By Don McAlavy: Local Columnist
This story was told to me by Clovis’ first historian, Tom Pendergrass, in his weekly radio broadcast in the early 1950s. I later read the notes he made of a broadcast on June 19, 1953. The story he was broadcasting was about the early movie houses in Clovis and the blasts in 1910.
Our first “jitney” show (jitney being slang for a small coin or an outdated automobile) was in the 100 block of West Second Street known as the Lyric, Pendergrass explained. They charged everybody a nickel, and hooped their show to 2,000 feet of film. They did a big business whether they made any money or not.
The Lyric was operating at the time of the election for the county seat. They (the male citizens of Curry County) held the election one day and some “wags” (what Pendergrass called them, or jokers) that evening planted three cans of black powder out north of town at Cavender Park, which would be north of 11th Street bounded by Pile and Gidding streets.
When the election results were announced at about 8 the night of April 30, 1910, and Clovis got the county seat, these “mugs” (ones who overact to win an audience) touched off the charges of black powder.
“The first one went off, and I was in the Lyric Theatre,” Pendergrass said. “The walls shook as if they were coming down, and the house emptied in about five minutes.
Just about the time we got outside the second charge went off, and upon asking what was going on, somebody answered, ‘Clovis is the county seat!’ About that time the third charge went off and some guy said, ‘Well, it won’t be the county seat very long, if they keep that up!’”
Pendergrass said the “wags” and “mugs” were never identified. Where they got that much black powder is unknown too. It wasn’t the older school students. Windows were broken and a few eardrums were out of action for a while.
At this time in 1910 the Cavender Park, the oldest park in Clovis, was where the high school athletes practiced, and a lot of sporting events were held there, even rodeos. In 1920, Harold O. Gore, later a lawyer in Clovis and now deceased, told me he vividly recalled as a youth the high board fence around it and that fence had nails sticking up along the top edge to discourage gate-crashers. (I wish someone could tell me went this park was dissolved.)
Apparently there was no strict registration “as everybody voted, all the male beings that is.”
It just happened that George Singleton was moving a railroad extra gang through Clovis that day and “he held them over long enough to march them up Main Street and vote the whole shebang and of course they knew they were voting for Clovis.”
Of 2,639 votes, Clovis received 1,445; Texico, 870; Center (a blank section of land in the middle of Curry County) got 208 votes and Melrose, 16.
Having the railroad shops and being the county seat assured Clovis’ growth.