Volume 1 Issue 2 of The Bankhead Highway newsletter. A one stop shop for Bankhead Highway news. Please subscribe to stay up-to-date. Thanks, Michael and Melissa.
Volume 1 Issue 2 of The Bankhead Highway newsletter. A one stop shop for Bankhead Highway news. Please subscribe to stay up-to-date. Thanks, Michael and Melissa.
The Quanah Parker Arrows of Route 66
Greetings from Tucumcari, New Mexico. A very pleasant morning in New Mexico, the cool dry air echoing nothing, as this Route 66 town has not yet awakened. The calm and cool air will be missed later this afternoon as the summer sun of the Texas Panhandle and the ambient heat of the v-twin will create an uncomfortable yet rewarding ride east across the top of Texas.
This ride is a quest. This ride has a purpose. That purpose is to search for a lesser-known Route 66 roadside attraction, the Quanah Parker Arrows.
Who’s Quanah Parker?
Quanah Parker was the last Comanche Chief. The son of a Comanche father and Anglo mother. Quanah’s life would develop into a saga of struggle and survival. Quanah would become an ambassador for his People, he would negotiate and mediate written and verbal agreements between the Native Americans and Anglos that would be of greater benefit than any before.
Quanah personified the Native American image that media and pop culture has embedded in the American psyche. Stoic with masculinity in demeanor and physique that transcends time and place. Quanah would learn to navigate the political waters of the Anglo culture, befriending old enemies and creating new alliances in his pursuit to preserve the Comanche Culture heritage.
I did not get off to an early start due to a conversation that started up with my motel neighbor as he packed his car. We exchanged our pleasantries and then went down the rabbit hole of Route 66 itineraries. He and his wife were four days into a run to Los Angeles and they would soon turn north to Las Vegas, New Mexico, following the old route up the Santa Fe Trail. I always get a bit envious when I meet people heading west.
He inquired about my journey; I mention the name Quanah Parker and an unaware look overtakes his face and our conversation ends.
Eager to get rolling, I top off with fuel and accel rapidly down Interstate 40 letting the flat-topped Tucumcari Mountain fade in my mirrors. Condensation begins to form in the speedometer of the bike. A sure sign of a changing of temperature and humidity.
The morning sun’s blinding rays directed right in my eyes as the sun rises on the rail that is interstate 30 running east. This requires me to gaze to the left and right, allowing my thoughts to be carried to the far horizon. Some are left on the horizon while others return to mind to be discarded at another time.
A bit of sadness overtakes me as I approach the Texas Stateline, knowing that soon I will pull up and out of the scarred and colorful land of New Mexico and find myself sitting on top of the cotton fields and windmills, the Texas Plains. I extend my time in New Mexico with a pitstop at Russel’s Travel Center to take advantage of the free car museum and air conditioning.
Where did these giant arrows come from?
The arrows were created by Charles Smith a Lubbock, Texas native. Charles never set out to create what would become, some argue, the largest art installation in the world. Charles did not intend to be honored and adopted into Quanah Parker’s family and given the name Paaka-Hani-Eti, meaning “Arrow Maker.” Charles was a welder who built metal palm trees at his home, an hour south of Lubbock, in the heart of the Texas Plains.
Charles Smith stumbled into this honor by doing a favor for a friend.
These 22-foot-tall tributes tower over Texas as token reminders of the impact of Quanah Parker. Piercing the Earth in over 80 spots across the Texas Panhandle, these arrows give perspective of the extensive and enormous size of what was once Comancheria, the area the Comanches called home.
Before Charles’ passing, he created and placed over eighty arrows in more than fifty counties in the Panhandle-Plains Region of Texas. These arrows became The Quanah Parker Trail.
Today I will be visiting three along the Texas section of Route 66.
Vega, Texas, is my first stop, but before I get there, I will make a stop in Adrian and the Midpoint Café. It is about 10:45 am and I am one of two tables in the café. I have a cup of coffee and the Elvis pie, a peanut butter, chocolate, and banana slice of pure bliss.
The Midpoint Café sits on a lonely strip of Route 66, but it does have a certain warmth and comfort about it. I watch out the window – cars stop, photos are taken, faces peer into the window, and then return to the road. I should go outside and tell them to come in and have a piece of pie.
Texas towns, like Adrian, dot the Texas map and are more numerous than the stars in an urban sky. Small towns whose arrested development and progress stall is apparent in not only infrastructure and development but in the citizens’ attitude. An attitude of the community that embodies the posture, perspective, and position that epitomizes the idea of small-town Texas.
Charles Smith was from New Home, Texas, south of my current location in the panhandle. Miles away on a map, but as close as my nose, when it comes to similarity of community.
Community is easy to define in New Home, Texas. With a population of around four-hundred Texas Tech Red Raiders alumni, family, and fans that know each other by name and neighbors who still look to help each other out.
This sense of community would ultimately create what is known as the Quanah Parker Trail Arrows. Over eighty-eight arrows pierce the Texas Plains. Each denotes a particular site of Comanche and Quanah Parker’s history.
It all began in The Spot Cafe in New Home.
