Another Texas Ghost Town: Hayrick, Texas

Hayrick Cemetery Marker and County Seat Moarkerr

Hayrick Mountain in the background.
Hayrick Cemetery Sign

When I spoke to the the Mineral Wells Heritage Association about some ghost towns, I was asked to do a story on Hayrick, Texas. As I had never heard of it, I was excited and began doing the research. So here goes:

Hayrick is located in southeastern Coke County. It’s named for a nearby hill, or mountain, that is shaped like a mound of hay. It was founded in 1887 with twenty-five settlers and a post office, two years before Coke County was established on April 23, 1889. Hayrick became the county seat of the newly organized county. However, the election in 1891 made the nearby town of Robert Lee become the county seat, and many of Hayrick’s population moved there. Hayrick was left with only its cemetery.

Many of the settlers in the southern part of Coke County had always opposed Hayrick’s selection as county seat, and during the time it was the county seat, two of its log courthouses were burned to the ground. This was, in all probability, arson. Then in 1891 Robert Lee won the election for county seat by a margin of forty-eight votes in an election where nearly 400 people voted.

The outcome of this election was prompted by insufficient water supply in the county. Two prominent ranchers who owned land on both side of the Colorado River offered free lots to any resident in Hayrick if they would moved further south. There was much bitter disagreement at this time, including the burning of courthouses, where few records were saved.

Robert Lee, the new county seat, was named, of course, for Confederate General Robert E. Lee who had once visited the area. What records that could be salvaged from the fires in Hayrick were taken to Robert Lee where its first courthouse was also burned. Later many records were copied from the Tom Green County courthouse, and finally a new county seat was established and a building built that remained.

Coke County was carved out of territory previously assigned to Tom Green County. The first newspaper in the county was the Hayrick Democrat, but shortly afterward it was named the Hayrick Rustler although there is some disagreement saying the earliest newspaper known was The Coke County Rustler which was first published at Hayrick, Texas, April 4, 1891. The May issue carried a dateline at Robert Lee. The name was later changed to Robert Lee Observer. A newspaper was published at Bronte called The Democrat, but the name was later changed to The Bronte Enterprise. Today the Coke County newspaper is known as The Observer/Enterprise with offices in both Robert Lee and Bronte.

In the beginning the newspaper changed hands with almost every issue. Perhaps they couldn't get the business deal settled, or they couldn’t make up their minds who was to serve as editor or publisher. At any rate, the first issue, which may have been called The Coke County Democrat was a four-column, four-page paper, "published by Warren and Edgar, at Hayrick, Texas." The second issue of the Coke County Democrat named Warren and Mathews as editor and publisher, while a short time later Brady and Shores were proclaimed as editor and publisher. J. S. Brady bought Shores' interest in the paper and became both editor and publisher. Mr. Brady moved the plant to Robert Lee early in 1891, when the county seat moved there. Then the new paper in the new town in the new county was given the name of Coke County Rustler.

Seems it was real “western” there for a while, what with newspaper problems and court houses burning!

By 1890 there were 163 farms and ranches in the county with 2,059 people living there, and only 4,000 acres of the county was classified as being improved at the time of the 1890 census. Ranching dominated the local economy, and 13,806 head of cattle were counted that year in Coke County.

Banks and hotels were established in the 1890s, along with livery stables and mercantiles. By the turn of the century, there were Baptist and Methodist churches, as well as other denominations, and many community nondenominational meeting places. A funeral parlor was known to be in existence prior to 1906. A railroad, connecting Bronte and Fort Chadbourne with San Angelo and Abilene, was completed in 1907.

The 1964 anniversary edition of The Robert Lee Observer reported the first flag was flown at the courthouse in Robert Lee in 1894. It was hand made by Mrs. Arthur Haley, and it took her three full days to complete the flag. She remembered making a total of three flags for the county.

When the county was established in 1889 there were four or five schools operating, and by the 1920’s there were 30 rural schools in the county. The first schools were in Oso (later called Bronte), Sand Springs, Sanco, and Hayrick. The first school in Robert Lee was opened in 1891.

Some interesting people were born in Hayrick, Texas. One in particular became quite famous. He was Carl Coke Rister who was born on June 30, 1889 in Hayrick and died on April 16, 1955 in Rotan, Texas. He was married to Mattie May on June 11, 1916.

