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"My Turn"

(September 2, 1995)

A column by Carol Ellis, 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 preside."

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?


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