Gid Moore, New Home’s local insurance agent, was looking to create an area for local school children to learn more about literature. He imagined a yard full of art that allowed the children to experience words through a large three-dimensional permanent art display.
He shared with Charles his idea to materialize Longfellow’s, The Arrow and The Song and Inspired 88 with a large arrow. Charles, a welder and metal worker, loved the idea and got to work. This was 2003.
Charles Smith’s one-off piece would stand in New Home, Texas, for many years before being discovered by a group of individuals looking for that particular piece that would become the monuments on the Quanah Parker Trail.
In 2010, his creation would become the model and inspiration that would become the Quanah Parker Trail markers.
The hunt for arrow number one
A couple of miles of interstate later, I am in Vega. Excited to find my first Quanah Arrow, I make a right toward the courthouse. Still early in the day and the rumble of the bike’s exhaust vibrates the small-town square. Looking right and then left I travel a block or two past the town square and began to feel a bit uneasy about how successful I will be on this arrow hunt.
I make a loop around the courthouse and there it stands. Proudly protruding from the ground and seeming somewhat out of place. While not hidden, the arrow is placed behind a renovated Magnolia Gas Station, a currently utilized tourist information center.
I park the bike and take my photo.
One down, two to go.
I pass the Cadillacs that are digging their way to China. My peripheral vision picks up the trail of tourists marching like ants toting cans of spray paint to leave their mark while building layers of paint. Paint like a sarcophagus or possibly a chrysalis, surrounding and protecting the Caddies for a possible new life. Maybe someday I will pass by and see the iconic American iron breaking open and exposing a morphed, magnificent, modern, machine.
Traffic is light and I can maintain a constant speed until some construction gets in the way on the east side of town. The Big Texan Steak Ranch is calling, but I avoid the trap and take a break at the Texas travel information center. The sun is high in the sky and my oil temp is holding steady.
What lies ahead is pure Texas plains, some serious heat, a relentless dance with semi-trucks and two more arrows. I lean the bike into the wind and let the speedometer increase to inappropriate numbers to get to my next destination, McLean, Texas.
McLean is full of Route 66 stops and photo opportunities. The Phillips 66 station and the Devil’s Rope Museum along with several shut down and decrepit relics and road signs of yesterday.
I am looking for one thing in McLean, and that is the arrow. I am so excited to find that this one is not hidden behind a building. It is set out in a field at the crossroads of Ranch Road 2695 and “Route 66”.
The quickness of this find was a bit bittersweet. I only had one arrow left to find. The last arrow was somewhere in Shamrock, Texas.
One arrow to go.
I exit off the interstate. The long grey stretch of business 40 depresses me with decay and dilapidated buildings overtaken by mother nature. An icon soon appears ahead, The U Drop-In.
The U Drop Inn and the work that the community has put into developing and maintaining this incredible art deco masterpiece is appreciated by this Route 66 traveler. I circle around the station and drive up and down the streets of Shamrock.
No arrow to be found.
I finally stop to ask a local. I follow the main street south and there it is thirty yards off the road in a freshly mowed field. I pull into a parking lot and walk over to the arrow.
Looking up at the faded arrow I become overwhelmed with the vastness of Texas and time but satisfied with the ability to celebrate the freedom of our American highways, the past cultures, and diversity that has created the state I call home.
Or it could just be the heat.
A train horn blows loud, rattling the wooden french doors that open to the narrow perch overlooking the courtyard.
Once-upon-a-time the train would have stopped and allowed a respite for the rail weary travelers. Once refreshed the passengers would return as the big engine would let out a “psssssssht” while a “clunk and clang” would indicate that the massive metal monster would soon be pulling out.
Today, the train horn blows loud, not stopping, multi-engines maintaining a speed that will soon pull its links of load over the Delaware Mountains and into the fertile lowlands of the Rio Grande River, an international border that creates an oasis in the desert.
Today, passenger trains do not stop in Van Horn, Texas. No trains stop in Van Horn, Texas. The trains just blow horns and rattle the windows, acting as an early morning alarm clock in this far west Texas town or reminding the town, who is responsible for its establishment.
I sit in a room, in a hotel, that has witnessed world wars, economic collapse, and midcentury prosperity, and whose own life has been a series of up-downs, repurpose and renewal.
A hotel whose sister property, Hotel Paisano, hosted Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean during the filming of the motion picture, Giant. A hotel whose architect Henry Trost, arguably, designed every structure in downtown El Paso, Texas, in the early 20th century.
The courtyard’s fountain’s song is muted by the train’s announcement.
The water sprays over the wall of the fountain. The fountain works against the wind and freezing temperature to maintain its purpose, fighting to hold the water against the north wind that blows hard and cold.
Tonight I find myself in the iconic Hotel Capitan in Van Horn, Texas. The third historic hotel I have stayed in, in as many days. All three have been west of Dallas/ Fort Worth, and all have been located on the old Bankhead Highway.
A slow wifi connection has me pondering and wandering through my thoughts. I wanted to love this hotel. I love Van Horn, Texas, the desert and southwest Texas. I wanted my journey to end with experiences that would be transcendental as-well-as transformative.
