Cree, Thomas Boger (1847–1927)

By: H. Allen Anderson

Type: Biography

Published: December 1, 1994

Thomas Boger Cree, Panhandle pioneer, was born on May 19, 1847, in Green Park, Pennsylvania, son of John Dunbar Cree, who worked as a horse and mule inspector for the federal government. When the Civil War broke out, fourteen-year-old Thomas joined his father in Washington, D.C.; he served as a teamster in the Union Army for two years. In 1866 or 1867 he went to Chicago to work for the Union Pacific Railroad. He was assigned to the construction company that built the first transcontinental railroad line and served as corral boss. He was present at the ceremonial driving of the golden spike at Promontory Point, Utah, on May 10, 1869. Cree afterward helped build the Missouri, Kansas and Texas (Katy) line to Fort Worth in the early 1870s. About that time he met and married Melissa Ballard, a niece of Jesse Chisholm, for whom the Chisholm Trail was named. The Crees had eight children.

Throughout the 1880s Cree did construction work with various railroads. In 1886 he started working for the Fort Worth and Denver City, which was building its line from Vernon into the Texas Panhandle. His family accompanied him as the railroad pushed northwest. Near the future townsite of Panhandle City, in Carson County, Cree built a dugout home and at his wife's request planted a bois d'arc sapling to help break the monotony of the prairie grass. Thomas Cree's bois d'arc tree, located just off U.S. Highway 60 near Panhandle, was for years a familiar landmark on the treeless plain; on October 23, 1963, Governor John Connally dedicated it as a historical landmark. Unfortunately, the tree, which had survived droughts, blizzards, summer heat, and sandstorms, was killed by herbicides sprayed on nearby crops in 1970.

In 1888 Cree filed a claim and erected a sod house near the head of McClellan Creek in Gray County. He assisted in the establishment of Panhandle City and helped organize its first church in 1889. In 1892 the Crees sold their land near Panhandle and settled on choice ranchland near Cheyenne, Oklahoma. In 1902, after a blizzard wiped out half of their herd, the Crees bought four sections in northeastern Wheeler County, Texas, and leased another four. There Thomas and Melissa Cree spent their remaining years. Mrs. Cree died in 1916 and her husband on July 23, 1927. They were buried in the Rankin (now the White Rose Reydon) Cemetery in Roger Mills County, Oklahoma.

Jo Stewart Randel, ed., A Time to Purpose: A Chronicle of Carson County (4 vols., Hereford, Texas: Pioneer, 1966–72).

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

H. Allen Anderson, “Cree, Thomas Boger,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed January 24, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1994