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In the Heart of the Blackland Divide

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

An Unknown Local Hero from World War II?

John Pickens, USN, and his letter to Marion Duncan. (Click on photo to enlarge.)

Last October when I prepared a military display for the Roscoe Historical Museum honoring Roscoe’s veterans, I included a book entitled The Men and Women in World War II from Nolan County, which contains photos and information of over 850 local men and women who served in that conflict.  It never occurred to me at the time that of all the people included in that book, none of them were black.

Recently, however, I was looking through some materials left to the Roscoe Historical Museum by longtime local farmer Marion Duncan, who died in 2004.  Among them was an envelope with an enclosed letter and photograph from John Pickens, a black man who had obviously worked for Mr. Duncan and had probably lived on his place west of town.  Like many other young men and women in those days, both black and white, he had also apparently joined the military service when war broke out.  

The letter, written by Pickens from the U. S. Naval Hospital in Bremerton, Washington, in January 1943, is a fascinating relic of the war and at the very least deserves some recognition, so I present it to you here in its entirety exactly as it was written.  As you notice the misspellings, keep in mind that black people who grew up in west Texas in those days had little to no formal schooling, and it was unusual to find one who had been beyond the third grade.

     U S naval Hospital – Ward – E,                1-13-43

     Mr Merrion Duncan
     Dear frind Just a few lines to let you
     here from me  I am filling puty good now
     I ben in hospital 3 mounths all redy
     I had 3 Ribs Broke and my right leg Broke
     I stayed in the water 10 days on a life Raft
     Nothing to Eat no water to Drink it was 7
     of us got Save some got lost My ship was
     sunk at the Battle of Soloms iland  2 torpeds
     hit my ship By a sub rine one morning a Bout
     3 30 oclock  But when I get up I am gowing
     Back to the Sea some great Day I will Come to
     Bee a hero I hope cost I know I am cripple
     But never mind my cripple leg let me
     show my uncle Sam what I coud help
     Bring them axis Down a pag cost gord [ed.: peg because God?]
     give me right to Bee a free amer icon
     how is your father and sister and the
     Boys tell then helo for me
     So the Best of Luck to you all
     So I will close
     U S Naval Hospital – Ward – E
     Bremerton Wash
     John Pickens J D Jr USNR

The Battle of the Solomon Islands took place August 24-25, 1942, and was a major naval battle between the American and Japanese fleets.  Pickens may have been on the destroyer Blue, which was sunk by a Japanese torpedo.  

If any of you have any information about John Pickens or any other local black men or women who served in the military in World War II, I’d be interested in knowing it.  Their roles in the war should also be remembered and their service honored.



Several members of the Roscoe FFA came away with honors at the Nolan County Livestock Show held in the Nolan County Coliseum last weekend.  

Stina Tomlin had the Grand Champion goat as well as the Champion BOPB (Black Other Pure Breeds) swine; Devon Freeman and Hannah Weems both received Nolan County Livestock Association scholarships, Devon’s for $700 and Hannah’s for $500; and Alura Renteria, Devon Freeman, and Luis Villa all won showmanship honors, while Christian Diaz received an honorary showmanship award.

Other Roscoe winners included in swines John Ruben Herrerra with the 2nd place Duroc middleweight, Cameron Fisher with the 2nd place WOPB (White Other Pure Breeds), Alura Renteria with the 3rd place Cross Light Weight, and Cameron Fisher with the 3rd place Cross Heavy Weight.  

In goats, Kamren Fisher got a 2nd place in Class 3, and Chasity Diaz got a 3rd place in Class 4.  

Several Roscoe students are preparing to show their animals at the upcoming Southwest Exposition and Fat Stock Show in Fort Worth.


Plowgirl Lynnsi Moses calmly made three consecutive free throws with only a couple of seconds left to break a 41-41 tie as the Plowgirls won another close one in Plowboy Gymnasium Friday night.  Even then the game was still in doubt as a Stamford player threw up a long three-point shot at the buzzer that bounced off the rim.  

