Crane County, at the western edge of the Edwards Plateau in Southwest Texas, is bounded on the north by Ector County, on the east by Upton County, on the south by Pecos County, and on the west by Ward County. It was named for William Cary Crane, a president of Baylor University. Crane County comprises 795 square miles of rolling prairie, bounded on the south and west by the Pecos River, which, with Juan Cordona Lake, drains the land. The center of the county lies at 31°25' north latitude and 102°30' west longitude, about forty miles south of Odessa. Rainfall averages 12.97 inches annually. The elevation varies from 2,400 to 3,000 feet above sea level. The average minimum temperature in January is 29° F; the average maximum in July is 96°. The growing season lasts 225 days, but there is very little farming. Cattle raising brings in about $1.5 million annually. Manufacturing income averages $1.4 million annually, derived largely from steel and concrete products. The county is among state leaders in oil and gas production. In 1982 oil production of almost 27,000,000 barrels earned $810,652,695.
The area that is now Crane County was within the territory of the Lipan Apaches, who were among the originators of the plains culture common to Apaches, Comanches, Kiowas, and other Indians. This part of the Pecos country may have been crossed by Spanish explorer Felipe de Rábago y Terán in 1761, and some of the early California-bound American travelers passed through Castle Gap and Horsehead Crossing.
Crane County was formed in 1887 from land previously assigned to Tom Green County the same year, but for many years the area's scant rainfall deterred settlement. In 1890 only fifteen people lived in Crane County; as late as 1900 the United States census enumerated only fifty-one people and twelve ranches in the county. Almost 17,650 cattle and 3,750 sheep were counted that year.
The county seems to have experienced a brief burst of settlement during the first years of the twentieth century; Crane, the future county seat, became a post office in 1908, while census figures show that in 1910 there were seventy-one farms or ranches in the county, and that the population by that year had risen to 331. Almost no crop production was reported for the county in 1910, however, and in any case most of the new settlers had moved away by 1920, when only eight ranches, thirty-seven people, and about 4,700 cattle were reported. As late as 1918 the county had no roads, although the Texas and Pacific Railway crossed the northwest corner and the Panhandle and Santa Fe crossed the southern tip.
The area only began to develop after oil was discovered in the county in 1926, when an oil boom attracted thousands to the county. O. C. Kinnison opened a realty office and platted a townsite for Crane, where he named the streets for his daughters and sons. He also invited a preacher to hold services in the area; according to county tradition, local gamblers resented the gesture and gave Kinnison a beating for it.
Crane County was attached to Ector County for administrative purposes until 1927, but with (according to one estimate) 6,000 oil boomers in the area by that time, the county was ready for organization. The town of Crane, bustling with as many as 4,500 fortune-seekers, was designated as the county seat, and citizens organized to build a courthouse. Water was a scarce commodity. People paid a dollar a barrel for water brought from a well seven miles east of town, or, if prosperous, paid $2.25 a barrel for better water from Alpine. Water was too precious then for any use but cooking or home-made whiskey; women sent their laundry to El Paso. According to the census 2,221 people were living in Crane County in 1930.
The county became one of the most productive oil counties in the state. In 1938 more than 5,494,600 barrels of oil was produced in the area; in 1944 more than 9,557,500 barrels was pumped, and in 1948 production was 16,851,698 barrels. Almost 27,377,800 barrels was produced in 1956, almost 30,731,500 in 1960, almost 34,092,000 in 1978, and about 26,866,000 in 1982. In 1990 the county produced almost 19,026,000 barrels of oil. By the beginning of 1991 almost 1,552,324,000 barrels of oil had been produced in the county since discovery in 1926.
Thanks almost exclusively to the oil industry Crane County's population rose to 2,841 in 1940, 3,956 in 1950, 4,699 in 1960, and 4,172 in 1970. In 1980, 4,600 people lived in the county, and in 2014 the area had a population of 4,950. Highways in the county include U.S. Highway 385 and Farm Road 1053 (north to south); U.S. Highway 67/385, which crosses the southeast corner; and State Highway 329, Farm Road 11, and Farm Road 1223 (west to east). The town of Crane (population 3,756) is the county's only community and its seat of government. In 2000 business establishments in the town included a foundry and a surfboard manufacturer. Tourist attractions included historic pioneer trails and Horsehead Crossing on the Pecos River.