WINKLER COUNTY. Winkler County (F-7) is mostly in the Pecos Valley of West Texas; its northeastern section is on the Llano Estacado. The county is adjacent to the southeastern corner of New Mexico. Kermit, the county seat, is forty miles west of Odessa. Large annual yields of oil and gas place the county among the leading petroleum producers in the state.
The first people to live in the area of Winkler County were the Anasazi Indians., who migrated there about 900 and left their discarded pottery as evidence of their presence. At some later time, the Apaches etched a trail across the county from Monument Springs in New Mexico to Shafter Lake in the area of present Andrews County. After the Apaches, the Comanche Indians moved into the White Sandhills and Blue Mountain areas of the county territory, using them as meeting places from the seventeenth century until the 1870s. These Native Americans were attracted to the area by its water, which was readily available from the interdunal ponds or from digging to the shallow water table. In 1881 the Texas and Pacific Railway was built across nearby Ward County, giving easy assess to the area. With good transportation, with the land outside the dunefields covered in tall grasses, and with a good water supply available, the area was well equipped for open range ranching. A few ranchers took advantage of free state land to carve out large ranches. Among those first ranchers were John Avary, J. J. Draper, and the Cowden brothers-Doc, Tom, and Walter.
On February 26, 1887, Winkler County was established from territory in Tom Green County. It was named for Confederate Col. Clinton M. Winkler.
On July 16, 1926, oil was discovered when Roy Westbrook and Company brought in the Hendrick No. 1 on ranchland owned by Thomas G. and Ada Hendrick in central Winkler County. The boom established the town of Wink in the southwestern part of the county, seven miles southwest of Kermit. The increased population caused a housing shortage and forced newcomers to live in tents and makeshift structures. The boom also produced several small and ephemeral towns. A post office opened at Tulsa in southern Winkler County on August 20, 1927, but it closed in 1929 when the town failed to boom as its namesake had. Brookfield, another town, was a mile and a half southwest of Wink. That town had a hotel, a few stores, and several dance halls. As Wink grew, Brookfield declined. Cheyenne was laid out nine miles north of Kermit. A post office operated there from 1929 to 1944, but the town dwindled long before the post office closed. Leck was founded five miles west of Cheyenne. For a short time, it had several businesses and residences, but it soon disappeared. By 1930 the oil boom brought an increase in population to 6,784. With the impact of oil and of the earlier drought, cultivation of crops continued to decline. Twenty-five farms were operated by fourteen owners and eleven tenants, but no crops were sown in 1930. The number and value of all livestock decreased, but the number of cattle continued strong at 11,000 head. By 1940 the population had declined to 6,141. Twenty-five farms, averaging 22,700 acres each, were operated by fourteen owners and eleven tenants.
Most of the population lived in Kermit (6,875) or Wink (1,189). Winkler County in the early 1990s continued as an oil and ranching county.
A History of Winkler County (Kermit, Texas: Winkler County Historical Commission, 1984). Roger M. and Diana Davids Olien, Easy Money: Oil Promoters and Investors in the Jazz Age (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990).
Julia Cauble Smith