CROCKETT COUNTY. Crockett County is located in southwestern Texas on the western edge of the Edwards Plateau. It is bounded on the west by the Pecos River, which separates it from Terrell and Pecos counties. Its northern border is formed by Crane, Upton, Reagan, and Irion counties, while Schleicher and Sutton counties border it on the east and Val Verde County on the south. Ozona, the county seat and only town, is located eighty-two miles southwest of San Angelo. The center point of the county is at 30°41' north latitude and 101°21' west longitude. Crockett County comprises 2,806 square miles. The terrain consists of deep, narrow, steep-walled canyons and flat mesas in the southern and western areas. Broad valleys and flat divides characterize the northern part. The northeastern part is a large flat divide separating the Colorado River and Rio Grande basins. The surface geology is Cretaceous. The soils are dark, calcareous, stony clays and clay loams. The western half of the county is desert shrub savanna, and the eastern half is juniper, oak, and mesquite savanna. Altitudes vary from 1,500 feet above sea level in the southwest to 2,800 feet above sea level in the northwest. Temperatures vary from an average low of 32° F in January to an average high of 96° in July. The average rainfall is eighteen inches per year. The growing season extends across 233 days. Numerous draws, dry most of the year, drain the county during floods and empty into the Devils and Pecos rivers. Johnsons Run and Howard Draw bisect the central area before reaching the Devils and the Pecos, respectively, in Val Verde County. Live Oak Creek runs to the south from the northwest and enters the Pecos at Lancaster Hill. The dry bed of Spring Creek originates in the northeastern corner of the county and extends northeast to the Middle Concho River.
Early important sources of water for prehistoric people and early travelers were Live Oak Spring and Cedar Springs, which once provided strong flows in western Crockett County. Among the first people to take water from the springs were the early inhabitants of Gobbler Shelter, located on a small tributary canyon of Live Oak Creek. Prehistoric people lived over long periods of time in the shelter, where they left artifacts. Spaniards first passed through the area of Crockett County in 1590, when Gaspar Castaño de Sosa brought the first Europeans through the isolated canyonland. Castaño led a mining expedition from Monclova, Chihuahua, to the northern New Mexico pueblo of Santo Domingo. His party of 170 men, women, and children is thought to have traveled up Johnsons Run and crossed the western section of the future Crockett County to reach the Pecos River. On May 22, 1684, Juan Domínguez de Mendoza and his expedition crossed the Pecos River and camped at a site Domínguez called San Pantaleón now in Crockett County. At that time several Indian tribes lived in the area, among them Lipan Apaches and Tonkawas. Comanches drifted into the area during the eighteenth century, displacing earlier inhabitants.
John Coffee Hays led an expedition through the county in 1849, charting waterholes for a freighting and stagecoach route from San Antonio to El Paso. In 1852 Col. Joseph Mansfield of the United States Army inspected the road from El Paso to San Antonio. After determining that travelers along the route needed more military protection against Indian attacks, he recommended establishing a new post on Live Oak Creek just above its juncture with the Pecos River. In response to Mansfield's recommendation, Fort Lancaster was founded on the east bank of Live Oak Creek August 20, 1855. When Texas seceded from the Union less than six years later, the fort was abandoned. A small Confederate unit held it for a short time, but soon left it. After the war the former fort was used only as a subpost. After 1874 it fell into complete decay. Following the Civil War, Anglo-Americans moved into the frontier region and took up the unoccupied lands, but Indian depredations discouraged settlement until the United States sent troops to the frontier posts. The Texas legislature provided three battalions of rangers for protection of the area in September 1866. Another subpost, Camp Melvin, was established in 1868 at the river crossing where Domínguez de Mendoza had camped. A post office opened on November 2, 1868, under the name Pecos Station, but the designation was changed to Camp Melvin in December 1868. Although the post office closed in 1870, the subpost operated until 1871. Camp Melvin was important as a stage crossing and mail station, rather than a military installation.
