Birth of a railroad town
William “Wild Bill” Scoggins brought something extra to the May 15, 1882, birth of the city of Killeen, Texas. He brought his lariat.
When the steam engine of the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe Railroad chugged into town, Wild Bill was spotted on the cowcatcher. As the train screeched to a stop, Wild Bill jumped to the ground, uncoiled his lariat and proceeded to lasso the smokestack of the Santa Fe engine. All this occurred while a crowd of onlookers cheered, tossed their hats in the air and generally celebrated the birth of another railroad town.
This began the first phase of Killeen’s existence. The second phase was to come in 1942 with the opening of Camp Hood, giving credence to the catchphrase that the history of Killeen is really “a tale of two cities.”
Where did we get that name?
Killeen’s namesake, Frank P. Killeen, was an official of the railroad, serving as assistant general manager in Galveston. Some believe that Killeen may have been among the railroad dignitaries who were on the train that arrived to mark the beginning of the town. However, this has never been verified and as far as is known, Frank P. Killeen never set foot in the town named in his honor unless he was here on that day in 1882.
He was born in Clare Morris, Mayo County, Ireland, and came to the United States after the death of his parents. He died in Galveston in 1924 at the age of 86.
Although the railroad had platted the town site several months before, few lots had been sold. But by 1886, the town boasted a population of 300 and by the end of the 1880′s, that figure had climbed to 800.
It did not take Killeen long to establish itself as a shipping point for agricultural products grown in about a 20-mile radius. Cotton became king and remained so until the establishment of Camp Hood in 1942. Grain, wool and other farming and ranching products also figured prominently in the economy of the town’s first 60 years.
Although the population of the town itself settled into the 1,000-1,200 range, Killeen prospered, establishing all of the necessary services to serve a large rural area along with its own citizens.
Merchants, doctors, lawyers and other professionals came to the town. Schools were established, a government was put in place, a chamber of commerce was organized and undertook the task of building an infrastructure for the busy agricultural center.
In 1930, Killeen’s population was 1,200, and in the next 10 years, it climbed to 1,265. Then, two years later, the boom hit with the establishment of Camp Hood, a military post which opened on September 18, 1942, as a tank destroyer center. By 1950, the population had jumped to 7,045. The 2000 U.S. Census lists the city’s population at 86,911.
When Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7, 1941, it not only had a decided effect on the United States and the world at large, but it also directly affected Killeen and its future. After the United States became involved in World War II, there developed a need for a military post to train soldiers in tank destroyer tactics. The area west and north of Killeen was selected as the site for Camp Hood, named for the Confederate general, John Bell Hood. The initial Army installation covered 160,000 acres, with many families having to leave their homesteads and find new homes. It also cut out almost all of the best farming country that Killeen catered to and the economic base quickly changed from agricultural to military.
Following the end of World War II, Camp Hood personnel strength dwindled down to below 4,000, and there was a big question as to what would happen to the camp. In 1950, the Department of the Army declared the Killeen military installation as a permanent post and it automatically became Fort Hood. Things started to boom for the area.
Camp Hood became Fort Hood
From that day forward, the desire was to make Killeen the best town in the nation for military families to live. This was done by developing the infrastructure of the community while encompassing the military as a part of the Killeen family. Immediate needs which were quickly met were the construction of Belton Lake, and later, Stillhouse Hollow Reservoir, which gave the area an abundant water supply; the construction of better highways to meet military transportation needs; major construction projects to provide homes for the community and especially the military; and an accompanying growth in retail business.
In the ensuing years, the city secured facilities such as libraries, hotels, shopping centers, a new highway built to near interstate standards and amenities such as a major airport, excellent golf course, top-notch movie theaters, a community theater and excellent restaurants.
With tremendous growth in retail trade and in dining facilities in the decade of the 90′s, Killeen has spread its trade area to cover a 100-mile stretch of Central Texas, and, as it did as an agricultural center, pulling people in to take advantage of the special services the city offers.
But all along, from the time of Camp Hood, Killeen’s first and foremost concern has been its military neighbor, now Fort Hood, and the many friends that the diverse military population brings, making Killeen a truly cosmopolitan city.