The History of Argyle
Sam Bass and Buried Treasure
Prior to 1881, Argyle was known as Pilot Knob, named so by early settlers to the area after an oblong hill rising above the prairie of southern Denton. “The Knob,” as it was referred to, marks the end of the Eastern Cross Timbers and the beginning of the Grand Prairie. It was also the lookout for infamous outlaw, Sam Bass. Sam and his gang robbed the Pacific Union Railroad of $60,000 in newly minted 1877 twenty dollar gold pieces. Sam Bass died at the age of 27 of gunshot wounds sustained in a battle with the Texas Rangers who hoped to capture him. Some still claim that the gold is buried in a cave, inside the Knob, that has since collapsed. The subsequent growth that the community experienced was due less though to buried treasure and more to an abundance of water.
The availability of water and a place to hold worship services were two determining factors that influenced the pattern of settlement and the way of life for early pioneers of Argyle. One such area that served both purposes was the old camp meeting grounds and Johns’ Well located two miles west of Argyle, at what now is described as the Old Justin Road and I-35W intersection. The history of the Argyle community would not be complete without including Johns’ Well and the Campgrounds.
Johns’ Well and Campground
The water in Johns’ Well flowed in a circle to a depth of twenty-five to thirty feet. When other wells would dry up, settlers would come from miles around to haul water back home for their use. Ingenuity provided an easier method of drawing water from the well. A bucket was tied on each end of the well rope and each time it was pulled up, a bucket of water was drawn. Various types of rigging with ropes, wheels, pulleys, wagons and sleds were utilized by the settlers to use “horse” power rather than “man” power to draw water from the well.
The gatherings at Johns’ Well Camp Ground fulfilled both the religious and social needs of the early settlers. The services were held in a brush arbor on the hickory ridge of the Camp Grounds and the families literally “camped around” the arbor. Mrs. Hicks recalls attending the protracted religious meetings at the Camp Grounds with her parents and ten brothers and sisters. The family traveled by wagon and slept in a two-room tent at the Camp Grounds. Her father would build a brush arbor to serve as a kitchen and dining room. The cook stove was placed at the outer edge of the arbor to prevent fires. Usually held in the fall of the year following harvest, the gatherings featured preaching, visiting, family reunions, recreation and even pranks. Such pranks included putting “high-life” (a chemical which had a strong burning sensation that was used to kill weevils in the feed granary bins for the next year’s seed crop of wheat or corn) on the Mourner’s Bench and switching babies in the family wagons. The latter proved most dismaying to families from Krum, Chinn Chapel, Shiloh or Roanoke when on their arrival back home they discovered they had the wrong baby with them.
The Camp is now the site of a home constructed by the Eugene Wright’s in 1980. Johns’ Well is no longer in use, having been abandoned in 1963. Until that time, the well was still used as a source of water for household purposes for three families. The well is now covered by wooden boards, but still has water in it. Both the Campgrounds and Johns’ Well are intertwined in the settlement of the Argyle community. The Argyle settlement just would not have taken place without a supply of water and a place to nourish the religious needs of the early settlers.
Cotton and Cattle
One of the first commercial enterprises in the Argyle area was the cattle business. Post-Civil War settlers had brought their cattle with them in their migration to Argyle and found that the area was all open range. The cattle business really began to boom after the coming of the railroad in 1881 and continued to be the livelihood of many settlers during the early 1900’s. As well as encouraging the cattle business, the railroad opened the door to new enterprises for Argyle farmers. With transportation, far-off markets became accessible, and farmers began to grow small grain crops such as wheat and oats as a commercial crop. Very little hay was raised during this early period of Argyle’s history, and old-timers recall that cattle pastured on dead grass during the winter months. Some of the farmers expanded into the sheep and hog raising business.
By the turn of the century, cotton had also become a major crop in the Argyle area, and most of it was ginned locally in the cotton gin built in 1908 by J.C. Smith on the east side of the railroad (on the lot behind the present Gulf Service Station operated by Ben Brown). ‘Almost everyone grew cotton,” say some of the old timers, and school days were shortened for many youngsters who were excused early either to pick cotton or to work in the gin. John Thompson (Argyle resident and former Precinct 3 County Commissioner, 1950-1964) began working in the cotton gin in 1912 at the age of sixteen. According to Thompson, he worked at the gin from 1912 to 1929, and he recalls that one season over 3,000 bales of cotton were ginned. A good cotton picker or hand could pick three to four hundred pounds of cotton a day. The pay was about 65 cents per hundred pounds or about $2.00 per day. The combination of boll weevils, soil exhaustion, and low prices caused cotton farming to decline in Argyle. The gin burned in 1930 and was not rebuilt. Many farmers in Argyle then turned to peanuts, and sold some peaches, pears and plums to their neighbors in Justin. Will Gibbons, remembers taking fruit to Dallas and getting ten cents each for watermelons.
Cops and Robbers
The Argyle State Bank had its beginning on September 29, 1906, when a group of citizens filed with the Secretary of State of Texas for a bank charter. A red brick building housed the bank in the front part and the back part was a drugstore. The bank had a rather unusual history attached to its brief existence in the Argyle community. According to Mrs. Miller Faught, a long-time Argyle resident, the sleepy populace was awakened by explosions at 1:30 AM on February 14, 1912. None of the citizens ventured out to confront the robbers as ten explosions were heard through the town. The Denton County Sheriff was notified but was delayed by a flat tire, and the desperados made a clean, safe getaway with $1700.00. All that remained for the sheriff to see was the bare blasted bank vault. A day long search failed to produce the bandits. Rumors have it that Jesse James, the Dalton Brothers, the Story’s or the Chadwick Gang might have robbed the bank, but no one knows for sure
What’s in a Name?
The town of Argyle was founded in 1881. Some say that local, resident physician, Daniel McIntyre Stewart, whose family was from Argyll, Scotland, assisted in the survey of the new town and in its naming. Still others believe that a railroad surveyor, helping to survey the area, named the town after a garden in France. Recently Argyle officials looked to the past when choosing the town logo. The sprawling, stylized “A” is actually part of the signature of the late Ian Campbell, the 12th Duke of Argyll, Scotland. Argyle Police Chief Tackett traveled to Scotland in 1999 to meet the current Duke and make him an honorary Argyle Police officer. Chief Tackett said he was extremely pleased to have something of historical significance attached to the town logo. Tackett had maintained contact with Inveraray Castle in Argyll Scotland and sent a letter to the current resident, his Grace Torquhil Ian Campbell, the 13th Duke of Argyll. His Grace replied back and stated that “its (the logo) almost identical and what an honour.” “Our namesake recognition with Argyllshire, Scotland and the signature of the 12th Duke of Argyll combine to make our logo something very special to us and one of interesting conversation to others outside our community,” says Town Administrator Lyle Dresher.
The above has been taken in part from the following sources:
- History of Argyle: Written and compiled by Yvonne A. Jenkins with some updates provided by Chief William T. Tackett
- The Place is Argyle written by Lynn Sheffield Simmons