On January 12, 1875, Crockett County, named for David Crockett of Alamo fame, was formed from Bexar County and attached to Kinney County for judicial purposes. It included the future Sutton and Schleicher counties and parts of the future Val Verde, Kinney, and Edwards counties. From the earliest settlement the economy was dependent on sheep and cattle ranching. In 1880 Crockett County reported fifteen farms, valued together at more than $44,500. Livestock consisted mostly of beef cattle, sheep, and hogs, which were in the aggregate worth $14,500. The county that year had 127 white residents, of whom eight were foreign-born. With the threat of Indian attack past in the 1880s, sheep and cattle ranchers were enticed to the new county by cheap grassland available for lease from both the railroad and the state. Among the first settlers was W. P. Hoover. The Hoovers located on the Pecos River near Cedar Springs and above the mouth of Howard Canyon in 1881. There they leased railroad land at five cents an acre. In 1885 Val Verde County was organized and Crockett County became a subsidiary of it. Two years later, on March 15, 1887, Crockett County was reduced to its present size when Sutton and Schleicher counties were cut away. Even with less territory in 1890, the county noted an increase in the number of farms to twenty-three. The mostly owner-operated ranches reported livestock valued at more than $222,000. Sheep numbered more than 35,000 and cattle more than 22,000. By 1890 the population increased to 194, still all white. Thirty-two were foreign-born.
Several short-lived communities formed in Crockett County in the 1880s and 1890s. Mobile ran a post office during 1880 and 1881, while Wight managed one from 1880 through 1883. Bullisford was a post office from February through September 1882. A post office was established in Ellis in 1885, but it was later moved to Edwards County. Emerald was located eight miles east of Ozona, where a post office opened in 1890 and the first school in the county was built in 1891. Hembrie, in northwestern Crockett County, maintained a post office from 1890 to 1911 and a school some of those years. Hinde, also in the northwestern part of the county, had a post office from 1891 to 1906 and ran a school until 1902. Mozart had a post office for the first ten months of 1899.
Crockett County was organized on July 7, 1891, when an election was held at Couch Well, or Eureka, to choose the county seat from three contending communities. The election was inconclusive, but Ozona, where E. M. Powell had already drilled a prolific water well and donated land for public buildings, became the county seat by the end of the year as the other communities failed to develop. The new county seat grew slowly for the first decade. In 1891 it received a post office and Mrs. J. W. Odom organized a union Sunday school. The same year the first school opened. A frame courthouse was built by the end of the year. A Baptist church was organized in 1892 and a Church of Christ in 1895. In 1899 a hotel opened. In 1900 stagecoach service began.
In the presidential election of 1892 the newly organized county gave 178 votes to the Democrat, Grover Cleveland, and 16 votes to the third party, but none to the incumbent Republican president, Benjamin Harrison. In the 1896 and 1900 elections voters turned to the Republican candidate, William McKinley. No results are available for 1904, but from 1908 through 1920 the county returned to the Democratic column. In 1924 and 1928 the Republican candidates again won the county. Voters returned to the Democratic fold in 1932 and supported Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman through the 1948 election. In 1952 and 1956, when the war hero and Republican candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower won the presidency by large margins, Crockett County voters also gave him decided victories. They narrowly supported Republican candidate Richard Nixon in 1960. Lyndon B. Johnson won the county in 1964, as did Hubert Humphrey in 1968, when George Wallace, the American Independent candidate, received 279 votes. When the Democratic party swayed too far to the left for Crockett County residents in 1972, they gave their votes to Republican candidate Nixon. In 1976, after the Watergate scandal, Democrat James E. Carter won the county by two votes. From 1980 through 1988 the county voted Republican. In the 1992 election Democratic candidate William J. Clinton barely won the county with 653 votes to George Bush's 623 and H. Ross Perot's 368.
In 1900 Crockett County reported seven manufacturing establishments, which employed seven people and paid more than $3,700 in wages for the manufacture of $15,300 worth of products. By 1920 nine manufacturers employed twenty-one workers at a total wage of $42,500 and produced more than $93,600 in goods. Throughout the 1940s only one manufacturer was in business. In 1950 two producers were reported, but throughout the 1960s and 1970s that number was again reduced to one. In 1982 three manufacturers reported production valued at $100,000. In 1987, 1 percent of the population was employed in manufacturing, 26 percent in wholesale and retail trade, and 13 percent in professional services.
