Thursday, March 19, 2009

History of Wichita County Texas

Ok! First we need to have a little history lesson on Wichita County, Texas before we can understand those who lived and died here.

Wichita County is located in the extreme northwest portion on the state near the boarder of Oklahoma. We are 144 miles from Dallas, Texas and 141 miles from Oklahoma City and is home to Sheppard Airforce Base. Wichita Falls was named after the river that was named after the Indians. The original falls have been lost, but replica falls have been built in recent years. Conveniently located off I-44

The area the we call Wichita County was home to the Caddoan Indians, principally the Wichitas and Taovayas. These natives migrated from present Kansas and Nebraska, in the middle of the eighteenth century. These groups were masters of the horse and introduced them into the region by Spanish explorers-and therefore the buffalo. However, they remained heavily dependent upon the agriculture. The location of their lands, in extreme north central Texas, placed them in conflict with the Lipan Apaches and the Comanches, both of which claimed the area as their own territory and continued to visit it long after their removal to Oklahoma. The presence of these often aggressive Native Americans caused difficulties for Anglo-American settlers in the region until after 1850, when the federal troops forced the Indians to relocate to reservations North of the Red River. A number of Europeans, beginning with the Spanish Indian trader Athanase de Mézières, visited the area that became Wichita County during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Among these were Pedro Vial and José Mares, who crossed the region in the course of developing trails from San Antonio, Texas to Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1786 and 1787, and members of the Texan Santa Fe expedition in 1841. Although local lands had been granted to survivors and heirs of soldiers who fought in the Texas Revolution as early as the 1830s, the first surveys of the area that is now Wichita County took place in 1854 under the direction of the Texan Emigration and Land Company. Mabel Gilbert, a pioneer of the settlement that became Dallas, became Wichita County's first permanent Anglo-American settler when he built a house on a bluff above the Red River, ten miles north of the site of present Wichita Falls, in 1855. Although Native Americans twice drove him from his isolated farm, in 1855 and 1862, he returned in 1867 and died there three years later. Wichita County was established by act of the Texas legislature on February 1, 1858, from the Cooke Land District, and was attached to Clay County for judicial purposes. The new county was named for the Wichita Indians, and settlement was hindered by Indian attacks. Most of the area's Anglo-American pioneers arrived after 1870, when school lands were purchased to become cattle ranches, which have remained an important part of the economy. Wichita County remained unorganized and sparsely inhabited until after 1880, when its population reached 433 on June 7, 1882.

Wichita County remained unorganized and sparsely inhabited until after 1880 when its population reached 433. On June 7, 1882, Robert E. Huff, a recently arrived attorney, presented a petition bearing 150 signatures-some of which allegedly were fraudulent-to the Clay County commissioners court seeking independence for Wichita County. Elections for county officers took place on June 21 of that year. Wichita County's population increased relatively rapidly during the decade after its organization, rising to 4,831 in 1890. The population was predominantly Anglo-American. In 1880 the county only had seventeen African Americansqv and in 1890 only 128. This pattern has remained constant throughout the county's history. Wichita County remained overwhelmingly rural and agricultural during its first decade, with the number of farms increasing from sixty in 1880 to 326 in 1890. Cattle production dominated the economy, and between 1880 and 1890 the number of cattle increased 62 percent to 88,683. Corn and hay were the leading crops raised in the county. The extension of the tracks of a number of rail lines into the county greatly facilitated growth. The Fort Worth and Denver City Railroad reached the tiny settlement of Wichita Falls from Fort Worth in September 1882. This connection ensured the existence of Wichita Falls, which adopted the date of the arrival of the first train, September 26, 1882, as its birthday. Additional railroad-building activity resulted, in large measure, from the efforts of two Wichita Falls businessmen, Joseph A. Kemp and Frank Kell.qv Between 1884 and 1911 these men, acting independently and in concert, organized and promoted three rail lines out of Wichita Falls: the Wichita Falls and Northwestern, the Wichita Falls and Southern, and the Wichita Falls and Wellington. The construction of these roads, all of which were purchased by the Missouri, Kansas and Texas line in 1911, established Wichita Falls as a regional transportation and distribution center. Its population increased from 2,480 at the turn of the century to 8,200 by 1910. Call Field,qv an Army Air Corps training facility, was built south of the city during World War I. Wichita Falls continued to grow; by 1920 it had a population of 40,079 and by 1930 of 60,000, or 80 percent of the county's total population.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Louise Kelly, Wichita County Beginnings (Burnet, Texas: Eakin Press, 1982). Wichita Falls Times, May 12, 1957.