The Callahan Divide, a range of mountains running east to west through Taylor and Callahan Counties, south of Interstate 20, separates the Brazos River watershed from the Colorado River watershed. About midway in the range is an opening, or gap, known as Buffalo Gap, in the hills south of Abilene.

For many years American bison, better known as buffalo, used this opening to migrate from their summer grazing grounds in the north to their winter grounds in the south. During their twice-yearly migration several thousand buffalo a day would go through this area, hence the name.

The Indians would set up camp near the gap and get their supply of meat and hides as the buffalo herds came through.

In later years, starting about 1874, hide hunters came to this area and made camp. They slaughtered buffalo, got the hides and left the carcasses to rot. They carried the hides to nearby Fort Griffin and sold them. After the vultures and coyotes had cleaned the bones and they bones bleached in the sun awhile, bone gatherers gathered and sold them.

As more people came to the area, the town of Buffalo Gap grew up. Some of the first homes in the area were dugouts of the buffalo hunters. For several years Buffalo Gap was the only town in Taylor County. When the county was organized in 1878 Buffalo Gap became the county seat.

Buffalo Gap was located on the famous Dodge (or Western) Cattle Trail.

A small two-story limestone building was constructed with a courtroom and offices on the first floor and a jail on the second floor. This courthouse was finished in 1879.

In 1881 the Texas and Pacific Railway built a line through the northern part of Taylor County, bypassing Buffalo Gap. A new town by the name of Abilene, named for Abilene, Kan., in hopes of it being as prosperous as its namesake, grew up along the railroad. As Abilene began to develop into a shipping center, Buffalo Gap declined in population. An election was held in 1883 making Abilene became the new county seat. The people of Buffalo Gap attempted to challenge the election results by force of arms but were quickly suppressed.

By 1880 Buffalo Gap had a population of 1,200, a drugstore, a carriage and blacksmith shop, a hotel, a jail, three or four grocery stores and a saloon. After losing the county-seat status to Abilene in 1883 the population dropped to 600 in 1884 and 300 by 1890. From 1925 to 1980 the population fluctuated between 250 and 400.

In 1956 Ernest Walter Wilson purchased the old rock courthouse and started a museum in it with Indian and western artifacts. Before his death in 1970 he purchased two other historical Taylor County buildings and moved them near the old courthouse. This was the beginning of the Buffalo Gap Historic Village.

The property was eventually purchased by Dr. R. Lee Rode in 1977. Rode and his wife continued to expand the facility by purchasing other historic structures in the area. When he retired from medical practice in 1999, the village was offered for sale. With the assistance of the Taylor County Historical Foundation, the village was kept intact and acquired by the Grady McWhiney Research Foundation and operated as a nonprofit educational facility.

The first building you enter at the village contains the souvenir shop and a Texas history store. Here you will find many Texas-related books, gifts and souvenirs. If a book has been published about Texas, you will probably find it here. They are also continuously showing a video of the history of Taylor County.

As you leave the store you come to the two-story limestone Taylor County Courthouse and jail. The first floor contained the county clerk, sheriff and judge’s offices, and the courtroom. The second floor contained a cell for hostile prisoners and a larger “run about” for general prisoners. The second floor now contains a large Indian artifact and gun collection.

In the late 1800s about the only tobacco products available were chewing tobacco and pipe tobacco for smoking or maybe rolling your own cigarette. Nobody had even heard of a cigarette lighter. Anyone who smoked carried matches for a light. One thing that really caught my attention was a sign over the door of the sheriff’s office that read: “$10.00 FINE for SPITTING on the FLOOR or SCRATCHING MATCHES on the WALL.”

The next structure on the tour will be the Marshal Tom Hill house built in 1881, home of Abilene’s first marshal. It is the only building of box construction remaining in Taylor County.

Next door is a one-room log cabin, home of J. M. Knight, a former buffalo hunter, who built the cabin in 1875 for his family. The family raised six of its 13 children here. The cabin is an excellent example of a “single-pen cabin,” typical across the American South. The wood is native cedar.

Farther along the way is an old depot with a double-seat bench inside along with a coal heater. There are two restored Railway Express wagons at the end of the building.

Among other businesses represented is the Buffalo Gap Post Office, an old bank building containing furnishings from the First State Bank of Buffalo Gap. There is also an early 20th century print shop with a printing press and Linotype machine from the 1920s.

Another business of note is the Bourn Texaco Service Station. The Texaco sign catches your attention as you walk through the village. There is a large Dr Pepper sign painted on the end of the building, circa the 1930s. The station was originally built in 1926 in Winters as a family-owned, independent Magnolia Oil service station. The Bourn family later used it as a Texaco station.

In one of the large buildings was a 1916 Model T hack along with a buggy.

There was also an outside display of some horse-drawn equipment, including a grader and early-day tractor.

One thing I did notice about this place that set it apart from other historical sites I have visited: Artists seem to be attracted here. There were at least three artists with easels set up painting different scenes around the area. I just had to stop and watch the one who was painting the little post office.

If your interests run to late 19th and early 20th century Texas history this would make a good day trip for you. The village is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Buffalo Gap Historic Village is 14 miles south of Abilene on Texas 89 (Buffalo Gap Road in Abilene), in the middle of the scenic town of Buffalo Gap. Driving in from the Fort Worth area, get on Interstate 20 and head west. When you get to Abilene, take Loop 322 south to the Buffalo Gap Road exit. Once you’re on Buffalo Gap Road, continue south, past the Mall of Abilene and the city limits. When you reach the town of Buffalo Gap, turn right on Elm, then go two blocks. If you miss Elm, don’t worry, just keep driving until you come to William Street (across from Jim Ned Elementary School), make a right turn on it and head north.

John Watson is a resident of

Cleburne and can be reached at

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