Old, abandoned stone building? (I’m slowing down as I’m driving by.)
Bars on the door and windows? (I’m definitely stopping.)
My first guess that this had to be an old jail turned out to be right on target.
This lonely structure was the Buchel County Jail back when Marathon Texas was the county seat between 1887 and 1897.
Wait . . . Buchel County? Nope, you’re not losing your marbles. There’s no Buchel County in the Lone Star State! Both Buchel and Foley Counties were absorbed into Brewster County – now the largest county in Texas – when their populations failed to flourish as well as expected.
There was good reason to want a sturdy jail in town. West Texas was still a pretty wild place filled with cantankerous cowboys and outlaws back then.
But before the town had an actual building for that purpose, a windmill in the middle of North First Street was Marathon’s first jail. Drunks and other petty offenders were chained to one of its legs, and serious offenders were taken down the road to the Alpine jail.
Later, a one-room adobe house behind French’s Store served as a jail but, after several colorful escapes, locals decided that a better “calaboose” was in order, so this rock jailhouse was built.
It was constructed just south of the old Ritchey store in town, of rocks dug from a ledge on the northwest side of town. Talk about working with on-hand materials!
I can’t even imagine how hot it was inside this jail during the hot west Texas summer months!
When the Alpine jail was remodeled in 1901, their two old “cages” manufactured by Diebold Safe and Lock were brought to this location and installed. If you peer through the boars on the front door you can easily read the identifying word “L. T. Noyes – Houston, Texas” on the cell locking mechanism on the wall.
Now this is pretty neat for fans of old-times Texas. Lucius T. Noyes was an agent for the Diebold Safe & Lock Company of Canton, Ohio. From his Houston office on the corner of Congress Avenue and San Jacinto Street he established a far reaching reputation in the world of “security.”
In addition to selling and installing over 50 county vaults and safes in Texas, Louisiana and surrounding states; and countless of the same for banks – he became quite a celebrity as a jail builder.
He sold the steel and iron fittings for the facilities and personally oversaw the construction and contract work for over 100 jails including this one, the impressive 1897 Fort Bend County Jail that now serves as the Richmond Police Department, the 1887 San Jacinto County Jail in Coldspring, the 1894 Glasscock County Jail in Garden City, and the 1886 Live Oak County Jail in Oakville.
I imagine he wasn’t too popular with the bad guys!
Stealing a peek through the door and windows, it looks like there might have been a museum at Marthon’s little jail at some point, and the decaying remnants are admittedly a bit creepy. That mannequin will definitely take you off guard, but you can clearly see the jail cells, photos of what are probably local lawmen of the past on the wall, and broken display cases – whose contents I can only hope were safely removed before the damage. I’d love to see this “attraction” re-opened for a closer look.
You can find the former Buchel County Jail in Marathon behind the Ritchey Brothers building on South 2nd Street between Avenues C and D.
Have you ever search for an outlaw while on a vacation? They can be found in the most unexpected places, and it might not be as dangerous as it sounds.
If you recognize this famous photo, you might just be an Old West enthusiast like I am! It’s Butch Cassidy (bottom right), the Sundance Kid (bottom left) and the Wild Bunch, and is known as the “Fort Worth Five” photo.
That fellow sitting in the middle – known as “The Tall Texan” – was the subject of my search in Sanderson, Texas. He was a handsome guy, but didn’t always make good choices.
Ben Kilpatrick was born just east of San Angelo in 1874. He worked as a cowboy for several years before he became acquainted with Texas outlaws Sam and Tom Ketchum, and ended up riding with the Ketchum Gang.
After a failed train robbery that ended in several of the members being caught, Kilpatrick fled to Robber’s Roost in Utah and joined the Wild Bunch. After some success, he and his girlfriend Laura Bullion made their way to St, Louis where they were arrested. Kilpatrick was seated to 15 years in prison for robbery, and Laura was sentence to five. After serving 31/2 years she was released, and went to Tennessee under an assumed name to make a new life.
