The Beginnings of Amarillo: A Brief History

The Beginnings of Amarillo: A Brief History

Known as “The Yellow Rose of Texas”, Amarillo is a short twenty-minute drive from the city and was put on the map by the famous Route 66. Originally named Oneida, the city was incorporated in 1892 and famous for its amazing canyons, steak houses, theatres, and nature centers. Tourists can visit the picturesque Palo Duro Canyon State Park, do a steak challenge at The Big Texan Steak Ranch, watch a show at Amarillo Little Theatre, visit the art display along Route 66 called Cadillac Ranch, and visit the Amarillo Botanical Gardens, Amarillo Zoo, and Wildcat Bluff Nature Center.


Considered as the commercial center of the Texas Panhandle, Amarillo is the 14th most populous city in Texas, located in southern Potter County and extends into Randall County. In April 1887, J. T. Berry and a group of Colorado City merchants arrived from Abilene to begin trading and establish stores. He chose a well-watered section of school land along the way of the Fort Worth and Denver City Railroad. Berry and the group of merchants want the townsite to be the center of trade for the region. On August 30, 1887, the town, originally called Oneida, was chosen county seat. The name was also changed to Amarillo (the Spanish word for color yellow) by New Mexico traders, probably due to the yellow soil along the creek banks, or also possibly due to the yellow wildflowers abundant in the area. 

The development of the new town was fast. In October 1887, its first freight service was made available and the Amarillo became the cattle-marketing center. Many people from nearby townsites began moving to Amarillo as a post office, stable, passenger station, freight depot, lumberyard, and hotel were established. The town also had its first weekly newspaper in 1888 called Amarillo Champion. It also built its first school which made the town enticing to the public who brought lots sold by auction for $50 to $100 each. Berry’s town seems to be well-established until 1988 when Henry B. Sanborn started buying plots of land to the East of Amarillo. 

Recognized as the father of Amarillo, Sanborn together with his partner Joseph F. Glidden, owners of Frying Pan Ranch, argued that Berry’s site was on low ground and prone to flooding during rainstorms. They started to trade lots and contribute to the expenses of moving to entice people from Berry’s townsite to theirs. Soon, merchants started transferring from the “old town” to the “new town”, and when Sanborn built an elegant, forty-room Amarillo hotel, the new town quickly became the social center and the area cattle buyers considered it as an unofficial headquarters.

In the spring of 1889, heavy rains flooded Berry’s “old town” and with lack of effective drainage, more people moved to Sanborn’s higher location. In 1890, the First National Bank started its operation in Sanborn’s land, and merchants from other towns moved or established their business in the new town. In 1893, another county-seat election officially transferred the title to Sanborn’s town. In 1894, three newspapers were circulating: Amarillo Northwest, Livestock Champion, and Amarillo Weekly News.

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