History of Tom Green County

Tom Green County Map. Courtesy of the Texas Almanac. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

Tom Green County Map. Courtesy of the Texas Almanac. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

TOM GREEN COUNTY. Tom Green County comprises 1,540.5 square miles in west central Texas. The county seat, San Angelo, is centrally located at 31°28′ north latitude and 100°26′ west longitude, 301 miles south of Amarillo and 258 miles west of Dallas. The county has a 235-day growing season, an average temperature range of 32° F in January and 97° F in July, an average annual precipitation of 18.2 inches, and an elevation variation of 1,717 feet to 2,480 feet. The principal river in the county is the Concho, which is formed by the convergence of the North, Middle, and South Concho rivers. The North Concho River and its tributaries, Bald Eagle, Chalk, Dry, Grape, Little, Mulberry, and Walnut creeks, drain the northwest portion of the county. The Middle Concho and its tributaries, Brushy, Dove, Dry Rocky, East Rocky, West Rocky, and Spring creeks, drain the west central and southwest portions of the county. The South Concho and its tributaries, Burks and Pecan creeks, drain the southern part of the county. And finally the Concho and its tributaries, Catelan, Erica, Hog Marsh, Kickapoo, Lipan, and Snake creeks, drain the southeastern part of the county. There are three major impoundments, O. C. Fisher lake, Twin Buttes Reservoir, and Lake Nasworthy. The major soil types in the county are silty clay loams and stony clays. The county has two distinct physiographic regions: the Osage Plains and the Edwards Plateau. In the central, eastern, and southeast sections, the plants are typical of the Lower Osage Plains and the High Plains, including buffalo, grama, wheat, and Indian grasses, with scattered mesquiteqv and zerophytes. The northern, western, and extreme southwest parts of the county have the short grasses and scattered timbers typical of the Edwards Plateau and Hill Country, which include live, shinnery, and red oaks mixed with buffalo and mesquite grasses. There is also algerita, cat’s claw, chapparal, prickly pear, yucca, and cacti. Mesquite trees thrive throughout the county, and pecan trees are present in great numbers in the river bottoms. In general, agriculture is dominant in the Osage Plains and ranching in the Edwards Plateau region. San Angelo is the largest processing and shipping center for the wool and mohair industry in the United States. In 1990, 200,000 of the county’s one million acres were farmed, including 15,000 irrigated acres. Commercial minerals include caliche, limestone, and oil and gas in the south central and northwest regions of the county. Major archeological sites are scarce in the county. Some scattered artifacts and graves have been discovered, including fifty smooth rock basins near the head of Dove Creek. The most famous aboriginal site in the region is that of Painted Rocks in Concho County, west of Tom Green.

The “Concho Country,” which included Tom Green County, was known to the Spanish 300 years before Texas became a republic. The Indians of this area were the Jumanos. In 1629 and 1632 Father Juan de Salas visited and worked among the Jumanos on the Concho River. Captains Hernán Martín and Diego del Castillo,qqv who followed in 1650, recovered pearls from the Concho River. The area was visited by Diego de Guadalajara in 1654, and by Father Nicolás López and Juan Domínguez de Mendozaqqv in 1684. Early explorers noted the friendliness of the Jumanos, abundance of pecan trees and mussel shells, and vast herds of buffalo. By the mid-eighteenth century the Apaches—pushed south by the stronger Comanches—had allied with and then absorbed the Jumanos. The Apaches, by the early nineteenth century, were forced west by the Comanches and their allies. The Comanches remained in control of the Concho Country until they were overwhelmed by westward expansion of Anglo-Americans in the second half of the nineteenth century. Following the annexation of Texas by the United States in 1845 a number of forts were built to restrain the Indian attacks and protect the Americans moving to the region. A second series of forts was built, including Camp J. E. Johnston (1852) in northwest Tom Green County and Fort Chadbourne (1852) in the area of modern Coke County, thirty miles up Owl Creek from its confluence with the Colorado River. The Butterfield Overland Mail stage line followed in 1857, west through Carlsbad, across the headwaters of the Middle Concho River, on to Horsehead Crossing on the Pecos River, and El Paso. The stage line was abandoned, as was Fort Chadbourne, with the outbreak of the Civil War.

