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SHACKELFORD COUNTY

SHACKELFORD COUNTY. Shackelford County (D-14) occupies 887 square miles of north central West Texas. The county seat, Albany, lies nearly in the center of the county, at 32°44' north latitude and 99°18' west longitude, about thirty-five miles northeast of Abilene. At an altitude ranging from 1,200 to 2,000 feet, the county lies on surface rock of Permian limestone, covered by two to fourteen inches of loamy clay topsoil. The northwest corner contains a strip of vegetation-locked blow sand one mile wide and twenty-five miles long. The eastern part of the county belongs to the Cross Timbers geographic region, and the western portion to the Lower Plains. The Clear Fork of the Brazos River crosses the northwest corner of the county, flowing northeast into Throckmorton County, then reentering at the northeast corner and exiting southeast into Stephens County. A number of Shackelford County creeks are tributaries of the Clear Fork. Temperature extremes range from an average January minimum of 31° F to an average maximum of 97°. The mean annual temperature is about 64°, and the annual rainfall averages 26.57 inches. The growing season is 224 days long. Originally open prairie, Shackelford County now consists predominantly of mesquite and chaparral savanna. Along the river and the creeks, pecan, elm, cottonwood, and hackberry trees mingle with mulberry and willow. Prickly pear and other cacti are common in the prairie sections. The land and its waterways also support populations of white-tailed deer, bobcats, opossums, raccoons, and smaller mammals. Great blue herons and kingfishers fish the streams; wild turkeys, roadrunners, and a variety of songbirds inhabit the uplands.

Athabascan Apaches once lived on the game in this area but were driven out by the Comanches, who controlled the region until whites began to settle there in the middle to late nineteenth century. In 1788 a Spanish expedition led by José Mares may have touched the southwest corner of the county, but the first real explorer of the region was Capt. Randolph B. Marcy, who investigated the area for the United States Army. The first white man to settle in Shackelford County was probably Jesse Stem, an Indian agent who established a farm in 1852 on the Clear Fork six miles downstream from the site of present Lueders. Two years after Stem arrived Captain Marcy looked over the area and suggested to the War Department that a fort be built on the Clear Fork. The establishment of a cordon of such protective frontier forts, including Camp Cooper just north of Shackelford County in Throckmorton County, brought the first influx of white settlers into Shackelford County. Jesse Stem made the first attempt at agriculture in Shackelford County in 1853 by raising a good crop of corn and oats, which he sold at Fort Belknap in Young County. C. C. Cooper and John C. Lynch established ranches in Shackelford County, and in 1861, with employees and their families, established a fortified settlement that they called Fort Hubbard. Two years later W. H. Ledbetter-later the first judge of Shackelford County-began manufacturing salt by evaporating water of the Salt Prong of Hubbard Creek. In 1867 Joe Matthews settled on the Clear Fork in northeastern Shackelford County, about two miles downstream from where Fort Griffin was established the same year.

Below the hill on which Fort Griffin was constructed, the civilian community of Fort Griffin, commonly called the Flat or Hidetown, developed. This community served as a marketplace and supply point for buffalo hunters and as a watering place for soldiers, hunters, and trail hands driving cattle over the Western Trail, which crossed the Clear Fork nearby. The combination of buffalo hunters, soldiers, and cowboys, mixed with Indians from the nearby Tonkawa camp, was volatile, and law enforcement was erratic. The long trip to the county court in Jack County to do jury duty or deal with legal matters was hazardous; so in 1874 residents of the area petitioned the county court of Jack County for permission to organize their own county. The new county was named in honor of Dr. Jack Shackelford, a Texas revolutionary hero. Fort Griffin became the temporary county seat on October 12, 1874. On November 8 of that year the founders of the county called an election to determine the permanent location, and thus Albany-named by William R. Cruger for his hometown, Albany, Georgia-was founded. In 1884 the county finished construction of a courthouse, built of limestone quarried a few miles southwest of Albany. The structure still functions in its original capacity, and in 1962 was recorded as a Texas Historical Landmark. The county's population peaked at 6,695 in 1930, dropped to 3,323 by 1970, then climbed back to the 1980 figure of 3,915. Of the 1980 population 3,761 were white (including 211 Hispanics), 36 black, 6 Indian (in 1884 the federal government moved the Tonkawa Indians to Indian Territory), 4 Asian, and 108 of other origins. Of these residents, 2,450 lived in Albany; the remainder were in Lueders (which is partly in Jones County), Moran, and Spring Creek, or on farms and ranches. In 1990 Shackelford County had 3,316 inhabitants.

Railroad construction did not begin in the area until the 1880s. In 1882 the Texas Central Railroad Company completed its line into Albany, which became a central shipping point. In 1984 the county had 486 miles of public roads and one airport, the Taylor Airport in Albany. Farming, ranching, and oil production are the bases of the county's economy. Oil was discovered in Shackelford County in 1910, and in 1946 the discovery of oil in the Ellenberger formation encouraged exploration for deeper production. By 1982 the county was producing 5,659 barrels a day. In 1980, 50,000 acres of land were under cultivation, but the trend was away from row crops toward stock farming. The breeding of quarter horses had also become economically important in the county. In 1983 Shackelford County produced about $12.5 million in agricultural goods. More than 78 percent came from livestock, mainly beef cattle. Cotton, grain, and hay accounted for 16.5 percent. Other significant income is derived from oil field equipment manufacture and supply, well service, and crude-oil hauling. A company manufacturing bits for bridles operates in Moran. The county takes great pride in its heritage and exhibits that pride annually in June, when residents cooperate to produce a musical extravaganza called the Fort Griffin Fandangle, based upon life and times during the county's early days. Solidly Democratic for many years, Shackelford County voted Republican in only four presidential elections-1928, 1952, 1956, and 1972-until the 1980s. From 1980 to 1992 county voters have consistently voted for Republican presidential candidates.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Ben O. Grant, The Early History of Shackelford County (M.A. thesis, Hardin-Simmons University, 1936). Kathleen E. and Clifton R. St. Clair, eds., Little Towns of Texas (Jacksonville, Texas: Jayroe Graphic Arts, 1982). Shackelford County (Albany, Texas: Shackelford County Historical Survey Committee, 1974).

Frank Beesley

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Frank Beesley, "SHACKELFORD COUNTY," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hcs08), accessed September 20, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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