History of Crosby County, Texas
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Stephen CrosbyCrosby County was named after a chief clerk in the General Land Office, by the name of Stephen F. Crosby. Crosby was born in South Carolina in 1808, moving to Alabama about 1830 and working as a steamboat captain on the Alabama River. In Alabama he married Eliza Green, they had one child. Crosby settled in Texas in 1845 and in 1848 became chief clerk of the General Land Office. He was elected commissioner in 1851 as a Democrat and served in that office until 1858. It is to his credit that clear titles can be proved for most landholdings in Texas. Crosby later joined the Know-Nothing party and was defeated in the next election. He returned to the Democratic camp in 1862 and served in his former post until he was removed from office in 1867 by the Reconstruction military government. He died in Austin on August 5, 1869 and is buried in the Oakwood Cemetery, Austin, Texas along side his wife Eliza. In 1930 the state placed a monument at his grave.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Crosby County Pioneer Memorial Museum, "Crosby CountyHistory 1876-1977" (Dallas: Taylor, 1978). Zachary T. Fulmore, "History and Geography of Texas As Told in County Names" (Austin: Steck, 1915; facsimile, 1935). Nellie Witt Spikes and Temple Ann Ellis, "Through the Years: A History of Crosby County" (San Antonio: Naylor, 1952).

Faith in God and Country Made Good Pioneers

PARIS COX, a Quaker elder purchased 50,000 acres of land to bring a colony from IN in the fall of 1879. (He first secured his own land patent in 1877.) The advance group was composed of the families of STUBBS, HAYWORTH, SPRAY,and COX.

HANK SMITH was the first permanent settler in the area, arriving with his wife, ELIZABETH BOYLE to a rock house in Blanco Canyon, to the north of Estacado. SMITH had received the property to satisfy a debt from a man named TASKER in Ft. Griffin. At that time, 1877, Ft. Griffin - 160 miles east - was the nearest permanent settlement. Most early settlers to the High Plains including SMITH chose the canyons as their home for the nearby streams and protection from the harsh elements.

PARIS COX chose to plant his settlement up out of the canyons. With the help of SMITH, COX dug a 90 foot well and turned 30 acres of sod. The COX family spent the winter in a comfortable sod block house. For some reason, the other families spent that harsh winter of 1879-80 in dugouts covered over with tents. After the winter was over all the Quakers except COX went back to IN. The settlement began to break up after his death in 1888. By 1895 most Quakers left to settle Friendswood near Houston or headed for the Northwest.

DR. WILLIAM HUNT, a government physician from the Indian Territory came in 1880, followed by the UNDERHILL family in the fall and the son-in-law GEORGE SINGER. This settlement of Estacado was 20 miles northeast (as the crow flies) from the yet to be established Lubbock. From those precarious beginnings spread a farm belt which was to gradually diminish the huge ranch holdings.

PIONEERS willing to take a chance ....on the land, on themselves, and on each other.

  1. The Rock House
  2. Estacado
  3. Emma
  4. C.B. Livestock and Crosbyton
  5. Cedric
  6. Ralls
  7. Crosby County
  8. Memoirs Crosby County


Rock House Drawing Bavarian immigrant Hans Schmidtt, better known hereabouts as Henry C. "Uncle Hank" Smith, is the dominant figure in early Crosby County history, for he built the first home on the South Plains in 1876-77 and greatly influenced growth and development of the county until his death in 1913. His Scottish wife, Elizabeth Boyle, "Aunt Hank," joined him in 1877 when he finished the large rock house he had been commissioned to build for Charles Tasker, a Philadelphia would-be cattleman. Tasker's funds had been cut off by a disgruntled uncle who expected more return on his money than reports of good times and dreams. Hank assumed house and land as payment for the debt.

Smith was at the front when the present county was created in 1886. He won a run-off election for Tax Assessor-Collector in preliminary organization of county government, he traveled all over the land district to secure at least 150 names on the organization petition; and he was spokesman who rode the 130 miles to Seymour, Baylor Co. seat where all judicial matters for the district were considered, to submit the request and present the filed petition to the Commissioners' Court.

Doing her part, "Aunt Hank" served as first Post Mistress in the county from 1879 until 1916, the Rock House being one of the few post offices west of Fort Griffin. She was also known as nurse, teacher and resident "angel" to all who passed that way and were in need.


After the Smiths, others came to the beautiful grassland. Quaker leader Paris Cox from Indiana bought 20,480 acres in 1878 to be sold to fellow Friends who would come to the Plains. He commissioned Hank and Hank's long-time friend, Charlie Hawse, to prepare a sod house and to dig a well at the site that was to become Estacado. The pair also broke out land for first crops to be planted and grown above the "Cap." They laid the road from Mt. Blanco to Estacado by making piles of buffalo bones tall enough to see from one mile to the next.