Following the Civil War Ben Ficklin opened a stage station by the same name on the Concho River. Travel time was four days to El Paso or two days to San Antonio. The area attracted a few settlers, including R. F. Tankersley (1864) on the South Concho River, G. W. DeLong (1865) near Lipan Springs, and Eugene McCrohan (1867). Most of the population was migratory buffalo hunters. In the winter and spring buffalo were plentiful and quickly became the major industry of the area. Indians resisting the intrusion and protecting their hunting grounds made the region dangerous. Hostilities were escalated by a fight between a band of Kickapoo Indians and a combined force of the Texas Rangersqv and Confederate troops, commanded by Capt. S. S. Totten, in January of 1865 at Dove Creek. New and existing forts were reestablished across the frontier to protect against Indians and uphold the Republican state government during Reconstruction. In 1867 near Ben Ficklin, Camp Hatch was established between the North and Middle Concho rivers near their confluence. The camp was renamed Camp Kelly in January of 1868 and in March was renamed Fort Concho. Much of the food for the fort was provided by the Bismarck Farm, the first irrigated farm in West Texas established by Jake Marshall in 1868, three miles south of the fort on the South Concho River. The same year Bartholomew J. Dewitt, from San Antonio, bought a large tract of land across the river (north side of North Concho River) from Fort Concho. The small community that was developed on the tract included a saloon and a few gambling houses. It was first called Over the River, but was later named Santa Angela after Mrs. DeWitt or her sister, who was the mother superior of the Ursuline Convent in San Antonio. The name was later changed to San Angelo for approval of a post office application. The establishment of Fort Concho was the watershed event in the history of Tom Green County. The fort protected the stage and mail line, escorted cattle drives, and defended against Indian attack. American settlement steadily increased. By 1870 the population of the county was 1,000—nearly all living near Fort Concho.

The county was officially established by an act of the state legislature on March 13, 1874, from Bexar land, and was named in honor of Confederate Brig. Gen. Thomas Greenqv. Because of the omission of a northern boundary the county was a huge area of more than 60,000 square miles that included the land of sixty-six modern Texas counties. On August 21, 1876, the northern boundary was drawn from the northwest corner of Runnels County west to the New Mexico line. This cut off the area of fifty-four counties to the north. The remaining Tom Green County was still larger than Massachusetts and Connecticut combined and included the area of the modern counties of Coke, Crane, Ector, Glasscock, Irion, Loving, Midland, Reagan, Sterling, Upton, and Ward. The county organization election was held on January 5, 1875, when the voters elected officials and chose Ben Ficklin, instead of the larger San Angelo, as the location for the county seat. Other settlements were Bismarck Farm, Lipan Springs, and Kickapoo Springs. The 1880s was a period of dramatic change for the county. The institutions of American civilization were established—businesses, churches, newspapers, schools, and agriculture. By 1880 the population of 3,615 included 3,020 whites, 1,132 Mexicans, and 142 blacks. There were four post offices—Ben Ficklin, Fort Concho, Knickerbocker, and San Angelo. Ben Ficklin was completely destroyed by flood in August of 1882. Sixty-five people were killed, and the county seat was moved to safer San Angelo, where a courthouse was built in 1884. The first sheep were brought from California by John Arden, and later from New England. The controversy between the new sheepmen and the established cattlemen never escalated to a crisis; in fact, many cattlemen eventually purchased sheep. A far greater problem, affecting both sheepmen and cattlemen, was barbed wire. During the 1870s the Goodnight-Loving Trail passed through Fort Concho, then west along the Middle Concho toward the Pecos River. Tom Green County was open range. But in 1881 L. B. Harris fenced 20,000 acres, and other ranchers, including John R. Nasworthy and Charles B. Metcalfe, followed suit. As a result fence-cutting became a major problem. In 1884, after several years of frustration, some violence, and economic loss, the state legislature made fence-cutting a felony. By 1885 the open range and longhorn cattle were being replaced by fenced ranches and improved breeds, such as Durham and later Hereford cattle. In 1886 the biggest roundup in the history of West Texas occurred near Knickerbocker, when fifteen “outfits” assembled 25,000 cattle. The Concho Times published the first county newspaper in April of 1880, and the San Angelo Standard was established on May 3, 1884, by W. A. Guthrie and J. G. Murphy. In 1885 San Angelo organized the first fire department. The 1880s was also marked by the establishment of religious denominations. Although the Spanish conducted religious services in the county in the seventeenth century, regular service was not held until Father Mathurin J. Pairier began visiting in 1874 and built the first Catholic church in 1884. In the 1870s Methodist circuit riders held services and organized the first church in 1882. The Greater St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church was founded in 1883. Baptist missionaries arrived in 1881 and two years later organized the Baptist Church of Christ of San Angelo. The First Christian Church began services in May of 1882 and built their first sanctuary in 1885. The first Presbyterian church was organized in 1886, and the first Episcopal church was built in 1888. The first subscription school was established in 1876 with twelve students. The school moved to four more locations before the first public school was established in 1884. Enrollment grew from 244 students in 1881 to 464 students in 1891. San Angelo Independent School District was formed in 1903.

