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STONEWALL COUNTY

STONEWALL COUNTY. Stonewall County (C-12) is in Northwest Texas, in the central part of the North Central Plains and southeast of the Caprock. It is bounded on the north by King County, on the east by Haskell County, on the south by Fisher and Jones counties, and on the west by Kent County. The center of the county lies at approximately 33°12' north latitude and 100°15' west longitude. Aspermont, the county seat, is just southwest of the county's center and sixty miles north-northwest of Abilene. The county was named for Confederate general Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson. It encompasses 926 square miles of the Rolling Plains region of Texas. Its soils range from neutral to slightly alkaline, calcareous sandy loams of dark brown to reddish brown color in the western part, to clay and clay loams in the east. These soils generally support mesquite savanna or bunchgrass, short grasses, and mesquite. Cedar, hackberry, cottonwood, chinaberry, and shin oak trees are also found in the county. The average annual precipitation is 22.36 inches. Temperatures range from an average minimum of 30° F in January to an average maximum of 99° in July. The average growing season lasts 220 days. The county is framed by two forks of the Brazos River. The Salt Fork crosses the northern half, while the Double Mountain Fork flows near the southern boundary, turns to the north, and joins the Salt Fork after curving through western Haskell County. There are also many tributaries, such as Tonk and Croton creeks, which contribute to the rough, broken country. The county's topography varies from rolling plains to mountainous terrain, with 50 to 80 percent of the area gently sloping. Elevations range from 1,500 to 2,400 feet, the latter being the elevation of Double Mountainqv, one of the outstanding geographical features of the county. Kiowa Peak, in the northeastern corner, and Flat Top Mountain in the southeast were important landmarks to Indians and later to early explorers who traversed the area. In 1982, 94 per cent of the county's land was in farms and ranches; about 52 percent of its agricultural income was derived from crops, especially wheat, cotton, oats, sorghum, hay, and peanuts. Cattle and livestock products are also important to the local economy, and there is large-scale ranching over much of the county, especially the southern part. Mineral resources include gypsum, sand, gravel, petroleum, and natural gas. The county's main transportation routes are U.S. Highway 83, which runs north to south through the center of the county, and U.S. Highway 380, which crosses from east to west.

Indians that roamed the area included the nomadic Comanches, Kiowas, and Tonkawas. Their names remain on such landmarks as Kiowa Peak and Tonk Creek. Early explorers José Mares and Pedro Vial traveled through the area during the eighteenth century. Mares apparently wintered on the Double Mountain Fork in February 1788 on his trip for the Spanish governor of New Mexico. The following year Vial also probably followed the Double Mountain Fork for several days as his party advanced westward from Bexar to Santa Fe. In advance of the westward migration of the nineteenth century, Capt. Randolph Barnes Marcy led an expedition to open a route through Indian Territory. On October 12, 1849, he camped by the Double Mountain Fork during a norther. In 1854 Marcy was selected to explore the Texas frontier for the purpose of locating suitable sites for Indian reservations. On this trip he passed through the northeastern part of the county near Kiowa Peak, crossed the Salt Fork on the eastern edge, and continued over a valley toward Flat Top Mountain, which he recognized from his previous trip in 1849. An Indian reservation that Marcy helped to locate failed to eliminate the devastation the Comanches and Kiowas continued to inflict upon the white settlers along the Texas frontier. In an effort to stop the raids, in 1871 Col. Ranald Slidell Mackenzie led a force of cavalry against the Indians in the area. In 1872 Miner K. Kellogg became the first artist to represent pictorially the country beyond the Brazos. He accompanied the Texas Land and Copper Association's expedition to Texas to survey, explore, and locate land for the company; the expedition made trips to Kiowa Peak and Double Mountain in search of copper. In addition to his sketches Kellogg also wrote descriptions of the topography and vegetation of the region.

