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Sipe Springs

Comanche County, Texas

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox
Surely her grieving parents wrote her name in their family Bible, noting the day she died. Once, maybe, a wooden grave marker bore her name.

But all that remains today is a mystery written in concrete: "Who is the little girl, age 3?"

At the foot of the small grave, located on the northern edge of County Road 185 in Comanche County about a mile-and-a-half east of the ghost town of Sipe Springs, is a more modern granite marker with these additional words: "Little girl, age 3 died 1870, moving west."

Those eight words sum up just about everything anyone living today knows about the lonely, rock-bordered grave.

Some say the little girl fell off the wagon and suffered a fatal head injury. Another story has her dying of disease, which seems more likely. Her family buried her where she died and then continued their journey.

Local folks at some point started putting flowers on the grave. Then someone offered a small toy. Over the years that tradition has grown.
Sipe Springs grave, littel girl, age 3 died 1870
Today, the grave is covered with toys, ceramic angels and kittens, coins, teddy bears, horseshoes, even a gimme cap. Periodically, a self-appointed local caretaker collects the money left at the grave and writes a check to the local volunteer fire department, but the toys and other items remain, fading in the sun.
Three years after the little girl's death, someone settled at a seeping spring a short distance west of her grave. The community came to be called Sipe Springs. It's pronounced "Seep" Springs, incidentally, not the way it's spelled. Whether that spelling was accidental or based on a variant acceptable in the 19th century remains open to discussion.

Unusual as its name is, Texas once had two places called Sipe Springs. The other, never as big as the one in Comanche County, was in Milam County. A hundred years ago, it had a two-teacher school with three score students, but the school closed due to consolidation in 1931 and within a decade nothing was left of the Milam County community.

Not that all that much is left of the Comanche County Sipe Springs. One old bank still stands. Someone has recently restored an old stone house that once stood in ruins. And there's the Masonic Hall, though it's a new one built when the original structure burned down not too long ago.

West of the intersection that marks the center of the community are the ruins of an old saloon. Jerry Morgan, owner of the DeLeon Free Press, said he found a late 19th century nickel in the vicinity several years ago.

For a time in the late teens and early 1920s, a lot of nickels slid across the bar in and around Sipe Springs. Though named for water, the town got renewed vitality from the discovery of another liquid - oil.

Some say Sipe Springs had 10,000 residents for a time. Children crowded a large community school. Two banks did a flourishing business, as did numerous stores and eateries. When not busy earning money, local folks and roughnecks had entertainment choices ranging from an opera house to a professional baseball team.

But the shallow oil field played out, and so did Sipe Springs. The government finally closed the post office in 1957, but the boom days already were long gone by then.

Though Sipe Springs has had a minor population spurt from city folks buying country retreats, for years the only growth going on in Sipe Springs was at the cemetery.

Land for the cemetery was donated in 1873, but for some reason, no one moved the little girl's grave to the site. In 1890, a wooden tabernacle went up and the number of graves increased over the decades.

A granite marker in that cemetery presents another mystery, though with a little research into old newspapers, it is still solvable.

Photographs of a teenage boy and his sister are set into the stone, which reads simply "Brother" and "Sister." On another stone is inscribed "Marion Wayne Mote 1922-1937" and "Patty Mote 1925-1937."

The story left untold is this line on their gravestone: "Happy and gay, to school they went one day....They are not dead, just away."

Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" September 14, 2003 Column

See
Sipe Springs, Comanche County

Sipe Springs, Milam County
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