In 1900 the population had grown to 1,591, of whom eight were black and 90 were foreign-born. The eighty-five farms comprised 1.7 million acres and declared a worth of almost $4.4 million. Most ranches were operated by owners, who worked almost 121,000 cattle and 91,000 sheep. By the 1910 census the number of sheep climbed to almost 110,000 and the number of goats increased to nearly 9,000, while the number of cattle slipped to just under 45,000. These figures marked the deterioration of the range through overgrazing and the effects of droughts. In 1910 the number of farms had declined to seventy-nine and the acreage to 1.3 million acres, but the value of ranches had increased to $6.6 million. Foreign-born residents, mostly from Mexico, numbered 284 of the total population of 1,296. African Americans numbered 4, and the 550 females constituted less than one-half the total. In 1920 the population was 1,500. Agriculture prospered again by that year, when ninety-nine farms, worth more than $16.8 million, were in operation. Sheep, at almost 156,000, far outnumbered all other livestock and illustrated a continued shift in livestock production from cattle to sheep ranching.
On May 30, 1925, oil was discovered on L. P. Powell's ranch in north central Crockett County. Though many ranchers sold mineral leases to oil companies for large sums of cash, oil companies exerted no other overt influence on the economy or politics of the county in the 1920s; no oil boom occurred, and no oil companies opened offices in the county, mainly because of the lack of railroads and highways. Exploration in the 1930s and 1940s, however, brought good oil and gas production in several fields, including the prolific Todd Ellenburger field, opened in 1945. Over the decades oil companies paid large royalties to Crockett County mineral owners, and that wealth contributed to the independence and maverick spirit maintained in the county into the 1990s. Oil brought a rise in county population to 2,590 by 1930. Included in that number were 713 Hispanics and 40 blacks. Only 5 residents claimed to be foreign-born. Although oil money eased the lives of ranchers, the raising of livestock continued to dominate the economy. Ranches numbered 134, and most ranchers now hired managers to supervise operations. The number of cattle dropped by 1930 to fewer than 33,500, but sheep increased by more than 300,000 to almost 460,000 head and continued to outnumber all other livestock by far. In 1940 more than 18,000 cattle were reported and sheep declined to slightly more than 390,000. The value of ranches moved upward to $13.5 million, but most were again managed by their owners. The population of the county in 1940 was 2,809, of whom 191 were foreign-born and 115 were black. In 1950 county residents numbered 3,981. Approximately 10 percent (380) were high school graduates and 3 percent (110) were college graduates. During the 1950s sheep and goats exceeded 515,000, more than three times the number of cattle. By 1954 livestock in the county was valued at almost $3.2 million and the number of ranches had grown to 147, mostly owner-operated. In 1959 the number of farms had declined to 123 as livestock values had risen to almost $3.6 million. A decade later the value of livestock reached more than $6.2 million, and the number of farms reached an all-time high of 169. Slightly more than 43 percent of the owners lived on their farms. The 1960 population of 4,209 included 126 nonwhite residents and 2,045 women. By 1970 the population of Crockett County had decreased slightly to 3,885, including 60 blacks. High school graduates made up 47.8 percent and college graduates 7.3 percent of the population.
The 1980 population of 4,608 was 44.5 percent Hispanic and less than 1.2 percent black. In 1982 the value of livestock was almost $13 million, and the number of farms was 154. In 1985 nearly 93 percent of the land was taken up by ranches and farms; less than 1 percent was cropland. Livestock, mostly sheep, Angora goats, and beef cattle, made up 93 percent of the county's farm and ranch economy. Also in the 1980s, the county reported 725 miles of public roads, more than 4,000 registered vehicles, a branch line for rail freight, 38 registered aircraft, and a municipal airport. The nine churches of the county served a membership of about 4,300 people. The largest communions were Catholic, Southern Baptist, and United Methodist. In the 1980s the county had one school district with four schools and 1,000 students. By 1990 the population of Crockett County had declined slightly to 4,078, of whom 2,021 were Hispanic and 39 were black. Ozona had 3,181 residents. In the early 1990s the ranching economy continued, strongly supplemented by oil and gas. Hunting leases and tourism also contributed to the economy. The county faced environmental problems of overgrazing, undesirable brush and weeds, water shortages, and water erosion on its range.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Crockett County Historical Society, History of Crockett County (San Angelo: Anchor, 1976).
Julia Cauble Smith