Kimble County
April 9, 2003

Jerry Sun, Tonya Sun, Lydia Bourg, John Bourg

KIMBLE COUNTY. Kimble County is located in southwest central Texas on the Edwards Plateau, bordered on the north by Menard County, on the east by Mason and Gillespie counties, on the south by Kerr and Edwards counties, and on the west by Sutton County. Its center lies at 30°29' north latitude and 99°46' west longitude. The county, which was named for Alamo defender George C. Kimbell, contains 1,274 square miles of broken, rolling plains with an altitude ranging from 1,400 to 2,400 feet above sea level. The majority of the county consists of shallow stony clay soils on the hills, sandy loam soils on the upland plains, and clay loam soils in the valleys and flood plains. The major watercourses are the Llano River and the east and west forks of the James River. The annual rainfall averages 22.33 inches, and the temperature ranges from an average low of 33° F in January to an average high of 97° in July. The growing season lasts 213 days. Live oak, shin oak, pecan, walnut, and cedar trees grow among the mesquite and sedge grasses that cover the county. Wildlife includes deer, javelinas, rabbits, roadrunners, mockingbirds, and rattlesnakes.

Before the arrival of white settlers, Comanche, Kiowa, Kiowa Apache, and Lipan Apache Indians occupied the area of present Kimble County. José de Urrutia passed through the area as the leader of a Spanish campaign against Apaches in 1739. In 1754 Pedro de Rábago y Terán passed through on his way to the country surrounding the San Saba River. Other early Spaniards in the area included Diego Ortiz Parrilla, who led a campaign against the Apaches in 1759, and the Marqués de Rubí, who led an inspection of the northern frontier of New Spain in 1767. In 1808 Capt. Francisco Amangual commanded a military expedition from San Antonio to Santa Fe and mapped a road which passed through what is now Kimble County. The expedition was intended as a show of strength to the Plains Indians, whom the Spanish feared were targeted for subversion by Zebulon M. Pike during his expedition into New Mexico in 1806-07. Despite conflicts between Spain, Mexico, and the United States over ownership of the area, it remained an Indian stronghold until the 1870s. The Kimble County area was first mentioned in Republic of Texas documents in 1842, when 416,000 acres of the present county were included in the Fisher-Miller Land Grant, which extended from the Llano River to the Colorado River. Apparently no one settled under the grant's auspices. In 1851 Capt. Henry E. McCulloch commanded a Texas Ranger post near the center of the present county. Fort Terrett, a frontier post, operated in the area from November 1852 to September 1853, when it was abandoned due to the lack of settlers or Indians in the region. The earliest white settlers included Raleigh Gentry, who settled on Bear Creek in the late 1850s; James Bradbury, who arrived at the South Llano River between 1850 and 1864; and settlers in the Big and Little Saline valleys, who arrived in the late 1850s and early 1860s. Until 1880 the county was primarily settled by immigrants from the upper southern states.

On January 22, 1858, Kimble County was formed by the Texas legislature from lands formerly assigned to Bexar County and was attached to Gillespie County for judicial purposes. Following the Civil War settlements sprang up at the Johnson Fork of the Llano River, on Copperas Creek, and in the valleys of the James River. The first store in Kimble County was built in 1873 at the Johnson Fork. It was supplied by goods freighted in ox wagons from Kerrville. Comanches raided the settlements frequently until Gen. Ranald S. Mackenzie drove them onto reservations and killed their horses in 1874 and 1875. Lipans and Kickapoos, using Mexico as a base, continued to make raids extending into Kimble County, but the last serious attack took place in 1876. The raids ceased after 1878. The county was also a popular haven for outlaws, who used its hilly terrain and dense cedar brakes to hide out. Such noted bandits and gunmen as Rube Boyce, the McKeevers, the Dublin Gang, and John P. Ringo of the Mason County War spent time there. Texas Rangers based on Bear Creek conducted a large-scale roundup in 1877 and brought prisoners to Junction City for trial.

On September 6, 1875, Kimble County was separated from Gillespie County and attached to Menard County for judicial purposes. On January 3 of the following year Kimble County was organized, and in February William Potter was elected the first county judge. Ezekiel Keyser Kountz was elected the first county and district clerk. In the spring of 1876 the towns of Kimbleville and Junction were founded, and Kimbleville was elected the first county seat. Following the first district court session, Junction became the county seat. Kimbleville, located a few miles northwest of Junction in a flood-prone area, soon disappeared. The first post office in the county opened in Junction in 1877 and was run by Harriet Kountz at her home until 1879, when her husband Ezekiel built a separate structure in the town square. In 1878 a two-story wooden courthouse was built. It burned in April 1884 and was replaced by a stone structure which lasted until 1929.