Carl Coke Rister was the son of a Baptist minister. He graduated from Simmons College in 1915. While working for the US Treasury Department in Washington, DC, he attended George Washington University and earned a master's degree in 1920. Afterwards, he began teaching at Simmons College and attending summer school at the University of California, Berkley. Later, Carl returned to teach at George Washington University while working on his PHD, which he received in 1925. He then returned to teach at Simmons College and helped form the West Texas Historical Association, serving as the editor of its Yearbook from 1925 to 1929. For the next 22 years, he taught at Oklahoma University, serving as professor of history, chairman of the history department, and research professor of history. His work in the areas southwestern military, Indian, and oil history garnered him notable reputation in his field. In 1951, Carl began teaching history at Texas Tech College. He died on April 16, 1955, unexpectedly of a heart attack. The Handbook of Texas has published a more in-depth online biography of Carl Coke Rister at

William Francis Nail, Senior, was born on June 23, 1909, in Hayrick, Texas. He died on October 1, 1997 in Dallas, Texas. His parents were James M. Nail and Annie Baker. He married Vivian Pearl Ray on October 8, 1932, in Coleman, Texas.

Here is an obituary for Ollie Mae Cowley. “Ollie Mae Cowley, 90, of Bronte, died Sunday, April 19, 1998, at her residence. Funeral services were held at 2 pm Wednesday, April 22, 1998, at the First United Methodist Church with the Reverend Marilyn Austin officiating. Burial followed in the Robert Lee Cemetery. Services were under the direction of Shaffer Funeral Home.
“Ollie Mae was born June 20, 1907, in Hayrick, Texas. She worked for Southwestern Bell Telephone Company as an operator for many years before her retirement. She was a member of the First United Methodist Church, and the Southwestern Bell Pioneers.

“She was preceded in death by her parents: L. C. (Bus) and Jettie Robbins and an infant daughter, Katie Frank Cowley.

“She is survived by three brothers, Carroll Robbins and Rupert Robbins, both of Bronte, and Portis Robbins of San Angelo; three sisters, Annie Williams of Midland, Katherine Patterson of Bronte, and Maxine Allen of San Angelo; two aunts, Ollie K. Hogue of Duncanville, Texas, and Helen Kirkland of Bronte; numerous cousins, and many, many nieces and nephewswho loved her dearly, and considered by her, her children.”

The Hayrick Masonic Lodge No. 696. Thy Hayrick Masonic Lodge No. 606, the oldest fraternal organization in Coke County, was organized at Hayrick, Texas, on December 11, 1890. When the County Seat was moved to Robert Lee in 1891, the lodge was moved, but by vote of the membership, the name “Hayrick” Lodge was retained, and it is still known by this title. The two-story building in downtown Robert Lee was built in 1906 by the Masons. They met upstairs and rented downstairs to many businesses including the US Post Office. The two-story building was sold to West Texas Utilities in 1986. A new building, ground level, was built in 1986 on the corner of Commerce and 9th Street in Robert Lee. On September 29, 1892, early settlers, L.B. Harris and Eugene Cartledge as officers of Austin & Northern Land and Cattle Company sold for $1.00 the 11.7 acre burial ground, Hayrick Lodge Cemetery Association. It was deeded to Hayrick Masonic Lodge No. 696 for “Sole use as cemetery grounds for the members, relatives and friends.” The Robert Lee Cemetery Association was reorganized about 1964. Jeffie Roberts and Sue Shoemaker, members of Robert Lee Eastern Star No 187, secured many names and addresses of those who had relatives buried in the Robert Lee cemetery. A list was prepared and donation requests were mailed.

Now here is some correspondence I have received. Perhaps you can help:
“Dear Sue, I recently found an article on the internet titled “Chasing Our Tales-John Hittson, Palo Pinto County’s First Sheriff, and His Brother, James”. In this story you mention that John Hittson drove cattle to Colorado in 1866 on a trail opened up by James Patterson in 1865, which later became the Goodnight-Loving Trail. I am with the Deer Trail Colorado Historical Society and am doing research on John Hittson and James Patterson, from whom John Hittson bought his Deer Trail ranch. My husband and I now own the Hittson ranch at Deer Trail. I have a lot of information on John Hittson, but virtually none on James Patterson. Thank you, Susan Eldringhott,, 84625 ECR 34, Deer Trail, Colorado 80105.” If you have information on Patterson, please contact Susan and also let us know!
Well, folks, that’s about all for this month. You all take care, keep warm, and we’ll see you soon.


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