Mankins, which lies at the intersection of US highway 82/277 and Texas State Highway 25 approximately 20 miles southwest of Wichita Falls, is an interesting little community in that it has served not just as a ranch headquarters but also as the winter home for a travelling carnival show. Today, however, the site is all but abandoned with a population of only ten in 2000.
Derelict house and gas station at Mankins in Archer County
Car abandoned in the garage at the gas station, still awaiting another trip down the highway
The town got its semi-official start in 1886 when Sam Lazarus established a ranch just north of what is now the town center, bringing Tom Mankins down from Kansas to serve as the ranch foreman. In 1890, the Wichita Valley Railway laid tracks that connected the Lazarus Ranch with the line between Wichita Falls and Seymour. Charles Mangold of Dallas purchased the Lazarus Ranch in 1908 and built a general store and hotel on the main line of the railroad. Mangold had plans for the small community, which had been known as Lazarus Switch at the time. He started laying out streets and blocks in anticipation of farmers and others who would relocate to the town. Conflicting reports indicate that the community obtained its own post office in either 1909 or 1912; since there was already a Texas post office named Mangold, the name chosen for the postal facility was Mankins in honor of ranch foreman Tom Mankins, who now ran the general store.
Former bank building (?) in Mankins
The town grew slowly but steadily, even with the discovery of oil in Archer County in the 1920s. Between 1923 and 1926, only three oil fields were established in the vicinity of Mankins with a total of 42 oil wells. Still, the oil fields yielded enough crude to support a population of 85 (1928 estimate) as well as a bank, a motion-picture theater, several restaurants and full-service gas stations, and a school system that educated 400 students from Mankins and surrounding farm communities. A tornado struck Mankins in 1938, destroying its two-story secondary school (which also doubled as a church and a community center). It was enough to drive the Methodists over to nearby Holliday, while the Baptists used the rebuilt school as their sanctuary until they salvaged an abandoned church in Bowman and moved it to Mankins in 1941.
Mankins also became the winter home for one Dick S. Dudley, a cowboy and bronco rider who got into the carnival business before being drafted into the Army during World War I. After serving overseas, Dudley came back to Mankins, where he and his wife Ruth expanded the travelling carnival business until they were performing shows in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Kansas. The D.S. Dudley Show included various rides for kids of all ages, circus-type sideshows, and a host of exotic animals. Dudley's carnival enterprise employed as many as 250 people at one point. When winter approached, however, the Dudley family settled into their home at Mankins along with zebras, chimpanzees, an elephant, and various carnival workers, which inspired countless stories by travellers who journeyed through West Texas only to encounter these strange animals and unusual carnival folk out in the middle of ranch country.
Historical marker for the D.S. Dudley Show at the former winter headquarters in Mankins
Abandoned stone veneer house that apparently served as D.S. Dudley's winter home
Another house on the Dudley carnival grounds, possibly intended for Dudley's children
Rusting truck left over from the Dudley carnival, also waiting to head down the road once again
For a long time, Mankins suffered from a lack of potable groundwater, which required the railroad to haul drinking water to the community for decades. Agricultural consolidation in the 1940s depopulated the nearby farms that helped keep Mankins in business. Mankins schoolchildren took the bus to Holliday schools since 1947, and Mankins lost its post office in either 1958 or 1963. Although access to drinking water was improved, the town's growth was reportedly hampered by the Mangold estate, which still owned many of the undeveloped town lots and refused to sell them. The population, which once peaked in 1950 at 120 (not counting the migratory Dudley carnival), dropped to 45 in 1990 and only ten in 2000. By 2005, the Dudley carnival headquarters appear to have been abandoned as well. If the family's carnival business is still in operation, any information on its current whereabouts will be greatly appreciated.
Walking through what is left of Mankins gave me the sense of what once was and what could have been. The desolation and stillness of this most unusual West Texas ghost town gives only fleeting hints as to the sights and sounds of man and beast alike, whether on the Mangold Ranch or at the D.S. Dudley Show's former headquarters, that gave Mankins its distinct history and character.