The Town of Medicine Mound, Texas. Population: 0

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While doing on-the-road recon for Ft Phantom Hill, we stumbled upon the name of a town that promised to be well worth a detour. Medicine Mound, TX has been called (by texasescapes.com) “Texas’ most interesting ghost town,” and when we see a claim like that, the first thing the Crazy Train’s Pilot and Navigatrix say is GAME ON!

This tiny town is surprisingly easy to find (unlike most ghost towns) as it’s still on most maps. Named for the nearby Medicine Mounds, the town was created when the Kansas, Mexico and Orient Railroad Co. extended their line in 1909. Almost immediately, business sprung up and more families arrived in the area. With a population of 500 and 22 businesses at its peak in 1929, Medicine Mound had promise.

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But the Stock Market Crash in 1929 was immediately followed by a decade of depression, drought, and dust storms. It was during this time that a bizarre series of events unfolded that would destroy this community, leaving it LITERALLY in ruins.

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This, my friends, is a story worth reading. (See bottom for explanation of my new word!)

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But first, OUR trip!
When we arrived in Medicine Mound, the cold wind was blowing a storm into town (and blowing my hair out of my ponytail!). The sun was on its way down, casting long shadows and giving everything really intense colors.

There are essentially three buildings left in town: 1.) The Cole building, which is now a museum run by a town native who lives nearby. We hear she opens for a few hours on Saturdays, but it wasn’t while we were there. 2.) The gas station, which is FLIPPING AWESOME with the old gas pumps still standing out front. 3.) The schoolhouse which is maybe 500ft away, down a dirt road (yet we were lucky enough that it was MUDDY!).

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Between the buildings is a little merry-go-round, so while I was kodaking at the gas station and Mark was peeking around the Cole building, the kids got to run wild. Since the biting wind had numbed our ears and we didn’t want muddy kids in the car, we drove to the schoolhouse and I jumped out and sacrificed my boots for some great pictures.

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This place was really cool. And if it hadn’t been so windy and cold, and had the museum been open, and had the sun not been so close to setting, we might-would have stayed and kodaked a little longer.

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Ok, back to the history. What happened to Medicine Mound?

At about 3:00am on March 31, 1933, Mrs Ella Tidmore BURNED DOWN THE TOWN.

The sad story of the Tidmore family was mostly a well-kept, small-town, secret for more than 65 years. The act of arson was not investigated (or even reported) although over $50,000 (about $1M today) in damage had been done, and all but 2 buildings in Medicine Mound were burned to the ground.

The Tidmores were one of the first families to settle in Medicine Mound, arriving before the railroad in 1902. By all accounts, the Tidmores were the perfect family. They were socially prominent, wealthy, active members of the community. Jim Tidmore was a deacon in the church and had higher ambitions than farming– he opened the town’s first commercial real estate venture. The large, extended Tidmore family was well liked, healthy, intelligent, and good looking. But when things went bad, they went BAD. Unrequited love, extramarital affairs, prison sentences, suicide, multiple divorces, several attempted murders, drowning, untimely deaths, theft, well poisonings, several acts of arson and a tale of insanity so incredible– really, you’ve got to read it to believe it.

The lasting effect the Tidmore family had on Medicine Mound happened on the windy night of March 31, 1933. It was 3am when Ella, by then completely insane, set fire to the barber shop on the south end of town. As the fierce south winds whipped across the plains, it wasn’t long before the entire town was engulfed in flames, leaving only two businesses standing. Even the bank vault collapsed, destroying all the town and financial records. Throughout it all, neighbors said they saw Ella standing on her front lawn, laughing.

Between the destruction in 1933, a freak snowstorm in April 1938, WWII, and the Industrial Revolution, Medicine Mound quickly became one of Texas’ most fascinating ghost towns.

(Full story here: http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth26723/m1/20/)
If you have time to click around this book, it’s so awesome. It’s a book filled with hilarious (and sometimes tragic) small town stories and gossip. There is some fantastic stuff in there. I wanted to buy a copy, but I could only find one online for sale, and it was $135.00. Yeah. No. But, I have read a bunch of the stories, and from one of them, I added a new word to my vocabulary:

KODACING (or KODAKING).

the -ing form of the word, appropriate in almost every situation, of the word Kodak. As in the camera/film/etc. company. In the book, it’s spelled with a “c,” but I prefer a “k.” Example: While in Medicine Mound, I enjoyed kodaking around the town. A common pastime in Medicine Mound in the 1920s was kodaking on the Mounds. Unfortunately I don’t get to use many Kodak products anymore, but it’s my homage to George Eastman!!! It’s so DORKY it’s AWESOME!!!!

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Benjamin, Texas

As we made our way north up Texas 6, we entered the City of Benjamin, pop: 264. As the Knox County Seat and the town boasting, “Small Town, Big Country!” we hardly expected a bustling metropolis, especially on a Sunday afternoon. What we DID find was one of the most unique things– no, TWO of the most unique things we have yet to find in our travels. According to their Chamber of Commerce (remember, I do a little recon on the way into a town) we expected mesquite trees, cowboys and horses, a little tumbleweed, and, of course, a town square with a courthouse.
So as we drove the Square in our usual pattern (see The Crazy Train’s 10 Rules of the Road Trip), and we stumbled upon this, we HAD to stop and investigate.

