Umbarger is on U.S. Highway 60 ten miles southwest of Canyon in western Randall County. In 1895 rancher S. G. Umbarger leased the site from the Houston and Great Northern Railroad survey lands. Two years later he bought it and established a wagonyard, repair shops, and a hostelry for settlers and travelers coming into the area. When the Panhandle and Santa Fe Railway built west from Amarillo in 1898, it established a switch near the Umbarger ranch. Although Umbarger sold his ranch to R. C. Muncy and moved to Canyon in 1900, the settlement retained Umbarger's name. In the meantime other promoters, including the Englishman Lee John Hutson, who bought the T Anchor Ranch holdings, speculated in choice land around Umbarger. As more land was thrown open to homesteaders, the settlement slowly grew. Umbarger's German Catholic community was pioneered by Pius Friemel, who in 1902 brought his family and several neighbors from the Schulenburg area. Theodore Cotchell opened a general store, which also housed the post office. A public school district was established in 1904. I. Mantz built the first brick house in town, originally meant to house a bank. Father Joseph Reisdorff, an enterprising Catholic missionary, became a leading force in the movement to colonize Umbarger between 1902 and 1910. In 1908 both he and John Hutson filed plans of settlement. Disputes over location and church debts led to a division in the town and the building of two separate churches, but by 1920 the business district came to be centered in Reisdorff's portion on the north side of the railroad tracks. Swiss immigrants arrived between 1911 and 1927. Father John J. Dolje became the most influential member of the Catholic community in 1916. Under his leadership St. Mary's Church (formerly Marienkirche) was moved to its present location. A parochial school was founded and placed under the Sisters of Mercy. These features have remained the town's unifying force, especially after the consolidation of the Umbarger public schools with those of Canyon in 1964. Umbarger had a population of eighteen in 1920, eighty in 1930, and 150 in 1940. The town's proximity to Canyon, Amarillo, and Buffalo Lake have helped it to survive and grow. In 1984 it had several garages and retail stores, a parish church and school, a post office, a restaurant, a grain elevator, and a population of 327. Dorrance (Dory) Funk, famous among professional wrestling fans, had his ranch near Umbarger. The annual Umbarger Sausage Festival is held at St. Mary's Parish Hall in November. In 1990 the population was still reported as 327.
Adapted from the official Handbook of Texas, a state encyclopedia developed by the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA). It is an authoritative source of trusted historical records.
H. Allen Anderson | © Texas State Historical Association
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