Howard County History

A History of Texas and Texans by Frank W. Johnson

Chicago: American Historical Society, 1916, 2178 pgs.

Pg. 958

Howard County

Howard County was created from the Bexar district during the '70s, but its county government was not organized until June 15, 1882.  The total population of the county at the census of 1880 was given as 50.  Cattlemen and buffalo hunters had taken temporary possession, and Big Springs, on account of abundance of water, had long been an oasis in these western plains.  The map of Texas in 1874 indicates the springs as one of the conspicuous geographical points in the country.

During 1881 the great army of railroad builders passed through the county, laying the track of the Texas & Pacific Railroad, and the springs were as useful to the railroad as they had been to the buffalo and cattle.  With the railroad came permanent settlement, stock ranches and farms were established for miles along the right of way, and from that time civilization began to develop its various institutions and activities.

By 1890 the population of the county was 1,210; it doubled during the next decade, being 2,528 in 1900; and at the last census in 1910 was 8,881.  In 1900 the population of Big Springs was 1,255, or approximately half of the total population of the county, a proportion which was maintained through the next decade, since the population of the chief city in 1910 was 4,102.  Other towns in the county are Coahoma, Morita, Soash and Vincent.

While the cattle industry is very prominent, as it has been for more than thirty years, the soil of Howard County is very fertile and is well adapted to the growth of cotton, milo maize, kafir corn and all kinds of fruits.  The agricultural interests are growing, and the figures for the last census indicate the truth of this assertion.  In 1910 the census enumerators found 891 farms in Howard County as compared with only 130 in 1900.  The approximate total area of the county is 570,240 acres, and of this area about eighty-five thousand acres were in "improved land" in 1910, as compared with less than six thousand in the same classification ten years before.  In 1909, 22,197 acres were planted in cotton; 13,458 acres in kafir corn and milo maize; 917 acres in corn; 2,237 acres in hay and forage crops; while the fruit interests were indicated by the enumeration of about twenty-eight thousand orchard fruit trees.  The live stock statistics for the county in 1910 were:  Cattle, 32,545; horses and mules, about five thousand three hundred; hogs, 2,594; and poultry, 32,244.

Since the construction of the Texas & Pacific Railway Big Springs has been a division point on that road.  A selection of the point was chiefly due to the existence of superior water supplies such as could not be found at any other place in west Texas along the route of the railway.  The Big Springs proper are about a mile and a half south of the city, and as they constituted a great natural water supply to the early stockmen, the railway company found them equally useful, and for a number of years the city water supply was drawn from the same source.  Finally the Big Springs Water Company was organized and sunk wells to tap an abundant underground supply near the same springs.  In 1881 Big Springs was a village of tents and adobe huts.  There was nothing to support the town at that time except the railway interests and scattering ranches, but as the railway company began to enlarge its machine shops and the ranches became more numerous, the little village began a steady growth which has continued until the present time.  The railway company in 1906 constructed new shops at a cost of half a million dollars, and that improvement came about the time the farmers made their greatest advance in the movement to crowd out the ranchmen.  In April, 1907, the city was incorporated, and has acquired municipal improvements equal to any found in towns of similar size in all west Texas.

Howard County has made a substantial increase in material wealth in the past ten years, particularly during the first half of that decade.  The amount of taxable property in the county in 1903 was $2,422,420; in 1909, $4,797,940; and in 1910, $4,842,805.

[This information is from a booklet prepared by the Howard County Historical Survey Committee of Big Spring, Texas. Illustrations and design by L. B. Paul. Available via Chamber of Commerce, Big Spring, Texas for free. Some information was obtained from Joe Pickle's 1980 book , 'Gettin' Started, Howard County's First 25 Years', and is identified with an *.] 

History of Howard County

Howard County was formed out of the Bexar Territory in 1876 by the Texas Legislature. It was not formally organized until 1882. The county was named for Volney Erskine Howard who never visited the county. Prof. Stevens of Hico was named county judge, however he did not qualify and Judge Kennedy of Colorado City (Mitchell County) was placed instead. George Hogg then took his place. R.W. Morrow was named sheriff, Joe W. Anson; county clerk; Rev. John Reade; assessor; F.W. Heyne, treasurer; I.D. Eddens, justice of the peace; Wesley Meade, constable; R.M Bressie, Bob Black, Frank Baze, and G.A. Torbett, commissioners.* 

Archeological finds indicate that Indians were hunting elephant and buffalo as long ago as 13,000 B.C. The spring located in southwest Big Spring was once a feeding ground for buffalo where fierce Comanche's fought for hunting and water rights around the spring. Below the site of the Big Spring is the Trinity sandstone, a reservoir for the billions of gallons of fresh water that once flowed freely from the spring. Spanish explorers visited the site and used it as a landmark for their maps. 

The first recorded history of Howard County comes from the journal of Captain R.B. Marcy. Marcy was ordered by the Army to escort and protect immigrants moving into the new territories. He was also to establish the best route from Arkansas to New Mexico and California. Captain Marcy started his march on April 4, 1849 from Ft. Smith, Arkansas with a company of 90 men for Santa Fe, New Mexico. He kept a detailed journal of his journey. 