Kilpatrick, on the other hand, was released after 10 years and went immediately back to a life of crime. Bad decision…
Train number 7 of the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio Railroad pulled out of Del Rio on the evening of March 12, 1912. It made a brief stop for water in Dryden, but as it pulled away from the station Kilpatrick and Ole Hobek ( a friend from his prison days) jumped aboard.
The masked robbers ordered the engineer to go to the first iron bridge east of Baxter’s Curve, about halfway to Sanderson. Once there the bandits ordered the train to stop and the passenger cars and caboose uncoupled from the engine, mail and baggage cars.
Leaving the passengers behind, they ordered the engine across the bridge and about a mile down the tracks, where the robbers had staged horses for their getaway.
Hobek kept a gun on the engineer while Kilpatrick went back to the baggage car with Wells Fargo Express agent David Trousdale. As they were making their way to the back of the car, Trousdale picked up a mallet from a shipment of frozen oysters and hid it in his clothing. (Frozen oysters…who would have thought THAT would be on the train?!)
Kilpatrick was so busy filling a bag with $60,000 he didn’t see Trousdale sneak up to hit him over the head with the mallet. (Ouch!) The outlaw was killed with the one blow. Trousdale took the bandit’s gun and returned to the engine where he shot and killed Hobek just after midnight.
With the threat ended, the engineer backed up the train, re-coupled the passenger cars and proceeded to Sanderson.
The dead train robbers were held up for photographs, and later buried in a joint grave at Cedar Grove Cemetery in Sanderson. Trousdale, of course, was rewarded for his bravery.
Now known as the Baxter’s Curve Train Robbery (or the Sanderson Train Robbery), it was one of the last train robberies in the state.
In 2019, the mallet used in the incident, a photo of the dead bandits and the Wells Fargo accounts were sold at auction in Arizona for $64,900. It’s a bit ironic how close that amount is to the amount that the robber’s might have gotten away with, had there not been a quick thinking agent on board.
The train robbers’ grave was fairly easy to locate, surrounded by a decorative wrought iron fence and gate. The concrete slab that covers the plot was most likely poured in an effort to prevent gruesome souvenir hunters from robbing the grave.
As a taphophile, or someone who studies cemeteries, I’m always amazed at the stories that lie behind the stones if you only take time to investigate!
I have to tell ya…I’ve been looking forward to staying at this renovated mid-century motel all through covid shutdown! If you watched my instagram live interviews/tours of hotel properties around the state during shutdown, you’ve already seen a sneak peak of this one.
The sign alone would have convinced me, but the rooms, gathering spaces and friendly owners and operators make this a definite addition to a road trip list.
The Desert Air isn’t one of the made-to-look-vintage places. It was actually built in 1960 by Ervin and Melburn Grisby, who operated it until 1971. Here’a a photo of Ervin and Melburn — can’t you just picture meeting them at the motel back in the day?
Ervin worked at the Kerr Mercantile for 35 before building the motel. He even met his wife at the store. So it’s especially appropriate that one of the store’s (it’s now known a Z-Bar Trading Company) dinosaurs has taken up residence at the motel. But more about that in a minute…
Besides bringing the entire motel back to life, the new owners have added a couple of their own signature touches to the place, including custom benches outside each room where you can sit back, enjoy the sunset and kick the dirt off your shoes.
They also restored the iconic sign and lit it with an ingenious method that avoided costly neon. She’s a beauty!
Each of the rooms has its own special charm and is decorated with photo artwork featuring the beauty of the area. We stayed in Room 117, the Ocotillo Suite, which is the only one that has a private courtyard with table and chairs, a “cowboy tub,” view of the mountains and a T-rex…. because… why not? It was a nice place to enjoy the mornings and evenings with a cold drink and catch up on a few emails.
