Column sent to Frederick Leader and Frederick Press
July 27, 2010
|This early photo is labeled on back as the Eschiti site where the Grandfield Cemetery is now located.|
Eschiti and Kell City Vied for Survival
When the area that is now Tillman County was opened to settlement in the early 1900’s, it was not uncommon for prospective townsites to vie with nearby towns for survival. Gosnell beat out Hazel to become Frederick. Siboney perished while Manitou survived.
Perhaps no place was the townsite dispute more intense, though, than the battle between Eschiti and Kell City in the area that would eventually become Grandfield.
Although the western part of Tillman County was opened to settlement by land lottery in August 1901, the Big Pasture which made up the eastern part of the county remained closed until December 1906 when its land was opened by sealed bid.
Eschiti was one of a few townsites in the Big Pasture that was planned, platted and sold by the Department of the Interior in 1907. The town was named for a Comanche chief.
A post office was established at Eschiti and townspeople bought lots and established businesses there with the assumption that since it was a government townsite, the railroad would pass through the town.
Wichita Falls businessmen Frank Kell and Joe Kemp had secured the railroad right-of-way through the Big Pasture from the U.S. Government and worked to extend the Wichita Falls and Northwestern Railroad into Oklahoma. In addition to their railroad interests, Kemp and Kell were also townsite promoters. They chose for the railroad to bypass Eschiti in favor of their own townsite called Kell City approximately two miles southwest of Eschiti.
At that point, the battle was on. Kell City had the railroad but Eschiti had the post office. Each of the new towns had a newspaper, and ink flowed freely in the Kell City Enterprise and the Eschiti Banner denouncing the other town’s legitimacy.
By 1908 Eschiti seemed the most stable of the two towns. It had 20 businesses, a bank, two doctors, an undertaker, and two cotton gins, two churches and a school. Its biggest problem, though, was “gyp” water.
At one point in 1908, the wood-frame Eschiti post office was stolen during the night and transported to Kell City. The following night, the post office was moved again, back to its original location in Eschiti.
The U.S. Government refused to give Kell City a post office, and folks in Kell City refused to use the Eschiti post office. For a time, a citizen of Kell City served as a carrier to Wichita Falls each day, taking and picking up mail for Kell City’s residents.
The feud between the two towns was finally settled in 1908 when Rev. A.J. Tant, a Baptist preacher and homesteader who owned a quarter-section of land between the two towns, platted his property and offered free lots to citizens from either Kell City or Eschiti who would move their buildings to the property. Tant gave away most of his property, but his generous action did bring peace.
The new townsite was named Grandfield after Assistant U.S. Postmaster Charles Grandfield. The Grandfield Post Office was established in January 1909, and soon after both Eschiti and Kell City had disappeared as town sites.
One part of Eschiti did continue, though. The Eschiti cemetery became the Grandfield Cemetery and today occupies part of the original Eschiti townsite.
PRIMARY SOURCE: “Ghost Towns of Oklahoma” by John W. Morris, 1977, The University of Oklahoma Press.
Joe Wynn is a member of the Tillman County Historical Society Board of Directors. He can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.