Cedar Lake (Gaines County)

By: James I. Fenton

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: October 6, 2020

Cedar Lake is a large salt lake in the southern half of the Llano Estacado, twenty-five miles from Seminole in the northeast corner of Gaines County (at 32°49' N, 102°16' W). Its Spanish name was Laguna Sabinas. Its English name came from the gnarled scrub cedar that once dotted its edges. It is located in a semiarid region once considered part of the Great American Desert. The lake was a gathering place for wildlife as well as a stopping place for travelers as they moved from water source to water source across the region. In 1875 an official United States Army report described this strategic lake as being six miles long and four miles wide, as well as having "plenty of good water in numerous wells or rather dug springs in a ravine at the north end, and several large wells at the south end, of slightly brackish water but fit for use of men and animals." Wood and stone for building, the report continued, could be gathered in the bluffs. Both prehistoric and historic Indians often used the lake. It was a favorite camping place for the Comanches who traded there with the Comancheros (see COMANCHERO). Some writers believed that Cedar Lake was the birthplace of the last Comanche war chief, Quanah Parker. After the Civil War this vital water source was frequently used by White buffalo hunters as they systematically destroyed the last of the southern herd. The famous cowboy-detective Charles A. Siringo went there in the late 1870s and found the "camps black with genuine buffalo hides." It was there, too, that the famous hide hunter George Causey killed 200 buffalo in 1882, believed to be the last sizable herd on the Staked Plains, if not in the larger southern High Plains (see BUFFALO, BUFFALO HUNTING).

The United States Army used Cedar Lake in its forays against the Comanche Indians. Col. Ranald S. Mackenzie made an all-night forced march to the site in December 1874 but failed to catch the large group of Comanches he believed to be camped there. The following year Col. William R. Shafter, who later gained fame in the Spanish-American War, covered over 2,500 miles of the Llano Estacado during three scoutings for Comanches. He used Cedar Lake as his headquarters. During that campaign the able Indian fighter Lt. John L. Bullis led his Black Seminole Scouts in a dawn attack at the lake and scared off a large band of Indians. With the Indians on reservations, Cedar Lake continued its important role in the region as a ranching center. By the late 1870s cattleman C. C. Slaughter had established his huge Lazy S Ranch adjacent to Cedar Lake. By 1920 cotton farmers had surrounded the lake, and in 1935 the first productive oil well in the area was brought in. In 1936 the Texas Centennial Commission placed a historic marker at the north end of Cedar Lake identifying it as Quanah Parker's birthplace. In 1990 farms dominated the scene, and pump jacks dotted the edge and center of the lake.

M. L. Crimmins, "Shafter's Explorations in Western Texas, 1875," West Texas Historical Association Year Book 9 (1933). James I. Fenton, "Cedar Lake: Mirror of Staked Plains History," Permian Historical Annual 21 (1981).

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

James I. Fenton, “Cedar Lake (Gaines County),” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 18, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/cedar-lake-gaines-county.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

October 6, 2020