar Jim Taylor stopped Hardin at the door, imploring him to go home. About that time someone exclaimed “Here comes that damned Brown County Sheriff!”

Current location of the Jack Wright Saloon

Walking up with two revolvers and the sun behind him, Webb had reportedly come to meet a friend before going to their home for dinner. When he arrived, Hardin stood at the entrance to the saloon, Jim Taylor to his left. Men began to give space between themselves and Hardin, eyes trained on the Deputy from Brown County. As Webb came within speaking distance Hardin exclaimed “Are you the sheriff of Brown County?”. Webb lifted his head a bit before placing his gaze on Hardin “No, I’m the deputy sheriff”. Hardin asked if he had papers for his arrest, which Webb replied, “I don’t even know you.” Hardin announced in a boastful voice “I’m the notorious John Wesley Hardin, the desperado, as people call me. I’m considered an outlaw, but I always carry the documents to protect myself”.  Hardin, seeing Webb’s hands behind his back asked what Webb was carrying. Webb produced a cigar, as Hardin went on “I’ve been told that you said Sheriff Carnes was no sheriff or he wouldn’t allow me to stay around Comanche with my murdering pals.” Webb refuted the statement, claiming he was not the sheriff, nor was he responsible for what the sheriff or the people of Brown county had said. Accounts differ, but it’s clear that John Wesley Hardin was gunning for his type of excitement. On both accounts Webb drew first, his and Hardin’s bullets being hard to distinguish. When the firing was over Hardin was wounded in the leg, and Webb lay dead with a bullet in his cheek. He was said to be his 40th victim.

Reports claim that Webb had recently procured a new pistol, equipped with a hair-trigger. It’s assumed he fired early, misjudging the action of his gun and causing his shot to place low. The story may have ended here had the man grown accustomed to his arms. With that said, John Wesley Hardin was famous for the quickness of his draw and the preciseness of his gun play. In 1877, while a captive of the Texas Rangers, he was given a pair of empty Colts to show his prowess. A Ranger remarked he “handled the guns as a sleight-of-hand performer manipulates a coin. The quick draw, the spin, the rolls, the pinwheeling, border shift – he did them all with magical precision.” He kept his pistols holstered with the butts facing out, crossing his arms to draw. He swore this to be the fastest way to draw, and history does much to justify his opinion.

A .41 Long Colt Double Action “Thunderer” Hardin owned, sold at auction for $100,000.

 Hardin and his associates backed towards the Saloon, Hardin calling his gang to fill up the pistols and hold the house. Men rushed to the square, one of them being Sheriff Carnes. The Sheriff had a bum pistol and was on his way to the smith when the fighting broke out. Brandishing a weapon about as lethal as a paperweight he trudged forward to apprehend two of the most violent men in the state. When he approached, he demanded Hardin’s pistol, which he gave. Deputies had relieved Taylor and many of the other members of Hardin’s bunch as they exited the building. As the Sheriff went to search the last of the stragglers, he threw his gun to the ground, with only Hardin’s in hand. Hardin, knowing his pistol was empty quickly retrieved two more from his vest, retreating into the saloon with Jim and the rest of his cohort. Many of the men had only relieved themselves of their primary weapons, as when they exited the saloon, they seemed more armed than when they went in. Cries of the murder were echoing through the square; a lynch mob was already forming. Between the shouting and the crowd outside fighting to gain entry the men in the saloon had to think quickly. They decided to make their break out the side door, making it across the street and mounting a group of hitched horses before a shot could be put to them.

The Sheriff fought to maintain order but was overwhelmed. The chase began, only to be cut short when men realized the insufficiency of their arms. Hardin made it to his father’s, where he met with his brother and Sheriff Carnes. In fear of the mob Hardin decided to make tracks to nearby Round Mountain, about eight miles west of Comanche.

Round Mountain – 2019

From this point on John Wesley Hardin was pursued relentlessly.

Upon learning of the hanging of his brother and other kin he returned to Comanche to enact his vengeance, only to turn back in what may have been a small bit of wisdom. He was finally tracked down in Florida, three years later. From there he was transported back to Comanche to be tried for the murder of Charles Webb. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison on September 28th, 1878.  After many failed attempts at escape he adapted to prison life, becoming the superintendent of the Sunday School and studying law.

He was pardoned in 1894 and admitted to the bar. A little more than a year later he found his fate behind the gun, when he was killed at age 42 by Constable John Selman in El Paso. He is buried in El Paso, at the Concordia Cemetery.

John Wesley Hardin’s Grave, Photo by Leo Miletich 2014

For additional reading look to John Wesley Hardin’s autobiography, as well as Mollie Moore Godbold’s articles in The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, titled “Comanche and the Hardin Gang”.