Primarily on the
belief that when the Santa Fe Railroad built a line from Shattuck, OK across the
northern Panhandle, the rails
would cut through newly organized Beaver County, developers platted a town site
in 1909. The new town in the new state (Oklahoma had only gained statehood two
years before) would be named for David L. Kemp, but when the application
for a new post office hit Washington, the Post Office Department notified the
townsite promoters that Oklahoma already had a Kemp City. So someone dressed up
“Kemp” with a fancy-looking “La” and made it LaKemp.
addition to its new post office, LaKemp soon boasted a hotel, a boarding house,
a general store, a bank, a café (albeit one in a tent), a barber shop, a blacksmith
shop, a lumber yard, a livery stable, a drug store and other businesses. Within
a year, the new town had its own newspaper, the LaKemp Mirror.
next eight years, LaKemp enjoyed relative prosperity as a business center for
farmers and ranchers, but when the Santa Fe finally began surveying its long-anticipated
trackage eastward from Shattuck, it became apparent that the route would bypass
LaKemp by considerably more than a country mile. In fact, the line would be built
no nearer than seven miles from town.
Not that the Santa Fe opposed civic
development. On Aug. 2, 1917, railroad
officials filed a plat with the Lipscomb County clerk for a new townsite in Texas
to be named Booker
in honor of B.F. Booker, an early day Santa Fe locating engineer. Additional
residential lots were platted that December 10.
Earlier that year, however,
the United States had entered the war between Great Britain and Germany. That
forced the Santa Fe to shut down construction after the new line reached Follett,
a community 22 miles west of the planned town of Booker.
With war’s end in November 1918, work on the tracks resumed early in 1919 and
the first train rolled into Booker
on the Fourth of July that year.
back in LaKemp, OK, most of its residents had already begun to move to Booker.
They took their town with them, jacking up its frame houses and business buildings
and hauling them by mule team to the new townsite in Texas.
Crossing the open prairie, ten mules could pull a two-room house complete with
brick chimney just fine. The town doctor, Ira T. Smith and his wife had been the
first to make the move.
Two brothers who had a real estate business in
LaKemp, J.W. and O.C. Bell, were among the Okies who decided to become Texans.
J.W. Bell served as LaKemp’s postmaster, and he had already written Washington
asking permission to relocate the post office across the state line in the new
town in Lipscomb County.
As he patiently waited for an answer, he saw postal
volume and business in general drying up faster than a playa lake in a drought.
Deciding he couldn’t wait on Washington any longer, Bell hired a wagon and team
and moved all the postal fixtures and supplies to Booker
overnight. After handling mail in Booker
for a full year, Bell finally got a letter from Washington approving the move.
By that time, LaKemp had become a ghost town. Booker, on the other hand,
flourished until the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s. Oil play in the 1950s and 1960s
perked up business, and contrary to many rural towns in Texas, Booker
actually gained population from 2000 to 2010, growing to 1,516 from 1,315 residents.