Lipscomb County History

Source: The Handbook of Texas Online

Lipscomb County (A-11), in the far northeastern corner of the Panhandle, is bounded on the north and east by Oklahoma, on the south by Hemphill County, and on the west by Ochiltree County. It is in the rolling plains part of the Panhandle, east of the Texas High Plains. The center of the county lies at approximately 36°15' north latitude and 100°15' west longitude.

Lipscomb, the county seat, is about one or two miles from the center of the county and 128 miles northeast of Amarillo. The county, named for Abner S. Lipscomb, embraces 934 square miles of level, rolling, and broken countryside. The soils, which range from sandy loam to black, support a variety of native grasses as well as wheat, grain sorghums, corn, and alfalfa.

Wolf Creek, a large perennial stream, flows east across the center of the county to join the Canadian River in Oklahoma. Numerous intermittent tributaries flow into Wolf Creek, including First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Dugout, Skunk, Mammoth, Sand, Plum, and Camp creeks. Horse Creek, Big Timber Creek, and Commission Creek all run from the southern parts of the county directly into the Canadian. Kiowa Creek flows across the northwest corner of the county toward the Beaver River in Oklahoma.

The central and southern part of the county are either rolling plains or very broken country. The northern section is flat or slightly rolling. Oil and gas reserves are found in the county. The elevation ranges from 2,350 feet to 2,850 feet above sea level. The average annual rainfall is 22.16 inches. The average minimum temperature is 23° F in January, and the average maximum is 95° in July. The growing season lasts 202 days a year. The agricultural economy produces about $300 million annually, with 65 percent coming from beef cattle and hog raising and the remainder derived from wheat, sorghum, corn, and alfalfa. Oil and gas production accounts for about another $30 million a year.

The region was inhabited by a Puebloan culture in the prehistoric era, then by Plains Apaches, Apaches, and finally Kiowas and Comanches in the historic period. The Kiowas and Comanches dominated the Panhandle until they were defeated in the Red River War of 1873-74; they were forced onto reservations in Oklahoma in 1875 and 1876, after which ranchers moved in. Lipscomb County was formed by the Texas legislature in 1876 from the Bexar District.

The county's first settler was Alex Young, a small-scale rancher who settled on Kiowa Creek in 1877. Later that same year Henry W. Cresswell's huge CC Ranch (centered in Roberts and Ochiltree Counties) spilled into the western portion of Lipscomb County. Soon other large ranches appeared: the Seven K, the DAY, the Box T, and the YL all occupied large portions of the county by the end of 1878. These ranches dominated the county for almost a decade, until the coming of the railroad in 1887 encouraged settlers to move into the area. The agricultural census for 1880 shows four ranches in the county, reporting a total of 5,037 cattle; no crops were reported. According to the census, there were sixty-nine people living in the county that year.

In 1887 the Southern Kansas Railway of Texas, a Santa Fe subsidiary, extended a line from Kiowa, Kansas, to Panhandle, Texas. It crossed the southeast corner of Lipscomb County, gave local ranchers access to rail connections, and afforded farmers and small stockmen access to the farmlands in the county. The first town in the county, Lipscomb, was platted in 1887 in anticipation of the arrival of the railroad. When it was learned that the railroad would miss the site, local residents decided to protect their town by making it the county seat. As a result, the populace voted to organize the county in June of 1887 with Lipscomb as the county seat. When the railroad entered the county later in the year, land promoters laid out Higgins on the right-of-way. Higgins soon grew into the county's largest town and trade center, but Lipscomb remained the county seat.

Settlers continued to arrive throughout the 1880s, and by 1890 sixty-eight farms and ranches encompassing about 51,000 acres had been established in the county. Almost 19,000 cattle were reported on local ranches, while less than 2,000 acres was tilled; about 1,200 acres was planted in corn, the area's most important crop. The census counted 632 residents that year. A drought in 1889, coupled with the availability of lands around Oklahoma City in 1889 and 1890, led to a migration out of the county, however. By 1893 the population had declined to 1885-87 levels. Lipscomb County entered the twentieth century as a sparsely settled ranching county with a population of 790 and little agriculture. Though 117 farms and ranches were counted in the county in 1900, corn was planted on only 812 acres; 34,279 cattle were reported that year.

