We now head 70 miles due east from Hobbs, back over into Texas and on to Lamesa, home to 9,500 people and the seat of Dawson County.
Dawson County was not organised until 1905 and was another of those areas which mainly comprised ranchland and therefore had little permanent population – the county area had only 37 registered inhabitants in 1900.
The townsite of what was to become Lamesa was laid out on ranchland in 1903 and was named, like Levelland, for the flatness of the surrounding tableland – “la mesa” meaning “table” in Spanish .
There was an existing settlement two miles away called Chicago (subsequently Stemmons) and when in 1905 Lamesa was chosen as the seat of Dawson County, many homes and businesses were relocated from Stemmons to Lamesa.
Profitting from ranching, cotton-farming and oil, Lamesa grew steadily for the next 60 years, reaching its peak in the 1960’s with a population of around 12,500 although the last 50 years have seen something of a decline.
Lamesa is home to the Dal Paso Museum, which tells the story of the early Plains pioneers. The museum is situated in a former hotel of the same name – it is roughly half-way between Dallas and El Paso.
In 2011 the Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, declared Lamesa to be the birthplace of Chicken-Fried Steak, with the southern delicacy having been invented in the town in 1911. While this claim is a little dubious, Lamesa has nevertheless held an annual Chicken Fried Steak Festival ever since.
Country singer Don Walser, a star in Texas but not widely known outside the state, was born in Brownfield, 38 miles away, and grew up in Lamesa.
I must confess that I had never heard of Don Walser before I heard Slaid Cleaves sing this first song live at a show here in Bristol. I think Slaid captures it nicely – Pavarotti of the Plains indeed !
“They called him “God’s own yodeler
The Pavarotti of the plains”
There’s no bigger voice in Texas
Don Walser was his name
He was raised out in Lamesa
Just a boy when his mamma died
With daddy at the mill all night
In that empty house he cried”
For our second song we have Don Walser himself, talking about growing up in Lamesa back in the 1950’s and the strange teenage rituals they had there.
“Down in Lamesa, Texas
Right on the courthouse square
All the guys and all of the chicks
Well, they hang out down there
The gals would go one way around the square
And the guys around the other
When we would meet we would slow way down
And check out one another.”