Cattlemen soon started moving herds into the vast sections of open grassland. The first ranch in the future county was probably established by buffalo hunter John Goff, who grazed 200 heifers on Tonk Creek in the winter of 1873. Later, in 1877, One-Armed Jim (James D.) Reedqv and his son Paul, of Goliad County, brought in 3,000 longhorn cattle and established the Double Mountain Horseshoe T Cross Ranch on Tonk Creek. Reed built a large stone house for his residence, but it was also designed to serve as a fort against renegade Indians. In late December 1876, Charles Rath of Kansas blazed the Rath Trail from Dodge City to the Double Mountain Fork and established Rath City, a buffalo hunters' supply camp located a little east and south of Double Mountain and one mile north of the Fisher county line. Although Rath had hideyards in several other locations, Rath City was reputedly the greatest yard of all, where long ricks of hides were stacked ready to be hauled to market. The mail was taken to Rath City from Fort Griffin twice a week by cowboys riding relays. When the buffalo were gone after the great slaughter, the need for the trading post ceased, and the accumulated ricks of buffalo hides were moved to Fort Worth in April 1879.

Stonewall was one of fifty-four counties formed by the Fifteenth Texas Legislature in 1876 from the Young and Bexar districts. It remained attached to Young County for judicial and all other governmental purposes until March 31, 1887, when it was attached to Jones County for convenience. Stonewall County was still unorganized in 1880, when the census found 104 people, including 91 whites, 10 blacks, and 3 Indians, living there. Settlers moved to the county in increasing numbers during the 1880s. At first they settled a few miles south of the site of the present county seat, but they eventually spread to the west and northeast. About the same time, ten families settled on the east side of the county and established the community of Hooker. In 1888 the residents of the county petitioned the Jones County Commissioners Court to hold an election for the organization of the county. The balloting took place on December 20 of that year. However, the question of the county seat had been omitted from the ballot. On June 12, 1889, W. E. Rayner granted land for a townsite, and the new town of Rayner became the county seat. The courthouse, a large stone building, was built the following year. By 1890 there were 1,024 people living in the county. The agricultural census for that year found 144 farms there, encompassing more than 23,000 acres, 6,758 acres of which was classified as "improved." The cattle industry dominated the local economy. Only 719 acres was planted in corn, the county's most important crop at that time, while the agricultural census reported 5,023 cattle and 5,203 sheep. As the county's population continued to expand in the 1890s, the placement of the county seat became a source of local controversy. A. L. Rhomberg had secured a patent in February of 1889 and platted a town, Aspermont, which was closer than Rayner to the center of the county. Beginning in 1892 the citizens of Aspermont made several attempts to make their rapidly growing town the county seat, and finally succeeded after an election held in June 1898. The controversy did not really end, however, until March 1900, when a contract to build a new courthouse in Aspermont was signed. Rayner soon ceased to exist.

Legends of buried treasure, Spanish missions, and gold and silver mines had led to many explorations for ore along the Salt Fork of the Brazos. In the late 1890s a tent town, later known as Orient, was started by workers at the Orient copper mines. The town grew quickly after false claims of a silver strike, but both the copper and gold mines were closed after a very short period of operation, having yielded no riches. By 1900 the population of Stonewall County had increased to 1,024 and crop farming was beginning to become established in the area. There were 381 farms and ranches in the county that year. More than 4,000 acres planted with corn produced more than 106,000 bushels; 3,800 acres planted with cotton produced 804 bales. Smaller crops of wheat and oats were also grown in the area. Cattle ranching dominated the county's economy and culture in 1900, however, when almost 37,000 cattle were reported in Stonewall County.

Settlement of the county intensified early in the 1900s, encouraged by railroad construction that helped to ease immigration and to tie the area to national markets. The Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railway built across the southeastern corner of the state in 1904, and the Stamford and Northwestern line crossed the county in 1909. A number of new communities sprang up in the area. In 1904 a group of German families moved into the eastern side of the county, bought unbroken land north of the Double Mountain Fork, and established the town of Brandenburg, which was renamed Old Glory in 1918. Brandenburg was moved two miles to the west when the Stamford and Northwestern Railway built into the county; other communities also moved to meet the railroad at new townsites. Much of the area's growth during this time was influenced by the S. M. Swenson and Sons ranching operation, which later became the Swenson Land and Cattle Company. The Swensons, who controlled a great deal of land in the area, helped to establish at least two towns, including the one that carries their name. The first three decades of the twentieth century saw the firm establishment of crop farming in the county, as cotton culture continued to expand for most of this period. More than 21,000 acres in the county was planted in cotton by 1910, almost 29,000 acres by 1920, almost 45,000 acres by 1925, and more than 67,000 acres by 1929. Though the population generally rose during this period, the difficulties of dry-land farming drove out some of the new farmers. The number of people living in the county rose to 5,320 by 1910, when there were 834 farms in the area, but dropped to 4,086 by 1920, when only 575 farms remained. Nevertheless, in 1918 the county had thirty-five communities with school districts, and the population began to grow again in the 1920s. By 1930 the county had 894 farms and ranches encompassing 454,000 acres and a population of 5,667. Though ranching declined during the early twentieth century as farmers moved in, cattle remained important to the local economy. In 1930 the agricultural census reported more than 20,000 cattle in the county.

