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In the Heart of the Blackland Divide

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Out of the Whirlwind: A Novel of Early-Day Roscoe

Maurine Whorton in 1914 and the cover of her novel published in 1975.
I only recently learned that someone had written a novel set in Vista*, the early day precursor to Roscoe, but, when I did, I immediately went online and did a search for it.  I located a hardback copy for ten dollars at a bookstore in North Carolina, ordered it, received it a few days later, and have now read it. 

It was written by Maurine Whorton Redway, a graduate of Roscoe High School and member of the class of 1914.  Her father, Daniel Boone Whorton, was one of the first settlers of the area, and the novel is apparently based on family stories Maurine must have heard while growing up. 

The story begins in 1890 with the arrival of the Hunter family at Stop 53 west of Sweetwater.  The main character, Boone Hunter, is obviously based on the author’s father, and his family closely resembles the Whorton family that came to Roscoe at that time. 

Originally just a boxcar used as a depot, Stop 53 was a water stop for the T&P trains that came through.  Their steam engines had to stop for water about every ten miles, so depots were set at each of the stops, and most of them later became communities: Cisco, Baird, Clyde, Abilene, Tye (originally called Tebo), Merkel, Trent, Eskota, Sweetwater, Roscoe, Loraine, Colorado City, etc.

When the Hunters arrive from Georgia in a boxcar to buy a farm and settle on the cheap, newly available land of the Blackland Divide, only one other family lives by the depot, the Fullers, and they immediately become friends. 

As the story progresses, the Hunter family undergoes all the trials and tribulations encountered by early day settlers—drought, tornadoes, ice storms, wild animals, rattlesnakes, and worst of all, a group of rowdy cowboys led by the scoundrel Buck Brooks.  These remnants of the open range drink whisky, run wild, and oppose the coming of the “nesters” who want to civilize the area, cultivate the land, raise families, build churches, and start communities.   

While the story is fictional with the plot elements and characterization that make a novel a novel, it is laced with a lot of the early history of the area and provides the reader with a pretty good picture of what it must have been like to live in Roscoe in those early days when it was still known as Vista. 

When the author describes the first church meetings taking place upstairs in the community’s only store, and the first school as just a bare building with desks paid for by fund raisers such as box dinner auctions, she is no doubt basing her descriptions on fact. 
Sometimes she throws in long forgotten tidbits of history that are a revelation to read.  

One example is the Johnson grass seed that Boone Hunter brings back from his first trip to Colorado City in 1890.  Given to him by a farmer there, he is told that it will be good for grazing, but Boone has read that it is hard to get rid of, a fact substantiated that same year when the Texas legislature passed a law prohibiting the sale or gift of Johnson grass seeds. 

Characters in the story include the Long family whose farm was southeast of town and Germans from the German settlement west of town, both obviously based on historical fact.    

The story builds to a wild climax with a shootout and a big fire, after which peace is restored and the locals move into the twentieth century with high hopes for the future of their growing community.

Although the novel, published in 1975, never won a Pulitzer Prize or any other major literary awards, it is a rewarding read for anyone interested in the settling of this area and life as it was in the 1890s in Vista and early Roscoe. 

     * The first inhabitants of Roscoe originally called their new community Vista, but when they applied for a post office in 1892, they were told that there was already a town in Texas by that name, so they decided to call it Roscoe instead.


About the author: Born in Roscoe in 1898, Maurine Whorton grew up here and graduated from Roscoe High in 1914.  She later earned a B.A. from the University of Texas and an M.A. from Washington University in St. Louis.  She taught in Texas high schools for twenty-six years before joining the faculty at SMU, where she taught history for five years.  

Her other books are Early Texas Homes, Marks of Lincoln on Our Land, and Marks of Lee on Our Land.  She died in 1981 and was buried in the Roscoe Cemetery.  Roscoe relations include the Whortons, Jays, and Frys.

Maurine Whorton Redway. Out of the Whirlwind: A West Texas Saga. San Antonio: Naylor, 1975.



Carol Jeane Moore, 80, died on Saturday at Hendrick Medical Center in Abilene.  Private services for the family will be held today at 2:30pm at McCoy Chapel of Memories in Sweetwater, followed by cremation.

She was born June 19, 1931, in Oklahoma City and married Jack Moore there on November 25, 1950.  A member of the First Christian Church in Abilene, she lived in Abilene from 1974 to 1983 and in Roscoe ever since.  She was a homemaker.

Survivors include her husband, Jack Moore of Roscoe; daughter Linda Moore of Amarillo; two sons, Steven Moore of Houston and Brett Moore of Iowa Park; one granddaughter, one grandson, and five great-grandchildren. 


  1. Everybody who's interested in early West Texas history has got to read "Buffalo Guns and Barbed Wire" by Don Hampton Biggers. Fascinating stuff.
    Joe Duncan
    Lillesand, Norway


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