Am I different than when I started? Do I have an appreciation of what century-old hotels can offer to today’s traveler? Would I do it again?
I guess I should start at the beginning, or at least three days ago my first hotel, my first stop, my first night, The Eastland Hotel, in Eastland, Texas. Two blocks from the railroad tracks and one block off the town’s square.
The Eastland was built in 1918 as a rooming house, a time when Eastland county was booming. An oil strike in neighboring Ranger, Texas, ushered in wealth, prosperity, and roughnecks. Roads were laid, buildings built, and fortunes found.
The oil boom memories are scribed on historical markers while murals depict the area’s historical events in faded full-color glory.
I linger outside the property appreciating the longevity of the building that has withstood so many years. While the structure is a century-old the amenities are 21st century. My room is large with five windows and a kitchenette as well as a deep tub with jets. The hotel boasts a pool and conveniences such as heat and air, luxuries never imagined in 1918.
Looking out the rear window of the second-floor room, I can view the location where, ninety years ago, a vigilante mob hung the Santa Claus bank robber. Tonight there is no activity on the corner where justice was found. I try to imagine two-thousand individuals packed into the side streets and alleyways and find peace that I am unable to create an image of what the window bared witness to.
The Eastland Hotel does not have a full-time desk. The guest is given a front door code when checking in, an easy code I still remember. Wonder how often they change it? This setup does have the feel of what I would imagine a rooming house would be like. Come and go with your own key, sharing everything but a bed.
Creaky steps up to the second floor announce my return after wandering the town’s square and visiting Old Rip, the zombie horn toad. Legend has it that Old Rip was revived after a thirty-year slumber, hence the Old Rip (Van Winkle) name. Today the legend’s body can be found “lying in state” at the Eastland County Courthouse.
This evening I was unable to find any restaurants within walking distance and settled on a microwave meal from the grocery two blocks away.
As for breakfast, The Eastland Hotel offers coffee and pastries to guests but I have my heart set on a classic two-egg breakfast. Luckily there is a breakfast place just up the street.
Louise’s is everything I could hope for and more. What breakfast should be, a time to gather thoughts, make plans, enjoy endless cups of coffee, devour starches and fats without guilt, while listening in on the familiar gossip and goings-on of people in an unfamiliar setting. Perfect.
I am satisfied with my night’s accommodations in Eastland. A quiet night in a hotel that felt like a rooming house. A true step back in time. An experience I would return to. A hotel I would frequent.
Now on to the next historic hotel, the Hotel Settles, miles away in distance and a world away in appearance and purpose from humble yet perfect Eastland Hotel.
The Hotel Settles appears like a large lum over the town of Big Spring, Texas. The odd monolith towers high. At one time the tallest building between El Paso and Fort Worth, Grand in appearance and attitude it seems that no one has let the edifice know anything has changed regarding its status.
In 1930, the Hottle Settles opened, designed by David Castle, and built by oil revenue of the Settles family, its future was soon in limbo with the onset of the Great Depression and the drying up of the oil reserves.
The hotel would go through several owners and be the accommodations for political, and pop-cultural royalty, including President Hoover and Elvis Presley.
The oil and energy demand would ultimately be the downfall of the hotel. By the late 1970’s, Big Spring, a town built by oil, had succumbed to what many other parts of the nation faced, an energy crisis coupled with a West Texas oil bust.
In 1982, the hotel shut its doors, the playground of vandals’ mischief, and property decline for the next thirty years. In 2006 the hotel came back to life with a 30 million dollar renovation.
Tonight my room is on the third floor with a view to the north. Only two blocks to the railroad track. The room is well-appointed with a desk that faces the window. A window that looks upon a town that has seen better times, but offers more than meets the eye.
While the hotel offers an incredible restaurant and lounge, a vibrant nightlife has sprung up around the grand hotel. Multiple restaurants and lounges are tucked away in obscure buildings presenting an eclectic mix of class, culture, coexisting in a perception of calamity.
Lumbre, a restaurant, nestled beside an abandoned theater plays host to a packed house and offers up a menu of five-star dishes.
Big Spring, Texas, is sure to surprise. And offered a night to remember combining refined dining and lodging with classic Texas hospitality.
Now here I sit. Hundreds of miles away from home listening to the train’s horn blow loud. The winter sun has set early and the courtyard glows in the chilly air. The wind has subsided, the old Bankhead Highway is void of traffic.
I venture downstairs to the dining room, surprisingly packed. I sit at the bar and order the signature dish, a pistachio-crusted chicken fried steak. I enjoy the meal around the company of fellow travelers. We discuss historic hotels attempting to one-up each other on our experiences.
I return to the room and open the french doors. The air is cold but the soothing sound of the fountain convince me to deal with the temperature. The experience of the three hotels have not changed. I have learned a great deal about the towns I visited and their struggles.
What I realize is these hotels, when built, were the hub of the communities. As revitalization continues, in towns across Texas and America, it becomes apparent that these hotels return to the original purpose, establishing themselves as the hub of the communities. The epicenter of energy where commerce and life radiates from.
She was taken from her family,
When she was just a child.
Lost her name and language,
Living in the wild,
Open spaces of Comancheria,
Was to become her home.