The rooms are just retro enough to be fun, but with all the amenities you’ll expect from a modern day motel including a small fridge and microwave. And that bed felt s-o-o good after a long drive, let me tell ya!
Even if you’re lucky enough to have the room with a private courtyard you won’t want to “keep to yourself” for very long, with tempting gathering areas calling your name. The center court space made it easy to socialize with the other guests, and turned into a bit of a party when everyone offered to bring items from their travel coolers to share.
That nice shady oak tree and large rock (it’s called the “Hoot Owl Rock) in the courtyard hail back to another set of owners, Charles and Mary Beth Stavely – the second owners.
Walk through the passage by the office to the side yard, and you’ll make the unexpected find of a school bus. The current owners have re-floored the interior of the bus and created a shaded area outside to provide other secluded spots for the guests to enjoy the outdoors.
Why a bus? It’s a reasonable question, and the answer ties back to the third owners Merv and Gerri Degraff who left the motel to their son Scott. A musician and motorcycle enthusiast, Scott drove the bus (loaded with his gear) from Florida to the motel, parked it out back, and there it stayed. Luckily the new owners Nick, Sara and Joe took pity on the bus and fixed it up to serve a purpose for their new venture. Pretty cute, huh?
I promised you a bit more info about the Kerr Brothers Store. Technically a hardware store, it isn’t usually something that I would add to my itinerary, but this one is definitely unique. Yes, it’s probably the BIGGEST hardware store you’ll sever see, but it also has, well . . .
Yup! Dinosaurs. And every type of metal “yard art” that you can think of and a LOT that you can’t! One step inside the door will make you stop in your tracks to try to take it in, but just take your time and wander. You’ll find things that make you laugh, things you might actually consider taking home, and things that will have you gaping in confusion. Even if you’re only driving through Sanderson and not staying, this is well worth the stop.
It was eventually time to check out of the Desert Air and get back on the road, but we’ll definitely be back.
There was one more touch that I appreciated while getting ready to leave. Each room is provided with an envelope with the name of the member of the housekeeping staff, in case the guest would like to leave them a gratuity. To me it shows how much the owners appreciate their staff, and let’s be honest…it’s so easy in the rush of packing to forget this gesture. The envelope was a nice reminder and made it convenient as well.
Next stop: Alpine and a couple of surrounding towns. You won’t want to miss riding along to see what we found!
Biggest little town in the world, indeed!
Ozona is the only community in Crockett County which is the size of Delaware. Yep, the only one! It’s about an hour southwest of San Angelo, 398 miles from Houston and 347 miles from El Paso. Which makes it a pretty good jumping-off point for a lot of directions.
But before you zoom through, consider stopping for some of the unique things that Ozona has to offer. We scheduled an extra night on our trip to Big Bend to give us time to wander around and explore . . .and to give the ol’ accelerator-foot a break.
If you follow my blog or instagram account, you’ve probably figured out by now that I’m a sucker for historic courthouse buildings. I was happy to finally see this one in person.
The 1902 Second Empire courthouse of Crockett County – named after the legendary Davy Crockett – is the centerpiece of town. Designed by Oscar Ruffini, one of a pair of proliferate brother architects who kept busy populating Texas with their creations. Oscar also designed the Sutton County Courthouse, Tom Green County Courthouse and Ozona High School, and his brother Frederick Ernst designed the Concho County Courthouse, Bastrop County Courthouse, former Blanco County Courthouse (now restored) and the Millet Opera House in Austin.
The courthouse was made from stone quarried on nearby property owned by the Crouch and Meyer families, and cost a whopping $30,000. In 1909 an arc light was added to the steeple to signal the sheriff (the Batman beacon comes to mind!) and guide travelers to town.
It was far more than a courthouse for Ozona and surrounding communities though, and served as a social center for cowboy dances, roundup celebrations, Christmas trees and box suppers (which reminds me of a particular scene from the musical Oklahoma!).
