Tag Archives: Texas History

Remarkable History of Two Historical Markers in a Small Texas Town

Holy Family Cemetery Historical Marker
Holy Family Cemetery Texas Historical Marker, Nazareth, Texas. 


Home Mercantile Historical Marker
Home Mercantile Texas Historical Marker, Nazareth, Texas. 


It’s hard to believe that it was four years ago when I was working on two Texas historical marker applications for the small Texas German town known as Nazareth. Time really does fly.

With any historical marker application, extensive research must be conducted to prove the history of the subject, the building, or the cemetery.  Both markers in Nazareth fell into the category of a subject marker and a cemetery marker.

Learning how the local mercantile store brought in oysters and had weekly boxing matches was quite revealing. Who would’ve thought in the middle of nowhere in the Texas Panhandle oysters were shipped in for the residents as a staple? Who would’ve thought that boxing matches held in the middle of the store gave the boys a much-needed outlet besides school and farming to vent their frustrations? Or that gingersnap cookies were sold from big barrels that you could grab them by the handfuls?

Back then it was not considered dangerous to store arsenic, mouse poison, calcium cyanide right across from bulk flour in the store. At least cyanide was in quart jars labeled as rat poison with skull and crossbones on the jars.

Researching the cemetery history revealed how the small German community did not escape TB, smallpox, typhoid fever, whooping cough, diphtheria, measles, or dysentery. Some men died in WWII. Some women died during childbirth. Remarkably, there were no deaths in 1918 in Nazareth even as the Spanish Flu swept through the community and later claimed one-half million lives in the U.S. I discovered that lightning caused four deaths.

I walked amongst the tombstones of that cemetery many times often with a great horned owl opening its eyes occasionally to see what I was up to. I came to see the names in a different light. Discovering how each person left this world gave me the understanding that no matter what – people endure and survive. Some of the tombstones gave me a little bit more – I had to learn some German.

I’m humbly proud of these two historical markers for the history they represent.  I’m eternally grateful for the getting to know Father Ken Keller (who passed earlier this year), Mary Helen Flores, and other people in this little community.  I think a little part of my heart will always be tied to Nazareth.


Photographs: ©Christena Stephens

Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge was First in Texas

Note: This is a story I wrote that was published in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal Caprock Chronicles, April 28, 2018. 

Link to the online story:



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Imagine being able to see the Llano Estacado as it once was before farming and development started. Even imagine being in a wagon crossing the vast Llano grassland and seeing a pair of Golden eagles dancing overhead. Now, keep those thoughts in your mind.

In 1935 this region was still in the midst of the Dust Bowl. Farmers were doing what they could to grow their crops and feed their families. However, migratory birds did not know what a Dust Bowl was. They were doing what they did naturally: migrate from the north to reside here for the winter and dine on farmers’ crops.

Naturally, these birds were distressing the farmers because they were eating up their profits and some farmers started shooting the birds. In the early 1930s, lesser sandhill cranes and other migratory birds were using the high plains in increasing numbers. They roosted on the saline or playa lakes at night and flew to surrounding agricultural fields at during the day to feed. There were numerous cases of shooting birds out of season in this region of Texas.

The federal government began noticing regional farmers’ plight during the Dust Bowl, plus they knew the farmers had to abide by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 enacted to protect migratory birds.

So in 1935, the Federal Government sought safety ports of over five million acres for migratory birds. The Bureau of Biological Survey considered 20 areas in the Texas Panhandle before they decided the lakes south of Muleshoe were the best for the acquisition and development by the agency. The lakes were in the heart of the country reporting the most damage from the feeding activities of migratory birds.

Among the last standing untouched native shortgrass prairie, Texas’ oldest National Wildlife Refuge was established after President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order No. 7214 on Oct. 24, 1935. At that time it was the smallest refuge purchased by the agency of around 5,800 acres.

By creating the Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge it became a win-win situation for regional farmers and for migratory birds.

With the signing of the Executive Order, the acquisition of the refuge lands began. The first purchase was in 1936 where the refuge headquarters is located from George, Mattie, and Annie Robinson.

The second land purchase, comprised of land located east of Texas 214, including Paul’s Lake, in December 1936, from Frank, Mattie, and John Paul.

The third land tract was purchased in February 1937, from Henry and Vivian Wilson and was of the southeast part of the refuge, including White Lake. The fourth acquisition of the southwest area of the refuge occurred in 1938. It was acquired from Isaac and Crawford Enochs.

Refuge lands were first placed under the protection of a caretaker in May 1937. The refuge’s first manager, James Walton, took charge in August 1937.

The original plan of development and management for the Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge included provisions for water developments, including a system of dikes, dams, and diversions to assure that there would be a permanent water source on the refuge even in times of extreme drought. Along with water development, the refuge planted trees and shrubs in the upland areas and would manage for upland game birds.

Not only did the refuge provide protection for birds, but also in its first years gave much-needed jobs for unemployed men. With the establishment of the Works Progress Administration Project in 1938, the headquarters buildings, residence, diversion canals, and dikes were built. The WPA workers planted approximately 80,000 tree and shrub seedlings on refuge lands during the spring of 1938.

There were up to 112 WPA workers at the refuge until 1942. By May 1942, all the buildings and major improvements on dikes and roads were completed — about the time the WPA program was terminated.

In 1940, the Bureau of Biological Survey became the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. By that time authorities estimated that refuge lakes were home to 250,000 ducks.

Muleshoe NWR is part of the High Plains Natural Area, and was designated as a National Natural Landmark of the Great Plains Natural Region on Aug. 11, 1980. The designation promotes good land stewardship for the protection and restoration of natural resources.

The refuge has changed little since the early days of the Llano Estacado and maintains one of the last shortgrass prairie environments on the Southern High Plains.

Wildlife in the refuge is still abundant, with lesser sandhill cranes still migrating to it yearly. Perhaps, visitors might glimpse a pair of Golden eagles playing in the strong updrafts of the high rocky outcrop at the Muleshoe Refuge and effortlessly soaring, diving and feinting at each other.

It’s why the refuge was created — for protection of bird species.