Hudspeth County
March 2012

Steve & Kathy Wilkening , Loyd Beal, Ralph Huskey

HUDSPETH COUNTY . Hudspeth County, in the Trans-Pecos region of far-western Texas, is bordered by New Mexico to the north, the Mexican state of Chihuahua to the south, El Paso County to the west, and Culberson and Jeff Davis counties to the east. Sierra Blanca, the county seat, is seventy miles southeast of El Paso in south central Hudspeth County. The county's center lies at approximately 31°32' north latitude and 105°28' west longitude, about twenty-four miles northwest of Sierra Blanca. Interstate Highway 10 and U.S. Highway 80 cross southern Hudspeth County from east to west, and U.S. highways 62 and 180 cross northern Hudspeth County from east to west. The Missouri Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads both enter southeastern Hudspeth County and meet at Sierra Blanca, from which point the latter line continues west to El Paso. The county covers 4,566 square miles of terrain in the Rio Grande basin that varies from mountainous to nearly level, with elevations ranging from 3,200 to 7,500 feet above sea level. Soils in the lower elevations are alkaline and loamy with clayey subsoils that overlie limestone in some areas; thin and stony soils predominate in the mountains, and along the Rio Grande clay and sandy loams predominate. Vegetation includes short, sparse grasses, creosote bush, scrub brush, mesquite, and cacti, with juniper, live oak, and piñon at the higher elevations. Among the minerals found in Hudspeth County are barite, beryllium, coal, copper, fluorspar, gold, gypsum, lead, limestone, mica, clay, salt, silver, talc, and zinc. The climate is subtropical, arid, warm, and dry, with an average minimum temperature of 29° in January and an average high temperature of 94° in July. The growing season averages 230 days a year, and the average annual precipitation is less than ten inches. Less than 1 percent of the land in Hudspeth County is considered prime farmland.

The California Gold Rush of 1849 intensified demands for trails to the west, and both the Butterfield Overland Mail and the San Antonio-El Paso Mail crossed the area in the 1850s. Fort Quitman was established in 1858 to provide protection for travelers on the latter route, which passed through southern Hudspeth County; the site of the fort, however, was already known to Forty-Niners as the first shade for hundreds of miles. Still, the area that is now Hudspeth County remained primarily a place that people passed through on the way to someplace else, or a place to be exploited.

Farming in Hudspeth County has always been a struggle. Underground water was discovered in the late 1940s in the northeastern part of the county, setting off a minor agricultural boom in the Dell City area, but by the mid-1950s intensive pumping had significantly lowered the water table. Total gross income in the agricultural towns of Acala, Esperanza, McNary, and Fort Hancock, in southwestern Hudspeth County, fell from $5,701,810 in 1950 to $1,947,067 in 1954, due to the lack of salt-free water. During that period United Farms, just outside McNary, cut its workforce from 100 employees to three. In the early 1980s Hudspeth County ranked second in the state in production of American pima cotton and ninth in the production of hay and cantaloupes; other principal crops included sorghum, tomatoes, watermelons, peaches, and pecans.

Hudspeth County has generally been richer in minerals than in prime cropland and fresh water. In the early 1940s zinc was briefly produced in the Eagle Mountains, and from 1942 to 1950 the same area produced some 15,000 short tons of fluorspar. Coal has been found near Eagle Spring, and zinc, silver, molybdenum and tungsten have been found in the Quitman Mountains. Copper, feldspar, talc, mica, and richterite, a white, long-fibered amphibole asbestos, have been found near Allamoore, in southeastern Hudspeth County. Beryllium has been found near Sierra Blanca.

In 1990 Hudspeth County's population of only 2,915 made it one of the least populous counties in Texas. Because of its large area and small population, the county has been recommended repeatedly as a possible dumping ground for nuclear and other hazardous wastes. Local opposition, however, has been fierce, and state officials have opposed such plans.

 

Martin Donell Kohout, " HUDSPETH COUNTY," Handbook of Texas Online