Today it is hot, but this Fourth of July column tells how that wasn’t always the case. I find it hard to believe that there was at least one Fourth of July that was just the opposite, but no matter what the weather, I think that we can celebrate our nation’s birth all year long, hot or cold, if we want to.
Maybe we should have gone en mass to Flowing Wells this week to pray for snow. I have written about the Fourth when it snowed there many years ago several times, but I often hear people who have heard the story before telling it again and today is a good time to retell it here.
As ridiculous as that sounds, it was the case on July 4, about 1920 when Mother Nature pitched a curve to the annual Fourth of July picnic held at Flowing Wells, southwest of Pottsboro.
When picnickers arrived for the usually sweltering holiday picnic, they were greeted by a blanket of snow. Instead of iced tea, they made hot chocolate. But the fun went on. About 1,000 people walked for several miles in the cold weather to get to Flowing Wells.
The story was told to the late John Clift, state editor of the Denison Herald for many years, by William Pearson, in about 1980. Pearson was 86 at the time that he and Clift talked.
He related to Clift that people came from both sides of the Red River in covered wagons, early versions of motor homes and campers, on horseback and on foot. Dances, side shows, rodeos, a musical carousel and political speeches provided entertainment. He said the Fourth of July celebration usually lasted three days.
Another story said that there were so many people that their wagons filled the nearby bottom land that now is covered by Lake Texoma. At the center of all the activity was what was known as the Big Well.
H.B. “Mitch” Lewis had the first Big Well Store southeast of the well, near the bank of Big Mineral Creek. In fact, it was the big overflow of the creek that caused him to go out of business.
In 1919, T.A. Anderson built a store from native cottonwood logs that had been cut at his sawmill. Walnut trees were brought out of the bottom to make the counter tops.
Anderson hired Sam Dutton to build a dam for a seven-acre lake and Sam and his son, Ed, spent three years using teams of mules and scrapers to complete the lake. The lake came out, according to John’s story, shaped in a figure eight with cattails and yankypin flowers forming an eight. John was told that the yankin was a flower with a leaf that was as hard as a plate. It had a seed in the center that turned into a pretty flower.
Anderson was said to have had an old flat-bottom paddle-wheel boat powered by a Model-T Ford engine. He charged a dime to ride around the lake that ranged from five to 12 feet deep.
Pearson told Clift that the Fourth of July always was great for Anderson’s business. While he had the lake, it was really the flowing well that brought more people. The well was finished out with a 20-inch pipe and water bubbled out at least three inches above it. The pipe was anchored with a concrete platform and drinking fountain at every corner. He said about 150 families depended on the water from the well that had what he said was “the purist water in the world.” He said the state lab backed up the claim.
Pearson said a trough was placed at the bottom of the well to catch water so the horses pulling wagons could get a drink long before the lake was built. Wagons would be pulled up to fill barrels then citizens would put tarps over the barrels with a hoop holding them in place so that the water wouldn’t all slosh out before they got home with the barrels. Many residents got the water for use on their farms. Some didn’t have wells because they were difficult to dig by hand and there were no pumps to get the water out.
Sam Dutton covered a route in Denison for customers who bought water. They paid him 75 cents for a five gallon jug. His son, Ed, related that Sam would make the trip in his T-Model Ford every three or four days, deliver a full jug and pick up the empty.
Pearson told John he had a valve in his flowing well so that he could turn it off or “we would have a swamp here,” he said.
Flowing Wells didn’t lose its popularity after the Denison Dam was built and the waters of Big Mineral backed up over the well and the surrounding recreation area. The Flowing Wells camp was built by Jack Atkins, Ray Shepherd and a partner and the engineers built the recreation area.
In 2005, I went to the area and had a drink of water from one of the flowing wells in the area near the former community of Hagerman. I later received an email from a reader saying the well north of Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge is no longer running.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at email@example.com. She has been a longtime contributor to the Herald Democrat with her bi-weekly column, which appears in the Wednesday and Sunday editions. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.