King County, in the Rolling Prairie region of Northwest Texas, is bordered on the north by Cottle and Foard counties, on the east by Knox County, on the south by Stonewall County, and on the west by Dickens County. The center point of the county is 33°38' north latitude and 100°15' west longitude, midway between Lubbock and Wichita Falls. The county was named for William Philip King, who died at the Alamo. King County embraces 944 square miles of hilly, broken country with extensive grasslands and dark loam to red soils. Elevations range from 1,500 to 2,000 feet above sea level; Haystack Mountain and Buzzard Peak are the highest points in the county, which is drained by tributaries of the Wichita and Brazos rivers. Average temperatures range between a minimum of 27° F in January and a maximum of 99° in July. The growing season lasts 219 days, and the average annual rainfall is 21.6 inches. Agriculture in King County produces an annual average income of about $11.5 million, mostly from beef cattle. Some cotton and grains are grown. There is no manufacturing, though oil production in 1982 exceeded 3.5 million barrels, valued at more than $116 million. Principal roads are U.S. Highway 83 (north to south) and U.S. Highway 82 (east to west).
The area that is now King County was occupied by Apache Indians until the early eighteenth century, when Comanches moved into the region. Comanches of the Wanderers band controlled the area until the late nineteenth century. The material culture of the Wanderers reflected the tribe's nomadic habits. Their tepees were easily moved and set up as they roamed the area hunting buffalo and other game, as well as the several plants the group used for food. Like other Comanche bands, the Wanderers were fierce warriors, skilled horsemen, and relentless raiders. In the 1870s the United States Army pushed the Indians out of the area and opened the region to white settlement. On August 21, 1876, the Texas legislature formed King County from lands previously assigned to Bexar County. By 1880 the United States Census counted forty residents in the county. Some of the earliest settlers were Isom Lynn, A. C. Tackett, Brants Baker, and Bud Arnett. In 1890 there were twenty ranches and farms encompassing 4,413 acres in the county, and the population had grown to 173. In 1891, the county was organized, with the small town of Guthrie designated as the county seat. By 1900 the county had fifty-three farms and ranches, encompassing more than 480,232 acres. The population had grown to 490.
Much of King County history centers on the great ranches that were established in the area during the 1880s and 1890s-the Four Sixes, the Pitchfork, the Matador, and the SMS ranches, for instance. Early ranchers preserved water by damming canyons and draws to hold the heavy spring rains. Building these tanks entailed engineering projects of considerable scope, involving dams as long as 150 feet put together by the exertions of a small work force. In the 1890s wells were drilled, at considerable expense, and windmills were employed to lift water to the surface from sources as deep as 300 feet underground. Very little land in the county was devoted to crops at this time; in 1900, for example, corn, the county's leading crop, was planted on only 155 acres, and cotton on only thirty-six. The economy centered almost entirely on ranching. Though only 3,700 cattle were reported in the county in 1880 and just 924 in 1890, by 1900 the number had grown to 38,000.
Though ranching continued to dominate the economy, more acres were put to the plow during the first thirty years of the twentieth century. By 1910, 107 farms were in operation in King County, and almost 3,000 acres was planted in cotton and 2,500 in corn and sorghum. Local farmers were also beginning to grow fruit; by 1910 there were about 4,000 fruit trees (mostly peach) in county orchards. The census counted 810 residents in 1910. Agriculture in the county suffered between 1910 and 1920. The number of farms and ranches dropped to only thirty-eight by 1920, and the population declined to 655. Only about 9,700 cattle were reported in the county that year. The area's economy grew significantly during the 1920s, however; the cattle industry revived, and cotton production expanded. In 1929 almost 23,000 cattle were reported in the county, and cotton was planted on more than 20,600 acres; the census counted 159 farms and ranches in King County that year, and the population had grown to 1,193.
The growth of the 1920s was reversed during the 1930s by the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Almost a third of the county's farmers were forced out of business during this period; by 1940 only 110 farms or ranches remained. Cotton production plunged more than 50 percent over the course of the decade, and by 1940 only about 9,100 acres was planted in the fiber. Many residents left; in 1940 only 1,066 people were living in King County.
Oil was discovered in the county in 1943. Production was about 2,300 barrels in 1944, 1,084,000 barrels in 1948, 1,293,000 barrels in 1956, 1,221,000 barrels in 1965, 2,545,507 barrels in 1974, 4,271,000 barrels in 1978, and 8,720,652 barrels in 1990. By January 1, 1991, almost 114,403,000 barrels of oil had been pumped from King County lands since 1943. Despite the oil industry, however, between 1940 and 1990 the mechanization of agriculture combined with other factors to depopulate the county. After 1940 the population dropped to 868 by 1950, 640 by 1960, 464 by 1970, and 425 by 1980. In 2014, 262 people lived in the county. Of those, 79.3 percent were Anglo and 16.5 percent Hispanic.
A majority of King County voters supported Democratic candidates in virtually every presidential election from 1892 to 1968; the single exception occurred in 1928, when county voters backed Republican Herbert Hoover. In all but one presidential election between 1972 and 1992, however, the voters of King County went Republican. In 1976 Democrat Jimmy Carter took the county over Republican Gerald Ford. Guthrie (population, 160) is the county's largest town and the seat of government. Other communities include Dumont and Finney.