Hutchinson County, in the north central section of the Panhandle, is bounded on the north by Hansford County, on the east by Roberts County, on the south by Carson County, and on the West by Moore County. The county center is at approximately 35°50' north latitude and 101°20' west longitude. The county was named for pioneer jurist Anderson Hutchinson. It comprises 871 square miles of plains and broken terrain; altitudes range from 2,750 to 3,400 feet above sea level. Hutchinson County receives an average annual rainfall of 19.9 inches. The average minimum temperature is 22° F in January, and the average maximum is 93° in July; the growing season averages 187 days. The Canadian River, fed by several small creeks, angles across the county from southwest to northeast; in the southwest it is dammed to form Lake Meredith. Broken land along the river and its tributaries forms fertile valleys. The northern part of the county is high rolling plain. About $15 million average annual income in the county is derived from wheat, corn, alfalfa, and grain sorghums. Beef cattle, hogs, and poultry are also raised there, and irrigated land amounts to more than 40,000 acres. Since the 1920s, however, petroleum has been the chief industry; the southern part of Hutchinson County is the center of oil, gas, petrochemical, and synthetic-rubber production in the Panhandle. In the county is one of the world's largest pump stations for natural gas, which supplies metropolitan areas west to Denver and east to Indianapolis. State highways 236, 152, and 207 merge at Borger, and several farm and ranch roads provide access to outlying communities.
Artifacts of the Antelope Creek Indian culture abound along the Canadian valley in Hutchinson County. Nomadic Plains Apaches also camped in this area and were followed in turn by the warlike Comanches, Kiowas, and Southern Cheyennes. In 1541 an expedition led by Francisco Vázquez de Coronado traversed the area on its quest for Quivira. Juan de Oñate passed through in 1601 and Pedro Vial in 1792. Buffalo hunters and Comancheros from New Mexico hunted and traded in the vicinity until the 1870s. The first Anglo-American expedition to come through the county was led by Stephen H. Long, who mistook the Canadian River for the Red River, in August 1820. Josiah Gregg brought his Santa Fe caravan through in March 1840. About three years later the firm of Bent, St. Vrain and Company sought to tap the Comanche-Kiowa trade by opening a trading post in the Canadian valley on what was subsequently known as Bent's Creek, now in eastern Hutchinson County. At this trading house in September 1845 Lt. James W. Abert and his surveying party left the Canadian to travel southeast toward the North Fork of the Red River. The post, known as Fort Adobe, remained in operation until about 1848, when increased friction with the Indians forced its abandonment. Subsequently its ruins gave the site the name Adobe Walls. The expeditions of Randolph B. Marcy (1849) and Amiel W. Whipple (1853) traveled by Adobe Walls during their surveys of the Canadian valley. In the first battle of Adobe Walls on November 25, 1864, Col. Christopher (Kit) Carson and his detachment of United States Cavalry troops fought their way out of a potential massacre at the hands of some 3,000 hostile Comanches and Kiowas.
In the spring of 1874, despite increased threats from disgruntled Indians, merchants and buffalo hunters from Dodge City established a trading post about a mile and a half north of the original ruins. The activities of these hide men led to depredations by Indians at various camps and finally to the second Battle of Adobe Walls, on June 27, 1874. In August, during the ensuing Red River War, a detachment of troops under Lt. Francis (Frank) D. Baldwin fought off a party of fifteen Indians near the beleaguered post, which was abandoned by October and subsequently burned by the hostiles. Nevertheless, the power of the southern Plains tribes was broken, and in 1876 Hutchinson County was established as the area was opened to White settlement.
Free-range cattlemen were the first settlers. In November 1876 Thomas Sherman Bugbee started the Quarter Circle T Ranch; his daughter Ruby was the first White child born in Hutchinson County. In 1878 William E. Anderson started his Scissors Ranch at the Adobe Walls site. Together, these ranches later formed the nucleus of the Turkey Track Ranch. The ranges of the LX Ranch and the Diamond F extended into the southern part of the county. For the next four decades ranching dominated the county's economy. In 1890 the county had nine ranches and fifty-eight residents. Aside from about forty acres planted in corn, virtually no crops were grown in the county at that time, and most of the land was unfenced. By 1900, sixty-three ranches and farms had been established in Hutchinson County, and the population had increased to 303. The county's first school was begun in a dugout on the Turkey Track Ranch that year. Though farmers were beginning to move into the area, the economy continued to be almost completely dominated by cattle ranching; corn production occupied nineteen acres, and cotton was planted on twenty-nine, but the agricultural census counted almost 29,600 cattle in Hutchinson County in 1900.
After its boundaries were established, Hutchinson County was attached for administrative purposes to Wheeler County and then to Carson County. In the spring of 1901 a movement was begun for its organization. Elections were held on April 25, and on May 13 the county was officially organized with the riverside town of Plemons as its seat of government. W. H. Ingarton was elected county judge, and William (Billy) Dixon, the Adobe Walls hero who had operated the county's first post office on the Turkey Track, was the first sheriff. By 1910 the population had reached 892, and the county was divided into sixteen school districts.