Never settled in one place,
Constantly did they roam.
One could ask.
One could wonder.
Was this good or bad?
Will the changes in Cynthia Ann’s life,
Forever make her sad?
She grew up and had a family.
Her children numbered three.
The events of her childhood,
Faded in her memory.
One day her boys were playing,
While dad hunted buffalo.
Mom and daughter worked in camp.
Little did they know,
People from mother’s past,
Were close by,
Waiting to attack.
After many lives were lost,
These people took her back.
To the life she had forgotten,
And to those who were her kin.
Once again, a new life,
Cynthia Ann would begin.
One might ask,
One might wonder,
Is this good or bad?
Will the changes in Cynthia Ann’s life,
Forever make her sad?
Her boys were now,
Without their parents,
On the vast plains all alone.
Looking for other Comanche Bands,
To adopt them as their own.
Their situation was difficult,
But soon they would find their way.
And Quanah’s life, would change drastically,
In his upcoming days.
One might ask,
one might wonder,
Is this good or bad?
Should the brothers’ situation,
Forever make them sad?
Quanah became a leader.
A warrior brave and strong.
But life in Comancheria would,
Not last for very long.
Drove the Comanche from their homes.
Moved the Comanches to reservation land,
Where buffalo did not roam.
One might ask,
One might wonder,
Is this good or bad?
Will the comanche’s situation,
Forever make them sad?
Quanah learned to live a life,
Much different than he knew.
And when he thought about his mother,
He knew what she went through.
Having to assimilate,
In a new world,
And hold onto his culture too.
Would be difficult,
But this was what,
Quanah had to do.
One might ask,
One might wonder,
Is this good or bad.
Will Quanah’s forced new life,
Forever make him sad?
On the reservation,
Quanah could have felt much bitterness.
Instead he looked to find new ways to live,
And not allow regress,
Of the Comanche Nation,
He would not allow to fall.
He made friends of his enemies,
For the good of them all.
One might ask,
One might wonder,
Was this good or bad?
Should Quanah’s compromise,
Forever make him sad?
In the end Quanah would find,
Success in many ways.
He would be loved,
Respected by many,
For the remainder of his days.
So, one might ask,
One might wonder,
Was all this good or bad?
Should the situations,
in one’s life,
Forever make him sad?
Dan Smith and the Bankhead
Dan Smith is not shy when it comes to the promotion of the Bankhead Highway. His love of the road is apparent with his self-designed Bankhead shirt and ball-cap. Even his car carries the Bankhead brand with magnetic badges that can be prominently displayed on any metallic surface, today they are on the doors. His car’s trunk is a treasure trove of Bankhead paraphernalia from t-shirts, postcards, maps, photos, and even actual pieces of Bankhead pavement. The only thing that challenges his quantity of tangible Bankhead items is his mind full of Bankhead Highway knowledge and history. All of which, he is excited to share.
Today the Bankhead, once labeled the Broadway of America, is difficult to find unless one knows where to look. Scattered reminders are hidden in plain sight. Out of place blacktop and bridges sit abandoned of their original purpose and useless in the current condition. Vibrant towns that once boasted numerous residents and visitors stand motionless. The grid of the streets create plots where many of the buildings now lay to rest.
There is a stir of life along the Bankhead due to an increase of heritage tourism and revitalization of small-town America. While a multitude of factors have come into play to help breathe life back into the road, Dan Smith, author, historian, and road reviver, maintained the Bankhead’s faint pulse and kept the road alive.
Dan Smith wrote the book on the Bankhead Highway, literally, he wrote the book. Texas Highway No. 1 The Highway, is “that book” and currently the only Bankhead Highway guidebook in print. Dan intended the book to be one-half history and one-half travel guide. Dan stated, “I wanted to replicate the old earliest 1920’s guidebooks.” His book is spiral bound because Dan intended the traveler to just, “lay it on the seat next to them.”
How the Bankhead Came to Be
With an origin at Mile Marker Zero, in Washington D.C., the Bankhead would snake its way across the southern half of the lower 48 with its terminus in San Diego, CA. The Bankhead Highway would guarantee America the reliability of all year travel, something the Lincoln Highway could not offer due to its northern route.
The United States Federal Government had allotted money to states for highway construction. With roughly 1000 miles of the Bankhead located in Texas; the lion’s share of the funds would be headed to the Lone Star State. In April of 1917, a large group of important people convened deep in the heart of Texas to make sure that Texas had its share of what would ultimately become the Bankhead Highway.
Ultimately in less than one week, in 1917, the group would string together commerce and community and like an artisan jeweler, they would create a fine chain of highway that would shine across Texas and America ushering in new businesses and tourism.
Texas would brand its Bankhead Highway section as Texas 1. Collectively the entire route of the Bankhead would come to be known as the Broadway of America.
The Texas Section of the Bankhead Highway
The Abilene Morning News reported in 1929 that the Bankhead Highway was carrying one car per minute. The official count was 1,216 cars in 1,200 minutes explicitly excluding local traffic.
In the 1920’s an oil boom in West Texas utilized the Bankhead to its full extent.