Many of the county's farmers were ruined during the hard years of the Great Depression. Cotton acreage dropped almost 45 percent between 1930 and 1940; by the latter year cotton was planted on only about 37,000 acres in the county. Total cropland harvested in the county declined from almost 96,000 acres in 1930 to just over 77,000 acres in 1940. By that year, only 754 farms remained in the county. During the early 1930s many communities also lost part of their local autonomy. New school laws and improved transportation led to the consolidation of the area's schools into three districts centered in Peacock, Aspermont, and Old Glory. The county's population declined to 5,589 by 1940, and the drop might have been more severe if modest oil production had not begun in the county in 1938. By 1940 the railroads that had once served the area were all gone except for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe (formerly the Kansas City, Mexico, and Orient), which barely crossed the southeast corner of the county.

Stonewall County's population dropped significantly during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, as mechanized farm techniques contributed to the consolidation of farmlands and young people moved to urban areas in search of economic opportunities. Only 447 farms remained in the county in 1969, and only 338 in 1978. The population declined to 3,679 by 1950, 3,017 by 1960, and 2,397 by 1970; the number of residents increased only slightly during the 1970s, to reach 2,406 by 1980. The smaller towns were steadily depopulated during this period. In 1940 Aspermont had 1,041 residents, Swenson approximately 400, Old Glory about 250, and Peacock 216. More than 3,000 people lived on farms in the county. By 1980 Swenson had 185 residents, while Old Glory and Peacock each counted only 125. Meanwhile Aspermont, the county seat, had grown to a population of 1,357.

The county's decline occurred in spite of significant petroleum and gas production in Stonewall County during the post-World War IIqv period. Though oil had begun to be produced in the county in 1938, as late as 1948 production totaled only about 18,000 barrels. By 1956, however, the county's oil production had jumped to almost 10,254,000 barrels. Though production declined in later years, oil helped to stabilize and diversify the local economy. Stonewall County wells produced more than 6,217,000 barrels of petroleum in 1960, almost 5,460,000 barrels in 1974, more than 4,428,000 barrels in 1978, more than 4,423,000 barrels in 1982, and more than 6,018,000 barrels in 1990. By January 1, 1991, almost 226,089,000 barrels of crude had been pumped from Stonewall County land since discovery in 1938. County voters supported Democratic candidates in virtually every presidential election between 1892 and 1988. The only exception occurred in 1972, when Stonewall County voters gave Republican Richard Nixon a majority over Democrat George McGovern. In 1992 a plurality of the county's voters supported Democrat William J. Clinton over Republican George Bush and independent Ross Perot. In 1990, 2,284 people lived in Stonewall County. Aspermont (1990 population, 1,299) remained the county seat as well as the commercial center for ranching, farming, and petroleum operations, while Old Glory (125) was the center of the ranching operations in the eastern section. The Stonewall County Fair is held in Aspermont each June, and the Aspermont Township Homecoming is held there in October.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Llerena B. Friend, ed., M. K. Kellogg's Texas Journal: 1872 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1967). A History of Stonewall County (Aspermont, Texas: Stonewall County Historical Commission, 1979). George Dewey Railsback, History of Stonewall County (M.A. thesis, Hardin-Simmons University, 1940).

Joan Druesedow Griggs

Citation

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

Joan Druesedow Griggs, "STONEWALL COUNTY," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hcs16), accessed October 30, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.