Loving Canal and Irrigation Company

By: Julia Cauble Smith

Type: General Entry

Published: March 1, 1995

The Loving Canal and Irrigation Company, in Mentone, Loving County, was organized early in 1893 by J. J. Combs, F. C. Ford, W. A. Hunter, S. L. Mettler, N. A. Munn, and R. G. Munn, all from Denver, Colorado. They stated that they intended to move to Loving County and construct an irrigation canal from the Pecos River to surrounding farmland. All of them arrived by April 1893. Hunter, Combs, and Mettler applied to the state land commissioner for titles, and the company platted Mentone twelve miles north of its present site. During the spring of 1893 the company hired Mexican laborers to build irrigation ditches and a dam to collect water from the river. Joe Hudgins, a pioneer of Reeves and Loving counties, was employed to haul rock for the dam and for the construction of buildings in Mentone. Construction ceased after a few months because the company never paid the workers.

Although the 1890 United States census reported only three residents in the county, a petition filed on June 13, 1893, with the commissioners' court of Reeves County was signed by 150 allegedly qualified voters who requested separate organization for Loving County. The court approved the petition and allowed the organization of the county. A county election was held on July 8, 1893; eighty-three ballots were cast, county organization won, and Mentone was designated county seat. J. J. Combs was elected county judge, R. G. Munn became county clerk, N. A. Munn was chosen county treasurer, and F. C. Ford was elected inspector of hides and animals. Organizers of the canal company thus had a strong voice in county politics. After county organization several families came to live in or near Mentone, probably intending to buy irrigated farmland. A general store and several adobe houses were built there. The commissioners' court voted to issue bonds valued at $6,000 to build a courthouse in Mentone. Although construction began, the building was never finished.

In August 1893 the Pecos River flooded and destroyed most of the irrigation project. The company brought in workers to repair the ditches by the fall of 1893. However, their reconstruction attempts failed. Farmers who planted crops in the spring saw them destroyed. The settlers left. The Mentone store closed before the end of 1893, at which time W. A. Hunter and N. A. Munn were the only Mentone residents. On September 6, 1893, the commissioners' court reportedly appointed Judge Combs agent to locate and acquire patents for the county public-school lands. He chose four leagues in Dawson and Gaines counties, and Loving County received the patents on February 9, 1894. The court authorized Combs to sell the four leagues on February 19, 1894, and he sold the land two days later. He conveyed one tract, league 271, to W. R. Fowler in exchange for a promissory note for $3,099.60, due five years later.

In the spring of 1894 H. C. Withers and A. H. Randolph made a trip to the county to investigate reports of the illegal organization of Loving County for the firm of W. H. Abrams of New York City, which represented the owner of a large block of Loving County land. They found three people in Mentone, but they saw no evidence of roads or of travel. When Withers asked to examine the tax records, sheriff and tax collector W. A. Hunter told him that county clerk R. G. Munn had taken the records with him to Denver, Colorado. On November 8, 1894, a second county election reportedly reelected most of the Loving Canal and Irrigation Company organizers. There is some evidence that neither of the Loving County elections was legitimate. In any case none of the county officials remained in the county by 1897. Taxes were not collected for 1893 and 1894 and had not been assessed or collected for 1895 and 1896. The state legislature dissolved the county organization on May 12, 1897, and attached the territory to Reeves County once again. The Reeves County Commissioners Court taxed landowners of Loving County to pay off the county debt. Loving County was organized again in 1931 and on September 7, 1935, filed a suit in the district court of Dawson County to recover league 271. The district court decided that the Loving County Commissioners Court was legally in session on February 19, 1894, and had authorized Combs to sell the school lands. The Eleventh Court of Civil Appeals at Eastland upheld the ruling of the lower court.

Robert W. Dunn, The History of Loving County, Texas (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1948; condensed in West Texas Historical Association Year Book [1948]). Ellen Goodrich, "A Second Look at Loving County," Permian Historical Annual 7 (1967).

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

Julia Cauble Smith, “Loving Canal and Irrigation Company,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 17, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/loving-canal-and-irrigation-company.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

March 1, 1995