Hall County, in the southeastern Panhandle east of the High Plains, is bordered on the west by Briscoe County, on the south by Motley and Cottle counties, on the east by Childress County, and on the north by Donley and Collingsworth counties. It was named for Warren D. C. Hall, Republic of Texas secretary of war. The center point of the county is at 34°30' north latitude and 100°40' west longitude. Memphis, the county seat, is on U.S. Highway 287 about ninety miles southeast of Amarillo. The county comprises 885 square miles of rolling plains and broken terrain crossed by the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River, the Little Red River, and numerous lesser tributaries. The red and black sandy loam soils support a variety of native grasses in the rougher areas, and cotton, wheat, and grain sorghum crops in the tillable areas. The Prairie Dog Town Fork flows eastward across the central part of the county. The Little Red River joins it near the center of the county. The North Pease River briefly meanders into the southern part of the county, where the Wind River, Cottonwood Creek, T-Bar Canyon Creek, and Running Water Creek flow into it. Mulberry Creek begins in Donley County and joins the Prairie Dog Town Fork in the western part of Hall County. Mountain Creek, Rustlers Creek, and North Baylor Creek form in eastern Hall County and flow into the Prairie Dog Town Fork in Childress County. The elevation in Hall County ranges from 1,750 to 2,400 feet above sea level. The annual growing season averages 213 days a year. The average minimum temperature is 28° F in January, and the average maximum is 98° in July.
An Apachean people occupied the Panhandle-Plains area in prehistoric times; in historic times the modern Apaches were pushed out of the region around 1700 by the Comanches, who subsequently ruled the Panhandle-Plains, including Hall County, until they were defeated in the Red River War of 1873–74 and removed to Indian Territory in 1875–76.
In 1876 the Texas legislature formed Hall County from land formerly assigned to Bexar and Young Counties. With the Comanches removed from the scene, buffalo hunters moved across the plains, and between 1877 and 1882 the buffalo in Hall County were exterminated. The Rath Trail, which ran from Fort Griffin to Adobe Walls, Texas, and then to Dodge City, Kansas, extended through Hall County and was used by buffalo hunters until they left the area, after which it led ranchers and their cattle in. A number of major ranching operations moved into the area during the late 1870s and the 1880s. In 1876 Charles Goodnight and John Adair established the huge JA Ranch, which was headquartered in Armstrong County and spilled over into several surrounding counties, including Hall. The western part of the county, north of the Red River, was considered to be a part of the main JA Ranch into the early twentieth century. In 1878 Leigh R. Dyer established the Lazy F Ranch in eastern Briscoe and western Hall counties. Charles Goodnight had taken this range by 1879; by 1882 it operated as the Quitaque Ranch of the JA. The Diamond Tail Ranch of William R. Curtis also appeared in 1879, spread over northeast Hall County, and extended into Donley, Childress, and Collingsworth counties. In 1880, Thomas S. Bugbee and L. G. Coleman established the Shoe Bar Ranch to the east of the JA holdings in western Hall County; their ranch, operated informally for over a decade, became the Shoe Bar officially in 1891. In 1885 Orville H. Nelson started a small (twenty-section) ranch called the Bar 96 and began raising only blooded Herefords. The Continental Land and Cattle Company brought its Mill Iron Ranch to Hall County in 1888. This huge operation covered all of southern Hall County (east of the Quitaque Ranch) as well as large parts of Childress, Motley, Collingsworth, and Cottle counties. By 1890, seventy-nine ranches and farms had been established in the county and the population had increased to 703. Almost no crops were grown in the county at this time; the agricultural census for that year reported only seventeen acres planted with corn, the county's most important crop.
The large and powerful ranches eventually disappeared, however, as they were parceled out to land-hungry settlers who wanted the land for farms and stock farms. Many of these new arrivals came because of an important new railroad connection. The Fort Worth and Denver City Railway reached Hall County in 1887, and by March 1888 met the Denver, Texas and Gulf, which had been building southward from Denver to Texline. Thus, by the late 1880s Hall County found itself on a major regional railroad that eventually changed Hall County from a ranching to a farming area. Promotion by the road brought a small trickle of settlers in the late 1880s and early 1890s. The growing population led residents to debate county organization in 1889, and in April 1890 a petition of organization was circulated. In a hotly fought election on June 17, Salisbury, the county's oldest town and only railroad stop, fought with Lakeview, near the center of the county, and Memphis, a new town on the railroad, for the honor and economic benefits of being county seat. Memphis won the election and was named county seat on June 23; Salisbury vanished by 1893, and Lakeview remained a small trade center with little chance to grow.