A major factor in the development of agriculture was the first rail connection completed in September of 1888 by the Santa Fe Railroad. This provided direct access to market for cattle, sheep, goats, and wool and other products. By the turn of the century an estimated 3,500 to 5,000 railroad cars of cattle were shipped annually—making San Angelo the largest range cattle-shipping station in the United States. The county was not the leading sheep county in the region, but the railroad made it the market center. The first wool warehouse was built in the fall of 1888 by Merra and Hobbs. A second was built by Halfin and Rouff. Even in the early years over a million pounds of wool per year were shipped from San Angelo. A second rail connection was completed in 1908 by the Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railway. The decade of the 1880s ended with the incorporation of San Angelo as a city and the closing of Fort Concho in 1889. The Indians had been subdued and confined to the reservation. The frontier was gone. The first electric light plant was built in 1890, and the first sewer system was completed in 1895. The population increased gradually to 5,152 in 1890 and to 6,804 in 1900. Post offices were built in Mereta and Water Valley.

In the twentieth century the county continued to be dominated by agriculture, primarily cotton, beef cattle, and wool. Sheep and goats, grain sorghum, dairy cattle, pecans, and poultry also remained important. By the 1920s the quality of wool shipped had dramatically improved. The original herds of inferior crossbreeds had been replaced by the Rambouillet breed. San Angelo became the largest primary wool market in the United States. From 1923 to 1929 wool and mohair shipments increased from 5 million to 17 million pounds per year. Oil was discovered in 1940, and production has been proportionately reduced. Registered vehicles have grown from 4,747 in 1924 to 20,274 in 1950 and to 86,686 in 1990, when the county had 911 highway miles. The regional airport, opened in 1928, had 58,145 enplanements in 1990. Goodfellow Field, opened in 1940 for advanced Air Force pilot training, was still in operation in 1990 and made a valuable contribution to the economy of the county. The number of farms increased from 243 in 1900 to a high of 1,408 in 1940. The most extraordinary period of growth was 1900 to 1910, when the number of farms increased by 310 percent. Since 1940 there has been a decease in the number of farms to 800. This reduction has been accompanied by increase in the number of acres per farm. Since 1965 the most notable trend has been the increase of cotton acreage from 50,000 acres to 70,000 acres by 1990, while grain sorghum acreage has been reduced. In terms of income, cotton is equal to cattle and sheep. Wool and mohair have remained relatively steady.

The school system in 1990 included six school districts with an enrollment of 18,527. In addition, San Angelo State University, established in 1928, grew from an enrollment of 528 and thirty-eight faculty members into a major regional university with an enrollment of 6,500. Other educational institutions include the Texas A&M Research and Extension Center, Howard College–San Angelo Campus, American Commercial College (1976), and Chenier Business School (1929). The population has increased every decade since organization, with the exception of the period 1910–20, when a severe drought reduced the population by 15 percent (17,882 to 15,210). The area recovered, and the population increased to 36,033 in 1930 and 39,302 in 1940. In 2014, there were 116,608 residents. About 55.9 percent were Anglo, 4.7 percent African American, and 37.3 percent Hispanic. The only major city, San Angelo, increased from 58 percent of the total population in 1910 to 66 percent in 1940 and 86 percent (84,474) in 1990; as of 2014, 98,040 live in the city. The other notable communities in the county—Carlsbad, Christoval, Vancourt, Wall, and Water Valley—have populations of less than 250 each. Historically Tom Green County has been conservative and Democratic. Since World War II, however, the county has generally voted Republican in national elections. While agribusiness, farming, and ranching are the dominant economic force, there has been a healthy diversification, particularly in San Angelo. It is the regional center for communications, education, federal programs, health care, industry, recreation, retail, retirement, and tourism. Of historical interest is the restored Concho Street, the Barrow Foundation Museum, Miss Hattie’s Museum, the Fort Concho National Historical Landmarkqv, the Robert W. Johnson Museum of Medicine, the Railway Museum of San Angelo, and the E. H. Danner Museum of Telephony. Educational and cultural highlights include the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts, San Angelo Symphony, San Angelo Civic Ballet, Angelo Civic Theater, Angelo State University Planetarium, and ASU Theater. For recreation and the children, activities include boating, fishing, hunting, the Producers Livestock Auction, Nature Center, Riverwalk, and Chicken Farm Art Center. Significant historical structures include Fort Concho and the Schwartz and Raas and San Angelo National Bank buildings. In addition, there are more than twenty-five historical markers in the county, and it is on the Texas Forts Trail. Prominent annual events include the Stock Show and P.R.C.A. Rodeo; Sabers, Saddles, and Spurs; the Texas Wine Festival; the Ranch Rodeo; the Bull Riding Fiesta; the San Angelo Symphony Pops Concert; the Goodfellow Air Force Base Fireworks Display; World Championship Goat Roping; Fiestas Patrias; the Roping Fiesta; and Christmas at Old Fort Concho.


S. T. Allen, Early Settlement of the Concho Country (M.A. thesis, North Texas State Teachers College, 1941). Julia Grace Bitner, The History of Tom Green County, Texas (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1931). Roy D. Holt, “The Introduction of Barbed Wire into Texas and the Fence Cutting War,” West Texas Historical Association Year Book 6 (1930). San Angelo Standard, May 3, 1924, May 3, 1934.