THROCKMORTON COUNTY. Throckmorton County (C-14) is in north central Texas. The center of the county lies at 33°10' north latitude and 99°10' west longitude; the town of Throckmorton, the county's seat of government, is fifty-eight air miles southwest of Wichita Falls. The area was named for William E. Throckmorton,qv an early settler on the north Texas frontier. Throckmorton County encompasses 915 square miles of rolling country with red to black soils drained by the Clear Fork and Salt Fork of the Brazos River; elevations range between 1,200 to 1,800 feet above sea level. Hills are prominent in the southwestern sections. The county is in the Rolling Plains vegetation region and is covered by bluestem, gramas, wildryes, and wheat grass, along with some mesquiteqv trees. Annual rainfall averages twenty-six inches. Temperatures range from an average minimum of 29° F in January to an average maximum of 98° in July. The average growing season lasts 220 days. The major arteries of the area's transportation network are U.S. Highway 380, U.S. Highway 283, and State Highway 79, which crosses through the northeastern part of the county to the town of Throckmorton. Mineral resources in the county include limestone, sand and gravel, petroleum, natural gas, and bituminous coal.
The area that is now Throckmorton County was a part of Red River Municipality until 1837, when it became part of mewly organized Fannin County. In 1854 the Comanche Indian Reservation,qv (18,576 acres), was established at Camp Cooper on the Clear Fork of the Brazos. In 1855 some 450 Comanches of the Penateka band settled there and tried to adapt to an agricultural economy. John R. Baylor,qv Indian agent from 1855 to 1857, settled his family at Camp Cooper in 1856. That same year Lt. Newton C. Givensqv built a stone ranch house near the old California Trail and the Haskell county line. At the time this was the last house between Texas and New Mexico settlements. The Butterfield Overland Mailqv route crossed the area, and Franz Station was a well-known stop. The Texas legislature established Throckmorton County in 1858, and Williamsburg initially was chosen to be the county seat. In 1859 the Comanche reservation was relocated to Indian Territory, and by 1860 the United States census found only 124 people living in the county. The outbreak of the Civil Warqv also impeded settlement of the area, and the county remained unorganized for almost twenty years after it was formed. Throckmorton County was organized in 1879, and the town of Throckmorton, located near the center of the county, became the county seat. Early businesses included a store operated by a Mr. Tadley and a restaurant-stage stand run by C. A. (Alex) Housley. By 1880 sixty-eight ranches or farms operated in the area. Though some crops were raised, cattle ranching was the mainstay of the economy. Fewer than 900 acres was planted in corn, the county's most important crop in 1880, while almost 32,000 cattle and more than 7,000 sheep were reported on ranches that year. Ranching continued to dominate the economy during the 1880s and 1890s, and by 1900 almost 47,000 cattle and 4,000 sheep were reported. Crop farming slowly expanded during this period, however. By 1900 almost 5,000 acres was planted in corn, and 3,000 acres was devoted to cotton. There were 272 farms and ranches, encompassing 635,000 acres, that year. As agriculture expanded in the area, the population rose to 902 by 1890 and to 1,750 by 1900. One of the most important ranches in the area, the SMS Ranch,qv was put into operation during the late nineteenth century. Swante M. Swensonqv gained railroad and other lands in parts of Throckmorton, Jones, Shackelford, Haskell, and Stonewall counties in 1854. His sons, E. P. and S. A. Swenson, began fencing and running cattle on the lands in the early 1880s. It took years of investment and work to improve the ranches and the cattle breed, but by 1902 when Frank S. Hastingsqv became manager the "breed-well . . . feed-well" practice was paying off. The Swensons had 25,000 cattle on 350,000 acres, and Hastings began sending range-bred calves to be matured at feed lots in the Corn Belt. Hastings remained manager until his death in 1922.