Construction of the railroad and county organization made Hall County more attractive to settle in. By 1900 the county had 219 ranches and farms, encompassing 718,876 acres. The cattle industry continued to dominate the local economy; crop farming was only beginning to become established. More than 82,500 cattle were reported in the county that year, while 1,013 acres was planted in corn and 891 acres was devoted to cotton. The county's population had more than doubled (to 1,660) since 1890, and pressure on the large ranches to sell land was becoming more intense. The Diamond Tail had begun to sell its land piecemeal in 1895; it was all sold by 1905. The Bar 96 sold its land slowly between 1900 and 1905, and other county ranchers began to see the economic benefits of selling land. The JA began selling Lazy F acreage in 1906, and the Shoe Bar sold out to Swift and Company in 1907; the ranch was then quickly sold to settlers in 1908. Only the Mill Iron Ranch held out during this land rush.
By 1910 there were 1,028 farms and ranches in the county, and the structure of the local economy had been transformed. Corn culture occupied almost 11,000 acres that year, and cotton culture had spread to encompass almost 52,000 acres of county land. Settlers planted more than 15,500 fruit trees (mostly peach) by 1910, and poultry was also becoming an important part of the local economy; the agricultural census reported more than 124,500 chickens, turkeys, and other domestic fowl on local farms. The number of people living in Hall County almost quintupled between 1900 and 1910, rising to 8,279.
The same trends continued to shape the county's economy and society until the Great Depression in the 1930s. The number of farms increased to 1,051 by 1920 and 1,835 by 1930; meanwhile, the production of cotton, by then the county's most important crop, expanded to 65,333 acres by 1920 and to more than 158,000 acres by 1930. All of the tillable land in the county was sold by the 1920s. As cotton production expanded, cattle ranching declined; 28,227 cattle were counted in Hall County in 1910, and only 18,804 in 1920. Land suited to ranching continued as small ranches or stock farms. The Mill Iron, which retained 200 sections for ranching purposes into the 1940s, remained the only sizable ranch in the county. The population grew as the number of farms increased. The census found 11,137 people living in Hall County in 1920 and 16,986 in 1930.
The growth of agriculture led to improvements in local transportation systems. A branch line of the Fort Worth and Denver City Railway was built during 1927 and 1928 from Estelline, on the main line in Hall County, westward to Quitaque and then south to Plainview and Lubbock. This gave many parts of the county better access to rail connections and increased the Memphis and Estelline rail traffic substantially. A road system also evolved in the county during the first thirty years of the twentieth century. A very crude network of dirt roads emerged in the county between 1907 and 1913. By the mid-1920s the Colorado-to-Gulf Highway (now U.S. 287) linked Memphis to Amarillo via Clarendon and Claude and to Wichita Falls by way of Estelline, Childress, Quanah, Vernon, and Electra. Lesser roads ran from Memphis to Turkey and Quitaque. By the 1940s a comprehensive system of roads and highways crossed the county.
The Great Depression dealt harshly with Hall County farmers. The county lost more than a third of its farms between 1930 and 1940; by the latter year, only 1,118 farms remained. Though the Civilian Conservation Corps worked on a soil-erosion project in the county during the depression, the population of the county dropped to 12,117 by 1940, as dust-blown farmers left the land and moved on. Further, the consolidation and mechanization of agriculture after World War II pushed many more farmers off the land. The population of Hall County dropped to 10,930 by 1950, 7,322 by 1960, 6,015 by 1970, and 5,594 by 1980. By 1990 the number of residents had fallen to 3,905. There were 3,782 people living in the county in 2000. Farm size increased steadily in these decades, however, and by the 1980s the only reminders of the pre-1930s economy were the hundreds of decaying, vacant farmhouses that dotted the rural landscape.
In 2002 the county had 311 farms and ranches covering 431,782 acres, 52 percent of which were devoted to pasture and 45 percent to crops. In that year farmers and ranchers in the area earned $20,639,000; crop sales accounted for $16,170,000 of the total. Cotton, peanuts, beef cattle, and hogs were the chief agricultural products. Memphis survived as a small regional trade center with both retail facilities and industrial production; the town's employers included a bed-sheet plant, a foundry, grain elevators, cotton gins, and a hospital. The bulk of the county's 3,147 residents live in towns and communities, the largest of which are Memphis (population, 2,252), the county's seat of government; Turkey (409); Estelline (140); and Lakeview (104). Other communities include Brice, Lesley, Newlin, Plaska, and Parnell. The remainder of the populace lives on farms and ranches. Special events in the county include Big Tom's Country Roundup, the Cotton Boll Enduro, and Bob Wills day, which is held in Turkey each April in honor of Bob (James Robert) Wills, the county's most famous native son. The voters of Hall County favored the Democratic candidate in every presidential election until 1972, when Republican Richard Nixon carried the county over Democrat George McGovern. Though Democrats carried the county in 1976, 1984, and 1988, the area's voters had slowly begun to trend more Republican. Democrat Bill Clinton won a plurality in Hall County in 1992 and won the county outright in 1996, but Republican George W. Bush won majorities in the county in 2000 and 2004.