By Garner Roberts
County Judge John Watts Murray cast the deciding vote in 1883 that cost Buffalo Gap its status as county seat of Taylor County. And his vote cost Murray his chickens.
There was an election Oct. 23, 1883, in the county to determine the county seat. Buffalo Gap, the only town in the county when it was organized in 1878, had been the county seat since 1874, but residents of the new railroad town of Abilene, 13 miles to the northeast, wanted to move the seat of government. They presented a petition, and Murray called an election.
A total of 1,174 votes were cast, including 875 in Abilene, where 864 people voted for their emergent town. Elsewhere in the county, 258 of 299 people voted for Buffalo Gap, which lost the election 905 to 269. Buffalo Gap “protesters” claimed the Texas & Pacific Railway brought outsiders into town on election day, treated them to whiskey at the lumberyard, and hauled them back home after they voted.
They protested “long and loud” and attempted to nullify the election, but they were unsuccessful. When commissioners met a week later in Buffalo Gap to canvass the votes, they split 2-2 before Judge Murray cast the deciding vote for Abilene.
A local legend says Murray and his family went to Abilene later that afternoon. An account in the Abilene Reporter-News in 1981 said, “That night Buffalo Gap protesters, finding the judge gone, killed and ate all his chickens.”
Home for Judge Murray and his chickens was a small town located in a gap in the Callahan Divide where buffalo trampled a trail to water on Elm Creek and grazed on the plains before the area was settled. Buffalo hunters camped in the town, which dates to 1857, in the 1860s and 1870s and transported their kill to Fort Griffin and other markets. Lt. Gov. Richard B. Hubbard approved the selection of Buffalo Gap as the temporary county seat in 1874, and it was made official in 1878 when the county was organized, and a post office opened.
The population grew to about 1,200 by 1880 with a blacksmith shop, drugstore, hotel, jail, grocery stores, churches, and saloon, but it quickly declined after the county seat moved to Abilene – the new home of T&P Railway – to 600 residents in 1884, 400 in 1892 and 500 in 1914. Between 1925 and 1980 the population varied from 250 to 400, and census data reported 464 people in 2010. Buffalo Gap Presbyterian College opened in 1885 but lost its charter in 1902. The native limestone jail/courthouse dating to 1879 is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Buffalo Gap is located in east central Taylor County at an elevation of about 1,900 feet on the old Center Line Trail from El Paso to Texarkana. It is on the Callahan Divide, a topographic boundary between the basins of Brazos and Colorado rivers.
Texas State Historical Association
Buffalo Gap Messenger
West Texas Historical Association
“A History of Rural Taylor County,” Juanita Daniel Zachry, 1980
[Street Scene at Buffalo Gap], photograph, 1900~; University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting McMurry University Library.