SCURRY COUNTY. Scurry County is at the base of the Llano Estacado in West Texas, bordered on the east by Fisher County, on the south by Mitchell County, on the west by Borden County, and on the north by Garza and Kent counties. The center of the county lies at 32°45' north latitude and 100°55' west longitude, ninety miles northwest of Abilene. Snyder, the county seat, is just south of the center of the county and sixty-three air miles northwest of Abilene. The area was named for William R. Scurry, a Confederate general. The county extends across 904 square miles of prairie covered by bluestems, gramas, wildrye, and wheatgrasses, with mesquite trees in some sections; elevations range from 2,000 to 2,700 feet above sea level. The area has light to dark loam surface soils with reddish, clayey subsoils. It is drained by the Colorado River, which cuts across the southwestern corner of the county, and by tributaries of the Clear Fork of the Brazos River. Temperatures range from an average low of 26° F in January to an average low of 95° in July. Rainfall averages 19.32 inches annually, and the average growing season lasts 214 days.
In 1982 about 95 percent of the county's land was in farms and ranches, with 19 percent under cultivation. That year the county earned an average annual agricultural income of $29 million from crops, especially cotton, sorghums, and small grains, and from livestock and livestock products. The county is one of the leading oil-producing regions in Texas, due to its location in the Permian Basin, one of the state's largest petroleum deposits. In 1982 more than 31,732,000 barrels of crude oil and over 53,088,000 thousand cubic feet of casinghead gas were produced in the county. The area's transportation network includes U.S. Highway 84, which bisects the county from its northwest to southeast corners; U.S. Highway 180, which crosses from east to west; and State Highway 208, which runs north to south through the middle of the county.
Indian artifacts found in the area indicate that humans have lived there since as early as 1,000 B.C. In more modern times the Apaches dominated the area until the early eighteenth century, when they were displaced by Comanches and other groups. The Comanche war trail to Old Mexico crossed the county from its northeast to its northwest corner. Francisco Vázquez de Coronado passed through the region in the sixteenth century. United States Army captain Randolph. B. Marcy mapped the area in 1849 during his mission to locate possible fort sites and to map a wagon trail to California. Lt. Montgomery Pike Harrison, a member of Marcy's party, was killed by Indians while exploring Bluff Creek during the expedition's return trip. Robert E. Lee crossed through the area in 1856 while taking the field against Comanches. The Comanches were relocated to Oklahoma reservations after the Red River War of 1874-75, and buffalo hunters and ranchers moved into what is now Scurry County. Buffalo hunter J. Wright Mooar began making excursions into the region in 1874, and by 1877 Mooar was said to have killed 20,000 buffalo on the plains. That year William H. Snyder opened a trading post to sell supplies to buffalo hunters in the area, and soon a small settlement of dugouts and tents grew around Snyder's place. The first large ranch in the area was established in 1877 by Tom and Jim Nunn, who drove longhorns from South Texas to land along tributaries of the Clear Fork of the Brazos River. Ranching soon became the major industry in the area.
Scurry County was established by the Texas legislature in 1876 from lands formerly assigned to Bexar County; in 1880 there were 102 residents, including eight blacks, living in the area. The county was attached to Mitchell County for judicial purposes until 1884, when it was organized. Snyder, the growing trading post, became a townsite in 1882 and the county seat in 1884. A. C. Wilmeth began publishing the county's first newspaper, the Scurry County Citizen, in the 1880s. By 1890 there were 184 farms and ranches, encompassing almost 142,000 acres, in the county, and its population had increased to 1,415. Ranching dominated the local economy; that year almost 23,000 cattle and 17,000 sheep were reported in the county. Crop farming was also beginning to be established by that time, as 822 acres were planted in corn and 246 acres were planted in wheat. The "Block 97 Controversy" kept ranchers and homesteaders aroused for years before the dispute was settled by the legislature in 1899. The controversy centered on 612,000 acres of land, mostly in Scurry County, that had been granted to the Houston and Texas Central Railroad and the Texas and Pacific Railway Company. After selling land to settlers, the railroad became insolvent. Land titles reverted to the state and homesteaders claimed land against the invalidated purchase rights of ranchers, who were eventually required to repurchase in order to hold their lands. Despite this controversy the county developed quickly during this period. By 1900 there were 586 farms and ranches in the area, and the population had increased to 4,158. Cattle ranching dominated the local economy. Over 43,000 cattle, and about 3,000 sheep, were reported that year. Meanwhile, crop farming continued to spread. Over 4,000 acres were planted in corn that year, and 701 acres in wheat. Cotton had become the county's most important crop, however; that year more than 7,400 acres were devoted to the fiber.