He approached Howard County from the West. His journal reads: October 3, 1849. "Leaving the Salt Lake this morning, our bearing was N.71 E. for eight miles, where we reached the border of the high plain, and descended an easy slope of about fifty feet to a bench below; here we could see two low bluffs in the direction we were marching, near which our guide informed us we could find a fine spring of water. Fourteen and a half miles' travel over a beautiful road brought us to the spring, which we found flowing from a deep chasm in the limestone rocks into an immense reservoir of some fifty feet in depth." 

"This appears to have been a favorite place of resort for the Comanche's, as there are remains of lodges in every direction; indeed our Comanche guide tells me that he has often been here before, and that there was a battle fought here some years since between the Pawnees and Comanches, in which his brother was killed. He also informs me that there is a good wagon route from here to the Rio Pecos, striking it some seventy miles lower down that where we crossed, keeping entirely to the south of the Llano Estacado and crossing the head branches of the Colorado." 

"There is a Comanche trail leading over this route, and it would, undoubtedly, be the best between this point and Chihuahua, as it is nearer than the one we have traveled, with sand upon it and an abundance of water." 

The Comanche Trail Marcy speaks of leading to Chihuahua, Mexico is presumably the trail the Indians followed when making their raids in the fall of the year into Mexico. The full moon, sometimes called the "Harvest Moon", was named by the Mexicans the "Comanche Moon". In September and October the inhabitants of small villages along the trail gathered their families and livestock and moved to larger towns for protection. Any stragglers were captured by the Comanches. 

"Buffalo once moved across the prairies like waves of the sea", it is said. Traveling in herds of thousands these mighty beasts were easily killed. Buffalo hunters salted down and packed the choice pieces of meat in wagons for transport to larger villages. Many buffalo were killed just for their tongues which were a delicacy. The aftermath of this slaughter was the buffalo bone industry used for fertilizer. Early settlers told of being able to walk a mile in any direction from the spring without being off buffalo bones. Hides were used as bed and floor coverings and sometimes as part of a tent wall. The thick tuft of hair on the forehead made excellent mattresses. The buffalo provided food, clothing, and shelter for man. 

Comanche Creation Story:

"One day the Great Spirit collected swirls of dust from the four directions in order to create the Comanche people. These people formed from the earth had the strength of mighty storms. Unfortunately a shape-shifting demon was also created and began to torment the people. The Great Spirit cast the demon into a bottomless pit. To seek revenge the demon took refuge in the fangs and stingers of poisonous creatures and continues to harm people every chance it gets." 


The Comanche called themselves "The People" or the "Human Beings". There were four major branches of the Comanche who reportedly sprung off the Shoshones following a dispute. The Quahadi (Quahada, Kuahari, Kwahadi, Quahadas) were the most feared by the Apaches, Kiowas, Mexicans, and white settlers. 

The Comanche Indians dominated a vast area extending from Eastern Colorado to Western Kansas south of the Arkansas River, to the San Saba and Llano Rivers of Texas, to Austin and San Antonio, the Big Bend area along the Rio Grande, and back north to Eastern new Mexico. The horse was a prized possession and the Comanche were excellent horsemen. There are reports from soldiers of how the Comanche could use his horse as a shield, leaving only one leg hooked over the neck and visible to the enemy, while shooting an arrow from a bow from underneath the neck of the horse, with the horse moving at full speed. 


Colonel C.C. Slaughter was the first cattle baron to invade the vast range of free grass in Howard County. In 1880-1881 his was the "big" ranch in the vicinity. A statement from the Texas Stock and Farm Journal, August 16, 1899, said it was possible to go two hundred miles north of Big Spring and still be on the Long S land. He didn't actually own the land, but he did have it under lease and it went far beyond Lubbock, Texas. Before that his cattle roamed the open range from the Colorado River to the Pecos River. 

Headquarters were located at German Springs, twenty miles north of Big Spring. In the late 1880's Gus O'Keefe was manager for Slaughter. His salary was $5,000 a year, a large sum for those days. Cowboys were paid $25-$35 a month and their board and mounts. It is said that at one time Slaughter ran 55,000 head of cattle. He kept around 3,000 Spanish cow ponies. The ranch was split into a series of smaller ranches with O'Keefe managing from the main ranch house north of Big Spring. The demand for supplies was so great that two oxen teams were kept constantly busy freighting. At first Slaughter had rangy raw-boned Longhorns but then his famous Hereford bull, Sir Bredwell was the pioneer among a breed of cattle destined to replace the Longhorn. 


The seventh Earl of Aylesford AKA Joseph Heneage Finch, came to Big Spring to hunt wild game. He stayed and bought a ranch twelve miles northeast of Big Spring, guided by the advice of Jay Gould, builder of the Texas and Pacific Railroad. It is thought that he desired to accumulate property that he could leave to his two daughters. He had no sons and under English law his peerage would devolve to his brother, Charles. Divorced, the Earl had no hope of a male heir. 

