Border Towns

Welcome back. With all the talk of border security along with President Trump’s visit to the border town of Nogales, Arizona this week I thought I’d take you there with me. I should add that in the seventeen years I have been writing for this paper I have stayed away from politics and today’s column is no different, I am simply trying to give you readers an idea of what this place is like and its history. Founded in 1884, Nogales is the largest border town in Arizona with a population of over 20,000 people but on the Mexican side of the border the population grows to 212,533 folks. Just a short 100 mile drive from Tucson which is the second largest city in Arizona, Nogales has four ports of entry bringing over thirty billion dollars’ worth of goods from Mexico into the United States every year. This trade has a big economic impact on thousands of people on both sides of the border and for a long time that border was left mostly unattended. The area that surrounds the border is marked by rolling hills and valleys full of the black walnut trees that Nogales was named for when it was still part of Mexico. Back in 1955 the film version of Oklahoma was filmed here and the rugged terrain has attracted many other movie and TV productions over the years. Except for a few cattle ranches this arid region has been a no man’s land during hot summer days when temperatures rise well above 100 degrees and in the winter when the cold winds can kill you. There’s not much surface water out here and critters like rattlesnakes and badgers are common, all of which can mean trouble for humans. Yet despite these difficulties people have been crossing the border in this area for years, making a path across the imaginary line separating the two countries. In the1970s smugglers of all kinds used the passage to bring in any kind of contraband a person could think of to make a buck on. If it was something they couldn’t bring through customs, they simply walked ten miles outside of town and took their goods across the border there. Taxi cab drivers could usually spot a person who needed a ride to that area and they were always obliging. The smugglers always looked the same, Americans dressed in dark clothes with hiking boots and carrying a canteen or two. Once they were dropped off they waited until the dead of night before starting their twelve mile trek across the border. Up and down treacherous rocky hills they walked all night, arriving at dawn to a prearranged meeting with a partner. If they were late the driver wouldn’t wait, figuring they had killed by snakes or other smugglers or arrested by the Mexican federal troops. If the smugglers made it, the drive back to Tucson along long deserted roads could be just as tricky. Bandits lay in wait for dumb Americans and the price to get by them was high. When smugglers disappeared it didn’t usually make the news but it happened all the time along the border of Arizona and Mexico. What we will do about border security in this area now, only history will tell. Till next time, I’ll see ya down the road….

Tyler Cement: The First in the Country

Welcome back. In last week’s column you learned a bit about the Drummond family and their relationship to the king of Hungary. This week it’s another family dynasty and their history which stretches across not only Washington County but the entire four state region. It all started in 1905 when Herbert Tyler and his son Donald came to the area looking for two things, natural gas and large deposits of limestone and shale. Both were plentiful just east of Dewey and in February 1908 after buying land, drilling for gas and building the first of several concrete silos, the Tylers sold the first sack of concrete in the state.

A success from day one, the Tylers were one of the town’s largest employers and many of their workers were Mexican Americans who had migrated and settled in Dewey. The job paid twenty cents an hour for twelve hour shifts seven days a week and it was hard work but I learned from my research that these men also had fun when I read that they had their own band. Yes friends, the Dewey Portland Cement Mexican Band as they were called played whenever they could find the time.

A plant manager and co-owner of the company, Don was also an oil producer, cattleman and big time philanthropist. He not only gave money for youth in agriculture, he financed the building of the Ag center and the Dewey fairgrounds and then the construction of the library. In addition he donated the land for Don Tyler City Park.

According to the books published by the Washington County Historical Society it was the success of the concrete plant and then the new smelter west of Bartlesville that pushed growth in the area. Frank Overlees, William Johnstone, George Keeler and Frank Phillips were all building WAn early legend in the construction business, Felix went on to build the Phillips mansion and many other homes and churches in the community. His son Arthur followed in his footsteps, then Charles, then his grandson Arthur who took over in 1962 and of course today the companies are run by Art’s sons John and Tom which is another story.

By 1908 Bartlesville and Dewey had grown so much that the Bartlesville Interurban Company was formed to provide transportation in and around the towns. There were three train cars, a large one for the trip to Dewey, a smaller one for service to Smelter town and the last one for the Bartlesville loop as it was called. The cars ran both ways and the fare was ten cents each way. With all this growth back in the 1900s, Bartlesville was on its way to becoming the community we know today. The next time you drive down Don Tyler Boulevard in Dewey or Johnstone, Keeler, Adams or Phillips, remember the contributions of these early business leaders who shaped so much of what we have here in Bartlesville and Dewey.

Till next time I’ll see ya down the road……