BRYAN COUNTY HISTORY: Kemp City- The town that blew away
Located in southern Bryan County, less than a mile from the Red River, is the tiny community of Hendrix. Hendrix was named in honor of James A. Hendrix, local businessman and the town’s first postmaster. It’s often confused with the nearby town of Kemp because it was once called Kemp City.
In 1908 the Missouri, Oklahoma and Gulf Railway began laying tracks through the area on its way south to Texas. Kemp residents were hopeful that the tracks would make their town a major shipping destination, but it soon became clear that the rail line would bypass Kemp. Locals accused Denison, Texas businessmen of unduly influencing that decision. In 1910 a group of residents petitioned the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to force the MO&G to build a side track and stop station west of Kemp. The railroad appealed, but the request was upheld.
In June of 1910 the Durant Daily Democrat announced the formation of a company to establish and promote an “embryo municipality” on land owned by J. B. Webb, near the new M. O. & G. bridge over the Red River. The 160-acre townsite had been surveyed into blocks and a group of local businessmen were ready to turn it into a thriving community. They were A. S. Burrows of Denison; Prof. E. B. Hinshaw of Durant; T. H. Fowler of Celina, Texas; G. W. Ellis and I. H. Cox of Kemp; and J. M. Webb, already residing in the new townsite, officially christened “Kemp City” by the group. Prof. Hinshaw was chosen president of the company and soon began work on his own residence.
A bright future was envisioned for Kemp City because of its rich soil, which produced an abundance of corn and cotton, its cattle and hog production, and of course, it’s location on the railroad. The company soon received applications for building sites from a variety of businessmen. A bank in Kemp planned to move to the new location. Just north was the Bloomfield Seminary. By the spring of 1916 Kemp City was flourishing, with a dozen businesses, a fine hotel, and over sixty homes. Then, on May 26, 1916 all but three buildings were scattered across the county by a powerful tornado.
The path of the storm was about three-quarters of a mile wide and quite unexpected. Many of the survivors reported hearing a thundering sound just minutes before they were covered by debris. Nine people were killed instantly and thirty-eight were injured. Later, two of those died.
Mr. Cox, manager of the Lingo-Leeper lumber company, died and so did his wife. Dr. William Brinson and his wife were killed. M. A. Thomas, postmaster, died, as did Chaney Battle, Artile Pleasant, Mrs. J. W. Hivley, and two young children of J. C. McCullough. Those injured were taken to a home still standing and requests for help were sent to Durant and Denison. Groups of concerned volunteers, and donations of food and clothing came from both communities. The railroad brought a carload of doctors from Denison.
In addition to the tragedy of that day there were some miracles. Mr. and Mrs. Cox’s infant was injured, but lived. Three guests were pulled out of the destroyed hotel. The railroad depot survived with only some damage. The depot clock had stopped at 9:23.
In the weeks following the tornado many organizations in the county raised money for the survivors. Durant sent $900. People donated clothing and household goods to replace
those scattered by the wind. An insurance policy belonging to A. N. Thomas was found ten miles away.
Though the predictions were that the town would never be rebuilt, some new homes and businesses were constructed. In 1920 the community had 130 residents. For years the town kept its Hendrix postal designation while still calling its location Kemp City. Then in 1967 residents petitioned the county to have the name officially changed to Hendrix. The population in 2019 was 74.
Bryan County History is a weekly feature contributed by members of the Bryan County Genealogy Library and Archives in Calera. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group. Is there a historic event or topic you want to read about? Contact the library at P.O. Box 153, Calera, OK 74730.