If the bull’s eye or “ox eye” circular moldings the mansard roof look like they’re missing something…they are! They were originally intended as a place for clock faces that were never installed. At one point in the past it bothered the locals enough to paint clocks in the features. When the courthouse was recently restored it was decided to leave them as is.
A memorial statue of Davy Crockett stands nearby on the square. Placed on its base in 1938, it was carved from two slabs of granite weighing nearly 20 tons (well, after all – he WAS a heavyweight of Texas history!), and is inscribed with Crockett’s motto, “Be sure you are right, then go ahead.” Still seems like sound advice.
“The Tie that Binds” is an emotional bronze stands at the center of the square just a few strides away from Davy to remind visitors of the perseverance of their pioneer ancestors. At life-and-a-quarter size, it makes quite an impression close up!
Just across the street is the former Hotel Ozona (not to be confused with the former Ozona Hotel . . . they could have used a bit more imagination, evidently). The three-story mission style inn was built in 1927 to attract tourists along the Old Spanish Trail. See more of my photos of this abandoned beauty and find out more about the OST here.
I really appreciate visitors centers that are more than a room filled with pamphlets, and the Ozona Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center (505 15th Street) is definitely worth a stop (even if it’s just to see this cocky granite Texas sporting a Stetson). The building is bright and welcoming, and the staff are versed in numerous local and area attractions that might peak your interest.
Across the parking lot is the Crockett County Interpretive Trail (free to visit) showcasing native plants that can be found within 100 miles of Ozona. The short trail (like a small park) has over 200 plants representing over 75 species, each identified by an inscribed stone. We were lucky to stop by in spring when several of the plants were showing off their blooms, but the display would be fascinating year round. Botanists and gardening fans will get a kick out of this detailed brochure of the exhibit.
Off-roaders will definitely want to venture out to the Escondido Draw Recreational Area, a 3,500 acre, 110 mile trail for all-terrain vehicles, dirt bikes and 4-wheel drives.
After driving all day and seeing a bit of town, we were ready to sit down for a good meal, the The Hitching Post Steakhouse (1301 Old Highway 290) came highly recommended. Actually, on some days of the week like we arrived on it’s pretty much the only game in town, but that’s just fine.
We were a bit confused when we pulled into the parking lot filled with at least two dozen fire trucks and rescue vehicles from all over Texas until we realized there was a firemen’s convention in town. But we definitely took that as a good sign, because let’s be honest – firemen know their food!
The western theme, come-as-you-are restaurant probably hasn’t been redecorated much in the last few decades, which the faded photos of Old West Outlaws and cowhide on the wall, heavy wooden club chairs and indoor/outdoor carpeting will attest to – but you won’t care a bit once your food arrives. If you’re looking for good food at reasonable prices, The Hitching Post fits the bill.
A smoking room on one side has pool tables and the bar, and the other side of the building has non-smoking seating. An outdoor patio is also a good option for dining on fair weather days.
Thirsty for something stronger than tea? Be forewarned that the restaurant charges a $5 club fee to “join” to order alcohol.
Since we hadn’t worked up big appetites we decided to split a couple of appetizers, and settled on marinated cube steaks and 1/2 order of fried mushrooms. The portions were generous and deliciously seasoned. Thank heaven the waitress suggested we choose a half order of mushrooms, since a full order would have fed half the firemen in the room.
I’ll definitely go back to try the chicken fried steak next time I’m in town. The fact that they’re open until 11 p.m. makes it easy if one of your day trips from Ozona runs a bit longer than expected.
If you have a bit more time during your visit to Ozona, you might want to explore:
Crockett County Museum
Fort Lancaster State Historic Site in Sheffield
Caverns of Sonora (34 miles)
Accommodations: We enjoyed our stay at the Holiday Inn Express Hotels & Suites. The staff was friendly and the rooms were lovely and clean. Just be aware that if you’re booking because you find a great rate, there might be unexpected charged added at checkout. Our $111 rate (which was one of the selling points that helped us decide to make Ozona a stop)— ended up costing about $165 which is a heck of a difference and more expensive than any of the other stays on our 10-day trip!
