Jim Hogg County is in the Rio Grande Plain region of South Texas twenty-eight miles north of the Mexican border and sixty-six miles west of the Gulf Coast. The county, named for Governor James Stephen Hogg, is bordered by Webb, Duval, Jim Wells, Brooks, Starr, and Zapata counties. Its center lies at 27°05' north latitude and 98°43' west longitude. Hebbronville, the largest town and county seat, is at the junction of State highways 16, 285, and 359, in the north central part of the county. Other communities include Agua Nueva, Altavista, Guerra, Randado, and Thompsonville. The county comprises 1,136 square miles of flat to gently rolling terrain vegetated with mesquite, scrub brush, grasses, and chaparral. Elevations range from 200 to 800 feet. In the east, soils are sandy, with areas of light color, or have loamy surfaces over very deep reddish or mottled clayey subsoils. The rest of the county has loamy surfaces over deep reddish or mottled clayey subsoils, with limestone near the surface in some areas. In the early 1990s more than 90 percent of the land was devoted to farming and ranching, with 2 percent of the farmland under cultivation and 21 percent irrigated; only 1 percent of the land in the county is considered prime farmland. Mineral resources include caliche, clay, uranium, oil, and gas. Temperatures range from 44° F to 69° in January and 73° to 99° in July; the average annual temperature is 73°. Rainfall averages twenty-three inches a year, and the growing season lasts 305 days.
The area of Jim Hogg County has been the site of human habitation for perhaps 11,000 years. Among the oldest artifacts found in the region are stone implements and human remains dating from the Paleo-Indian period (9200 to 6000 B.C.). During the Archaic period (6000 B.C. to A.D. 1000) the local Indian population seems to have increased, and many hunter-gatherers apparently spent time in the area. During this period the inhabitants subsisted mostly on game, wild fruits, seeds, and roots. They carved tools from wood and stone, wove baskets, and made rabbit-skin clothing. The hunting and gathering way of life persisted into the Late Prehistoric period (A.D. 1000 to the arrival of the Spanish), though during this time the Indians in the area, who belonged to the Coahuiltecan linguistic group, learned to make pottery and hunted with bows and arrows. By the early 1800s the Coahuiltecans had succumbed to disease, intermarried with the Spanish, or been driven out by the Lipan Apaches.
Because of its location away from the coast and primary trade routes, the future county was not immediately settled by the Spanish. Although land grants in the Trans-Nueces region were made as early as 1767, not until the early 1800s was an effort made to settle the area. Some twenty-four land grants were made in the Jim Hogg County area between 1805 and 1836 by the Spanish and Mexican governments. The earliest on record was made in 1805 by the Spanish government to Xavier Vela and covered what later became south central Jim Hogg County. Those grantees who chose to develop their land found that it was best suited to ranching. Many ranchers, however, were discouraged by hostile Indians and the region's isolation and returned to Mexico. Between the Texas Revolution and the end of the Mexican War Jim Hogg County lay in the disputed territory between the Rio Grande and the Nueces. Numerous grantees fled to Mexico to avoid the hostilities. Others, able to succeed where many failed, established themselves in the area. Among these early ranchers was Hipólito García, who established the Randado Ranch on land granted him by the Mexican government in 1836. Other early ranches in the area included El Noriecitas, Las Animas, San Antonio Viejo, Las Enramadas, Las Vivoritas, El Baluarte, and San Javier.
Initially, the advent of Anglo settlers in the early 1830s did little to alter the region's economic or social character. In most cases, the newcomers were integrated into the existing society, either by marriage into wealthy Mexican families or through land purchase. Moreover, unlike the situation in other South Texas counties, Anglo settlers in the area did not immediately displace resident Hispanic ranchers, many of whom kept their land and political power well into the twentieth century. The land grants in the future county were confirmed by the Texas legislature in 1852. Among the more important ranches in the late nineteenth century were Randado Ranch, Las Noriecitas, San Javier, and El Sordo.
Immediately after the end of the Mexican War all of the land in the disputed territory was officially made part of the state of Texas. At various times the area that is now known as Jim Hogg County was under the jurisdiction of Brooks, Duval, Starr, Zapata, Live Oak, and Hidalgo counties. When Duval County was organized in 1875 it included what is now Jim Hogg, Jim Wells, and Brooks counties. Part of the area was included in Brooks County when it was formed in 1911, but in 1913, in an effort to free themselves from the political dominance of Edward C. Lasater, D. D. David, Reuben Holbein, Oscar Thompson, and A. C. Jones requested from the state legislature that a county separate from Brooks County be formed. D. W. Glasscock, in his first term as a state representative, sponsored legislation establishing Jim Hogg County, in order for his constituents "to get out from under the domination of the Mexican vote at the other end of the county." Advocates of the new county argued that they were too far removed from Falfurrias, the county seat of Brooks County, a separation that made it difficult for them and their neighbors to do business. Consequently, Jim Hogg County was formed out of Duval and Brooks counties; land from Duval County was included so that the town of Hebbronville, with its railroad station, could be in the new county. Jim Hogg County was organized and established that same year, and elections for county officials were held in July. At that time the school system was organized, and construction of a county courthouse was started.
