Jim Wells County
March 2014

Steve Wilkening & Kathy Wilkening

JIM WELLS COUNTY. Jim Wells County is on U.S. Highway 281 west of Corpus Christi in the Rio Grande Plain region of South Texas. Alice, the county seat and largest town, is located near the center of the county. Other communities include Orange Grove, Ben Bolt, Sandia, and Premont. The county covers 845 square miles.

Anglo settlement in the region was slow at first but increased after the Civil War. Collins, the first sizable American settlement, was established in 1878. The town, located about three miles east of the site of present-day Alice, became a stop on the Corpus Christi, San Diego and Rio Grande Narrow Gauge Railroad, when tracks were laid through the area the following year. By 1885 Collins had a post office and five stores. But a few years later, when the Texas and New Orleans bypassed the town, the buildings were loaded onto train cars and moved to the junction of the new road with the Texas-Mexican Railway, three miles to the west. The new town, originally known as Bandana, was renamed Alice and soon became the busiest shipping point for cattle in South Texas.

Because of the long distance residents had to travel in order to conduct business at the county seat in Corpus Christi, they petitioned for the formation of a separate county. The request was approved by the legislature in early 1911, and the county's first commissioners' court meeting was held on March 18, 1911. The new county was formally organized in 1912, and named for James B. Wells, Jr., who played an important role in the economic development of the lower Rio Grande valley. When the county was established, its population of 887 was chiefly resident in Alice, which was made county seat. Jim Wells County was divided into school districts in 1914. By 1920 the population was estimated at 6,587.

Oil was discovered in the county in 1931, and oil and natural gas production became and remained leading nonfarm industries, despite the falling prices of the 1980s. Annual oil production in the early 1990s was nearly 800,000 barrels; between 1933 and January 1, 1991, 457,243,288 barrels were produced, making the county one of the all-time leaders in oil production among Texas counties.

Education levels have traditionally been quite low in Jim Wells County. As late as 1960 only 13.09 percent of county's adults had completed high school. Subsequently, the situation improved somewhat, but the county still lagged well below the statewide average. In the early 1990s the county had five school districts comprising twelve elementary, six middle, and four high schools. Although sparsely settled for much of its history, Jim Wells County grew steadily in population after 1930, from 13,456 that year to 34,548 in 1960, 36,498 in 1980, and 37,679 in 1990, when more than half (21,099) of its inhabitants lived in Alice. In 1990 Mexican Americans made up 72 percent of the population; the county was therefore near the top among all United States counties in Hispanic population. Numerous boating and fishing facilities as well as year-round hunting opportunities attract visitors to the county. Special events include the annual Fiesta Bandana celebration, the Youth Rodeo, and the County Fair.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: James Lewellyn Allhands, Gringo Builders (Joplin, Missouri, Dallas, Texas, 1931). Evan Anders, Boss Rule in South Texas: The Progressive Era (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1982). Dudley Lynch, The Duke of Duval: The Life and Times of George B. Parr (Waco: Texian Press, 1976). David Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 18361986 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987). J. Lee and Lillian J. Stambaugh, The Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas (San Antonio: Naylor, 1954). David Martell Vigness, The Lower Rio Grande Valley: 18361846 (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1948). Alicia A. Garza Where Counties Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Alicia A. Garza, "JIM WELLS COUNTY," Handbook of Texas Online