A column by
publisher of the
Friona Star & Bovina Blade Newspapers. This is from her column and
is posted here with her permission.
Look at practically any county
map anywhere in the U.S. and you will notice that 99% of the time the
county seat is located either (1) close to the geographical center of
the county, OR (2) it is located in the town with the largest population
in the county. However, Parmer County is the exception to both of these,
with our county seat and courthouse being located directly on the
western border of the county (which is also the western border of Texas)
in the town of Farwell. Friona and Bovina are both larger in population
and both are closer to the geographical center of the county.
Many newcomers to these parts are
puzzled as to why the county seat is located in such an out-of-the-way
place. So for those of you who haven't heard our old-timers tell this
story, here it is, more or less from the horse's mouth.
James D. Hamlin (1871-1950) was
one of those "larger than life" characters of the Old West.
Historian and biographer William Curry Holden who was personally
acquainted with Judge Hamlin said this about the man, "indigenous
outlaws, gunmen and gamblers were among his cherished intimates. Madams
of the bordellos esteemed his friendship and sought his counsel, while
lovely women of impeccable proprieties all but swooned in his presence
and sighed audibly with his passing."
Hamlin served as county judge of
Parmer County, Texas during 12 of the county's most formative years from
1912 to 1924. He was a trusted cohort of the Farwell family from Chicago
and was the resident representative of the Capitol Syndicate which was
in the process of selling off the old XIT ranchlands into farms and town sites
starting about 1905. The proceeds from the sale of these lands, which
included all of Parmer County, went to build the present day state
capitol building in Austin. Remember that fact when the Panhandle area
is being treated like a forgotten orphan child in the political doings
of our stat legislature.
In 1906, Hamlin was instrumental
in laying out the town site and selling lots in Farwell for the
syndicate. A year or so prior to that he had established land claims and
laid out the town of Texico, New Mexico which he referred to often as
"my town site of Texico." His uncle J.M. Hamlin was involved
in railroad interests in the county, so naturally he was crushed when he
discovered that the Santa Fe Railroad had decided not to establish a
division point at Texico-Farwell, but instead elected to build the
roundhouse, shops and Harvey House ten miles west at Clovis, New Mexico.
Parmerton was the railroad site
closest to the geographical center of this county. The town site of
Parmerton was laid out in 1907 and a petition signed by 150 of the
county's residents appealed to Deaf Smith County to release Parmer
County from its jurisdiction. The Parmerton site was then used as the
county seat for a time and county business was conducted there. I don't
know if this was before the first or second of the three county seat
election fights, but there is nothing at Parmerton now except a
historical marker, which we owe to the efforts of former
tax-assessor/collector Hugh Moseley.
When Hamlin was elected County
Judge in 1912 he claimed that his two story office building in Farwell
was used as the courthouse until the hotly contested county seat fight
in 1914, in which Farwell won by a narrow margin of two or three votes.
According to old-timers in both
Friona and Bovina, the ballots were confiscated and destroyed by the
Farwell faction before a re-count could be made. The $50,000 bond issue
for the building of a courthouse passed but no progress was made because
three of the four County Commissioners had taken sides with Friona and
would not pass an order for the sale of the courthouse bonds.
Judge Hamlin had no control over
the Commissioners Court and so kept silent until one of the
commissioners conveniently moved from the county. Hamlin then appointed
one of his "yes" men to the vacant post. In the meantime, John
Aldridge appeared in Farwell with a petition signed by most of the
citizens of Bovina, asking that Judge Hamlin appoint him, Aldridge, to
succeed the previous Bovina Commissioner.
Judge Hamlin tore up the petition
and threw it in the wastebasket and later when recalling the incident
said "I told Aldridge that he was a fool if he thought I was going
to lose the opportunity of gaining control of the court over which I
When Hamlin's hand-picked
commissioner was sworn in, the proposition of selling bonds for
courthouse construction resulted in a tie vote, which Hamlin broke by
casting his own vote in favor of selling the bonds and proceeding with
the construction of the courthouse in Farwell.
Hamlin had previously gotten
plans and specifications for the building drawn up. Immediately after
casting the deciding vote, he boarded a train for Chicago, where with
the help of his old family friends, the Farwells, he sold the bonds at a
small premium and turned over the money to the County Treasurer.
It was about 1916 and Hamlin
realized that he could still lose his dream courthouse in Farwell, since
the coming November election would see a new Commissioner elected for
the Bovina precinct and the new fellow would most likely be opposed to
the building in Farwell. So he hurriedly pushed through a contract with
an Amarillo company to build the courthouse and he immediately purchased
thousands of dollars of building materials which were unloaded at the
Farwell site. He then had the treasurer turn over the entire courthouse
fund to the construction company, assuring that there would be no more
debate over this matter.
In 1946, two eminent historians
persuaded Jude Hamlin to dictate his reminiscences which they later
compiled and edited into Hamlin's biography "The Flamboyant
Judge," available at the Friona Public Library. At the time, Hamlin
requested that no book about him be published for 25 years and the
authors complied with his wishes, publishing the book in 1973.
The moral of the story is
this....politicians have always done things just they way they wanted
and it's no different now in 1995 than it was in 1907 or 1914.
The location of the courthouse in
Farwell and the provincial attitude of the court has caused friction to
exist between the rest of the towns in Parmer County for over 80 years.
Isn't that long enough?