The farming frontier arrived in the county in the first decade of the twentieth century as wheat farmers moved into the area from the Midwest and Central Texas. By 1910 Lipscomb County had 375 farms and ranches, encompassing almost 472,000 acres. That year wheat was planted on almost 30,600 acres, corn on 9,000, and sorghum on 7,500; the population had increased to 2,634. The construction of a second railroad, the North Texas and Santa Fe, through the county brought more settlers. This railroad, which ran from Shattuck, Oklahoma, to Spearman, Texas, crossed into northern Lipscomb County by 1920 and engendered the farming towns of Follett and Darrouzett in 1917; another town, Booker, was established on the line in 1919.

Many Russians of German origin from Kansas entered the northern part of the county at this time, adding a distinct ethnic atmosphere to the new towns. Wheat culture proved profitable between 1900 and 1930. By 1920, 483 farms had been established in Lipscomb County; in 1930 the county's 525 farms included 476,187 acres, and about 65,300 acres was planted in wheat, which remained the most important crop. Poultry production was also beginning to become important to the local economy. By 1930 almost 51,000 chickens were raised on county farms, and that year local farmers sold almost 245,000 dozen eggs. The census reported 4,512 people living in the county that year.

Growth since 1900 was reversed during the 1930s, however, when the Great Depression and the Dust Bowlq hammered local farmers. By 1940 only 479 farms remained, and the population of the county had declined to 3,764. The county did grow in size during this time, however. A Supreme Court decision in 1930 stated that the 100th meridian, the eastern border of the Texas Panhandle, was approximately 3,700 feet farther east than previously thought. This strip, 132 miles long, expanded Lipscomb, Wheeler, Hemphill, Collingsworth, and Childress counties and diminished Harmon, Ellis, Beckham, and Roger Mills counties in Oklahoma.

During the mid-twentieth century Lipscomb County began to develop a modern system of roads. As early as the mid-1920s U.S. Highway 60 (originally State Highway 33) crossed the southeastern corner of the county via Higgins as it ran from Shattuck, Oklahoma, to Canadian, Pampa, Panhandle, and Amarillo. Only unpaved county roads gave access to the rest of the county at that time, but a network of paved roads emerged during the 1940s and 1950s. State Highway 15 runs across the northern part of the county, linking Booker, Follett, and Darrouzett to Spearman and Oklahoma. The county also has various farm-to-market and county roads that run north and south.

The first oil well in the county was drilled in 1956; that year production was 2,280 barrels of crude. A flourishing oil and gas economy subsequently developed. Production was 2,309,400 barrels in 1965, 860,121 barrels in 1974, 1,944,544 barrels in 1982, and 1,461,072 barrels in 1990. By January 1991 the county had produced 48,772,807 barrels of oil since discovery. The voters of Lipscomb County supported Democratic candidates in almost every presidential election between 1888 and 1948; the only exceptions occurred in 1920, when the county supported Republican Warren G. Harding, and 1928, when they supported Republican Herbert Hoover. Between 1952 and 1992, however, Lipscomb County voters supported the Republican candidate in every presidential election.

Since the 1950s Lipscomb County has had a diversified economy based on ranching, farming, and petroleum production. Though relatively stable, the population generally declined after the 1950s. The census counted 3,658 residents in 1950, 3,406 in 1960, 3,486 in 1970, 3,766 in 1980, and 3,143 in 1990. In the early 1990s most of the population was concentrated in the small farming towns of Booker (1990 population, 1,236, partly in Ochiltree County), Follett (441), Darrouzett (343), Higgins (464) and Lipscomb (45); Lipscomb is still the county seat. The remainder of the population lives on farms and ranches. Lipscomb hosts a junior livestock show each March.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: A History of Lipscomb County, Texas, 1876-1976 (Lipscomb, Texas: Lipscomb County Historical Survey Committee, 1976). Clinton Leon Paine, The History of Lipscomb County (M.A. thesis, West Texas State College, 1941).

Donald R. Abbe


This page was last updated January 9, 2014.