Tulia, the county seat of Swisher County, is on U.S. Highway 87 forty-nine miles south of Amarillo in the central part of the county. Its site was originally on the acreage of the Tule Ranch division of the JA Ranch. In 1887 a post office was established in James A. Parrish's dugout on Middle Tule Draw nine miles west of what is now the site of Tulia. Evidently the name Tule, after the nearby creek, had been selected for this post office, but at some point a clerk's error changed the name to Tulia. Parrish served as postmaster until 1889, when W. G. Conner took over and the post office was moved nine miles east to the homestead he had established in 1887. Also in 1889, a one-room schoolhouse was built; it doubled as a church. Eleven pupils attended school there that first year. Conner's section was chosen for the county seat when Swisher County was organized in 1890. He donated land for the courthouse, the school, and the city park, which is named after him, and ran a wagonyard in town. W. F. Wright began publication of the first newspaper, the Staked Plains Messenger, and by September a two-story frame courthouse had been constructed. Scott Thacker opened the first general store, and Mrs. S. E. Butts ran a boardinghouse. In 1897 the Methodists constructed the first church building.
By 1900 Tulia was prospering as a stopping point for freight-wagon traffic en route to the railheads of Colorado City and Amarillo. In 1892 the Tulia Standard began publication, and in 1909 the Tulia Herald appeared. Telephone lines had been run from Tulia to Amarillo by 1901. The Tulia National Bank (later the First National Bank of Tulia) was chartered in 1902. A booming new era began with the extension of the Santa Fe line to Tulia in December 1906. With it came more settlers, many of whom spent their first night at the Hotel Tulia, which was for years a city landmark. A brick schoolhouse was built in 1907, and in 1909 a three-story domed brick courthouse was built. That same year the city was incorporated, with W. G. Conner as mayor. By 1910 Tulia had a population of 1,216. The next year, bonds were voted to purchase, construct, and maintain a waterworks system and a light plant. Between 1910 and 1920 Tulia became known as the City of Windmills, because of the proliferation of windmills in the vicinity. During the 1920s the main streets were paved with bricks, and a new school building was constructed. An original Ozark Trail marker still stands on the square as a reminder that Tulia was a major stop on that historic route. In 1945 William Kirk Hulsey constructed a landing strip north of town; it was enlarged into a municipal airport in 1964.
Tulia has remained a center for farming and agribusiness activities. In the mid-1980s local industrial plants manufactured products such as clothing and farm implements, and there were four large cattle-feeding enterprises nearby. A modern county courthouse, built in 1962, stood in the center of the square, and local residents were also served by Swisher Memorial Hospital and by the Swisher County Memorial Building, which housed the library and the chamber of commerce offices. The Swisher County Museum displayed paintings and pioneer relics, and featured a log cabin that was originally a line camp for the JA Ranch. In the 1980s nineteen churches, six public schools, and a radio station also served the community. Tule Lake and Country Club, northeast of town, included a Girl Scout camp and also provided recreational facilities, as did Mackenzie Lake on the Swisher-Briscoe county line. The annual picnic and rodeo, held in Tulia in mid-July, included an old-timers' reunion. The Swisher County Fair in September was also an annual event. In addition, Tulia was known as the home of the singing Otwell Twins, David and Roger, who gained national notice in the late 1970s on Lawrence Welk's television show. The population of Tulia decreased from 5,294 in 1970 to 5,033 in 1984, when the town reported 110 businesses. In 1990 it had 4,699 residents. The population was 5,117 in 2000.