Moses led the Plowgirls with 21 points, while Faith Boren had 12.  The Plowgirls are 12-12 on the year now and 2-3 in district play.  They played Munday in Munday last night.



Stamford remained undefeated in district play by defeating the Plowboys 55-20 in Roscoe Friday night.  The game was never in doubt as the Bulldogs jumped out to a 27-2 lead in the first quarter and then cruised the rest of the game.  The halftime score was 42-8.  

Hermosillo had 6 points for the Plowboys and Matthew Cuellar and Cutter Davila both had 5.
Then last night, the Plowboys lost another one, this time to Munday in Munday 66-17.  Once again, the game was never in doubt as the Moguls jumped out to a 31-3 first quarter lead and were up at the half 54-9.  Jesus Leanos had 7 for the Plowboys, and Keeston Ford and Cutter Davila both had 4.

Munday is now 4-1 in district play and the Plowboys are 1-4. They face Haskell here on Friday.



The first sandstorm of the year came on Sunday, and it was a big one with sustained winds of 20-30 miles per hour and gusts well above that for a large part of the afternoon.  During its height, several of the composition shingles on the roof of my house blew off and landed in the back yard, and I had to get up on the roof and nail several others down to keep them from doing the same thing.

The dusty skies are gone now.  A front moved through yesterday, and it started raining after midnight last night. So far, the area has received a half to three-quarters of an inch, and a steady drizzle is still falling.  The forecast for today and tonight is for more of the same with sunny skies and cooler temperatures returning tomorrow.   



Roscoe Expressions, formerly the Roscoe Emporium, in the Shelansky Building on the corner of Cypress and Broadway, announces new hours for the store.  It is now open from 3pm-6pm on Tuesday, 1:30pm-6pm Wednesday through Friday, and 10am-3pm on Saturday.

They receive new merchandise weekly and have now added furniture.


Circus Cico will be putting on two shows this weekend in the Community Center, one at 4:30pm, the other at 7:00pm with gates opening one hour prior.  The flyer lists "Acrobats, jugglers, dare devils, funny clowns, beautiful girls and many more surprises."  The listed price is $7 for children while nothing is listed for adults.  



Nettie Annlee Tollison, 93, of Lafayette, Louisiana, passed away on January 14 in Lafayette.  Graveside services were held on Saturday, January 21, at Roscoe Cemetery.

Born December 15, 1918, in Arlington, she worked in health care for over forty years.  She is survived by four children, Betty Joyce Ellison of Sweetwater, Patsy Yvonne Ribble of Irving, Dennis Sherman Colwell of Sherwood, Arkansas, and Dianne Guidry of Lafayette, Louisiana; 13 grandchildren; 20 great-grandchildren; and seven great-great-greatchildren.

She was preceded in death by her son, Bobby Joe Colwell; daughter, Glenda Ruth Davis; and granddaughter, Betsy Ribble.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Mystery of the St. George Hotel

The St. George Hotel.  Judging by the automobiles, the picture seems to have been taken around 1912.
As curator of the Roscoe Historical Museum, I am always on the lookout for photos, images and information of early day Roscoe, and my searches on the Internet have occasionally been rewarded with finds that illuminate aspects of the city’s history that I previously knew little or nothing about. 

One example is the old photograph at top left from a collection at Hardin-Simmons University showing a large two-story depot under construction.  The description that accompanies it says it was in Roscoe, Texas.  However, it looks pretty grand for Roscoe, and I might have questioned the location if I didn’t have a Dallas Morning News article from August 27, 1898, that says the Texas & Pacific was building a new depot in Roscoe to replace the old one that burned down—and that the new one “when completed, will be an ornament to the town.”

At the same time, I did doubt the accuracy of another old photograph from the same collection also described as being from Roscoe.  This one, shown above, is of a fine-looking building with three floors (counting the attic) called the St. George Hotel. 

