Web Extra: Joe Benton Collection
See related: Go Nocona!
The Tales ‘N’ Trails Museum in Nocona displays many items from the extensive collection of the late Joe Benton, a local cattle rancher and oilman (and mayor of Nocona from 1915-1917) with a passionate interest in history, especially the history of Montague County. Benton’s descendants also donated six acres of land for the museum, which opened in June 2010.
During the first half of the 1900s, Benton amassed a huge array of items from the Red River Valley, including French and Spanish artifacts from the mid-1600s and 1700s, as well as Native American grinding stones, pottery, and beads. Some of the oldest items are Paleoindian points that date to between 10,000 to 8,000 B.C.
“About 90 percent of the items came from the Spanish Fort area,” says Nell Ann McBroom, the museum’s collection manager. “Youngsters would search for arrowheads along the banks of the Red River and exchange them with Mr. Benton for a nickel to go to the movies and get a coke. This was in the 1940s, before people realized how damaging looting was to archeological sites.”
Visitors can see hundreds of the Red River Valley artifacts in the museum’s permanent exhibit on Native American culture. Others are on display in temporary exhibits, which rotate every four months. “It’s a massive collection; there’s no way we’ll be able to display all of it in my lifetime,” says McBroom.
“Mr. Benton also gathered a wonderful cache of first-hand accounts of life on the Chisholm Trail, which passed through Nocona,” says Shannon Gillette, a museum board member and author of Images of America: Nocona (Arcadia Publishing, 2011). “In 1910, he placed ads in newspapers throughout the Southwest, asking anyone who had driven cattle down the trail to write and tell him about their experiences. He received 80 letters, one of which was from the chief of police in Abilene, J.J. Clinton, a former trail boss. In this letter, dated September 6, 1910, Clinton writes:
‘The first herd I drove we had 1900 hed [sic] of steers, twenty men, forty horses, an old wagon and a yoke of steers, and I lost about 125 head of cattle on the trip. The last herd I drove, I had 5027 head of mixed cattle, eleven men, besides myself, 85 horses, a big wagon drawn by four horses, and I only lost 23 head of cattle on that trip. The men were paid from $35.00 to $50.00 per month, the boss getting from $100.00 to $200.00 per month.’”
Gillette’s book details other aspects of Benton’s
collections, as well as Nocona’s history. It retails for $21.99 and is
available at the Trails ‘N’ Tales Museum or through www.amazon.com.
The Trails ‘N’ Tales Museum is at 1522 E. Hwy. 82 (US 82 and Airport Rd.), 940/825-5330; www.talesntrails.org. Admission: $3, $2 ages 11 and younger and age 62 and older. Hours: Mon-Sat 10-5; Sun by appt.
From the June 2012 issue.