Henrietta, the county seat of Clay County, is on U.S. highways 287 and 82, State Highway 148, and Farm Road 1197, on the Burlington Northern Railroad and the Little Wichita River twenty miles southeast of Wichita Falls in the center of the county. When Clay County was separated from Cooke County on December 24, 1857, the act required that the county seat be named Henrietta. There are several theories of the name's origin, but the real explanation remains a mystery. One hypotheses is that Henrietta is a feminized version of Henry, since the county is named for Henry Clay. Another popular but unlikely explanation is that it was named for Clay's wife, Lucretia.
Henrietta was the only town in Clay County of any consequence in 1860, when it had ten houses and a general store. The 109 residents of the county, including two slaves, represented part of the far western edge of settlement in North Texas. Henrietta received a post office in 1862. County elections were held that year, and Indian attacks became more frequent when the local soldiers withdrew during the Civil War. Henrietta residents began fleeing to Cooke and Montague counties, and by 1862 Clay County was abandoned by white settlers and officially unorganized. Soldiers reported that Henrietta was deserted, had "strange Indian signs on the walls," and soon thereafter was burned.
After the war two groups attempted to settle in the ruins. Dr. Elderidge brought a group of settlers in 1865 but was forced to leave when several members of the group were massacred. Goodleck Koozer, a Quaker, who brought his family to Henrietta in 1870, did not carry weapons and believed that the Indians would be kind to him if he treated them fairly, but he was killed by Chief Whitehorse, and his wife and daughters were kidnapped. His son escaped to Montague County, and the other family members were eventually released. The first act of the grand jury when Clay County was organized was to indict Whitehorse, but he fled the county and was never found. In 1870 fifty soldiers and 300 Kiowa Indians fought a battle in the ruins of Henrietta.
In the early 1870s settlers began to return permanently to Henrietta. In August 1873 balloting was held in a tent to elect officials for the newly reorganized county. The forty voters had only one candidate for each position. The next year, on July 7, 1874, the post office was reopened with Henry C. Dent as postmaster. From 1875 to 1879 Henrietta, as the county seat of Clay County, was the judicial center of the Panhandle. In some cases people traveled 300 miles to seek legal help, but usually settlers enacted their own law.
In 1882 the Fort Worth and Denver City Railway reached Henrietta, and in 1887 the Gainesville, Henrietta and Western Railway, which became part of the Missouri, Kansas and Texas later that year, was built through the town. Several stagecoach lines began running out of Henrietta in the 1880s. Travelers would take the train to Henrietta and then ride a stage to their destination. In the late 1870s and early 1880s the community was a buffalo hunting center. Supplies were purchased in Henrietta, and the hunters would return with wagonloads of bones and hides. In 1883 eleven boxcars loaded with bones were shipped east to be ground into fertilizer (see BONE BUSINESS). Henrietta became a supply point for mines in Foard County. Heavy mining equipment was shipped into Henrietta, instead of Wichita Falls, which was a smaller town.
Henrietta was incorporated in 1881. In 1884 Clay County's permanent courthouse was built of red brick and sandstone; it was still in use in the 1990s. In 1887 one of the four Farmers' Alliance exchanges in Texas was built in Henrietta. In 1890 the town had a population of 2,100, a photographer, several saloons and hotels, restaurants, a 400-seat opera house, two banks, a cigar manufacturer, churches of five denominations, a school, a jail, and two newspapers, the Henrietta Independent and the Clay County Chieftain. Cotton, produce, fruit, and livestock were the primary shipped goods. From 1893 to 1895 Henrietta Normal College operated.
The population of Henrietta remained stable throughout the early decades of the twentieth century. By the late 1930s it had dropped slightly to 2,020, but ninety businesses were still located in the community, including two gins, which produced 12,889 bales of cotton in 1937, a cottonseed oil mill, an ice plant, a hotel, four rooming houses, a bank, and two boot and leather manufacturers. Two newspapers were published, including the Clay County Leader, established in 1932 and still the community newspaper in the 1990s, and the Henrietta Independent. Henrietta had seven churches and three schools-a high school, a ward school, and a black school.
In the 1970s the population reached its zenith at 3,600; seventy-five businesses were in operation. By 1990 the population had dropped to 2,896. The population was 3,264 in 2000. Manufactures included travel trailers, windows, livestock feed, branding irons and equipment, and cowboy boots and saddles. The community's water supply came from nearby Lake Arrowhead, which was also a source of recreation. Henrietta continued to be a shipping point for cattle, cotton, and grain. Every September the Clay County Pioneer Reunion and Rodeo is held in Henrietta at Tex Rickard Stadium, named for boxing promoter George Lewis (Tex) Rickard, who was city marshal for several years.