Teepee City Cottonwood R.I.P.

Historical Period: Frontier Texas (1865-1900)
Historical Topic: Frontier Settlements
Species: Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides)
County: Motley
Public Access: No longer applicable; tree is dead

An aging, wind-scarred cottonwood tree once maintained a vigil over the site of the first town in Motley County, settled over a century ago.

In the mid-1870s, a 100-wagon train of settlers from Dodge City, Kansas, crossed the small creek which flows near the cottonwood and camped there on their way south. When the wagon train moved on, about a dozen families stayed to become Motley County's first settlers.

Their first homes were quite crude, but they sufficed until lumber and stone could be obtained. Some of the settlers built dugouts, while others built picket houses. The dugouts were built by digging into the creek bank, then covering the top and front with saplings, brush and grass. A rock chimney completed the construction. The picket houses were built above ground. Chinaberry poles, which the Comanche Indians had used as poles for their lodges and which they had discarded when they moved on, were set upright in the ground and the spaces between them were plastered with mud. The settlers quite logically named their settlement Teepee City.

Buffalo in the 1870s were plentiful and their hides were a major source of revenue in Teepee City. The town was headquarters for buffalo hunters, who sold and traded their hides for lead, dry goods and beans.

Under the historic cottonwood stood the hotel-saloon-gambling hall, the only plank building in the town. Every time cowboys from the Matador Ranch came by, they stopped off at the saloon. When the visits began to affect the ranch work, the ranch owners finally bought the saloon and closed it down.

When the railroad was built west of Childress, freight routes were changed and Teepee City began to decline. Little of the town remained after 1891, when the county was organized and Matador was established as the county seat.

The Teepee City Cottonwood died sometime in the 1980s. A state historical marker for Teepee City is located in a roadside park on Hwy 62/70, ten miles east of Matador.