In stories I’d heard from my father, my uncle Marion, George Parks, Mary Edna Worthy and other local historians, I’d heard of several hotels in Roscoe—the Turk, the Bourland, the Kern, and the Rex—but never had I ever heard mention of anything about a St. George Hotel, especially considering that it would have been bigger than any of the others. 

Likewise, Sid Gracey, in her 1924 essay on the early history of Roscoe, mentions other early Roscoe hotels, but says nothing about a St. George.  So I figured someone had made a mistake, as sometimes happens with old photographs, and forgot about it.   

Then, a few days ago, I learned that the Fire Department owns a scrapbook containing fire department information that goes back to the incorporation of the city in 1907.  Naturally, I was interested in what it contained, so, after getting permission to look it over and scan some of its pictures, I took it home and went to work.  One of the first photographs in the scrapbook is this one of east Roscoe, said to be taken in 1908:

View from Second and Pecan Streets looking northeast toward the cemetery on the horizon.  The St. George Hotel (left in picture) is located at the corner of First and Pecan Streets.  To the right of the hotel and across the railroad tracks is the Roscoe, Snyder & Pacific Railway shops.  (Someone has written 1908 at the bottom of the photograph.) 

And, lo and behold, there on the left-hand side of the picture is a big hotel—the St. George, and the caption below the photo specifically mentions it by name. 

Moreover, on the same page of the scrapbook is a copy of the December 15, 1908, minutes of the City Council, which contains the following:

Be it ordained by the City Council of Roscoe that no frame buildings shall be constructed or built or moved within said limit without a permit from Council; said limit to be bounded on north by T&P Railroad, on east by St. George Hotel, thence south to 3rd Street, thence west to Moon Shop.

So, the evidence seems conclusive.  There was indeed a St. George Hotel in east Roscoe, apparently on Broadway and Pecan.  But if that is the case, why wasn’t it a part of the general memory of the city’s history?  How could such a nice, big hotel be apparently forgotten?  When was it built, who owned it, and whatever could have happened to it? 

I asked several people about it but, like me, none of them had ever heard of it—not my mother, not Arlon Wayne Orman, who’s pretty knowledgeable about Roscoe history, not Harold Duvall, who also knows quite a bit, nor anyone else that I asked. 

Yesterday, however, while on a visit to my mother over at the rest home in Sweetwater, I ran into Pauline Heine, who’s lived in and around Roscoe practically all her life.  Like my mother, she is 104 years old and still clear-headed. 

I asked her if she’d ever heard of the St. George Hotel, and she said no, she didn’t think so.  I said it was on Broadway in the early days over in the east part of town, and she said, “It was a pretty big hotel, wasn’t it?”  I said yes, and she said she seemed to remember it.  I asked her if she knew anything about it or what happened to it, but she said she didn’t.

So, if you know anything at all about the St. George, a fine old hotel that used to be in east Roscoe, please let me know.  I’d be happy to learn anything you can tell me.  



The Roscoe Community Center got a facelift last week as volunteers gave it a good cleaning.  On Wednesday and Thursday Coilla Smith brought a group of high school students, who took out all the old ceiling tiles and replaced them with new ones, which wasn’t a clean or easy job.  The Community Center is about 6,000 square feet, and the tiles were all covered with dust and insulation—and if you’ve ever worked with fiberglass insulation, you’ll know what a pain that is to deal with. Nevertheless, the students got it all done, earning the highest praise of Mayor Pete Porter and other city officials. 

Then on Saturday a group of adult volunteers gave the inside a good cleaning and straightening up, removing all the old debris and making the kitchen and other areas spic and span.  The only task that remains is to buff the floor, and that will be done soon. 