Despite a growing influx of new residents around the turn of the century, Jim Hogg County was still only sparsely settled at the time of its formation. Before 1880 most of the inhabitants had lived on or around larger ranches. In the late 1870s, for example, Randado Ranch formed the center of a community of 300 residents. But around 1880 the heirs of Ignacio Benavídez sold their share of Las Noriecitas Ranch to J. R. Hebbron, who established the town of Hebbronville as a stop on the newly built Texas-Mexican Railroad. With the increased demand for beef cattle, the completion of the railroad, and the growth of commercial ranching, the population slowly increased. By 1920 the county had some 1,914 inhabitants, of whom approximately 500 resided in Hebbronville.
On April 17, 1921, the first commercial oil well, Killam No. 3, came in at a depth of 1,461 feet, producing 100 barrels of oil per day. The well was located in the Mirando Valley field near Thompsonville. The discovery immediately brought new residents and businesses to the county. The economy nonetheless remained focused primarily on ranching. Large-scale commercial farming failed to take hold as it had in other South Texas counties, and as late as 1920 only 501 acres of Jim Hogg County was under cultivation. Ranching interests, on the other hand, grew steadily. In 1920 there were forty-nine ranches in the county comprising 69,241 acres; by 1930 the ranches numbered 312, with 532,463 acres. The number of cattle in the county increased from 6,296 to 35,293. As a result of the fall of livestock prices during the Great Depression the number of ranches in the county declined by nearly a third during the 1930s, and the number of cattle fell to 22,323 by 1940. During the same period, however, the population steadily increased and at the beginning of World War II the county had a population of 5,416. Many of the new residents were recent immigrants from Mexico or Hispanics from the Rio Grande valley, who came to work in the oil industry.
In the decades after World War II the county's economy continued to be largely devoted to ranching and petroleum production. Although the number of ranches continued to decline, largely as the result of consolidations, the number of cattle increased steadily, reaching nearly 50,000 by the early 1980s. Annual oil production in the early 1990s was around 800,000 barrels; total production from 1922 to 1991 was 106,003,324 barrels. In the early 1990s the oil and gas industry was the largest employer in the county, with agriculture running a close second. Most of the agricultural income came from livestock and livestock products. Grain sorghums were the principal crop.
The first schools in the county began as one-room schools on area ranches in the 1800s. A county school board regulated schools from 1913 to 1921, when the first Hebbronville public school was built. Hebbronville's school district operated from 1921 to 1946. In 1947 the Hebbronville school district voted to become a county school district. Perhaps because of the county's isolation, its education levels have generally been quite low. As late as 1960 only 10 percent of the adult population had completed high school. In 1982 the county had one school district, with one elementary school, one middle school, and one high school. That year the high school graduated seventy students, of whom 64 percent planned to attend college.
Between 1950 and 1970 the population of the county fell from 5,369 to 4,654. It reached a high of 5,168 in 1980 and was 5,109 in 1990, when nearly 90 percent of the residents lived in Hebbronville. The population has consistently been at least 80 to 90 percent Hispanic, and in the early 1990s the county ranked near the top of all United States counties in percentage of Hispanic residents. As of 2014, the population of the county was 5,255. Of those, 6.3 percent were Anglo, 0.6 percent African American, and 92.1 percent Hispanic. Mexican Americans have generally supported the Democratic party. Consequently, Jim Hogg County has been staunchly Democratic; its residents voted Democratic in every presidential election from the time of the county's inception in 1913 to 1992. Local politics also continued to be dominated by Democrats. In the early 1990s community services for residents included the Jim Hogg County Public Library, three day-care centers, an ambulance service, a hospital, and a mental health clinic. Four physicians were practicing in the county. The county's thirteen churches had an estimated combined membership of 4,453; the largest communion was Catholic. The county had two volunteer fire departments. Hunting is the principal tourist attraction. The county is in the center of a white-tailed deer and bobwhite quail hunting area, and numerous hunters from around the state come to the county during the fall and winter.