According to the Texas Historical Commission, “The Bankhead Highway provided an indispensable transportation route for oilfield laborers and drilling supplies.” In 1927, the Bankhead was widened to accommodate traffic to oil wells near Midland.
The Bankhead also ushered in a new type of development targeted toward tourists. A multitude of courts, cafes, and gas stations as well as hotels that were grander than anything before.
Such a hotel was the Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells constructed in 1925. The Baker Hotel created quite a footprint in the town of Mineral Wells with 232,000 square feet and rising 14 stories above the town. Four hundred fifty guest rooms and the healing mineral waters awaited Bankhead Highway travelers in what Texas Monthly Magazine describes as “Texas’ premier spa” during its heyday.
Dan envisions an early Bankhead Highway’s travelers’ experiences as, “every day is a whole new world,” when driving, “from here to California.”
World Wars further utilized the Bankhead importance to America’s security and transportation of military traffic. Several World War I military installations were located on the Bankhead. As America became involved in World War II, the Bankhead Highway became vital to the war effort. Local communities became the home of multiple newly constructed military bases and installations. The road, in turn, benefitted with upgrades and improvements during mobilization.
The Bankhead is Lost
While the Bankhead Highway was the primary route early in the 20th century, Bankhead Highway’s history would become a tangled mess of names and numbers, realignments and alternative routes, abandoned fragments, fenced off pavements slowly being reclaimed by Mother Nature, and other sections covered with interstate highway I20 and I10.
The Bankhead was repeatedly beaten and battered by political and economic forces that resulted in the evolution of the road. The highway would ultimately become a variety of numbers with only a couple of small sections keeping the Bankhead moniker in their names. The Bankhead, pride of the south, testament to America’s dedication to progress and development, and a conduit for West Texas Oil wealth, would fade into history until Dan Smith would accidentally become its savior.
Dan’s Journey to the Bankhead
Dan is an author, historian, and self-proclaimed geek who seems to find the unique and forgotten topics the most fun to research.
Dan is a Floridian, born and raised in Miami. He graduated number two in his class and began a career with the weather service. He does not remember when he became interested in weather but remembers in the seventh-grade winning science fairs with his weather experiments.
Dan recalls a time in graduate school when an assignment sent him on a journey to research, “the most obscure thing I could find.” This led Dan deep into the library to discover dusty journals focused on 19th-century steamboats that navigated narrow Florida rivers.
Dan immerses himself in his interests, while the Bankhead might be his passion, even years after his introduction to the steamboats, he will still use any opportunity to discuss this steamboat with any ear that will listen.
But he will admit that his thoughts and talks will quickly go, “back to the Bankhead Highway.”
His interest and career choice will ultimately bring Dan and his family to Texas and closer to the Bankhead Highway. Fresh out of college and eager to continue his work with the Weather Bureau, Dan was quick to take advantage of a vacancy in Fort Worth, Texas. Dan would spend the next thirty-plus years of his life working with the Weather Service.
New Year’s Day 1970, was, “the first time I was west of the Mississippi.”
He humorously describes his new Texas home as a “new world” and “neat place.” This “neat place” unknown to Dan, will introduce him in a few decades to an old road that will become his passion demanding years of research and attention and ultimately bring Dan recognition and respect from people far and wide. This Texas transplant will arguably be the best thing that has happened to the Bankhead since 1917.
Dan readily admits that he, “literally just stumbled on the Bankhead Highway.”
A random bicycle ride near his home in Fort Worth, Texas, would be an event that would change Dan’s life and ultimately breathe new life into the Bankhead. As for the actual date of the ride, Dan will respond, “your guess is as good as mine”. While the exact date and time is up for debate it was for sure around the year 1983.
Dan’s ride that day took him down a random Texas road, a road that happened to still have Bankhead in its name. A street sign was enough to pique Dan’s interest and when he got home decided to find out more about this Bankhead Highway.
This single sign opened an area of research that would become the focus of Dan’s life and introduce him to over 1000 miles of route in Texas of a road that crossed the country as the Broadway of America.
An endless amount of information about a forgotten road
Dan made calls from Austin, Texas, to Washington, DC, attempting to learn more about the road. He received boxes of information that had been stored away for years. Dan states that the information about, “the Bankhead just grew, and grew, and grew.”
“The more I researched the more I went out and learned things,” and the more people he would meet, “so many people, notebooks full of people.”
Unknown to Dan at the time, the Bankhead was about to have a birthday, and he would be a key player in the celebration.
Dan understands that there is much more to learn about the Bankhead. While he does not look to compare the Bankhead to more well-known and popular routes in America, he feels that the Bankhead has great significance.
Texas celebrating the Bankhead
As the centennial celebration of the Bankhead grew near, the State of Texas and the Texas Historical Commission joined the celebration.
“I heard from the folks with the Historic Commission in Austin (Texas), and they were fixing to give a contract of roughly a million dollars or whatever it was, to a research company to do a study on the Bankhead Highway.”
Dan Smith was soon contacted by the research group that secured the contract.
Curious about their plan, Dan asked, “what are you going to use for a map?”
Their response, “that is why we are calling you.”