The annual Nolan County Livestock Show is under way at the Nolan County Coliseum in Sweetwater.  Here is the schedule of events:

     Wednesday  6:00pm - Steer Show, then Heifer Show

     Thursday     4:00pm - Goat Show, then Lamb Show
                           5:00pm - Rabbit Show, then Broiler Show

     Friday          4:30pm Swine Show

     Saturday     10:00am - Honorary Show
                          11:00am – Barbecue
                          1:00pm – Awards, Premium Sale



Move over, Indianapolis Colts.  After going winless for fifteen games, the Plowboys’ basketball team broke the streak Friday night with a close victory over Rotan 33-32, making them 1-1 in district play.  Jesus Leanos led all scorers with 19 points while Dillon Freeman had 6.  Roscoe led at halftime 18-12. 

However, they weren’t able to make it two in a row.  Against Hamlin last night, they fell by a score of 43-34.  Leanos was again the high scorer for the Plowboys, this time with 14, while Freeman had 8.  The score at halftime was 21-17.

The Plowboys are now 1-2 in district play and will face Stamford here at home on Friday night.



Like the Plowboys, the Plowgirls took care of business against Rotan on Friday but were unable to do the same against the undefeated Lady Pied Pipers last night, falling by a score of 50-35.  Hamlin is now 22-0 on the season and 4-0 in district play, while the Plowgirls are 11-12 overall and 1-3 in district.

High scorer for the Plowgirls was Lynnsi Moses with 11, followed by Stina Willman with 6.  The halftime score was 24-17.

The Plowgirls also face Stamford at home this Friday.



It was a week of normal winter weather with sunny skies and high temperatures in the 50s and 60s and lows in the 30s.  Sunday and Monday were springlike with 70° afternoons, but a cold front blew in yesterday dropping temperatures down into the fifties yesterday afternoon and the low twenties last night.  However, the forecast for the next few days is for warmer weather with highs in the sixties and seventies.  No rain is predicted.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

New Business to Open Downtown

The Lamberts plan to re-open Smackers as a coffee and donut shop.
Jim Covey, who owned and ran Smackers CafĂ© for years, has sold the Smackers building on the corner of Broadway and Main to Jess Lambert, who plans to re-open the place as a coffee and donut shop.  

Nothing is written in stone, but the plan is to open as soon as possible—probably within a month or month and a half—with Tim Lambert as the manager.  The times of operation are also still not set with the morning hours the only firm decision at this point.

Nevertheless, it will be great to be able once again to have coffee and breakfast downtown, and we all wish the Lamberts great success with their new venture.  



A volunteer workday has been planned for the Roscoe Community Center this coming Saturday, January 14, starting at 9:00am.  Your help will be appreciated. 

Coilla Smith and a group of students are kicking off the work today and tomorrow by taking down the ceiling tiles, which need to be replaced. 

For more information, contact City Hall during work hours at 325-766-3871.


Roscoe saw precipitation in almost every imaginable form this past week as rain, snow, sleet, and even some small hail fell at one point or another during the past few days.

Last weekend the weather was sunny and mild with lows in the thirties and highs ranging from 55° to 70°F.  However, on Sunday a front moved in, cooling things off and bringing clouds and a little over a quarter of an inch of rain. 

Then on early Monday, the storm hit full force with thunder, lightning, small hail, snow, sleet, and a generally slow-falling rain.  That evening it snowed enough to knock out the signal for those who get their television via satellite, necessitating climbs to the roofs to get the snow out of the satellite dishes.  Precipitation continued to fall off and on until yesterday morning, when the sun came back out and began melting the snow.   

Areas west of Roscoe got more snow than Roscoe did.  Odessa and Midland got about ten inches, and Snyder had three.  But Roscoe got more than Sweetwater and Abilene, where it didn’t snow at all. 

Roscoe got about two inches of snow and about 1.9 inches of precipitation overall, more than the monthly average for January.  Water was standing all over town yesterday with several intersections full of the wet stuff and puddles in all the low places.

The generally slow rainfall was welcome and can only be good for land still in need of moisture after all the extreme dry weather of last year.



Several Roscoe students will be competing for prizes next weekend at the annual Nolan County Livestock Show in the Nolan County Coliseum.  Calves, goats, and sheep will be shown on Thursday, January 19, and swine on Friday, January 20, starting at 4:00pm.  The Peewee Show will be on Saturday at 8:00am, followed by the sale. 

