Once upon a time, in 1886, there were a lot of people who wanted the American Dream. In other words, they wanted to make big pots of money, and/or own a nice piece of land. Strangely enough, one way certain entrepreneurs made money at the end of that century was in making towns. Air towns, they were sometimes called. It was a form of land speculation that could pay off big for certain men who had the right connections.
This was the wild west, you see, out on the prairie, a few days travel from the Rocky Mountains. Mostly what was here was flat land and grass, and the grass was doing pretty well due to an un-typical run of wet years. Homesteading was going on, but most of the land was open range and supported cattle.
There was in this area a rancher named Mr. Black who had a big spread along the river. On his land was a railroad station, very handy for sending his cattle to market, and he could charge others to use the facilities. A group of entrepreneurs asked Mr. Black to sell them some of the land around the station to make a town. Mr. Black could not see the advantage of having a town smack dab in the middle of his cattle range, and declined to sell it to them.
There was collusion and there were meetings in back rooms. A Clever Plan was hatched. On a Saturday in May, Mr. Black was sent a telegram which demanded his presence in a town 100 miles to the west, and he rushed off. In another version of the story, he hurried off to get an injunction, since he knew they were up to something. Anyway, he was lured away. At midnight, the railroad sent a train with a flatbed car and a crew of men. These men were cowboys and drifters who had been promised ten bucks and a rip roaring party with a banquet and all the booze they could drink if they helped with this little job.
The men jacked up the railroad station on Mr. Black’s land. The station seems to have belonged to the railroad and they had been authorized to take it, albeit secretly, but it was on Mr. Black’s land, and all the items inside were not railroad property, so things were a little murky on the legal front. The men worked fast. They got it onto the flat car and brought it three miles west to a quarter section of homestead land previously purchased by our entrepreneurs. The men put the station down and went back for the foundation stones and outbuildings. Other men began building a siding near the new station location, even though it was Sunday. On Monday, a train full of speculators from the Midwest showed up, and the auction of town lots began. By the end of the day, tents were going up and there was a town, at least on paper. The entrepreneurs were very happy.
Mr. Black returned to find his station was not where he left it. He was not happy. The people who may have been even less happy were the family of his foreman, who had been living upstairs in the station at the time it was hijacked. Some versions of the story have them, and their belongings, tossed out at midnight before the station was moved, and some versions have them being hauled along, willy nilly, to the new location.
The town was named Lamar after the Secretary of the Interior, Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar, with the laudable goal of influencing the man to give the town a land office. It worked.
An author named Mary Peace Finley has written a children’s book about this story, which came out in May. It is called The Midnight Ride of Blackwell Station
Most of this is relevant later. Really.
This is Part 6 of Caro and Susan’s foray into the land of bookselling. Here are the earlier segments: