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Runnels County TX
Runnels County

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Runnels County, Panhandle / West Texas

3202'39"N 10006'36"W (32.0440287, -100.1100942)

FM 53
29 miles NW of Ballinger the county seat
13 miles NW of Winters
53 miles NE of San Angelo
18 miles NE of Bronte
54 miles SW of Abilene
Population: 100 Est. (2019)
132 Est. (2010, 2000) 216 (1990)

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Wingate TX in 1905
Wingate in 1905
Left to right: Dr. Barnes, Jim Flynt, and Carl Guin
Photo courtesy Winnie Hatley. See Forum below

History in a Pecan Shell

There aren't too many towns in Texas named after lawyers, but Wingate is one. In this case it was W. J. Wingate, who practiced law in nearby Ballinger.

Settlement was in the early 1890s. The town built a school in 1891 and opened a post office the following year. The "Progressive Era" was good to Wingate and the town got their first bank in 1917. The town had twenty businesses in the 1920s as well as a new high school.

The population reached 250 in 1940 and by 1990 it remained at 216. It has since declined to 132 - the estimate on the state map since 2000.

Entering Wingate Texas, Wingate sign
Entering Wingate
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, February 2007

Wingate, Texas Landmarks

Wingate Texas old stores
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, February 2007

Wingate street scenes
Wingate street scenes
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, February 2007

A closed Exxon Station in Wingate Tx
A closed Exxon Station in Wingate
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, February 2007

Wingate Texas silos
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, February 2007

Wingate Cemetery Texas
Wingate Cemetery
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, February 2007

Wingate School

Photographer's Note:
This is the abandoned school at Wingate TX in northern Runnels County. There isn't much left in Wingate; but a huge cotton gin is still in operation. The white fringe on the edges of the roads is from the gin. - Stephen Taylor, December 30, 2005

Wingate Texas school, wintry scene
A wintry scene in Wingate
Photo courtesy Stephen & Elizabeth Taylor, December 2005

The abandoned school in Wingate, Texas
Another view of Wingate School
Photo courtesy Stephen & Elizabeth Taylor, December 2005

Wingate, Texas Chronicles

Don't Mess with Wingate, either

Bank Robberies in Wingate
"They didn't have much, but they kept what they had."

Being a brief history (somewhat short on detail) of various burglaries, robberies and unauthorized safe relocation of Wingate's primary financial institution. Paraphrased from an undated (typewritten and photocopied) article from the San Angelo Standard Times

Editor's Note:
Our thanks to Albert D & Joyce E Wetsel and his aunt Winnie Hatley, for sharing this story in answer to a 2005 e-mail from Oregon in the Wingate, Texas forum. - Ed.

If, as the old saying goes, crime doesn't pay; it pays even less in Wingate. The San Angelo Standard Times, (the possible source of the article) began by paraphrased a famous Winston Churchill quotation by writing: "never before have so many tried so hard for so little."

Wingate's first robbery occurred in 1929 - presumably late in the year. Bank employee Duncan Hensley looked up from his desk to see an overall-clad man violate the employees-only-behind-this-point sign. Overalls were not out-of-the-ordinary in Runnels County, but the pistol was. According to the report, the man (apparently keeping with bank robbery protocol) shouted "Stick 'em up!" (Or words to that effect.) Teller Leila Harter screamed, which may have caused the gunman to fire his gun. The bullet hit the frame of the teller's cage and a small lead fragment went into Ms. Harter's forearm. The would-be robber fled, but Duncan Hensley had a gun of his own and shot the man in the leg. He was soon taken into custody and no other details are available.

Robbery Two

This one was a little more dramatic. Two men from Eastland County made their attempt on December 22, 1932. Eastland County (Cisco) was the scene of Texas' infamous "Santa Claus Bank Robbery" just five years before (almost to the day). It is not known if the robbers were inspired by the ill-fated robbery or if they thought their plan (not wearing a Santa disguise) was superior. We'll never know. They didn't live long enough to sell their story to the tabloids.

The two were in their early 20s and had arrived by "a Ford coach" they had liberated from a dealership in Graham. Their names were Archie Horton and Hershell McMinn. Hershell's friends (if he had any) called him "Pee Wee." Proud of their new ride, they drove it up and down Wingate's main drag. They were too busy "casing" the bank to notice the crowd of men around the barber shop. (Which just happened to be next door to the bank,) As the original article put it: "Their arrival did not go unnoticed."

The two geniuses didn't see a problem since their escape route was an alley next to the bank . This may not seem like a sound plan, but the alley was on the side of the bank opposite the barber shop. Before you could say Merry Christmas, Archie had a gun in Leila Harter's face. Turnover wasn't an issue in 1932 and both Leila Harter and Duncan Hensley were still bank employees. On this day, however, Duncan was spending his lunch hour working on his car. Leaving Leila to be locked in the vault at gunpoint.

The brave men at E.E. Whittfield's barber shop knew something was up. Not wanting to lose their place in line, they sent young Billy Kirkland next door. Billy returned breathless to say there was indeed a robbery in progress and the men exited the shop to grab whatever weapons they could.

When the shooting started, Archie was seriously outgunned and as "wheelman," Pee Wee didn't wait around. Archie was hit and Pere Wee managed to make it two blocks before sliding into a rain-soaked ditch. Pee Wee then took a Chevy from a passing motorist (Ed Stearns) and made it to the Winters Highway where he promptly slid into ditch #2.

Running into one of Runnels County's many cotton fields, Pee Wee's (already wafer-thin) luck ran out. The townsmen had their target and even Duncan Henley got in a few shots. Archie had been carried to Morris' garage where he soon died. An ambulance carried Pee Wee to the hospital in Ballanger along with Archie's still-warm corpse. Pee Wee died the next day of acute lead poisoning.

In those days, The Texas State Banker's Association offered a $10,000 reward for bank robbers. They laughed at the outdated "dead or alive" cliché. Alive, bank robbers weren't worth a roll of pennies, dead, they brought in ten grand. Overzealous vigilantes later caused the offer to be taken off the table. The article states that it has "never been shown that the townsmen of Wingate shot the bank robbers for monetary gain," The reward money was, however distributed among those involved.

Wingate, and especially the bank, enjoyed a 20 year break. Liela Harter may have retired and delighted showing her forearm scar to her grandchildren. WWII came and went, but then came what Wingaters called "The Roaring Fifties."

In 1951, would-be robbers attempted to rob the bank by using an acetylene torch on the vault. It was hard going and when they found a pistol and $75 cash, they called it a night - leaving behind their valuable acetylene torch.

The next attempt came in May of 1954 when robbers made off with some safety deposit boxes, a pistol and $3 worth of postage stamps. The boxes (some 6-12 of them) were found outside the city limits of Sweetwater with their paper contents "intact."

The article describes the events of April 14, 1956 as "A Comedy of Errors" (as if the previous events had all been precision heists).

These thieves knew that the vault contained a relatively small safe measuring two feet square.

The plan was to transport the safe to where they could open it at their leisure - without interruption. They came prepared, pulling a 15 foot trailer behind their vehicle, and although the safe was relatively compact, it had the disadvantage of weighing 3800 pounds.

Archimedes is remembered for saying "Give me a lever long enough, and a place to put it - and I will move the earth." If he had been in Wingate, Texas, he may have said "Give me some 4 x4s and a skid and I can get a 3,800 pound safe as far as the sidewalk." That's were the authorities found it later that morning. Right next to the trailer with the flat tire. The perps were apprehended at a roadblock a short time later.

Another robbery the article dubbed "The Penny Ante Robbery" netted the crooks 1100 one-cent pieces left in a teller's drawer on July 1959. The thieves, not satisfied with that haul, returned on the 9th of July and took nothing but also broke into the post office and Dunn's grocery where they scuffed the floor and damaged windows and screens.

The last crime involving firearms took place on October 25, 1960 when Mrs. Ray Dunn (of Dunn's Grocery) surprised three men around the stores "cracked safe." It is not known if the safe was cracked prior to their arrival, but Mrs. Dunn didn't care. She shot into the group and wounded one man who was taken into custody. The other two were found a short time later and all three were said to be under the influence of drugs.

Things were winding down and a bank burglary on Sept 20, 1963 netted "less than $10."

Wingate's last crime occurred in January of 1968 when the Vietnam War was at it's peak. Would-be robbers attempted to drill through the back wall (concrete) into the vault. The article abruptly ends with the words: "They left in a hurry."

November 18, 2016

Texas Bank Robberies
Texas Small Town Sagas

Wingate, Texas Forum
  • Subject: Wingate (See Wingate 1905 photo above)
    At one time, Wingate was called the birthplace of Runnels government. From there came Judge Rampy, Don Atkins, and Frankie Berryman. Both Carl Guin and Jim Flynt lived there before moving to Ballinger. Jim Flynt was sheriff of Runnels County from 1908 - 1914 and 1920 -1925. - Albert D & Joyce E Wetsel, November 05, 2016

  • Subject: Wingate Bank Robbery 1920s
    Dear TE, My mother was born in Wingate, Texas in 1923. Although she passed away several years ago, she often talked of a bank robbery she and her parents witnessed one stormy day when she was a child in Wingate. In viewing the Wingate website, I see that a bank was established there in the late 1800's, early 1900's. My mother's maiden name was Cotton and I would estimate that this robbery occurred in the mid to late 20's or perhaps as late as the early 30's.

    According to my mother, the townspeople of Wingate acted quickly and shot and killed, at least one of the young gunmen and possibly two. Their bodies were held for authorities in a factory or warehouse near my mother's home. Being a history buff, of sorts, I'm curious if Wingate's archives have such an occurrence on record and what the details of the incident were. - David R. Ryder, arena197@yahoo.com Eagle Point, Oregon, November 03, 2006

    See Wingate Bank Robberies

  • Subject: Wingate, Texas School c. 1951
    My father, Robert N. Cooke, graduated from UT in 1950 as an engineer. Winters was home and, for some reason, he returned to Winters while looking for a job. The family wound up on my grandfather's farm near Wingate and my dad's first job was principal and Superintendent of the Wingate School. This was in the 1950 / 1952 time frame. I was only five years old but can still remember field trips to Church Peak Mountain to look for rocks with my dad's science class. I would be very interested to learn where the school records now reside. - Rhea Cooke, San Angelo, Texas

  • Runnels County 1906 Texas Railroad Map
    1906 Railroad map showing Wingate in NW Runnels County, near Taylor and Nolan County lines
    From Texas state map #10748
    Courtesy Texas General Land Office

    Take a road trip

    Texas Panhandle / West Texas

    Wingate, Texas Nearby Cities & Towns:
    See Runnels County | Taylor County | Nolan County
    Ballinger the county seat
    San Angelo | Abilene

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