DALLAM COUNTY. Dallam County is located in the far northwestern corner of the Texas Panhandle; its western border abuts New Mexico, and its northern boundary borders Oklahoma. The county seat, Dalhart, is located on the Dallam-Hartley county line in the south central part of the county. Texline, the county's only other incorporated town, is at the intersection of U.S. Highway 87 and the New Mexico border. The county's center lies at approximately 36°15' north latitude and 102°35' west longitude. Dallam County comprises approximately 1,505 square miles of the rolling grasslands of the Panhandle. The terrain is marked by numerous dry arroyos and by the intermittent Rita Blanca, Carrizo, and Coldwater creeks, all of which drain into the Canadian River. The county's sandy, sandy loam, loam, and salty clay loam soils support a variety of natural grasses and trees, as well as numerous crops, including wheat, corn, milo, sorghum, and other grain products. Ranching, the county's dominant industry, utilizes the abundant grasses to produce large numbers of beef cattle, along with some hogs and horses. The annual rainfall averages 17.38 inches, and the temperatures range from an average low of 19° F in January to an average high of 92° in July. The growing season averages 178 days annually.
Until white settlement reached it in the 1870s the Dallam County region existed as just a small portion of the huge, vacant High Plains that stretch from Texas to Canada. The earliest Plains Apache inhabitants were followed by the nomadic Comanches and Kiowas in their quest for buffalo and booty. Due to its proximity to both the Canadian River and New Mexico, this region undoubtedly witnessed the comings and going of Comancheros, ciboleros, and pastoresqqv as they ventured eastward from New Mexico into Comanchería.
With the removal of the Comanches and Kiowas to Indian Territory as a result of the Red River War in 1874–75, the Anglo-American frontier moved into the region. Dallam County, named for James W. Dallam, Republic of Texas lawyer and newspaper editor, originated from the Bexar District in 1876. However, no exploitation of the area actually occurred until about six years later. On January 10, 1882, the Capitol Freehold Land and Investment Company received approximately two-thirds of the county as part of its famous XIT Ranch holdings. Buffalo Springs, in the northern part of the county, served as the first headquarters of the XIT. Between 1882 and 1887 only XIT cowboys and a few other settlers occupied the county. In 1887 and 1888 the Fort Worth and Denver City Railway was built through the county as it extended its line from Amarillo into New Mexico and Colorado. On May 14, 1888, the road reached Texline, the railroad's choice of a new division point. Perico, twelve miles southeast, began as a shipping point for the XIT. By 1890 the population of the county had reached 112. In 1891 the county was organized with Texline as its seat. Organization led to the county's first election, in which John V. Farwell was chosen county judge and H. Willis, T. H. Hardin, J. L. Baughn, and J. B. Stevens county commissioners.
In 1900 and 1901 the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad, building from Enid, Oklahoma, and Tucumcari, New Mexico, crossed Dallam County. A settlement soon developed at the point where the Rock Island crossed the Fort Worth and Denver. The town, named Dalhart because it is in both Dallam and Hartley counties, developed around the Rock Island shops and roundhouse built in 1901. Dalhart prospered, and as a result of an election held early in 1903 it became the county seat. Conlen, in the eastern part of the county, was founded on the Rock Island line that year. Later, in 1931, the town of Kerrick was laid out on the North Plains and Santa Fe line, which ran through the county's northeast corner from Stratford to Boise City, Oklahoma.
Ranching dominated the Dallam County economy in its early years. The few jobs not dependent on ranching were tied to the local railroads. However, in the first two decades of the twentieth century farmers began making their way into the county. Whereas only four farms, comprising 1,280 acres total, existed in the county in 1900, 210 farms covering more than 48,000 acres were producing by 1910. The large ranches had been broken up by then, and extensive land sales continued into the 1920s. By the mid-1930s over one-third of the county was classified as cropland. The primary crop, wheat, was supplemented by such grains as corn, milo, and millet. The Great Depression and Dust Bowlqqv dealt harshly with Dallam County's economy, yet the ranchers and farmers pulled through. From the 1940s on, the farm and ranch economy grew and prospered. By 1980, when farm crops worth $40,700,000 and livestock worth $34,877,000 were marketed, the county agricultural economy had reached a temporary balance. In 2002 the county had 412 farms and ranches covering 884,166 acres, 53 percent of which were devoted to crops and 46 percent to pasture. That year farmers and ranchers in the area earned $369,719,000; livestock sales accounted for $286,511,000 of the total. Cattle, hogs, corn, wheat, sorghum, sugar beets, potatoes, sunflowers, and beans were the chief argricultural products.
The transportation system of the county is centered around Dalhart. The two railroads in the town contribute to the local economy as employers of local citizens and as haulers of local goods. The highway system, however, plays a much larger role. As early as 1920 Dalhart had a strategic location on two major U.S. Highways. U.S. 54, running from Liberal, Kansas, to Tucumcari, New Mexico, passes through Dalhart and eastern Dallam County, and U.S. 87 runs from Amarillo to Colorado Springs via Dalhart and Dallam County. U.S. 287 cuts across the northeast corner of the county. Dalhart and Texline have both benefited from these roads and from the network of farm and ranch roads extending throughout the county. Dalhart is become the largest town in the northwest Panhandle because it is a crossroads for commerce and travel. Perico has become a mere ghost town, and Conlen and Kerrick, both declining rural communities, are allied by location with the Sherman County trade area.
Dallam County has continued to prosper on a diversified economic base of ranching, farming, and transportation, with Dalhart as the nucleus. From its meager 112 people in 1890 the county population grew to 4,001 by 1910 as farmers settled the area. Between 1920 and 1930 the population rose from 4,528 to 7,830. Afterward, until the 1990s, the population remained relatively stable, with changes coming as realignments in the local economy and not through continued expansion. The population, 6,494 in 1940, grew to 7,640 by 1950, then decreased to 6,302 in 1960 and 6,012 in 1970. In 1980 the county numbered 6,531 occupants; in 1990 the population was 5,461; and by 2000 there were 6,222 people living in the county. Dalhart (2000 population, 7,237, some of whom lived in Hartley County) is the county's largest town and its seat of government. Other towns include Texline (511) and Kerrick (60). The voters of Dallam County favored the Democratic candidate in virtually every presidential election from 1892 through 1948; the only exception occurred in 1928, when Republican Herbert Hoover took the county. After 1952, when Republican Dwight Eisenhower carried the county over Democrat Adlai Stevenson, the area began to trend Republican. Though Stevenson narrowly took Dallam County in 1956, Lyndon Johnson beat Republican Barry Goldwater among the county's voters in 1964, and Jimmy Carter carried the area in 1976, the Republicans dominated the area during the late twentieth century and into the twenty-first; Republican presidential candidates won a majority of the county's voters in every election from 1980 through 2004. The Dalhart Texan is the county's sole newspaper, and the chief cultural event is the annual XIT Reunion and Rodeo, held at Dalhart in August. Lake Rita Blanca, just across the line in Hartley County, provides recreation. Rita Blanca National Grassland covers several hundred acres in the north central part of the county.