Barstow, Texas is a town in West Texas, not far from the corner where New Mexico juts into the Permian Basin. The census sign at the city edge, from 2000, claims that there are 400 people living there, but I can’t figure out where they are. The town has absolutely no commercial or retail enterprises. No kind of business where money changes hands, anywhere. You can’t get a gallon of gas, a bottle of water, a meal (although I did see a lady seeing burritos out of an ice chest last summer). There are no businesses. There are, however, three churches. Because of this, it has a very high poverty level.
I drive through this town frequently on my way to an oilfield location where my company built a plant last year, between Barstow and Mentone. I’ve done a bit of research, and found that the town was founded about 140 years ago by a gentleman from Rhode Island who was considered an expert on irrigation, and recruited people to the rich but extremely dry area to develop an agricultural center. The area produced considerable grapes and vegetables, until a dam on the Pecos River failed.
Although the Pecos was, in this area, a fairly large river back then, irrigation, drought, and upstream dams have turned it into a muddy stream in this part of the state. The term “West of the Pecos” once referred to the beginning of the “Wild West“. You may have heard the stories about Judge Roy Bean , the “only law west of the Pecos” as played somewhat fictionally by Paul Newman in the 1972 film “The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean.”
After the dam failed in the first part of the 20th century, the town declined and never returned. The first bank built in Ward County is still standing. The sturdy red stone, quarried locally, gives a structure and permanence to the building that the wooden trim, blistered by the unending desert sun, can’t compete with. Peering through the windows, you can see a stone and wood mantel against the wall, one that an antique dealer would probably die for, and the remnants of the bank teller’s stand near the back. The rest of the room is piled with boxes and dust. Across the street, you can see the somewhat sadder remains of the Citizens Bank.
The other buildings along the tiny main street are empty and crumbling. The original post office was long ago boarded up and moved into a tiny mobile unit. The sheriff’s office in a small building with a front porch and rocking chairs adjacent. In the cool parts of the morning, I’ll see a couple older men sitting in silence and staring at the occasional cars and big water trucks lumbering past, headed for the drilling rigs in the surrounding countryside. Last summer, while I was working there, the temperature reached 120 F several days, and the rocking men were no where to be seen. In an article I read recently, the writer referred to Barstow as a ghost town, that hasn’t quite realized it was a ghost town.
A few more pictures:
- Barstow (lost-texas.com)
- Permian Basin of West Texas seeing oil boom (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Loving County Part 1 – Crappy Places to Be From (twodifferentgirls.com)
- Texas Senator Tries to Block Lizard Listing (earthairwaves.kunm.org)
- Judge Roy Bean (zendictive.wordpress.com)