While taking photos of the county courthouse in Ozona, I turned around to see the remains of Hotel Ozona, and couldn’t resist getting a closer look. Obviously once a beautiful hotel and it was easy to imagine it surrounded by cars and people carrying in their finest leather luggage for a stay along a road trip adventure.
Ozona is a fairly small town, but its position along the Old Spanish Trail would have brought a lot of visitors a few decades ago.
The Old Spanish Trail (also known as OST to many Texans), was a 2,750 mile long roadway that reached from ocean to ocean – St. Augustine, Florida to San Diego California. The headquarters for the project was in San Antonio, where an executive committee of prominent businessmen met weekly at the Gunter Hotel from 1915 until it was completed in the 1920s.
Perfectly timed for a nation that was enjoying a newfound enjoyment of “auto touring,” hotels and restaurants began appearing long the route just as they did later on Route 66. If traveled from one end to the other, tourists would cross eight states and 67 counties along the Southern United States!
Although promoters for the OST claimed that it followed the route used by Spanish Conquistadors 400 years earlier, there wasn’t actually a continuous trail from Florida to California that long ago.
The three-story Hotel Ozona was built in 1927 for $150,000 from reinforce concrete, hollow tile and stucco, to provide stylish accommodations for the influx of tourists coming through the area. The hotel was a busy center of social life for the community for the next twenty years as well, hosting conventions, luncheons, bridge clubs, organization meetings. wedding receptions and more. The Comanche Ramblers, Fort Stockton’s string band, played for old time dances in the ballroom.
But the party didn’t last forever. In 1948 notices appeared in Texas newspapers advertising the 41-room hotel and its newly equipped kitchen for sale for a mere $8,500, due to the dissolution of a partnership. Travelers along the OST lightened in favor of other, newer highways resulting in many of the once-thriving businesses along its path to close down.
For whatever reason, the Hotel Ozona closed its doors, and never reopened. A peek in the few windows that aren’t boarded up don’t reveal many distinctively original design features other than the from desk, stairway and wrought iron railings.
So she sits and wait for someone to come to her rescue. With the revival of so many older properties in recent years, I’m crossing my fingers that her patience will pay off.
There are two things that are guaranteed to bring a smile to a Texan’s face: The Lone Star Flag and bluebonnets. And as anyone who travels knows, the flag and outline of the state of Texas are symbols recognized around the world. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
The Lone Star Monument and Historical Flag Park in Conroe is an “outdoor museum” dedicated to sharing part of the story of the Texas Revolution. Its location is especially appropriate because Montgomery County is the birthplace of the Lone Star Flag that was voted and settled on by the Texas congress in 1839.
At the entrance to the display is a five-foot tall granite pedestal topped by a bronze bust of Dr. Charles B. Stewart, who is credited with creating the design for our beloved State Flag of Texas. The artist, Craig Campobella, created the image from the only surviving photograph –and it was a blurry one – of the doctor.
Stewart also served as an interpreter between General Sam Houston and General Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto, signed the Texas Declaration of Independence and was Texas’ first Secretary of State.
Follow the path from the Stewart memorial up to the flag park, and you’ll be greeted by another bronze artwork, the 14-foot bronze statue standing in the center of the circle of flags. Named The Texian (a fighter in the Texas Revolution), the charging subject is brandishing the version of the Lone Star flag that appeared in the Republic of Texas three years after the Battle of San Jacinto.
And symbolism? It’s packed full!
13 rocks under the Texan’s left foot represent the 13-day long siege at the Alamo. And imagine how long it took the artist to make 354 marks on the rocks to memorialize each soldier massacred at Goliad.
Look for clues in the soldier’s clothing, too. 18 buttons on his shirt, coat and pants stand for the number of minutes the fighting went on at San Jacinto. His red sash is a signature of the Texas Army whose members tied them on the right hip when every other army tied them on the left.