Kimble County developed steadily in its first few decades, growing from a population of seventy-two in 1870 to 1,343 in 1880; by 1890, 2,243 people lived in the area. Because the hilly terrain made it more suitable for ranching than farming, the raising of cattle and sheep soon dominated the economy. By 1890 the census reported 279 farms and ranches encompassing 474,062 acres; 38,988 cattle and 120,574 sheep were counted that year. That same year, 1,625 acres were devoted to raising cereal crops, and cotton was planted on 236 acres in the county. The county's ranching economy influenced its early political history. Although it was primarily a Democratic stronghold, in the 1880 presidential election 75 of the 175 voters cast their ballots for James Baird Weaver of the Greenback party. Weaver, who supported inflation to benefit farmers and ranchers, also received a large vote in 1892 as the People's party candidate. In that election local ranchers, upset at the failure of the Democrats to retain a wool tariff, voted for the Populists in order to show their displeasure. In 1892 and 1894 the People's party also carried the county in statewide elections. By 1900 the number of farms and ranches in the area had dropped slightly to 217. The number of cattle also dropped slightly, to about 34,700, and the number of sheep decreased significantly, to 12,543. Meanwhile, more land was being put to the plow. The production of corn, wheat, and cotton had all expanded somewhat since 1890; by 1900 more than 740 acres were devoted to cotton, for example. The population had also increased, reaching 2,503 by the turn of the century. By 1910 there were 415 farms and ranches in the county, cotton production had expanded to almost 3,000 acres, and the population had grown to 3,261.

During the first decades of the twentieth century residents began to enjoy amenities previously unavailable to them. The first telephone system in Kimble County came to Junction in 1905, and the first banks opened in 1906. In 1917 Junction acquired the county's first electric lights. About this time the first gas stations began to open. In 1919 a countywide bond election carried for the building of graveled and paved roads in the county. By 1922 State Highway 27, running through Junction southeast to Kerrville and west to Sonora, was a working unpaved road, as were State Highway 4 running north to Menard and State Highway 29 leading south to Rocksprings. By 1931 Highway 29 extended north to London and Telegraph in Kimble County and to Mason in Mason County. During the 1920s Kimble County's reputation as a tourist and hunting area became firmly established. Junction, the center of the tourist trade and the chief commercial shipping center for the county, was incorporated in 1927 with E. Holecamp as the first mayor. The 1920 census recorded 372 farms in Kimble County and 672,596 acres of agricultural land. Over 139,600 sheep were reported, while the number of cattle had dropped to about 15,000, less than half the 1890 level. The number of horses and swine had also declined substantially. A major factor in this shift was the introduction of goats around the turn of the century. By 1920 almost 159,700 goats were reported, and by the end of the 1920s Kimble County was one of the leaders in the state's wool and mohair industry. More land was being used for crops in 1920, with 5,463 acres of cereals, 3,885 acres of hay, and 28 acres of various vegetables reported in the county. Another important aspect of the economy was pecans, of which 693,193 pounds were harvested in 1919.

During the Great Depression the number of unemployed county residents rose from 23 in 1930 to 153 in December 1935. By July 1936 the number had risen to 303. The number of farms in the county declined from 454 in 1930 to 402 by 1935 but rose to 443 by 1940. That year 666,366 acres, or 81.7 percent of the county's land area, was used for agriculture. The population of the county grew almost 20 percent during the 1930s, rising to 5,064 by 1940. In April 1945 the Kimble County Electric Cooperative brought electricity to the county's rural areas for the first time. In the mid-1940s a small amount of oil was produced, which along with a small production of sand, gravel, and gas continued into the 1990s. The county also saw activity in the paving of roads. By the late 1940s all of Kimble County's highways had been paved. Old highways 4 and 27 became U.S. Highway 83, Highway 27 became U.S. 290, and Highway 29 became U.S. 377. Partly because of farm consolidations and the mechanization of agriculture, the number of county resdients dropped steadily between 1940 until about 1970. From its peak of 5,064 in 1940, the population declined to 4,619 by 1950, to 3,943 by 1960, and to 3,904 in 1970. It rose to 4,063 in 1980, however, and stood at 4,122 in 1990.

Though Kimble County's voters generally supported Democratic candidates for the first eighty years of its existence, the county's political orientation began to shift in the 1950s, when it followed Texas as a whole in supporting Republican presidential candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower over Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and 1956. The county gave a majority of its votes to Richard Nixon in the 1960, 1968, and 1972 elections and to Gerald Ford in 1976. The county supported Republican William Clements for governor in 1978 and 1982 and backed Ronald Reagan in the presidential elections of 1980 and 1984. In 1992 a plurality of voters supported Republican George Bush over Democrat William J. Clinton and independent candidate Ross Perot.

Kimble County remains primarily agricultural, with 744,000 acres, or 91.2 percent of its total area, used for agriculture. In 1978 the census recorded 381 farms and ranches in the county. In 1984, 90 percent of its $10 million income came from livestock and crops. The remaining 10 percent came mainly from tourism, hunting, fishing, and the sale of cedar oil and wood products. The number of employed workers over sixteen years of age was 1,713, the majority of whom were involved in agriculture, retail sales, miscellaneous services, construction, and manufacturing. Educational facilities in the county are based in Junction and include a consolidated school system for the county and the Texas Tech University Center, an adjunct to Texas Tech University in Lubbock. In the 1990s the center had accommodations for 150 students. The 1980 census reported that 51.9 percent of persons over twenty-five years of age had completed four or more years of high school and that 8 percent had completed four or more years of college. Hispanics comprised 17.4 percent of the population that year. Junction (1990 population, 2,654) was the county's largest town and seat of government. Other communties included Segovia, Roosevelt, Telegraph, Cleo, and London. Annual celebrations in Kimble County include the Kimble Kow Kick in September and the Billie Sale and Parade in August, both of which take place in Junction.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Ovie Clark Fisher, It Occurred in Kimble (Houston: Anson Jones Press, 1937). Recorded Landmarks of Kimble County (Junction, Texas: Kimble County Historical Survey Committee, 1971).

Nolan Thompson