IMG_0796.JPGThe town of Benjamin used to have a bank on the Square. But now, the bank is gone, but the vault…. well, the vault remains. It’s a massive iron structure that is mostly still surrounded by deteriorating brick and crumbling mortar. In these gaps, you can see that the vault, rusted to a brilliant shade of deep red-orange, is still completely in tact. OF COURSE I had to play with the dial (it still spins, although with some difficulty) and the handle jiggles a bit. But, alas, it is locked up tight, and since I neglected to bring my frontier bank vault safe cracking kit and nitro glycerine, I wasn’t able to get inside. Plus, it’s right next door to the Sheriff’s office, and I didn’t feel like getting arrested for attempted bank robbery.

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IMG_0798-0.JPGUnfortunately, no amount of googling yielded any juicy details as to how this came to be, but one can only fantasize. Buildings come and go, but a solid, iron cast vault doesn’t vanish so easily!

IMG_0800-0.JPGThe other fascinating bit we found in Benjamin was the old jail. The old Knox County Jail has been converted into a private residence, which was pretty freaking awesome. I’ve always thought it’d be fun to convert an unconventional structure into a house, so this really appealed to me. HOWEVER, when we saw this, my mind was still consumed with the vault, so I didn’t get any pictures. I guess this means we will just have to go back!

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Fort Phantom Hill

IMG_8531-0.JPG Just north of Abilene, Texas on FM600 lies the remains of Ft Phantom Hill, a little gem of a ghost town that began in the early 1850’s to protect westward moving settlers from the Commanche.

IMG_8537.JPG The Fort is at the Clear Fork of the Brazos River. It was originally planned for Elm Creek, but a new general, changed the plan. This new spot had brackish water, no wood for construction, and…. isn’t that enough? They hauled in stone from Elm Creek, 2mi away (ironic, huh?) and brought oak logs from about 40mi away.

IMG_8532-0.JPG Though never officially named, the Fort was referred to as “The Post on the Clear Fork of the Brazos.” (But I bet the soldiers called something more colorful.) The name “Fort Phantom Hill” refers to the apparitions inhabitants have claimed to have seen there from the start.

Life at the Fort– for lack of a better word– sucked. Elm Creek (2mi) was often dry. The Clear Fork’s water was brackish. The 80ft well was unreliable, and hauling water from a spring 4mi away (again) SUCKED. With this water supply, gardens couldn’t be kept and the men got scurvy, fever, pneumonia, and dysentery. The most common pastime was desertion. They say the ONLY positive thing about the Fort was the view.

IMG_8538.JPG Since virtually all Commanche encounters were peaceful, the Fort was abandoned in 1854. As troops left, the Fort was ablaze. The official report was that the Indians set the fires, but it was more likely the soldiers torched it in celebration.

IMG_8533.JPG In 1858, the structures were repaired so they could be used as a way-station for the Overland Mail Stagecoach Line. In the Civil War, it was used as a field ops base, and in 1871, it was a sub post of nearby Ft Griffin. In 1876/77, it was a buying/shipping point for buffalo hides, and by 1880, the town that had sprung up had over 500 residents. Jones was named County Seat, but 6mos later, County government had moved to Anson and the Texas & Pacific Railway was routed 14mi to the south, thus ending the run of Fort Phantom Hill.

In 1928, the site was bought by private interests, and in 1969 it was deeded to the Ft Phantom Hill Foundation to ensure its preservation.

Today, it’s one of Texas’ most pristine historic sites. Strolling among the dozen or so chimneys and buildings on the 22 acres is a spiritual experience. Entrance is free, and they have brochures and clean bathrooms. Everything is clearly marked. Don’t trust your GPS or any addresses or other directions. The site is about 15-20 minutes up FM600 from Abilene. Just keep your eyes open and you’ll see it. If you miss it, you’re not paying attention.

IMG_8529.JPG Don’t miss it. It’s a fantastic piece of history.

IMG_8535.JPG Oh yeah. If you want a family photo, bring a tripod. Finding things to make a camera stand was NOT easy. I couldn’t even find stuff to raise my fancy-schmancy little candy apple red picture making magic box… I can’t imagine trying to find stuff to build a FORT!

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Take only pictures,
Leave only footprints,
Keep only memories,
Kill only time,
Waste nothing,
and
Always leave a place
better than you found it.

2014 Thanksgiving Trip, Day One

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We left during a storm– a huge rainstorm that brought with it a massive cold front. Driving towards it, we could watch the storm system move towards us, unobstructed by urban growth and progress. It was fun to watch the sky as we drove northward, and to see the temperature steadily drop. Unfortunately, once we met up with the clouds, the sky opened up and it rained buckets and buckets. Cold + Downpour = No Pictures… for awhile, anyway.