Odessa Texas in 1900
History from The Odessa American   [ Read 20 century at the OAOA.com]

Published: Sept. 23, 1999

Compiled by Kaitlin Trowbridge

Odessa at the start of the 20th Century. At the turn of the century, Odessa was a tiny farming and ranching community. The town’s earliest pioneers, who arrived in the 1880s, had built 25 small farms by 1900, and new settlers had begun to move into the area with herds of cattle and sheep. At that time, steers sold for at least $8 each, a sum that attracted many young entrepreneurs to the cattle ranching industry. An abundance of grass in West Texas made it a land of opportunity for raising livestock. Often these folks didn’t own the land upon which their cattle grazed, they simply fenced off sections to keep their herds separate. According to a census, cattle considerably outnumbered the citizens: There were 15,000 of them but only 381 people, including three foreign-born residents and one African American. An early settler characterized the community in the following way: "Odessa was a small cow town with two prominent saloons, three pool halls, an ‘opry’ house, a blacksmith shop, a two by five jail, two grocery stores, two dry goods stores, a hotel, two eatin’ joints, a meat market and a variety store. 381 people earnestly devoted to the raising of the two outstanding West Texas products, hell and yearlings."

Is there a doctor in the house? In January, 1900, brothers R.A. and R.G. Wilson arrived in Odessa and filed their credentials with the Ector County Physician Records. Official histories of Odessa report that shortly thereafter, an affectionate community renamed them Big Doc and Little Doc. They remained in the area until entering military service in World War I. Little Doc performed the town’s first appendectomy on Leta Bishop, and also opened the county’s second hospital, a two-story building on the 200 block of Grant Avenue. Eight other physicians offered sporadic medical care in Odessa between 1900 and 1919. In those days, townsfolk fell victim to diphtheria, remittent fever, tuberculosis, grippe, dropsy, pneumonia, meningitis, typhoid, smallpox and gunshot wounds.

Lola Buchanan moved to Odessa in 1900 and accepted a teaching position at the town’s little brick schoolhouse. At that time, schoolteachers were scarce. The only other teacher in Odessa was W. D. Jenkins. Lola received a salary of $30 a month, half of which she paid to Mrs. E.A. Kelly, with whom she lived, for her room and board. She gave up teaching the following year, after her marriage to M.G. Buchanan, a county judge and rancher.

Ticketing the train.
When the Texas & Pacific trains stopped in town, they used to obstruct traffic for intolerable periods of time. According to local folklore, Sheriff John Thomas finally decided that it was high time the train crew got a "parking ticket" for the inconvenience they were causing Odessa citizens. As the story goes, the impertinent crew refused to pay the fine that he imposed, and so the sheriff chained and padlocked the wheels of the train together, not releasing them until the railroad’s division headquarters was wired and payment of the fine was guaranteed.

Will Martin first rode into town not on the usual horse, but rather on a bicycle. He arrived here from Kerrville with his father, W.W. Martin, a retired lawyer, and three brothers, Walter, Edwin and Charlie. Edwin initially worked for his uncle, T.J. Martin, a cattle rancher. Later, he and Walter ran a store together, which was located on the corner of First and Grant, and Edwin also worked as a cashier for the second bank in Odessa, which operated within the Martin Brothers store. Will and Charlie became co-owners of a livery stable, but eventually sold the property for $100. Citizens National Bank was later built on the site. From 1905-1910, Will Martin and his future wife, Willie Beaty (whom he married in 1911) were members of "Froggie" Beck’s popular band. Will later recalled that the only business buildings in town were the livery stable, the courthouse and the railroad depot. He also remembered that the local cowboys would stage sham fights, shooting blanks and riding their horses up Main Street and sometimes into the stores. Since visitors often mistook this horsing around for real gunfights, Odessa got a reputation for being a rough town.


-- Two years after the Rev. A.L. Powell and 12 residents established Odessa’s first Baptist congregation, Odessa Baptist Church was established and began meeting in a wooden building at the corner of Fifth and Grant.

-- McDonald Dam in Austin gives way during a heavy rainstorm in April, flooding the city and killing 23 people.

-- On Sept. 8, hurricane destroys Galveston, killing 6,000 to 8,000 people in the nation’s worst natural disaster.

-- In late summer U.S. sends 2,500 troops into China to help quell Boxer rebellion.

-- Dock fire in Hoboken, N.J., kills 326 people in June.

-- 200 miners killed in accident in Scofield, Utah in May.

-- Assassin kills Kentucky Gov. William Goebel in January.

Information is drawn from news accounts, archives and other historical records.

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