Caprock Chronicles: Visiting the Garden of Eden

Staff Writer
Lubbock Avalanche-Journal
The Harvey House at Vaughn, New Mexico was under construction when Fannie Teague moved to nearby Encino and became one of the first Harvey Girls to work there before transferring to Slaton in 1912.

Editor’s Note: Caprock Chronicles is edited each week by Jack Becker, a librarian at Texas Tech University. He can be reached at Today’s essay, by Gene Lynskey, a life-long resident of Cochran County and hunting guide, recounts memorable visits with great-grandparents in Slaton. A second collection of Caprock Chronicles are now available in the book “Historic Tales of the Llano Estacado.” Look for it at your favorite book seller.

Recently, I wrote about my grandfather Courtney Sanders’ discovery of a bison kill site in a canyon north of Slaton where he grew up. He later moved to Morton and raised his family and that’s where I grew up — out on a dusty farm northwest of town, just a few miles from the New Mexico state line.

My great-grandparents, H. G. and Edith Sanders, first lived in Young County and then in Floyd County where they farmed and ranched before returning to north Texas in 1919. They followed the Burkburnett oil boom with a tent grocery store. But, with a growing family, Edith insisted they leave the lawless oil towns, so they moved, in the early 1920s, to Slaton where they established the Texas Grocery Store, located on the square. In the early 1930s, they bought an “almost new home” on West Garza Avenue, the house that we all would later love to visit.

For a young child like me that grew up in a house in the 1960s in which sand sifted in every time the wind blew, the Sanders house in Slaton seemed grand. It was a red-bricked bungalow with a beautiful red tile roof and a covered front porch with a swing. It had a musty basement and an old coal shoot with a furnace which made a wonderful place to explore. The yard was covered in pecan, walnut, elm, apricot and even a magnolia tree, which produced gigantic blooms. In the back, there was a small rock-lined pond with goldfish and huge flower beds, as well as a garage with attached servant quarters. For me, it was a Garden of Eden.

Slaton also had sounds you would never hear on a cotton farm. You could stand outside and hear church bells ringing to let you know the time of day, and you could always hear freight trains roaring through town.

I once got to spend the summer in the servant quarters behind the house. From there, it was an easy walk across the street to see my other great-grandmother, Fannie Belle Green Teague. She was a living history, born in 1891 in north Texas, she later moved with the family to a half-dug-out in Indian Territory in 1899.

Then, about 1909, when Fannie was about 18, the Teagues moved to New Mexico to try homesteading. Meanwhile, the Santa Fe Railroad completed a Harvey House at nearby Vaughn, New Mexico, and a female railroad agent there soon recruited her to become a Harvey Girl at the new facility.

The Harvey Houses alongside the major railroad routes were probably the nation’s first fast-food restaurants. Their prim and proper waitresses—the Harvey Girls—could take orders and serve their traveling guests within a few minutes while the train was loading water and fuel.

Fannie’s work as a Harvey Girl led to her transfer to the Harvey House in Slaton when it opened in 1912. Soon she met and married, in 1915, Joe Teague, Jr., the railroad’s night ticket agent. In 1916, Joe and his father established a confectionery store, which later became Teague Drug, which operated in Slaton for 71 years until it closed in 1987. They raised three children.

When we were kids, Fannie would drive us to the drug store in her 1957 Ford coupe. Even though she would be almost a block away, she would kill the engine and coast right up to the front of the store, sometimes running up on the curb and sidewalk. I guess she was trying to conserve gas like they did during the Depression.

Then, she would order us hot sweet limes from the soda fountain and let us pick out a stack of comic books to take back to the house and read. I remember feeling guilty for not paying for the comic books.

From the drug store, Fannie would drive us to the railroad depot and park at the Harvey House where she worked more than fifty years before. We would watch the trains which always stopped, because Slaton was still a division point on the railroad. Then, she headed back to her house along Railroad Avenue, which paralleled the train tracks.

What a treat to be chauffeured by this unique lady who lived alongside Indians at the turn of the century, who witnessed many wars, the Great Depression, and survived the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918-19. She once traveled in a covered wagon, yet saw a man land on the moon. She indeed was a living history book.

I never knew my great grandfathers, H. G. Sanders and Joe Teague Jr., who died in 1948 and 1961 respectively. Fortunately, I knew well my great grandmothers, Edith Sanders, who lived in the glorious house on Garza until her death in 1980, and the ageless Fannie Teague, who lived right across the street until her death in 1992—one week shy of being 101. Both remained wise and alert until the very end.

Edith Sanders, c. 1960.  Mrs. Sanders lived in Slaton from about 1922 until her death in 1980.