Oldham County
March 2012

Ralph Huskey, Steve & Kathy Wilkening, Loyd Beal

OLDHAM COUNTY Oldham County is in the northwestern corner of the Panhandle, bordered on the west by New Mexico, on the north by Hartley County, on the east by Potter County, and on the south by Deaf Smith County. The county's geographic center lies at 3525' north latitude and 10235' west longitude; Vega, the seat of government, is thirty miles west of Amarillo. The area was named for Williamson Simpson Oldham, pioneer Texas lawyer and Confederate senator. Oldham County comprises 1,485 square miles of relatively level grassland, broken by the Canadian River and its numerous intermittent tributaries; elevations range from 3,200 to 4,200 feet above sea level. The fine sandy loam and caliche soils in the area support a variety of native grasses as well as mesquite, sage, and shin oaks. Larger trees such as elm, hackberry, cottonwood, and oak grow in the river bottoms in some places. The soils are not generally conducive to farming, so the economy of the county is principally based on ranching. The area receives an average of 19.54 inches of rain per year. Temperatures range from an average minimum temperature of 22 F in January to an average maximum of 92 F in July; the annual growing season lasts 186 days. Though oil was discovered in the Oldham County in 1957, significant amounts were not produced there until the early 1970s. County lands yielded 263,000 barrels of oil in 1974, 242,000 barrels in 1978, and 1,558,000 barrels in 1982. Production dropped off in the mid-1980s, in 1990, 325,000 barrels of crude were produced. In 2000, 88,479 barrels of oil and 276,917,000 cubic feet of natural gas were produced in the county. By January 1, 2001, 13,420,373 barrels of oil had been taken from county lands since discovery in 1957. In the early 1980s 97 percent of the county's land was in farms and ranches, and 15 percent of the land was cultivated. In 1980 Oldham County produced $5 million worth of farm crops and $18 million worth of beef cattle; thus 80 percent of the county's agricultural production derived from cattle raising. In 2002 the county had 136 farms and ranches covering 936,390 acres, 86 percent of which were devoted to pasture and 13 percent to crops. In that year farmers and ranchers in the area earned $65,949,000; livestock sales accounted for $63,619,000 of the total. Beef cattle were the county's chief agricultural product; crops included wheat and grain sorghum. Both Interstate Highway 40, which replaced old Route 66 in the 1960s, and U.S. Highway 385 also attracted some dollars to the area. Partly because of the oil and gas industry, the county's population continued to grow, rising to 1,928 by 1960 and 2,258 by 1970, but stabilized thereafter, as the county reported 2,283 inhabitants in 1980 and 2,278 in 1990. In 2000 the census reported 2,185 people living in the area..


BIBLIOGRAPHY: John L. McCarty, Maverick Town: The Story of Old Tascosa (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1946; enlarged ed. 1968). Oldham County Historical Commission, Oldham County (Dallas: Taylor, 1981). Pauline D. and R. L. Robertson, Cowman's Country: Fifty Frontier Ranches in the Texas Panhandle, 18761887 (Amarillo: Paramount, 1981).