Documenting the Old West

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Heritage Travel

By Susan Shore, Texas Heritage Trails Program Specialist

In rural Motley County, the story of its historic jail is woven into narratives of the county and the region—including the area’s connection to Quanah Parker and the Comanche Nation, the development of historic and modern-day ranch operations, community development and the establishment of the rule of law, and the lingering tales of former jail residents who still have something to say.

The 1891 Motley County Jail is a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark, the highest honor the state can bestow on a historic structure. In 2011, the Friends of the Historic Motley County Jail organization received a Heritage Tourism Partnership Grant from the THC to produce a video documentary as an interpretive element in the jail. The resulting Old West Tales of Motley County has seven chapters of seven-to-nine minutes in length that provide visitors and tourists with options for best-utilizing their time and exploring individual interests. The playback system will be up and running at the jail this spring.

This project was a community-wide effort, and partners included the Motley County Museum, Motley County I.S.D., the City of Matador, the Matador Lion’s Club, Hotel Matador, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Motley County Historical Commission. Filming involved more than 40 direct participants and numerous funders including the National Endowment for the Arts, THC, Humanities Texas, a Challenge Grant by Matador Exes from 1961–65, and donations from the Friends of the Historic Motley County Jail.

The business of creating a film is no small task. Carol Campbell, chair of the Friends of the Historic Motley County Jail, served as the film’s producer, and she shared some insights into developing compelling stories and taking advantage of unexpected events.

Q: A producer wears many hats, including fundraising, casting, scheduling, and marketing. Which did you find the most interesting?

Carol: The art of movie-making from behind the camera was all the things I ever imagined and more. First and foremost, it was an awful lot of hard work. I was so pleased to work with the professional husband and wife team of Whistling Boulder Productions, Inc. Sixteen-hour days during pre- and production interviewing, retakes, setting up equipment and tearing it down, backing up the day’s work, organizing for the next day, collapsing, and then doing it again were exhausting but invigorating. Filming for eight days during Texas’ record-busting temperatures in August 2011 was certainly not planned, but the crew persevered, tackling an interviewing schedule that the faint of heart could not imagine.

Q: How did this project enhance your understanding of Motley County’s history?

Carol: Two stories come to mind that helped me better understand the dynamic nature of this county’s wide open spaces and its hardships. We spent a two-hour “drive about” with a 97-year-old who remembered the town of Matador in the early 1920s, and interviewed the descendants of A.B. Cooper, the first settler in Motley County in 1878. I got to see the remnants of Teepee City, the only outpost between Fort Worth and Kansas City that grew from the lucrative buffalo hide trade. Matador Ranch, with the help of the Texas Rangers, closed down the gambling den there so that the cowboys that were supposed to be riding the range could get back to work. This historical property is “landlocked,” surrounded by gates and private land. All that remains is the foundation of the old school and a small family cemetery. Now visitors can experience some of this through film.

We experienced some devastating wildfires in the area before filming, and we cried with Leo and Joy Archer at Dutchman Creek when Leo told his emotional story of trying to save the bloodline of his white-faced Hereford cattle from the fires. The 100-plus year-old historic ranch house was all that was left on a seven-section ranch that burned. The cattle huddled on Dutchman Creek, scorched, but alive. This story is not a part of the current film vignettes, but we are raising funds to add this chapter to the documentary.

Q: How did your involvement with this project affect you personally?

My up-close-and-personal experience with this project was a life-changing experience for me. Through the eyes of filmmakers Marianne and Doug Leviton, I learned the history of my birthplace and experienced the grit and determination of the people who settled this land. I have searched for unattainable words—soul words—to explain the love and deep commitment that have kept our ancestors and their descendants close to this land for more than 130 years—but the words have always escaped me. Then through the eyes of the camera, the Levitons explained my heritage to me.

When traveling to Matador, be sure to visit the Motley County Historical Museum located in the 1928 Traweek Hospital building, a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark. If you’re in town for the Old Settlers Reunion and Ranch Rodeo (held every August since 1923), visiting nearby Caprock Canyons State Park and Trailway, or just passing through on the Quanah Parker Trail, an overnight stay at the 1914 Hotel Matador is a wonderful way to relax and learn about the area from the proprietors—three sisters whose county roots date back five generations. Completely renovated but retaining its early-20th-century charm, it boasts a delicious gourmet breakfast. The hotel is just a couple blocks from the historic Motley County jail, where you can learn more about its history and the preservation efforts. Take your time, dig deep, and get to know the vast lands and intriguing stories of Motley County.

Matador and Motley County are located in the 52-county Texas Plains Trail Region.

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Comments

After my birth in Floydada in 1941, I lived in Matador from sometime in 1942 through 1952. Started first grade with Mrs. Gilbreath as my teacher. We moved to Memphis after the third grade. Kenneth and Pearl (Rigsby) Jeffers were my parents. My brother Joe was born in Matador in 1946. All my Jeffers ancestors were cowboys on the Matador Ranch with my grandfather Claud being a wagon boss, and he also broke horses. Many more good memories from life in Motley County.

Thanks,

Jeff