MITCHELL COUNTY. Mitchell County is in the prairie of west central Texas, bounded on the east by Nolan County, on the south by Sterling and Coke counties, on the west by Howard County, and on the north by Scurry County. The main physical feature is the Colorado River, which enters the county from the north and flows through the center.
The history of Mitchell County in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries was characterized by Spanish exploration and Indian domination.
Comanches of the Penateka band settled in the region in 1780 and controlled the area of the future Mitchell County until 1875, when Ranald S. Mackenzie of the United States Army moved them onto reservations. In 1876 the Texas legislature formed Mitchell County from the Bexar District; since it had virtually no permanent settlers at the time, the county was assigned to Shackelford County for administrative purposes.
A. W. Dunn, generally known as the "father" of Colorado City because he owned the first store there, became the first county treasurer. Cattlemen first moved into the county with their herds in the late 1870s; until the early twentieth century the economy of Mitchell County was dominated by cattle ranching. During the settlement period merchants and traders also occupied the county, anticipating the construction of a railroad through the area. In the early 1880s the Texas and Pacific Railway was built through the county to Colorado City, and by April 16, 1881, the day the first train arrived, that town's population had reached 300. By 1882 four railroad stations had been established in the county. The railroad led to an instant boom in Colorado City; between 1881 and 1885 the town grew rapidly in population and prosperity. In 1881 the Colorado Courant, a weekly paper, began publication.
The climate of Mitchell County was and is suitable for the cultivation of cotton and sorghum. Cotton, first planted in the county in 1898, became the leading crop after 1900.
Oil, discovered in the county in 1920, helped to stabilize the economy during the 1930s; after World War II it became an important source of jobs and income
Despite the oil production, the mechanization of agriculture and the decline of the family farm contributed to a general population decline in the county after the 1950s. The census counted 15,357 people living in Mitchell County in 1950, 11,255 in 1960, 9,073 in 1970, 9,088 in 1980, and 8,016 in 1990.
The voters of the county supported Democratic candidates in virtually every presidential election between 1888 and 1968; the only exception occurred in 1928, when they supported Republican Herbert Hoover over the Catholic Democrat Al Smith. Between 1972 and 1992 a majority of the county's voters increasingly voted Republican; they supported Richard Nixon in 1972 and Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984. In the 1992 presidential election, a plurality of county voters supported Democrat Bill Clinton over Republican George H. W. Bush and independent candidate Ross Perot.
Communities in Mitchell County include the county seat, Colorado City (1990 population, 4,749), Loraine (731), Westbrook (237), and Buford. Recreational sites include Lake Colorado City State Recreation Areaqv, Champion Creek Reservoir, and the Colorado City Museum.
Omer W. Cline, History of Mitchell County to 1900 (M.A. thesis, East Texas State Teachers College, 1948).