Howard County History
of Texas and Texans by Frank W. Johnson
American Historical Society, 1916, 2178 pgs.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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."
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."
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."
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.
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
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
A CITIZEN OF ENGLISH NOBILITY
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.
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.
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.
MISC. FACTS & INFO
MOUNTAIN-Caves located around the rim of South Mountain
indicate Indians lived in them in 13,000 B.C.
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
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.
AND PACIFIC RAILROAD-Big Spring was the division point between
Fort Worth and El Paso beginning in May 1881.
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.
"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
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.
MOUNTAIN-Located NE of Big Spring, wild horses were still
seen here in the 1890's.
MOUNTAIN-An observation point for Indians, located NE of
word meaning" Signal", the town was once the shipping point
of large herds of cattle. Located east of Big Spring.
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.
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.
MOUNTAIN-Indians used it's flat top to build fires and signal
smoke as a method of communication. SE of Big Spring.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Handbook of Texas Online for more History of This
Go to Texas State Parks & Historic Site Webpage - Big
Springs State Park
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updated on -07/15/2019