Crop cultivation slowly expanded in Hutchinson County during the first three decades of the twentieth century. In 1910 wheat was grown on about 1,900 acres, and sorghum on about 2,900 acres. Wheat culture expanded to about 8,400 acres by 1920 and to about 16,500 acres by 1930. There were 150 farms and ranches in Hutchinson County in 1910, 134 in 1920, and 161 by 1930. The number of cattle in the county rose after 1910 to reach about 25,200 in 1920, but declined over the next ten years to about 15,300 in 1930.
Hutchinson County slumbered as a sparsely populated ranching and agricultural center until the discovery of the vast Panhandle oilfield in the early 1920s. Such ranchers as James M. Sanford, J. A. Whittenburg, and John F. Weatherly cashed in on the resultant boom; many townsites and oil camps such as Isom, Sanford, Fritch, Phillips, Stinnett, Signal Hill, Electric City, and Dial sprang up almost overnight as petroleum-related industries moved in and independent oil producers struck it rich. The largest and rowdiest of these boom towns was laid out west of Dixon Creek in 1926 and named for its founder, A. P. (Ace) Borger.
With the boom, railroads finally came to the county. In 1924 the Chicago, Rock Island and Gulf Railway built northeast from Amarillo across the western part of the county, and in 1926 the Panhandle and Santa Fe extended a spur line from Panhandle in Carson County to Borger and Phillips. After a special election on September 18, 1926, Stinnett took over as county seat, thus causing the demise of Plemons. The population mushroomed from 721 in 1920 to 14,848 in 1930 as a result of the oil boom.
The onslaught of the Great Depression, with the accompanying black dusters of the Dust Bowl, ended the boom, devastated farms, and caused petroleum prices to drop; by 1930 the census reported 452 unemployed in the county. Nevertheless, Hutchinson County as a whole experienced a mixture of prosperity and recession as many "Okie" migrants found jobs in the oilfields and plants. Meanwhile, thanks largely to an expansion of winter-wheat production, the number of farms in the count actually increased during the 1930s to reach 183 by 1940; by that year the population had grown to 19,069.
World War II saw a resurgence in the carbon black industry and the establishment at Bunavista, west of Borger, of a carbon black plant that in 1943 produced 361,000,000 pounds. The county's population rose to 31,580 by 1950 and 34,419 by 1960. In 1963 the Magic Plains Industrial Foundation was formed to purchase land and promote new industrial growth for the Borger area. Tourism and recreation were enhanced in 1965 with the completion of Sanford Dam, which impounded Lake Meredith on the Canadian River. In the meantime, irrigation increased the county's wheat and grain production. Oil production dropped significantly during this period, however. In 1960 it amounted to more than 11,801,000 barrels; by 1965 it had dropped to about 7,653,000 barrels, and by 1974 to 3,030,000. This decline injured the economy. Between 1960 and 1970 the county's population dropped almost 30 per cent, to 24,443. Oil production continued to decline through most of the late twentieth century, but at a less dramatic rate. About 1,882,000 barrels were produced in the county in 1990, and about 1,175,000 in 2000; by the end of that year 526,670,107 barrels of oil had been taken from Hutchinson County lands since 1923. The population grew to 26,304 by 1980, but declined again to 25,689 by 1990 and to 23, 857 by 2000.
Despite declining prices in beef and oil, the county remained largely dependent on the petroleum and cattle industries. In the late 1980s thirty-three plants continued to manufacture petroleum-related products. During the 1980s controversy raged over the future of the town of Phillips, when company cutbacks and inadequate sewage-treatment facilities led to the threat of eviction of much of that town's populace from leased land owned by Phillips Petroleum and the Whittenburg family's MM Cattle Company. In 2002 the county had 262 farms and ranches covering 552,995 acres, 75 percent of which were devoted to pasture and 24 percent to crops. In that year local farmers and ranchers earned $29,313,000; livestock sales accounted for $23,437,000 of the total. Cattle, corn, wheat, and grain sorghum were the chief agricultural products.
The voters of Hutchinson County supported the Democratic presidential candidate in virtually every election from 1908 (the first year the county cast ballots in a national election) to 1948. The only exception was in 1928, when Republican Herbert Hoover carried the county. The area began to trend Republican in 1952, when Republican Dwight Eisenhower won a slim majority in the county. Thereafter, Hutchinson County voters supported Republicans for president, governor, and United States senator in every election between 1952 and 1992, except for the gubernatorial elections of 1966, when they voted for John Connally, and 1974, when they chose Dolph Briscoe. The county's voters also gave majorities to the Republican candidates in the presidential elections of 1996, 2000, and 2004.
Borger (population, 12,775) remains the county's largest town and chief commercial and cultural center, and Stinnett (1,842) is the county seat. Other communities include Fritch (2,039 in Hutchinson County, partly in Moore County), Sanford (165), Phillips, Dial, and Pringle. The total population of the county in 2014 was 21,773. Of those, 71.9 percent were Anglo, 2.8 percent African American, and 22 percent Hispanic. Several lakeside resorts dot the shores of Lake Meredith. In the late 1980s the county had a library, a hospital, a modern airport, and six public school districts. The Hutchinson County Museum was opened at Borger in November 1977.