Amarillo was settled in the spring of 1887. The Fort Worth & Denver City Railroad was building diagonally across the Panhandle of Texas southeast to northwest; the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe northeast to southwest. At their intersection, somewhere south of the Canadian River, a great cattle shipping market was inevitable. Trail driving days were over.
It became apparent the shipping center would be southeast of the Fort Worth & Denver City’s Amarillo Creek crossing, as far north on the Plains as possible and yet keeping clear of the Canadian River. Washburn had a geographical advantage, but personal energy centered attention on the Amarillo site.
A Place Called Ragtown The Amarillo business center, which was originally called Ragtown, was laid out near the present intersection of Bowie and West 4th. Town-site promoters paid the State of Texas $1,280 for 640 acres of school land.
The name Amarillo, which means yellow in Spanish, was probably chosen because of the color of the sub-soil in nearby Amarillo Creek. In the early days most houses were painted yellow in honor of the name.
A county courthouse was built in 1888 of brick made from the Amarillo Creek. The original court house square was bounded by Travis, Bowie, Fourth and Fifth streets in “Old Town.” The railroad depot was south of the tracks between Ong and Lipscomb. Stockyards and loading chutes were northwest of the present downtown area. Amarillo soon sported a post office, hotel, stores, saloon, dwellings and one or two windmills.
In 1889 the town began to move, mostly on wheels, to the Glidden & Sanborn addition a mile to the east. The depot was hauled to Polk and First. The Amarillo Hotel, a large wooden structure, was built at Polk and Third. By 1890 businesses and houses were strung along Polk and Taylor. The first public utility was a water supply system from a windmill and tanks at the Sanborn homestead.
The “Old Town” remained officially at the courthouse until an election in May, 1893 moved it to the Glidden and Sanborn addition. County offices were rented in the business center and books and records were carried back and forth.
From Whistle Stop To City By 1910 the population of Amarillo had grown to 9,957. In 1913 Amarillo wrote its own charter as authorized that year by the Texas Legislature. The charter was favored by 657 and opposed by 169 at the election on November 13. Under this charter Amarillo was the first city in the Southwest, and the fifth in the United States, to adopt the Commission-Manager form of government.
The Iron Horse Industry in Amarillo began with railroads, cattle and merchandising. The first Fort Worth & Denver City passenger train arrived in Amarillo in March of 1888 from Clarendon, which was the former terminal. Construction was completed to Texline where the Fort Worth & Denver City connected with the Colorado and Southern. The two companies, with a system reaching from Wyoming to the Gulf of Mexico, were now consolidated into the Burlington System. In 1928 the Fort Worth & Denver City built a network of railroads on the South Plains that greatly benefited Amarillo. In 1931 they began building from Childress to Pampa.
The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe stopped building when it reached the town of Panhandle in 1887, but brought its trains to Amarillo over the Fort Worth & Denver City tracks by way of a “topline” connecting Panhandle and Washburn.
The Pecos Valley & North Eastern, known locally as the Pea Vine, built into Amarillo from Roswell in 1898. That same year it came under control of the A.T. &S.F. which started its through-train service from the east to Roswell and westward in August, 1899. The A.T. &S.F. built connecting linkage from Panhandle to Amarillo in 1908, and continued south to Sweetwater in 1911, northeast to Borger in 1926, and north toward Los Animas as far as Boise City in 1931.
The Cheyenne, Oklahoma & Western, nicknamed the “Cow Track,” built into Amarillo from the east in 1902. It soon took control of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific, and extended construction to Tucumcari in 1904 and built northeast to Liberal in 1928.
Cattle From 1888 and into the early 1890’s Amarillo became the world’s greatest cattle shipping market, a position held until the railroad through to Roswell intercepted shipments of vast herds formerly driven from the south to Amarillo. At times 50,000 head were within sight of town. Herds often were held for two weeks at the water holes and on the prairie waiting for railroad cars to haul them away.
Hereford cattle breeding was started in 1877 by Col. Charles Goodnight and Judge O.H. Nelson, who brought registered bulls to the Panhandle and mixed them with native Longhorns.
Interbred herds developed a distinctive Panhandle beef, inheriting Longhorn hardiness and Hereford beef quality. From the beginning, Amarillo was the center of this industry.
Agriculture No crops were grown in early cattle days. A steer could be raised on the open range for the cost of a chicken. But with the fencing of the ranges and improved cattle grades, the growing of fodder, sorghum and millet began as early as 1890.
Around the turn of the century, following early fodder experiments, wheat planting began. The Panhandle area eventually developed into a major wheat belt of America. Today the region produces grain sorghum, cotton, vegetables and other crops.
Amarillo Firsts Amarillo’s first newspaper was the Amarillo Northwestern founded in 1887 by D.F. Rudolph; it was followed by the Amarillo Champion in 1889, founded by H.H. Brooks.
When the printing office was moved from “Old Town” in 1896, the building displayed many bullet holes, mementos of early day “shoot outs.” The third newspaper, and only survivor of the pioneer days, was the Amarillo News founded in 1892 by J.L. Caldwell.
The first schoolhouse was built in 1889 near a lake in the vicinity of Van Buren and Eighth. West Texas State University at Canyon was founded in 1909, and Amarillo College in 1929. Scheduled airplane transportation began on June 19, 1929 and air mail service on July 1, 1930.
Gas was discovered in September, 1918, two miles north of Amarillo in the Hapgood well. This has grown to be the world’s second largest gas field; pipelines deliver Panhandle gas as far away as the Atlantic seaboard, creating the world’s largest natural gas development.
Black Gold (petroleum) was discovered on May 2, 1920 by Gulf Production Company on the Burk Burnett 6666 Ranch.
Natural gas and petroleum, found within an hour’s drive of Amarillo, gave rise to many of the city’s major industries.