Two other families came with Cox in anticipation of a Quaker settlement in autumn of 1879. After enduring a wretchedly cold winter in sod house and two tents, the newcomers saw the tents blown away by capricious spring winds. Defeated, the two families left Cox at Estacado to return to Indiana. Many more of Cox's other friends and relatives replaced them, creating the first pure agrarian settlement west of the Mississippi River.

For 11 years Estacado enjoyed being "Queen City of the Plains," acting as judicial and educational hub of ten counties that had been in the original Crosby Land District. With its 600 population it boasted a hotel, a doctor, a lawyer, merchants, farmers, politicians, and some ranchers.

The Society of Friends set up a school, girls on one side, boys on the other. In their tradition of striving for highest goals, they established Central Plains Academy, a junior college achieving an enrollment of 100 co-ed students by its third year.

Estacado Newspaper DrawingIn 1886 Judge John Watts Murray brought his family from Hardeman County and set up the first newspaper, The Crosby County News. Subscriptions were $1 a year, and readers could scan advertisements for goods from Amarillo, Colorado City, Dallas, Fort Worth and New York City.

Murray bought County Judge George Swink's home, a four-room house, Swink had insulated the structure with dried bricks of native soil inside a frame wall. He had no doubt experienced local sandstorms. The house also had a basement and its own water well, which was somewhat of a novelty.

Estacado's good fortune fell to it's death in 1890 when settlers near the center of the county voted to move county seat and the two-year-old courthouse to a new town named Emma.

Estacado, Texas
Photo's around Estacado, Texas


Emma SceneEmma came into its own as county seat with courthouse in 1891, taking over Estacado's assets, adding a jail, barbershop (with bathtub). a short-lived saloon and another hotel, among other things.

Land was selling for $1 an acre and 40 years to pay in 1892. Lumber was freighted from Colorado City. New people were coming all the time.

Free-range grazing had been the cattleman's style in the 1870's and '80's. When Uncle Hank brought his cattle to Blanco Canyon, he preceded by some 25 or so years the end of the open range. Other ranchers began coming into the territory about the same time farmers began their tentative settlement and cultivation of the South Plains. The big impact of barbed wire in Texas was not really felt until the middle '80's, but from then on, open rangeland began to shrink.

Ghost Town
Texas Handbook on Emma, Texas Emma Loses County Seat to Crosbyton


cattle drawingThe date May 13, 1901, is significant to Crosby Co. as the day the four Coonley brothers of Chicago, and Julian Bassett, a New York-cum-Texas cattleman, formed a partnership. C. B. Livestock Co. purchased 78,799 acres of grassland in Crosby, Dickens and Floyd counties from the bankrupt Kentucky Cattle Raising Co. The bulk of the land was in Crosby Co.

C. B. Livestock was owned by Julian Bassett and the four Coonley brothers: Avery, John Stewart, Howard and Prentiss and their families. The farm proved that more profit could be made from cultivated land than from range land and so C. B. Livestock went into land sales; promoting sales on most of the acreage located above the caprock. All of the company's land located near Emma, where there business offices were located, sold immediately. Prentiss Coonley and Julian Bassett were the spokesmen and promoters of the land sales and managed the company while the three older brothers remained in Chicago.

C. B. Livestock became a side line from raising cattle into the farm development; sometimes with great profit, sometimes with bankruptcy staring them in the face. In the end they were able to build a railroad, started three towns (Crosbyton, Lorenzo, and Idalou), moved a neighboring village: Emma lost it's standing as county seat to Crosbyton in 1910 . They gained enough population to vote Crosbyton the county seat and sell 40 miles of railroad to Santa Fe in time to meet their maturing obligations. A new courthouse was begun in 1912 on land donated by Bassett.

Transportation, key to many a civilization's success or failure, was Emma's undoing in 1910. C. B. Livestock Co. announced plans for joining Crosbyton and Lubbock with the Crosbyton-South Plains Railroad, by-passing Emma four miles to the north. April 10, 1911, the plan became a reality with initial journey of dignitaries from Crosbyton to Lubbock.

Building the railroad to market their cattle also meant development of the county itself to the Coonley brothers and Bassett. They planned settlements at eight-mile intervals between the two towns and thus going westward, created Cedric, Lorenzo and, in Lubbock County, Idalou.


A brief town made to discourage the development of Ralls.


