The little town that was — then wasn’t

By Don McAlavy: Local Columnist

Gate City beat Vega, Texas, in basketball at Gate City on July 10, 1938.

Gate City? Where in the world is Gate City?

Think Conchas Dam.

Yes, there is a Gate City and old folks around Tucumcari know where it was. I say was because there is no Gate City any more.

When the workers started constructing Conchas Dam most of them started their own small city. Soon it was a thriving place and businesses began to open. There was a laundry, a restaurant, a school, a pool hall, a theater, hospital, grocery store and — believe it or not — three saloons, not counting a Catholic church and an Assembly of God church. Mail came by truck from Tucumcari to Conchas until this settlement had its own post office.

Gate City was on the east side of the constructed road with the Mesa Rica Camp on the west side of that road. Kirk Camp was located along the creek in this area.

Fifteen months after the dam project began, almost 4,000 persons were eligible for relief. The dam project began in 1935, right in the middle of the Depression. At this time the Works Progress Administration government project kicked in nearly $8 million.

The workers at Gate City were paid $44 a month. A semi-skilled worker would get $50 and a skilled worker would get $63 a month. The dam project had come as a blessing to these thousands of workers who did not mind a few of the hardships that went along with the project.

The shacks for family living (yes, they had their wives and kids) were actually shacks tacked up with wallboards and tar paper. They only had a few of the modern conveniences such as running water, gas, and a small power plant. Even so, there were a few fires that quickly burned down some of the shacks and even claimed a few lives.

The contractors at Conchas Dam completed their work on the main dam during the latter part of 1939. The engineers had finished their part of the project in 1937 and turned it over to the Bureau of Reclamation. Many of the first buildings, including Gate City and the other camps, were dismantled and the lumber was salvaged. Many of the workers purchased the shacks from the dam site and moved them from the area.

But there had been some recreation at Gate City and basketball was one of them. Did the Tucumcari Utes play against the Gate City team? I do know that the Utes only lost one game that season (1938).

Yet another sport reared its head. Smokey Lupke, promoter of the fight cards at Gate City, came up with five bouts, each going four rounds. Well-known fighters appeared on the card. Many fight fans from Tucumcari came to see the fun and excitement. The Pampa Kid and Dick Vick, each 155 pounds, were to headline the card. Frances Dees and Benny Dupree were scheduled for the next four-round bout. Dean Latham was to meet Jimmie Wills of Tucumcari in one of the preliminaries. Buck Sallee and Steve Raymond were to be the two heavyweights that evening.

The fight item was reported in the Tucumcari Daily News on July 13, 1938, and the winners of those boxing matches were not reported until the next day. I don’t have the next day’s issue. Sorry about that.
Jesse Craig, brother of Dan Craig who used to run Sprout’s Cafe in Fort Sumner, e-mailed me back in March asking about Gate City. He said ex-state police officer Charles Hawkins who lived in House told him that his coach got up a football game with Gate City and they were rougher, he said.

If one looks through Tucumcari historian Mary Grooms Clark’s book “A Mark of Time,” you’ll find Gate City.