Dan’s book became a valuable resource to the state and its research
At this time Dan’s Bankhead book was not complete, but he did have a draft that would soon be ready to publish.
“I gave the only copy to them,” he quickly corrects his statement, “loaned it to them.”
The intention was to create a guide. “My thing was that if they can’t find their way with this then I got work to do,” Dan states with regards to revision.
Both parties mutually benefited. Dan’s book was field-tested, and the group was able to navigate a century-old road.
As for Dan’s relationship and influence with the Texas Historical Commission, he states, “I feel I have been very helpful to them.” He continues that he tries to keep them up to date “with what is going on” with the Bankhead.
Dan pays homage to the Bankhead Highway with signs and his book
The book was not the only homage Dan had for the Bankhead Highway. Dan, together with a local sign maker, started producing Bankhead Highway signs and historical plaques. Dan states with pride, “I’ve put out about 100 of those all the way across the state.”
The State of Texas also has placed some official signs designating the old Bankhead Highway, but Dan is quick to point out, “My signs were never intended to compete with any state sign,” those placed by the highway department the TDot signs, “are altogether different.”
Dan points out that, “signs go up on city or county property, not TDot,” not interfering or infringing on state or federal rights of way, confessing, “that’s how we get away with it.”
The self-described Johnny Appleseed of the Bankhead Highway peddling BH signs to all takers. He does have a request, “when I give those away (BH signs) my only wish is, put it somewhere people can see it.”
What Dan Smith offered the Bankhead Highway
“I can’t tell what is going to happen to the old road, but at least in my book it will be preserved forever.”
Dan reconnected the broken chain of the Bankhead. His book pieces together the fragments that would have been lost in plain sight. The gems and jewels still exist albeit a bit tarnished and Dan’s travel guide allows the heritage traveler to have an experience a century old.
Today those same communities that built the tourist courts and camps, spas and hotels, gas stations and cafes 100 years ago are looking for ways to bring them back to their original luster.
The heritage tourist, as well as the casual traveler, will find several gems and jewels along today’s route as well as historical and cultural significant interests. Each town down the Bankhead route will offer a multitude of hospitality of yesterday and luxuries of today. These roadside treasures await the heritage tourists as they make their way down the Broadway of America.
The Settles Hotel in Big Spring, as well as the El Capitan in Van Horn, have been reconditioned to their early twentieth-century glory offering five-star overnight accommodations and services.
The previously mentioned Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells is presently being restored with plans of reopening in 2022. Laird Fairchild discussed the plans with Texas Monthly Magazine and stated the restorations as, “the largest restoration in Texas history of a site listed on the National Register of Historic Places.” Phil Garrett, the Mineral Wells unofficial historian believes that the Baker’s rebirth is, “the most significant historical event since the discovery by our town’s founder of the local mineral water in 1881,” as stated in the article.
Abandoned tourist courts in Abilene and decaying midcentury architecture in Merkel will give the traveler a haunting reminder of how things used to be. Native American and Comanche culture is woven into the route. With the dynamic city of El Paso not ending the journey, but just adding extra layers to a satisfying experience with the mixture of cultures and old west persona.
Today’s Bankhead traveler can still drive on miles and miles of original hand-laid brick roadways. Traveling on a brick road can add to the nostalgia of heritage travel. These hand-laid roads are evidence of the longevity of certain early road engineering. Dan believes that there is, “at least a hundred miles, maybe more,” of vintage Bankhead pavement in Texas adding, “that brick goes all the way across Eastland county.”
These unique experiences will add variety to what Dan calls today’s “great sameness” in traveling experiences.
And just like the State of Texas Dan Smith’s, Texas Highway No.1 The Bankhead Highway in Texas, will be the required travel companion. The guide will inform and educate while keeping the tourist from getting lost.
What the Bankhead Highway offered to Dan Smith
Dan’s humbleness often overshadows his accomplishment.
Dan is identified by many as “America’s Recognized Expert” on the Bankhead Highway, he is quick to affirm, “I don’t make that claim,” but as Texas’ research group confirmed with their call – he is the go-to guy with regards to the Bankhead Highway.
Dan loves to discuss and chat about the Bankhead, “What I am happy about is the fact that I am still at it, that people still give a hoot.”
Dan wishes he would have kept count of the number of formal and organized groups he has spoken to across the state. When Dan is asked about what has brought him the most joy he brightly responds, “all the talks I have given.”
Dan borrows from Jimmy Doolittle’s quote that he will, “never be so lucky again,” and the Bankhead’s history and today’s heritage tourists will never be so lucky that Dan decided to go for a bicycle ride.
The Baker Hotel, Colorado City, Texas.
When one mentions the name Baker, in reference to a hotel, chances are, the mind’s eye will find an image of the iconic Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells, Texas. The fourteen-story beast that sits, out of place, and out of time, nestled in the hills of Palo Pinto County. This association is warranted, The Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells carries a wealth of history and is all deserving of the traveler’s fascination.
Unbeknown to some is that more than one Baker Hotel existed. Theodore Baker designed and built many hotels branding a few with his name.
Colorado City, Texas, (aka Mother City of West Texas) located in the Big Sky Country lays claim to a Baker Hotel.