Crop cultivation rapidly expanded in Scurry County in the first decade of the twentieth century, and development was further encouraged when railroads built into the area during this time. In 1908 the Roscoe, Snyder and Pacific Railway was built into the county seat, and in 1911 the Santa Fe Railroad extended its tracks into the county. By 1910 there were 1,424 farms and ranches in Scurry County, and the area's population had grown to 10,924. More than 37,000 acres were planted in cotton that year, almost 51,000 acres were planted in sorghum, and lesser tracts were devoted to other crops such as corn. Poultry was also beginning to become a significant part of the local economy. By 1910 there were almost 52,000 domestic fowl reported on county farms. Meanwhile, as old pasture was subdivided into farms, the number of cattle declined significantly; by 1910 there were less than 25,000 cattle in the area. The county suffered a downturn in the 1910s, and hundreds of farmers were forced to leave their lands. By 1920 there were only 1,077 farms and ranches in Scurry County, and the population had declined to 9,003. Nevertheless, cotton acreage continued to expand during this period; by 1920 over 42,000 acres were planted in cotton. Agriculture in the area revived during the 1920s, and the number of farms grew to 1,332 by 1925 and to 1,564 by 1930. A rapid expansion of cotton production was responsible for most of this growth. Over 100,000 acres were planted in cotton in 1924, and more than 129,000 acres were devoted to the fiber by 1929. The discovery of oil in 1923 also helped to stimulate the economy during this period, though production was relatively modest. By 1930 the county's population had grown to reach 12,188. This growth was reversed during the Great Depression of the 1930s, which seriously hurt the local economy. Almost 198,000 acres of cropland had been harvested in 1929; fewer than 143,000 acres were harvested in 1940. Faced with federal crop restrictions, low prices, and other problems, the county's cotton farmers were most seriously affected. Cotton acreage fell by more than 50 percent during the 1930s, and by 1940 only about 64,000 acres were devoted to the fiber. By that same year the number of farms had declined to 1,446, and the population had dropped to 11,545.
The county's economy was fundamentally altered during the 1940s, when new oil wells were brought into production. In 1938 only about 10,000 barrels of petroleum were produced from shallow wells in the county; by about 1944, during World War II, production had reached 303,000 barrels. The oil industry began to boom in 1948, however, when wells in the Canyon Reef field were drilled to 6,500 feet, and wells in the county produced over 1,112,000 barrels of oil. From 1948 to 1951 some 2,000 wells were drilled in the county, contributing to a substantial, sustained boom. While production fluctuated over the next forty years, the oil business remained an integral part of the local economy. Almost 42,583,000 barrels were produced in the county in 1956, about 33,559,000 barrels in 1960, almost 94,173,000 barrels in 1974, and about 31,732,000 barrels in 1982. About 13,826,000 barrels were produced in 1990, and by January 1, 1991, 1,825,517,000 barrels of petroleum had been taken from Scurry County lands since discovery in 1923. Though the oil industry fluctuated, it and the subsidiary industries and employment it provided offset rural population loss in the area fostered by a drought in the 1950s and farm consolidations. The county's population grew to 22,779 by 1950, but then began to drop, falling to 20,369 by 1960 and to 15,760 by 1970. It began to rise again in the 1970s and reached 18,192 by 1980 and 19,376 by 1990. By 1990 Hispanics accounted for 24 percent of the population, and blacks for 5 percent.
A majority of the voters in Scurry County supported the Democratic candidates in almost every presidential election between 1884 and 1964. The only exceptions occurred in 1928, when the county went for Republican Herbert Hoover, and in 1952, when it swung to Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower. A majority of voters supported the Republican candidates in presidential elections held between 1972 and 1988, however. In the 1992 presidential election, a plurality of voters supported Republican George Bush over Democrat Bill Clinton and Ross Perot, the independent candidate. Oil and gas processing and other manufacturing is centered in Snyder (1990 population, 12,357), the county seat; the town is also the site of Western Texas College, founded in 1971. Other communities include Camp Spring (10), Dermott (50), Dunn (75), Fluvanna (180), Hermleigh (725), Inadale (100), and Ira (485). Recreation and cultural attractions include Lake J. B. Thomas, Sandstone Canyon Indian pictographs, and Towle Memorial Park. Snyder hosts the County Fair each September and White Buffalo Day in October.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Charles G. Anderson, Deep Creek Merchant: The Story of William Henry "Pete" Snyder (Snyder, Texas: Snyder Publishing, 1984). Charles G. Anderson, In Search of the Buffalo: The Story of J. Wright Mooar (Seagraves, Texas: Pioneer, 1974). Kathryn Cotten, Saga of Scurry (San Antonio: Naylor, 1957). Scurry County Historical Survey Committee, Historical Markers in Scurry County (Snyder, Texas, 1969). Hooper Shelton, comp., From Buffalo...to Oil: History of Scurry County, Texas (Snyder?, Texas: Feather, 1973).