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Town born to sell beer faces last call

Texas community down to 50 people

A truck drove past the shuttered Mustang Club bar in Mustang, Texas. The town was carved from a cow pasture to sell alcohol. (lm otero/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

MUSTANG, Texas -- It's not much to look at: two dusty streets, a strip club, a boarded-up country western bar, one trash bin, and a dilapidated trailer park where the entire population lives.

This 75-acre town, carved from a pasture in 1973 to sell alcohol so a beer run was no longer a 60-mile drive to Dallas, is broke, withering, and down to about 50 residents.

Yet even with the place in such dismal shape, two people have been fighting for a year over who effectively owns Mustang: the strip club operator and the little-known widow of the town's co-founder.

That fight makes Jan. 17 -- when a judge is expected to decide the rightful owner and who will try to fix its financial problems -- perhaps the most important date in Mustang since Aug. 18, 1973, when 207 residents lured here by the promise of free rent voted to incorporate the town.

"All I want is to see Mustang on its feet again so we can pay the bills," said Gary Arnett, chief of the town's two-member volunteer fire department. "We have children here. I don't want to see the town have to relocate."

Tax revenue has fallen from about $1,500 a month to just $28 in November, generated only by the strip club. Mustang came close to losing water service this month because of a $3,400 unpaid bill.

The ownership battle is between Thomas Sinclair, who runs the Wispers Cabaret strip club and leases the shuttered Mustang Club bar, and Marsha McKie, whose late husband, William, cofounded the community.

Sinclair agreed last year to purchase the land from the McKies for $600,000, then filed a lawsuit alleging they had not fulfilled all the terms of the deal.

Meanwhile, William McKie died and Marsha McKie -- who paid little attention to Mustang when her husband was alive, instead busying herself with running an antique shop in nearby Corsicana -- inherited the property.

McKie wants to scrap the sale and hold on to Mustang, lifting it from poverty perhaps by turning it into a family-friendly stop along Interstate 45.

Sinclair also has a plan to jump-start revenue: Reopen the Mustang Club.

However, most residents want the club to remain a dance hall and fear Sinclair would instead just move Wispers into the building. As a result, the town council has banned new sexually oriented businesses and has protested the club's application for a new liquor license.

Sinclair did not return calls seeking comment but his attorney, Marty Price, said he doesn't understand why a penniless town clinging to survival is making it so difficult to open a new business.

"The city would be shooting itself in the foot," Price said, "because any income derived from that other club is better than it just sitting there."

William McKie and a partner founded Mustang with a vision of creating an alcohol-serving oasis in otherwise bone-dry Navarro County.

Eager customers gathered at a place called Little Scholtz's to drink beer at picnic tables beside a small catfish pond.

Next door, The Gusher sold carry-outs. It was so popular that when it was ruined by fire one Friday morning in 1975, a portable building was in place by 5 p.m. to serve the waiting customers.

"One of the most hazardous drives was between Corsicana and Mustang on Friday afternoons," said Corsicana lawyer Robert Dunn.

By the mid-1990s, however, the town began losing its edge as other communities repealed their blue laws. The trailer park became run-down after the deaths of a couple who maintained the property and the city marshal who enforced code violations.

Today, the few people outdoors are outnumbered by stray dogs. The only evidence Mustang still is a town is the shed housing the volunteer fire department, consisting of Arnett and a teenager.

McKie tacked notices on doors last month warning the water could be shut off Dec. 20 because there was no money to pay the town's $2,368.50 bill. She finally wrote a check to the company that supplies the town's water. Her attorney, Scott James, said she has spent "five figures" of her own money to keep the town running in the past year.

In the meantime, everyone is awaiting the outcome of the ownership battle.

"Those two need to settle it one way or another," said Jerrie Bounds, the city secretary. "I just wish it was over."

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