Leaving Palo Pinto, we’ll next head west, our destination Lovers’ Retreat. One of the most scenic spots in the county, in its heyday Lovers’ Retreat was a popular gathering place with regularly scheduled outdoor rodeos and other entertainment venues designed to both draw and please the crowds.
It was the rugged splendor of nature’s artwork, however, that garnered the most visitors, with many coming to see for themselves the gigantic stones hugging the banks of Eagle Creek, forming a network of crevasses, canyons and ledges along the creek bank.
While stories of its name abound, one particular legend tells of a young Indian couple from rival tribes who chose the secluded area as a hiding place from those who would separate them. With only the slightest mental nudge, it is easy to imagine such a couple living secretively and happily along the banks of the creek, settling each night around the twisting curl of smoke rising from their evening campfire.
Don’t get too comfortable around your mental campfire, though, for there are other places along the tour that will just as easily spark your imagination and carry you back to times long past. Our next stop is one of them. So let’s head west for a few miles and then turn south down FM 919 toward Gordon. It’s time to pay a visit to the Johnson League Ranch.
William Whipple Johnson and his brother, Harvey, came to Palo Pinto County from Michigan in 1878, lured to the area by the building of the railroad and the promise of new enterprise. Together the brothers settled in a small community of settlers that would eventually become Strawn. There they established a successful business selling cedar posts to the westward-advancing Texas Pacific Railroad.
Having come west to seek their fortunes, the brothers truly found it when, a few years after coming to the area, William discovered coal in the southwestern corner of the county while out scouting for new sources of cedar. He and his brother quickly bought up all the land in the area they could get hold of and diversified their business interests to include coal mining. Their fortune was not quite big enough, however, and eventually the brothers were forced to sell the bulk of their mining operation because of lack of operating capital.