Ralls DrawingCedric's fate was to be that of its two predecessors, however The Coonley's had not reckoned with John R. Ralls, a Georgian who founded the town of Ralls in 1911. He locked the gate across the railroad tract as it crossed his land, and when passengers alighted, he whisked them away by carriage to Ralls. He was quite persuasive, and Cedric ended up empty before it really began.

Link to: Photos around Ralls
Link to: Texas Handbook Online

And the Journey begins....

About 35 years passed for the county to solidify into a permanent political unit since its first beginnings. Many small communities and school districts sprang up to serve academic, religious, economic and social needs.

Cotton made its debut in Crosby Co. around 1905. C. B. Livestock Co. built a gin in Crosbyton in 1905 to encourage production. James Lee Benton built a two stand, 70 saw gin at Emma in July, 1908. Another gin was built in Lorenzo in 1914.

Goose-neck grain was grown for feed for the necessary farm animals - chickens, milk cows, hogs, horses and mules. Hand harvested, it was cut head by head and thrown into a wagon pulled down the row by a team that responded automatically to command to go forward little by little.

Farmers planted wheat in large acreages, most of them hiring combining done by custom. Farm labor wages hovered around fifty cents a day.

Work was hard, unrelentingly, if you wanted to make a go of it and survive. Everybody "pitched in" to do his part. Women were called on to do heavy outside work, especially planting and harvesting. Constant, everyday chores included feeding livestock, gathering eggs, milking. Extra eggs and fowl were often used to trade for groceries, or at least to sell for spending money. Cream was separated to sell to Creamery in town on Saturday, while whey was lapped up by hogs.

Wives supervised the canning. putting up as many as 500 quarts of fruit and vegetables in a summer, depending on the size of family. After butchering hogs and cattle, hides were sold, proving that everything was used "but the squeal," and nothing was wasted.

A farm family was self-sufficient out of necessity. That once-a-week trip to town on Saturday had to last unless an emergency arose. Sugar and flour were usually bought annually, and nobody ever had to buy lard.

Crosbyton merchants, however, broke tradition once when they sponsored "Big Monday." Prizes, such as chicken coops, were awarded the family who brought the most people to town.

Sundays were also special, affording a time to change routine a bit: dressing for Sunday School and church after chores, driving the few miles to the Community house of worship, seeing neighbors, maybe eating dinner on the ground there or going home to flour biscuits and a cake or a pie instead of daily cornbread and molasses.

In the 30's signs of change began to show themselves. Desperate days of the Great Depression were upon everyone. Each decade seemed to have had its own slight downtrend to force out those who were financially marginal, but this one was different. The whole United States was affected. The "New Deal," promoted by President Franklin Roosevelt, created subsidy programs for American farmers, laying groundwork for low consumer prices.

Curiously enough, this was also the decade that saw motorized farming gain a foothold. Around 1932 one farmer was eager to buy a tractor and get rid of his horses and mules because he could realize no true profit from acreage devoted to feed for them. His banker was sympathetic and impressed with his customer's analysis and foresight. However, he encouraged the man to hold off a few years because current machines were unreliable as well as expensive, and, at that time, there were few local mechanics and even less access to repair parts. Gradually, the slow, lumbering tractors replaced those animals, and excess feed created yet another occupation: local grain merchandiser. Farmers began to sell their maize heads gradually during the year after harvesting then storing in bundles.

World War II put clamps on new machinery, with metals and workers going for defense effort. Wheat, grain and cotton prices rose, giving irrigation a boost since previously prohibitive cost could now be absorbed by increased yields and prices. Mechanical strippers mounted on tractors began to be used more and more after the War. Hand-pulling, however, dominated harvest methods until the early 50's, primarily because gins weren't geared to cleaning out leaves and burrs.

More and more irrigation wells were being drilled, insuring a fairly stable production, barring hails and early frosts. Hybrid grains were being developed, amazingly increasing those yields. Surpluses in all farm commodities began showing up in the late 40's and continued into the 50's, prompting Congress to offer payments for not planting and premiums for storage.

The close of that decade proved to be the end of "old time" farms. Crosby Co. and rural America had definitely caught up with the rest of the country. Farming became truly Big Business with economics, methods and machinery to match. Incredible as it may sound, agricultural technology was achieving greater gains than aircraft industry.

Crosby County has survived for a century and is a small, but vital part of a nation that has been one of man's greatest achievements. Crosby County's families have proved themselves strong and resourceful in the past, and will continue to take the chance ....on themselves, the land, and each other for generations to come.

Information from the book "Crosby County History 1876-1977." ©

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