While ranchingqv remained an important component of the local economy, hundreds of new farms were established in the area between 1900 and 1930, as the cultivation of cotton and wheat spread. Cotton was the first cash crop to be planted on a fairly large scale in the county; by 1910 cotton was being grown on 21,000 acres of county land and had become the county's most important crop. With expanding cotton production came more intensive settlement. There were 694 farms or ranches in Throckmorton County by 1910, and the population had more than doubled to reach 4,563. Many of these early farmers were shaken out by droughts and other problems during the late 1910s. Only 500 farms remained in the county by 1920, and cotton production had fallen to 15,000 acres. Meanwhile, wheat had become the county's most extensively planted crop, as 19,000 acres were devoted to production of the cereal that year. Farm expansion continued into the 1920s, when the acreage devoted to both corn and wheat more than doubled. By 1929 the county had 32,000 acres planted in cotton and 37,000 acres in wheat. Meanwhile the number of farms rose to 543 by 1925 and to 611 by 1929. Many of the new farmers did not own the land they tilled; in 1929 more than half (322) of the county's farmers were sharecroppers. Though the number of people living Throckmorton County had dropped to 3,589 by 1920, by 1930 there were 5,253 people there. Farmers and ranchers suffered during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl.qv Market prices for beef fell, and small ranchers were forced to borrow money for feed or to sell stock to the government for slaughter. With its great resources the SMS was able to weather the depression without recourse to these expedients, but by 1940 only 18,000 cattle were reported in the county. Crop farmers, particularly those who did not own their own land, were hammered. By 1940 fewer than 9,000 acres in the county was planted in cotton; overall, cropland harvested in the county declined from just over 53,000 acres in 1929 to 25,000 acres by 1940. The number of farms declined to 572 by 1940, and of these 218 were operated by tenants. These problems were offset to some extent by petroleum production.
Oil had been discovered in the county in 1925, and despite the low prices that troubled the industry during the early 1930s, by 1938 almost 123,000 barrels were produced in the county. Nevertheless, more than 15 percent of the area's population moved away during the depression, and by 1940 there were only 4,275 people living there. Production of oil in the county expanded rapidly during the 1940s and 1950s but thereafter began to decline. Almost 217,000 barrels of crude were produced in 1944, more than 2,440,000 barrels in 1948, and 3,425,000 in 1956. Production had already begun to decline, however, by 1960, when fewer than 3,225,000 were produced. Production dropped to 2,623,000 barrels in 1965 and to 1,514,000 barrels by 1974. Petroleum remained an important source of income for the county into the 1990s, however; in 1990 more than 1,853,000 barrels of crude were produced in the county. By January 1, 1991, more than 110,361,000 barrels of oil had been taken from county lands since 1925. In spite of the oil industry, in the decades following World War IIqv farm consolidations, mechanization, and the search for new opportunities continued to drain the county's population. The number of people living in the area dropped to 3,618 by 1950, to 2,767 by 1970, and to 2,053 by 1980. In the mid-1980s the county's agricultural economy earned an annual average of $16.3 million, 75 percent of which was from cattle, sheep, and horses; the production of wheat, oats, cotton, sorghums, and hay accounted for the rest.
The voters of Throckmorton County supported the Democratic candidates in virtually every presidential election between 1880 and 1968; the only exception occurred in 1928, when Republican Herbert Hoover carried the county. Republican candidates carried the county again in 1972, 1984, and 1988, but Democrats won in 1976, 1980, and 1992. In 1990 there were 1,880 people living in the county, with 1,036 living in the town of Throckmorton, the county seat and the principal shipping point and supply center for surrounding ranches and oil operations. Other communities included Woodson (262), Elbert (150), Spring Hill, and Lusk. Visitors are attracted to the county by local hunting and fishing and by historic sites such as Camp Cooper and Camp Wilson. The town of Throckmorton hosts an Easter Egg Hunt and Festivities event each year in spring, Pioneer Days in June, and a Christmas Parade in December.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Mary Whatley Clarke, The Swenson Saga and the SMS Ranches (Austin: Jenkins, 1976). Gail Swenson, S. M. Swenson and the Development of the SMS Ranches (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1960).