Wilbarger County History Written in 1922
Wilbarger County. The history of Wilbarger County is a record of less than forty years. With the Red River as its northern boundary, the county derived its early importance from its location on the great cattle trail leading up through Western Texas to Dodge City, Kansas. That trail went through Wilbarger County, close to the present site of Vernon, and across the river into the Indian Territory at the old Doan’s station. As the herds were driven north the vicinity of Wilbarger was regarded as an ideal resting place for the stockman and cowboy. The fine grasses and abundance of pure water made it a favorite place in the progress of cattle from Texas to the northern pastures or the northern markets. This cattle trail was opened during the early ’70s, and it is said that the first permanent settler in the county came in 1876. As an illustration of the activities of the trail in one of its most prosperous years it is said that in 1885, 300,000 head of cattle, 200,000 head of sheep and 192,000 head of horses were driven by Vernon. Since that time a large part of Wilbarger County’s area has been transformed into a rich agricultural district.
While boundaries were given to the county in 1858, the first county government was organized in October, 1881. At the census of 1880 only 126 inhabitants were enumerated, The rapid development during the following decade is indicated by the presence of 7,092 population by 1890. The chief factor in this rapid advancement was the building of the Fort Worth & Denver City Railway across the northern half of the county. The earlier construction of the Texas & Pacific across Western Texas was not followed by more rapid development in its tributary territory than in the country lying on both sides of the Fort Worth & Denver City. As elsewhere noted, the Fort Worth & Denver City had reached Wichita Falls in 1882, and that city remained its terminus until construction work was resumed in May, 1885. By April, 1887, the road was completed through Wilbarger County to Quanah. By 1890 the county was well settled, agriculture had made important advances, and prosperous times were in prospect. Then followed the decade of the ’90s, noted throughout Northwest Texas as one of financial stringency and succession of dry years, and as a result by 1900 Wilbarger County’s population was 5,759, a decrease of more than 1,300 since the preceding census. Since then a new era has come to the county, the experimental stage of farming has passed, and the economic activities of the people seem now to rest on a permanent basis. By 1910 the population of the county was 12,000, having more than doubled in the previous ten years, in 1920, 15,112. During the ’90s a branch of the Frisco Railway was constructed across Red River into Wilbarger County, and Vernon has since been its terminus. In 1905 the Kansas City, Mexico & Orient Railway was opened from Sweetwater to the Red River, passing through the northwest corner of this county. The town of Vernon, which in 1882 was credited with about seventy-five inhabitants and two general merchandise stores, received its chief impetus from the railway, and has since become one of the flourishing towns of Northwest Texas. The population in 1890 was 2,857; in 1900, 1,993, and in 1910. 3,195. Other towns in the county are Odell, on the Orient Railway, Harrold, Okla Union and Tolbert.
In 1882 the county’s taxable property was assessed at $582,283 ; in 1903 values had risen to $3,815,973; in 1913 to $11,466,140; and in 1920 to $12,873,620. While no farming was attempted in Wilbarger County previous to 1880, and for years was an industry of very limited possibilities, statistics of the last census show that Wilbarger has a larger proportion of cultivated land than many of the older counties of the state, The total area is 593,920 acres, of which 411,936 acres were reported in farms or ranches in 1910. Of this amount about 202,000 acres were classified as “improved land,” as compared with 116,000 acres in 1900. There were 1,435 farms in 1910, against 636 in 1900. The stock interests at the last enumeration were : Cattle, 13,376; horses and mules, about 8,537. The largest crop was corn, to which 62,559 acres were planted in 1909; 55,077 acres in cotton, 19,625 acres in wheat, 10,997 acres in oats, 6,122 acres in hay and forage crops, 2,185 acres in kafir corn and milo maize, about 750 acres in potatoes, sweet potatoes and other vegetables, while about 18,000 orchard fruit trees were enumerated. In comparison with many other counties of the state Wilbarger has a high rank as an agricultural country. Large well improved farms greet the eye in every direction. – History of Texas, 1922, by W. Barrett Travis