He built a sort of hunting lodge on the ranch. He had been a hunting companion of the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, on trips to India and Africa. He brought with him several specially tooled guns made for the excursions with the Prince. When his ranch house burned, one hundred and thirty-seven of these fine guns along with a vast store of whiskey, lay in ruins. He built his own butcher shop made of stone which was the first permanent building in Big Spring (located at 121 Main St., now a barber shop). He owned a saloon and the Cosmopolitan Hotel for a time. 

Although he made his home here for less than two years, he established himself as a legendary figure. He died in Big Spring after a lengthy celebration of the Christmas holidays, on January 13, 1885, at the age of 36.


SOUTH MOUNTAIN-Caves located around the rim of South Mountain indicate Indians lived in them in 13,000 B.C. 

SPANIARDS-There is no record of the first white man to visit the spring, but it may well have been Cabeza de Vaca, who escaped from his Indian captors on Galveston Island. He made his way to the Colorado River ascending to the Sulphur Draw fork south of the plains. This put him at the spring in 1535 before pushing west to El Paso and Mexico City on his way back to Spain. Coronado traveled a route from just south of Santa Fe where he crossed to Palo-Duro Canyon, then south to the canyon on the North Concho, just south of Sterling City. 

TOWN OF BIG SPRING- One of the few towns that existed on the frontier during the days of the "Old West". Supplies from here went to Tascosa (Amarillo), Roswell, and Fort Stockton. 

TEXAS AND PACIFIC RAILROAD-Big Spring was the division point between Fort Worth and El Paso beginning in May 1881. 

OIL PROCESSING-Big Spring began processing crude oil by refining in 1928. Four refineries operated for several years, Cosden, Great West and Richardson adjoined each other, while the Howard County (Flash) refinery operated in the west part of Big Spring. 

THE CAPROCK-The "breaks" of the Central Plains and Edwards Plateau, also known as the Llano Estacado and Staked Plains, located at Wild Horse Creek on Hwy 350 near the State Hospital on I-20 

ENCAMPMENT OF GERONIMO-Upon his escape from Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, Geronimo camped in North Howard County in 1886, exciting the ranchers who gave chase, but were eluded by the Indian Chief. 

WILD HORSE MOUNTAIN-Located NE of Big Spring, wild horses were still seen here in the 1890's. 

FLAT TOP MOUNTAIN-An observation point for Indians, located NE of Big Spring. 

COAHOMA-Indian word meaning" Signal", the town was once the shipping point of large herds of cattle. Located east of Big Spring. 

RATTLESNAKE GAP-located East I-20. In 1881, while building the Texas and Pacific Railway, the construction crew killed many thousands of rattlesnakes before their horses were able to commence digging the "cut" for the railroad. 

FIRST PERMANENT RANCH-Dave Rhoton came here in 1877 and ranched near Moss Spring, but moved to Austin for a brief time. W. T. (Uncle Bud) Roberts set up headquarters in the same area SE of Big Spring. 

SIGNAL MOUNTAIN-Indians used it's flat top to build fires and signal smoke as a method of communication. SE of Big Spring. 

BOOM TOWNS-Otis Chalk, Ross City, and Drumwright sprang up almost overnight as lusty, dusty, tent towns. The oil boom of the 1930's brought in rig builders, teamsters, roughnecks , and others. The Texas Rangers were called in to restore order in 1930. Located SE of Forsan. 

IATAN- Known to Transcontinental travelers because when it rained the red clay flats were totally impassable tying up traffic for days. The name reputedly originated when a telegrapher was misinterpreted. He had written "Satan" but the S was taken for an I. Located on the Triassic Plain of E. Howard County and W. Mitchell County. 

HIGHWAYS- The Puget Sound to the Gulf, or Glacier to the Gulf ultimately became U.S. 87. The Bankhead Highway, named for an Alabama Senator who pushed highway legislation, or The Broadway of America, later became Highway 80. 

SOASH-a ghost town located in N Howard County. W.P. Soash platted a townsite complete with parks, schools, city hall, power plant, etc. and set the pattern by constructing a concrete-wall bank building. He imported prospective buyers by the trainload from the midwest and sold the bargain priced land rapidly in 1910. Unfortunately a severe drought set in and most of the settlers gave up and returned to their former homes. 

TEXAS' FIRST MOTORIZED FIRE TRUCK-The first self-propelled fire fighting unit in the state of Texas was purchased by the City of Big Spring in 1909. 

DESEGREGATION DECISION- In the Howard County Courthouse, Judge Charles Sullivan of the 118th District Court handed down the "Big Spring Decision" which was the first to uphold desegregation in a school district in Texas. 

FIRST BOY SCOUT TROOP IN THE SW U.S.- in 1911, the year after the Boy Scouts of America was founded the first troop was organized in the southwestern United States in Big Spring.

Go to Handbook of Texas Online for more History of This Area

Go to Texas State Parks & Historic Site Webpage - Big Springs State Park

Return to Home Page


This page was last updated on -07/15/2019

Compilation Copyright 2003-Present

By Linda Blum-Barton