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Spirit of Lubbock's first settlers continues to linger

BY Doug Hensley
For the Avalanche-Journal

Their hallmarks were strength, presence and perseverance. Their legacy is a city built on a foundation that is equal parts innovation, cooperation and perspiration.

They were the pioneers of Lubbock, and while their physical presence has vanished, their shadows linger and serve as daily reminders that anything was - and is - possible on the South Plains.

"I can remember my grandmother, Eva, talking about living 30 miles basically from anything," said Jan Campbell, whose great-grandmother was Mollie Abernathy and whose great-grandfather was Frank Wheelock, two of Lubbock's most visionary pioneers. "That was hard living. They would get together to sew and basically for church services. Social activities were important and yet very difficult.

"As they got the town started, more social activities developed, a lot of which revolved around faith. They were forward-thinking, enterprising people who could not have built the town without cooperation."

Abernathy and her husband moved to Lubbock County in 1901 as part of a growing influx of early settlers in the region. According to the Handbook of Texas Online, the area's increasing population angered area ranchers, and in 1902, Mollie's husband, James Jarrott, was shot and killed. She married real estate developer Monroe G. Abernathy in 1905.

"My most poignant memories of Mollie and Ab involve going to her home," recalled Campbell. "They had a home near what is now MLK and the Loop. When you're growing up, you think homes are huge and then when you're older and look back, it was more like a matchbox. But her home, to me, was like a mansion. It was a two-story house filled with great furniture."

Campbell, who spent time around her great-grandmother until age 16, said there was much more to Abernathy than that warm and welcoming home, though.

"She was an unbelievable presence," she said. "She was a very kind and very strong person. You had a sense when you were around her that she had the courage and the fortitude to pull through anything. Of course, she had been widowed with three children at a young age."

Campbell said Abernathy's sense of purpose and presence remains a powerful memory today, almost 50 years after Abernathy's 1960 death.

"She was an inspiration to our family - to the women and the men in our family," she said. "We talked about how independent she was. She was incredibly independent. She had a sense of strength, and we grew up with that in our family."

Abernathy is generally regarded as the Lubbock's first businesswoman, according to the Handbook of Texas Online. She expanded the family ranch from four to 16 sections and developed a prime herd of registered Hereford cattle prior to remarrying. Monroe Abernathy, for whom the towns of Monroe (now New Deal) and Abernathy are named, was the perfect complement to his wife. Together, they were instrumental in helping bring the Santa Fe Railroad to Lubbock.

"He was a very educated man, and the two of them together were a very good team as pioneers," Campbell said. "I spent time around them. They were people of character."

The same was true of Carolyn Goebel's grandfather, W.S. Bledsoe, an attorney who arrived in Lubbock from Cleburne in 1909 - and whose impact continues to resonate today.

"He always said that most of the attorneys in Texas wanted to be in Cleburne, so he wanted to be out of Cleburne," Goebel said of her grandfather, who was a key in the creation of Texas Tech. "He had an uncle and his father were attorneys there, but he came to Lubbock in 1909. My dad came with him. He was just a boy at the time."

He served in the Texas House of Representatives from 1915-1919 and later in the Texas Senate until 1927. It was in the Senate that he sponsored Senate Bill 103, which created Texas Tech. He then worked on behalf of seeing the new college located in Lubbock.

"My brothers and sisters remember him as the greatest storyteller and granddad that any group of kids could have ever asked for," said Goebel, who was 5 years old when Bledsoe died in 1936.

Roland Myers' family also served as guiding lights during Lubbock's early days. His grandparents settled in Lubbock soon after marrying in 1905. They started a family right away as 14 children were born to the couple during the next 28 years with 11 reaching adulthood.

In 1907, Myers' great-grandfather, an attorney, was drawn by the promise of the South Plains. "They were pioneers and shapers," Myers said. "My grandfather and great-grandfather were involved in politics and were politicians as well."

Myers said his grandfather, C.A. Holcomb, started his career in public service when he became city treasurer. He later was elected city marshal, prevailing by one vote in 1916. Two years later, he ran for and was elected Lubbock County sheriff, winning re-election in 1920.

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The A-J Remembers The Most Important People in Lubbock's History

SPECIAL SECTIONS: 1909-1933 / 1934-1958 / 1959-1983 / 1984-PRESENT | PRINT VERSION