The Nolan County Livestock Association is selling raffle tickets for a drawing on Saturday, January 21.  Tickets are $20 apiece, and proceeds go to the stock show, so you can help out by purchasing one or two.  They are available from Bruce McGlothlin at the Feed Store and More, and Allen Richburg, among others. 

Prizes include an AR-15 rifle, a 51” wide-screen TV, a barbecue pit, an iPad, yard art, a tool set, a digital camera, a portable DVD player, and five $100 gift cards to local businesses.

For more information, contact the event organizers at 325- 235-5488.



The City of Roscoe’s Type A Board is in the process of buying the 3.2 acres of land just northwest of the railroad crossing at Cypress.  The Union Pacific Railway currently owns the land and has agreed to the terms of the sale.



The Plowgirls began district play Friday night by losing at home to the Munday Lady Moguls 52-46.  Lynnsi Moses was high scorer for the Plowgirls with 24 points while Sara Kingston made 10. 

They lost again at Haskell last night by a score of 37-25.

The Plowboys also lost at Haskell.  The final score was 62-29.

The Plowgirls’ and Plowboys’ next games will be against Rotan in Plowboy Gymnasium on Friday night.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Several Plowboys Make All-District Football Team

Plowboys face off against Munday in September game.

Despite the team’s losing record this fall, several Plowboy football players earned the respect of district opponents and coaches and were named to this year’s District 7-1A first and second teams:

First-Team Defense:

     Tackle - Corey Hatcher
     End - Devon Freeman
     Inside linebacker - Eric Padilla
     Defensive back - Luke Rovig
     Utility player - Matthew Cuellar

Second-Team Offense:

     Lineman: Arthur Rhoades

Second-Team Defense:

    Linebacker - Chris De Leon
    Defensive Back - Brant Burnett
    Punter - Luke Rovig

Congratulations to these Plowboys for honors well earned!

District 7-1A’s Most Valuable Player was Matthew Schovajsa of Crosbyton, and Coach of the Year was Brannon Rogers, also of Crosbyton.



The Plowgirls have been busy since Christmas, playing three games in the Sterling City Tournament last week and another one last night at home against Eula.

They handily won last night’s game with the Lady Pirates 34-19.  High scorer for the Plowgirls was Mirian Solis with 13 points, while Sara Kingston made 10. 

At Sterling City, they won one game and lost two.  They beat Forsan in overtime 43-39 with Kingston scoring 15 and Lynnsi Moses 12.  Then they lost to Sterling City 54-35.  Kingston was high scorer with 12 while Moses had 11.

They also lost to Borden County 33-28.  Moses had 16 points and Kingston 5.
Their next action will be against Munday on Friday here in Roscoe.



The Eula Pirates, last year’s Class A State Champions, were too much for the struggling Plowboys last night, beating them by a score of 78-17.  The halftime score was 44-10.
Jesus Leanos had 6 for the Plowboys and Keeston Ford had 5.

The Plowboys also lost three games in the Sterling City Tournament last week.  Forsan beat them 49-31 with Cutter Davila scoring 12 for Roscoe and Ford 10. 

They then lost to TLCA (Tender Love & Care Academy) 65-40.  In that game, Ford had 13 points and Leanos 10.

Finally, they lost to Irion County 61-31 with Leanos the high scorer with 17 points.

Their next game will also be against Munday at Plowboy Gymnasium on Friday night.



Skies were sunny and bright for the entire week.  Last Wednesday was cool, but the weather warmed up on Thursday and Friday with highs in the sixties and only light breezes.  On Saturday, the temperature got up to 77°F and was as pretty a day as you could ask for this time of year.

A cold front blew in on Saturday night and the New Year came in with temperatures in the low thirties with brisk breezes.  It has been relatively cool since then, warming slightly to yesterday afternoon’s low sixties. 

The forecast is for continued sunny skies with highs in the fifties and sixties and lows in the thirties.

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