According to a Texas Scapes website article, early in the town’s history, it was, “the largest community between Fort Worth and El Paso, Colorado City had more millionaires than any other Texas town”. The article further declares that the town had more saloons than any town in the west.
The following is taken from the back of a Baker Hotel postcard:
“Located just one block off U. S. 80 in downtown Colorado City, Texas, the Baker Hotel offers the traveler the finest in hotel services – free parking, year ’round air-conditioning, superb accommodations, television, Heated Swimming Pool, and good food in the Baker’s beautiful “Colorado Room.”
Not sure why the Heated Swimming Pool is capitalized?
The Baker of Colorado City still stands. A gutted shell more akin with bombed-out cities than the fabulous 1920s.
While little life stirs within the walls of the Baker, the adjoining movie theater was renovated in 2007.
The Palace Theater was renamed 3M Palace Theater after the 2007 renovation. While it is reported the celluloid is still projected on the screen, a recent trip found the exterior void of life.
Colorado City, once a city of wealth and promise, finds itself attempting to exist in a fast pace world void of mainstreets. Mainstreets at one time in the 20th century were the epicenter of commerce and entertainment. The place where life happened in a town. Today only remnants of these ideas weather and crumble with each passing year.
The still life of a town like Colorado City allows the traveler a moment to reset and ponder the frailty of all that is taken for granted.
Elements create, in the hands of artisans, wonders. Some wonders inspire as art, some function as needs, some create envy as wants, all have a purpose. The Hotel Capitan, in Van Horn, Texas, was created with such purpose. The designer’s purpose was aesthetics while the developer’s purpose was to capitalize on the tourist industry. The combination of these two purposes would culminate into developing several hotels in West Texas whose purpose would impact well beyond the expectations of the designer or the developer. Elements of art, earth, and the economy would bring to life the Hotel Capitan and these elements would continue to shape the hotel’s purpose throughout its life.
Designer and Developer
The designer, Henry Trost, was an established and respected architect well before designing the Hotel Capitan. Trost’s designs had come to life across the southern states. Trost is credited with designing most of the buildings in downtown El Paso, between the years 1910 and 1933. His buildings can be found from Austin, Texas, to Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Trost found inspiration in a multitude of styles, although he would embrace the Spanish Colonial Revival style in many designs in the southwest. Trost’s designs were cutting edge in respect to the steel-reinforced concrete he would use. Approaches such as this could be the reason many of his buildings still stand.
Charles Bassett a developer and part of the Gateway Hotel Chain had the vision of hotels at the crossroads of the newly developed National Parks of Big Bend, Guadalupe, and Carlsbad Caverns. Bassett developed five Gateway hotels within a 200 radius of El Paso. He felt that tourism would soon create a great need for overnight accommodations.
El Capitan’s Birth and Early Life
The Hotel Capitan opened in 1930, arguably not the greatest time in American history to become a realization. Only one year before the stock market crashed and brought about the start of The Great Depression. This did not deter the Hotel Capitan from being a success and operating as a hotel into the late 1960’s.
The Hotel Capitan met the same demise as many other early and mid-twentieth century overnight accommodations. Interstate ten bypassed the main street of Van Horn, Texas. While the interstate is in earshot of the hotel, this had a huge impact on not only the Hotel Capitan but all of Van Horn.
Many hotels and motels fall quickly into disrepair and decay once their original purpose is abandoned. The Hotel Capitan was able to escape this fate by being repurposed as a bank in the mid-1970’s. While this did change much of the character and design of the original layout it would ultimately save an American roadside architectural treasure.
In 2007, seventy-seven years after the Hotel Capitan was built it was purchased by Joe and Lanna Duncan. The couple had the plan to convert the Capitan back to its former glory. The Duncans had success in bringing life back to Hotel Capitan’s sister property, The Paisano, in Marfa, Texas. The dedication of the couple would eventually bring the Capitan back to its original purpose of welcoming, entertaining and wowing the weary traveler in West Texas.
The significance of the events that occurred at Adobe Walls in the later half of the 19th century can be difficult to appreciate. Legends were born at Adobe Walls. Pivotal battles were fought at Adobe Walls. Yet only a couple of markers are erected to recognize the historic location.
What is certain is the events that took place at this out of the way location deep in the Texas Panhandle helped shape the United States political opinions of Indian relationships and also added to the rich biographies of some Wild West Legends.
Adobe Walls lies in Hutchinson County northeast of Stinnett, Texas. While Google search will identify Adobe Walls as a ghost town, in actuality, Adobe Walls is nothing more than a few granite markers lying mostly hidden under dense prairie grasses. One marker identifies the grave site of William “Billy ” Dixon, one of the “big guns” of Adobe Walls.
For three days in June, 1874, Comanches and Kiowas surrounded the Anglos held up in Adobe Walls. The Native Americans felt confident due to a medicine applied by Isa-tai. This “medicine” would make the warriors bulletproof. This confidence was destroyed on the third day when Billy Dixon took a shot with a Sharps Big Fifty dropping a warrior from his horse nearly one mile away.