View his tie and sash from the five o’clock position and you’ll see that they incorporate the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, referring to the 5 p.m. hour on April 21, 1836 when the Battle of San Jacinto came to an end.
The nine Texians who died at San Jacinto are remembered with nine stones under the right boot.
This time of year, the mound that The Texian stands atop is planted in brilliant bluebonnets, making it especially delightful to see.
Lift your gaze and you’ll see a circle of flags flying overhead. Flags were used to communicate the spirit and identities of the brave people who battled for Texas independence. And although the six national flags that have flown over Texas are more commonly known, many more have been carried in the Lone Star State. In fact, when the organizers of the park decided to fly 13 different flags to symbolize the 13 colonies of Texas at the time of the 13-day siege at the Alamo, they had to make their choices from over 50 flags!
The story behind each of these 13 flags is displayed on a bronze plaque at the base of its 35-foot flagpole.
Coahuila Y Tejas 1821-1836
1824 Tri-color Alamo Flag 1835-1836
Texas Navy Flag 1836
Alabama Red Rovers 1835-1836
New Orleans Grays 1835-1836
Gonzales Flag 1835 Come and Take It
Sarah Dodson’s Tri-color Flag 1835
Troutman Lone Star Flag 1836
Goliad Flag, Severed Arm, Bloody Sword 1836
San Jacinto Liberty Flag 1836
First Flag of the Republic De Zavala Flag 1836
Second Flag of the Republic Burnet Flag 1836
Lone Star Flag 1839
You’ll find the Lone Star Monument and Historical Flag Park adjacent to the Montgomery County Library, at 104 I-45 North in Conroe. The park is free to visit and open seven days a week.
For my 11th birthday, my parents took a group of my friends and I to see a new movie: “The Legend of Boggy Creek- A True Story.”
If you need a good giggle, click here to see the original movie trailer.
It was a new scary movie (called a docu-drama) about a monster that lived in the swamps of Arkansas. (I know, I know…”swamps in Arkansas?”) Basically portrayed as a Bigfoot-like creature, this guy attacked and killed people. I remember not being very scared (even back then it took quite a bit to scare me), but my friends screamed and clutched each other through the entire thing. I don’t remember if I noticed that it was painfully obvious that this “Bigfoot” was a guy in an ape suit, complete with cutout eyes.
But as bad as it was, the movie holds a fun spot in my memories because, hey…it was my birthday.
Just a few months ago I was speaking at a paranormal convention in Jefferson (about Victorian funeral customs). One of the gentlemen who had a booth in the vendor hall carried just about everything Bigfoot-themed you could think of: dolls, bumper stickers, books, key chains and more. I resisted as long as I could, but I finally politely asked him what connection Bigfoot had with East Texas.
He looked at me as if I had lost my mind, and then asked if I had ever heard of a movie called “Legend of Boggy Creek.”
I smiled and replied that, well yes as a matter of fact I remembered that movie.
That’s when he told me that although the movie was set in Arkansas, those events actually happened in East Texas, where Bigfoot has been seen for years.
A couple of other attendees gathered to tell me that OF COURSE it was about East Texas, and the movie had even been filmed there.
Well, huh. Who knew?
I thanked them for the information, and sat myself down for a visit with Mr. Google. But all I really had to do was walk across the street from the convention area to see a bronze statue of Bigfoot.
The next day, I drove to Uncertain, which is appropriately named for anything spooky, and recognized the same type of swampy, cypress-filled waterways and run-down wooden shacks that appeared in the movie.
I didn’t get to meet Bigfoot, but maybe he rests during the day. Wherever he was, I found Uncertain to be a magical place, and can’t wait to visit again to go kayaking or on an airboat ride. It’s an ecological wonderland. But I’ll have to remember to keep an eye out for the Big Guy in the treeline.
Who wants to join me?