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Historical Trails _ Buffalo Gap Village

                    by Kathleen Wallsarchives of American Roads and Global Highways
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Buffalo Gap Village header with cowboy stature lounging on porch

Buffalo Gap, Texas is a glimpse of the Wild West as it really was. Buffalo Gap was founded at the site of a natural pass through which bison herds traveled. It was a stop for cowboys on the Great Western Cattle Trail.  In the late 1800s it was the spot where buffalo hunters camped. By 1880, it had been named county seat and had a population of 200. It had the usual businesses, hotel, blacksmith shop, a general store and a saloon. Perhaps the most important building in Buffalo Gap was the Taylor County Jail and Courthouse.

Buffalo Gap Village's 1883 Courthouse and Jail
Buffalo Gap Village's 1883 Courthouse and Jail

Today, the unincorporated town has a population under 500 and the general store has metamorphosed into more of an arts and craft shop joined by several other shops. The restaurant draw there is Perini Ranch Steakhouse (That's another article) but the main attraction centers around the Old County Jail and Courthouse.

This was the courthouse and jail that was built shortly before the county seat was moved to Abilene. The story of how the county seat was moved reflects on the unchanging nature of politics. Kenna Hogan, village intern, our guide told us, "Around the 1870s Buffalo Gap decided they needed some type of law because men were running around wild here." She noted the saloon across the street. "They decided to build a courthouse since they were the county seat."

Buffalo Gap Village's 1883 Courthouse and Jail interior
Inside of Buffalo Gap Village's 1883 Courthouse and Jail

Meantime, the railroad was acquiring land for their new line. Kenna explained, "The local landowners feeling that Buffalo Gap was the county seat decided to increase their asking price and the railroad refused to pay it and bought around Abilene instead. People began leaving Buffalo Gap and moving there. In 1883 there was an election whether to move the county seat. The election was a tie and the breaking vote fell to Taylor County Judge John Watts Murray, who was the sitting judge in Buffalo Gap.  The story goes the railroad paid him to vote for Abilene and the county seat moved to Abilene."

The Buffalo Gap citizens were furious and a group of well-armed and well-lubricated men rode out to the Judge's farm. Meantime, Judge Murray knowing the disposition of the locals immediately left town. When the posse arrived at the Judge's home all they found left were his chickens. They vented their anger on the hapless birds and slaughtered all of them and held an impromptu barbeque on the judge's lawn. That tradition lives on today in Perini Ranch steakhouse "Judge's Fried Chicken."

Buffalo Gap Village's 1883 Courthouse and Jail
 Original desk at Buffalo Gap Village's 1883 Courthouse and Jail

The courthouse is filled with historical artifacts. They range from moonshine jugs to the original judge's desk. Lots of good signage explaining events related to Buffalo Gap like the poster explaining the fall of the Comanche Empire which allowed white settlers to settle the area.

The Hill House was moved from in front of St Paul United Methodist Church in Abilene. House was built in early 1880s. John Thomas Hill was first marshal in Abilene and arrested for counterfeiting. Sent to Ballinger to be a deputy where he later shot off his big toe accidentally and died of gangrene in this house.  

Hill House at Buffalo Gap Village
Hill House at Buffalo Gap Village

His wife, Molly, and daughter Belle continued to live in the house and Belle died in house in the 1960s and is believed to haunt the house. Paranormals Societies have investigated and recorded voices of a man and a woman. Kenna told us "There is a lot of activity that can't be explained."

Living area in Hill House at Buffalo Gap Village
Living area in Hill House at Buffalo Gap Village

Hill had second family in Utah. Kenna discovered that through "Find a Grave." It is still unknown whether Hill had married the woman in Utah but there was a daughter. Also not know if the wife in Abilene knew of the family in Utah.

The oldest house in the Village is the Knight/Sayles Cabin. It was built by J.M. Knight, a former buffalo hunter, in 1875. He had his wife raised six of their thirteen children in this tiny one room cabin. The children slept in the loft. The native cedar wood cabin was originally located near Abilene Lake six miles to the west. The design is what is known as a "single pen cabin".

Knight/Sayles House at Buffalo Gap Village
Knight/Sayles House at Buffalo Gap Village

The railroad was the prime factor of change not only in the West but across the country. You find a strip of railroad tracks and ticket office.

Section of railroad and depot  at Buffalo Gap Village
Section of railroad and depot  at Buffalo Gap Village

There is so much to see here. From a turn of the century doctor's office with instruments that are guarantee make you determined to stay healthy just to avoid a visit to a doctor to the barber shop. Other early 1900s buildings include the chapel, old school house, and the traditional blacksmith's shop.

Doctor's examining table at Buffalo Gap Village
Doctor's examining table at Buffalo Gap Village

Even after cars made their debut at this time, many people though it was just a passing fad.This blacksmith's shop is a recreation. Its front doors were taken from a actual blacksmith's shop that specialized in making branding irons. When one was finished, the blacksmith would test it on the front doors.

Blacksmith's Shop at Buffalo Gap Village
Blacksmith's Shop at Buffalo Gap Village

Banks were a staple from the earliest days. After all what else would those bandits in all the old western movies rob? The bank in Buffalo Gap Village is preserved in time at the beginning of the depression era as banks around the country closed.

As the automobile proved itself more than a passing fad, gas stations opened all over. The Magnolia Gas Station we viewed here was moved from Winters, Texas and originally had only one pump. The pumps were called visible pumps because when the attendant would pump your gas you could see the visible tank fill up and then releasing it into your vehicle.  

Old gas station at Buffalo Gap Village
Old gas station at Buffalo Gap Village

Before the days of TV news and computer push apps, newspapers thrived and were fiercely competitive. Even small towns often had more than one paper.

Some even resorted to printing false stories and scandals to get an edge over the competitor. Some things never change. A visit to the Print Shop here in Buffalo Gap Village brings to mind life in the early 20th century.

Printing press  at Buffalo Gap Village
Printing press  at Buffalo Gap Village

All together there are fifteen outdoor structures and hundreds of artifacts that tell not only Buffalo Gap's story but that of frontier Texas from the late 19th century into the early 20th century as the state moved from frontier to the early industrial age.

Old schoolhouse  at Buffalo Gap Village
Old schoolhouse  at Buffalo Gap Village

Buffalo Gap Village began through the efforts of Ernie Wilson, a Texas lawyer. rancher, and historian who did not want to see these historic treasures lost. He purchased the courthouse and began a small museum of Indian and Western artifacts. Later he added two other Taylor County structures, the Hill House and the Knight/Sayles Cabin. When he died in 1970, Dr. R. Lee Rode, M.D. and his wife, Ann, purchased the buildings. They expanded the site with additional historic structures. After his retirement, he offered the village for sale. It was purchased in its entirety by the Grady McWhiney Research Foundation which operates the non-profit educational facility you can visit today.

It's a wonderful laid back way to learn and enjoy history. Throughout October, the village offers Ghost Tours. It's not only "dog friendly" but has several of its own resident cats.

Docent with two village cats at Buffalo Gap Village
Kenna shows off village cats at Buffalo Gap Village

Buffalo Gap may be a tiny town but it is a perfect example of how "good things come in small packages."

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