Dixon’s storied shot of 7/8 of a mile is celebrated still with events world wide. One could call this shot a miracle or a chance, but one thing is for sure, it put an end to the three day standoff and sent the Comanches and Kiowas on their way.
Today, little is identifiable at Adobe Walls, but one thing that has not changed is the surrounding landscape. A visit to the site will allow an individual to appreciate the vast and empty landscape that has changed little since the late 1800’s. The unobstructed view still allows visitors to appreciate the distance of Billy Dixon’s shot.
The photos below show how little the landscape has changed in the past 45 years.
Good morning from the Motel Safari on Main Street USA. A very pleasant April morning in New Mexico. The cool dry air makes the walk to Kix on 66 a refreshing experience. Tucumcari is not yet awake, and I easily slid into the booth of the reworked Denny’s. Kix on 66 is a staple for breakfast during any Route 66 road trip. The owner is greeting each individual as they walk in adding the personal touch to the service. Three cups of coffee and a two-egg breakfast later I am making my way back to the motel to pack up the bike and travel east across the Texas Panhandle. My quest is to search for a lesser known Route 66 road side attraction, the Quanah Parker Arrows.
Quanah Parker was the last Comanche Chief. His history is largely forgotten today but evidence of his influence can still be seen across the Plains Region of the United States. The Quanah Parker Arrows began to appear across Texas around the year 2011. These 22-foot-tall reminders of Parker pierce the Earth in over 80 spots across the Texas Panhandle. A few of these arrows exist on Route 66. And those are my destination today.
I did not get off to an early start due to a conversation that started up with my motel neighbor as he packed his car. We exchanged our pleasantries and then went down the rabbit hole of Route 66 itineraries. He and his wife were four days into a run to Los Angeles and they would soon turn north to Las Vegas, New Mexico, following the old route up the Santa Fe Trail. I always get a bit envious when I meet people heading west. He inquired about my journey; I mention the name Quanah Parker and an unaware look overtakes his face and our conversation ends. This chance encounter is more evidence that my journey has purpose. I must inform the Route 66 travelers of the other roadside arrows. The Quanah Parker Arrows.
I top off with fuel and accel rapidly down Interstate 40 letting the Tucumcari Mountains fade in my mirrors. I feel a sense of sadness as I approach the Texas Panhandle knowing that soon I will pull up and out of the scarred and colorful land of New Mexico and find myself sitting on top of the cotton fields and windmills, the Texas Plains. Before this happens, I stop into Russel’s Travel Center to take advantage of the free car museum and air conditioning.
Vega, Texas is my first stop, but before I get there, I will make a stop in Adrian and the Midpoint Café. It is about 10:45 am and I am one of two tables in the café. I have a cup of coffee and the Elvis pie, a peanut butter, chocolate, and banana slice of pure bliss. The Midpoint Café sits on a lonely strip of Route 66, but it does have a certain warmth and comfort about it. I watch out the window and cars stop, photos are taken, faces peer into the window, and then return to the road. I should go outside and tell them to come in and have a piece of pie.
A couple of miles later I am in Vega. Excited to find my first Quanah Arrow, I make a right toward the court house. Looking right and then left I travel a block or two past the town square and began to feel a bit uneasy about how successful I will be on this arrow hunt. I make a loop around the court house and there it is. Proudly protruding from the ground and seaming somewhat out of place. While not hidden the arrow is place behind the closed tourist information center. I park and take my photo, one arrow down two to go.
Crossing the panhandle of Texas on a motorcycle can be exhausting when the southern wind blows hot and hard. I tilt the bike into the wind and let the speedometer increase to inappropriate numbers to get to my next destination, McLean, Texas.
McLean is full of Route 66 stops and photo opportunities. The Phillips 66 station and the Devils Rope Museum along with several shut down and decrepit relics and road signs of yesterday. I am looking for one thing in McLean and that is the arrow. I am so excited to find that this one is not hidden behind a building. It is set out in a field at the crossroad of Ranch Road 2695 and “Route 66”. The quickness of this find was a bit bittersweet. I only had one arrow left to find. The last arrow was somewhere in Shamrock, Texas.
I exit off the interstate with the wind still hot and gusts that have me wanting to turn north. The long grey stretch of business 40 depresses me with it falling down buildings overtaken by mother nature, but like an oasis in the desert, I see it the U Drop In. The iconic U Drop Inn and the work that the community has put into developing and maintaining this incredible art deco masterpiece is appreciated by this Route 66 traveler. I circle around the station and drive up and down the streets of Shamrock. No arrow to be found. I finally stop to ask a local. It does exist. I follow main street south and there it is thirty yards off the road in a freshly mowed field. This arrow was it rough shape, but I can only assume that the winds and sun that have battered and baked me take a toll on this roadside arrow.
While the historical significance of the Quanah Parker Arrows might not be known or understood by all the Route 66 travelers, they are still a fun roadside attraction to keep an eye out for. The arrows allow the traveler to recognize that the plains area of America that Route 66 runs has a history that predates mid-century motels and the dust bowl. Even with the wind and heat today was an excellent adventure and I hope others make the Quanah Parker Arrows part of their Route 66 journey.