Ward County
March 2009

Vern & Suzanne Neal, Don Kyle, Frank & Joanie Wyatt, Steve & Kathy Wilkening

WARD COUNTY. Ward County is on the southwestern edge of the High Plains region of southwest Texas. The center of the county is at 31°32' north latitude and 103°07' west longitude, near the community of Pyote. Monahans, the county seat, is in the northeastern corner of Ward County at the intersection of Interstate Highway 20 and Farm Road 18, thirty-three miles southwest of Odessa on the Missouri Pacific Railroad. The area was named for Thomas W. Ward. Ward County covers 539,460 acres, or 836 square miles, of generally level land; elevations range from 2,400 to 2,800 feet above sea level. Large areas in north Ward County are composed of active, windblown sand dunes, subject to wind erosion and sediment transport. This area has scattered oak groves and a number of sections commonly barren except for grasses and nongrassy herbs, the abundance of which depends on rainfall. Along the Pecos River in the south and west are areas of alluvial fans composed of sand, gravel, and mud substrate. Scrub brush and sparse grasses grow in this part of the county. Near the towns of Grandfalls and Royalty are areas of caliche with bedrock and alluvial material in the substrate. Scrub brush, sparse grasses, creosote bush, and cacti qv grow in the shallow, stony soils. Less than 1 percent of Ward County is considered prime farmland. The Pecos River is the only continuous flowing source of surface water in the area; the average annual rainfall is twelve inches.

Archeological investigations conducted in northwestern Ward County have found evidence of prehistoric man in the form of occupational debris, petroglyphs, and pictographs. Historic Indian groups that may have successively occupied or annually traveled through what is now Ward County include the Jumanos, the Apaches, and the Comanches. The sand dunes east of the site of present Monahans are claimed to have been an annual watering spot for Comanches. Water is available at shallow depths in the sand hills, a critical factor in attracting human populations to the area. Large numbers of artifacts, including projectile points, beads, and scrapers, and various other stone tools have been found in the sand hills.

The Texas state legislature carved Ward County from a portion of Tom Green County in 1887, but by 1890 only seventy-five people lived there. The county was organized in 1892, and Barstow became the county seat; a red sandstone courthouse was built in 1893. By 1900 the United States Agricultural Census found 167 farms and ranches, encompassing 424,000 acres, in the area, but only 5,500 acres were described as "improved." The economy revolved primarily around ranching qv at that time. Almost 13,000 cattle and about 4,400 sheep were reported in the county that year, while only eighty-three acres were planted in corn and 1,500 acres in cotton.

In the 1920s Ward County entered a period of economic prosperity following the opening of the Hendrick oilfield in 1926. Pipelines and railroad loading tanks were constructed at Wickett, Pyote, and Monahans. Oil was discovered at Grandfalls in 1929, and the nearby community of Royalty was established. That same year the Texas and New Mexico Railroad built tracks from the New Mexico state line to Monahans to handle the increasing transportation demands of the oil industry. Cotton production fell off during this period; by 1930 fewer than 9,000 acres were planted in cotton, and the number of farms in the area had dropped to 209. Oilfield activity was responsible for a large population increase during the 1920s, and by 1930 there 4,599 people living there. The 1930s were boom years in Ward County. U.S. Highway 80 was paved from Big Spring to Pecos by 1933. Oil, gas, potash, and sodium sulfate industries developed, and Monahans became the economic and population center of the county. A refinery was built at Wickett, and Monahans had carbon black and chemical plants by 1937; almost 9,720,000 barrels of crude oil were produced in the county in 1938. Oil production continued to increase in the early 1960s but then dropped off sharply.

Monahans hosts a number of annual events, including the Freedom Fair, the Greenthumb Show, the Miss Monahans Pageant, and the AQHA Quarterhorse Show, all held in July; a Pecan Perfection show is held there in November, and a Christmas Parade is staged each December.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Texas Permian Historical Society, Water, Oil, Sand and Sky: A History of Ward County (Monahans, Texas, Junior Chamber of Commerce, 1962). Ward County Historical Commission, Ward County. (Dallas: Taylor, 1980?).

Glenn Justice and John Leffler