Hello Hico, Welcome back!
Some small Texas towns have prospered and grown during the decades. Others have boomed and then settled into obscurity. Hico in Hamilton County appeared to be in the sad, second category, but determined citizens in Hico are bringing Hico back. Increasingly it is on the list of small towns to visit in Texas and (in my opinion) for good reason.
In 1856, a few years prior to the Civil War, the rush to Texas was on. That year, eight families arrived in covered wagons and settled on Honey Creek in the northern corner of Hamilton County. In 1860, John Rankin Alfred and his family, also traveling in covered wagons, rode into Central Texas and joined the Honey Creek settlement. Alfred started a small business selling goods he’d brought by wagon and engaged in the cattle business. When the community petitioned for a post office, Alfred became postmaster and named the now official (but not yet incorporated) town Hico (HY-koh), after his birthplace, Hico, in Calloway County, Kentucky.
When the Texas Central Railroad (which was part of the famous Katy Railroad) was built two and a half miles away, like so many Texas towns, the citizens decided that if the community was to prosper, they needed to relocate the town adjacent to the rail line. So they moved. Ten years later, two major fires destroyed downtown’s wooden buildings. The town rebuilt with big blocks of limestone.
The move to the rail line proved to be a smart one. By 1883, Hico was incorporated and became a major center of Texas trade. Hico’s grain market exploded. By the turn of the century, Hico was shipping more grain than any other location on the Texas Central rail line. By 1907, the cotton shipments through Hico were in the tens of thousands of bales.
Business was good and downtown Hico boomed with almost one hundred businesses—from hotels and grocery stores to both a broom and a candy factory. An 1895 opera house, a theatre, and tented roller rink offered fun and entertainment.
But by 1955, the trading boom—which had been fueled by train transportation—fizzled and the town’s business and population declined. A situation aggravated by major interstate construction bypassing the community.
But today, more than sixty-five years later, when one might have expected Hico to be a near ghost town, it is a thriving example of a historic small town creating a new history. From 2019 to 2020, the population grew by 12.5% to 1,780 people. Not a big town. but a growing one with lots to offer. Main street is lined with handsome, historic stone buildings from more than 100 years ago—some structures sport old fashioned ads painted on their sides — the billboards of the past. A walk down Main Street is a trip back in time. Except—these old fashioned buildings now house charming inns and restaurants, boutiques, and various shops. The newly restored 1896 Midland Hotel recreates the hospitality of the past in its fourteen guest rooms, while its Chop House restaurant serves up thoroughly up-to-date dishes with a flavor of Texas and the 1896 Saloon has drinks to help you “wet your whistle” as early Texans said.
A Texas-history mystery also beckons in downtown Hico. Was a Hico resident named William Henry “Ollie” Roberts, known as Brushy Bill Roberts, none other than the outlaw Billy the Kid? Many believe that he was. Brushy Bill claimed that Pat Garrett, the man who took credit for shooting Billy the Kid, really shot another outlaw named Billy Barlow and that he, Billy the Kid, slipped into the night and vanished, becoming another miscreant GTT—“Gone to Texas.”
The full story is an interesting one and there are lots of clues—from scars on Brushy Bill that match scars where it is known Billy the Kid was wounded, plus testimonials from other noted outlaws of the time that Brushy Bill was in fact Billy the Kid. Brushy Bill died in Hico in 1950 before he received the pardon he was hoping for from New Mexico’s governor—a pardon promised in 1879! He is buried down the road from Hico in a cemetery in Hamilton, Texas. Was Brushy Bill really Bill the Kid? Stop by the Billy the Kid museum in downtown Hico and decide for yourself. On the way out of town, check out Wiseman House chocolates in a 1908 red-roofed Victorian house on West Grubbs Street for a sweet end to a visit to Hico—a historic town writing a new chapter in its Texas history.