Rambling from Hamilton to Erath counties can provide an interesting mix of offbeat history and a significant challenge for your sweet tooth. From outlaws to baked goods to ice cream floats, this is a retreat to the past you don’t want to miss. Your route is a fraction longer than 35 miles, so slow down and enjoy the day. From Hico, you’ll drive north on U.S. 281 for 21 miles to Stephenville. Then it’s just 14 miles southwest on U.S. 67/377 to Dublin.
This little Hamilton County burg would have gone quietly into oblivion as another cotton-cattle town on the old Texas Central Railroad had it not been for a terrific rumor regarding one of the most notorious, nefarious characters known to the Wild, Wild West.
The legend around Hico holds that Billy the Kid—also called William Bonney—did not die in New Mexico at the hands of Sheriff Pat Garrett but instead lived to be an old man, calling himself Ollie L. “Brushy Bill” Roberts when he lived in Hico, dying there in 1950. The arguments for and against the story are detailed inside the Billy the Kid Museum, which has brought plenty of traffic to town over the years.
Just a few steps away in the hamlet’s restored downtown, there’s the Western Otter, a funky little boutique in a renovated Western Auto store, selling cool vintage cowboy boots, jewelry made by Texas artists and Mexican imports.
Hankering for a treat? You’ve come to the right town. Plan to stop in either at Wiseman House Chocolates for a box of handmade truffles or at the Koffee Kup Family Restaurant, known far and wide for superb pies topped with “mile-high” meringue. Trust me, you can’t find better coconut or caramel pies.
Hico Chamber of Commerce, 1-800-361-4426
The seat of Erath County has seen remarkable growth in recent years, thanks to the burgeoning enrollment and new programs at Tarleton State University. For my money, though, the best reason to spend time in this town is to satisfy a demanding appetite.
Your first stop should be the throwback coffee shop called Jake & Dorothy’s, opened in 1948 and changed little since. The hamburger steak with grilled onions and brown gravy is hard to beat, as are the old-fashioned burgers with waffle fries, but be sure to leave room for the stunning cream pies.
Later on, you’ll make your way to the Hard Eight, a barbecue joint where pork chops, ribs, brisket and chicken are slow-smoked over mesquite in the old German tradition famous in Central Texas. Between meals, walk off the calories while roaming around the Stephenville Museum, a complex of 10 wonderful local homes and buildings, all from the 19th century.
Stephenville Chamber of Commerce, (254) 965-5313
This humble town can be credited with giving the world two of Texas’ greatest products: the late, renowned golfer Ben Hogan and one of the most popular soft drinks in history, Dr Pepper. Although the soda pop was invented in Waco, Dublin distinguishes itself as having the oldest Dr Pepper bottler in existence. And the reason you’ll see stores all over the state boasting its stash of Dublin Dr Pepper? It’s the only bottler that still makes the stuff with Imperial Pure Cane Sugar, according to the original formula.
When you hit town, waste no time getting to Old Doc’s Soda Shop at the Dr Pepper bottling company, where you can slurp an old-fashioned Dr Pepper float and rummage through the gift store. Somebody you know is just yearning for a Dr Pepper hat or t-shirt, as well as Dr Pepper Cake Mix or a clock, stadium blanket, glassware and playing cards bearing varied logos from Dr Pepper’s long history.
Plan to return in June, when Dublin celebrates the 1891 founding of the Dr Pepper plant, which came just six years after the drink was created.
Dublin Dr Pepper, 1-888-398-1024
June Naylor wrote Texas: Off the Beaten Path.