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William R. Hunt and John Leffler
Borden County Map
Borden County Map. Courtesy of the Texas Almanac. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

BORDEN COUNTY. Borden County, at the edge of the Llano Estacado, is bounded on the east by Scurry County, on the south by Howard County, on the west by Dawson County, and on the north by Lynn and Garza counties. The rolling, broken land of the county drains to the Colorado River and its tributaries and to Lake J. B. Thomas. The Caprock, Gail Mountain, and Muchakooga Peak are notable physical features. The soils are loams, sandy loams, and clay. The county center is at 32°45' north latitude and 101°25' west longitude, seventy miles southeast of Lubbock. The county comprises 907 square miles at 2,400–3,000 feet elevation. The annual rainfall is 18.2 inches, and the area has a 214-day growing season. The average minimum temperature in January is 32° F; the maximum in July is 96°. The highway system includes U.S. Highway 180 (west-east) and Farm Road 669 (north-south).

Comanches hunted buffalo in the region before white settlement. It was within the range of the Penateka band, also called the Honey-Eaters or Wasps, the largest and best-known Comanche band. The Penatekas led the advance into the southern plains in the eighteenth century after the people, a segment of the northern Shoshones, learned the use of Spanish horses and transformed themselves from impoverished root and plant gatherers to hunters. Settlers were not attracted to the area that is now Borden County until the end of the nineteenth century. It was too distant from the United States Army's frontier outposts to be safe even after the Civil War, and it seemed too dry to sustain ranching and farming. The county was marked off in 1876 from Bosque County and named for Gail Borden, Jr., a newspaper publisher and organizer of the Republic of Texas, and a surveyor who helped lay out the site of Houston and prepared the first topographical map of Texas.

In 1876 ranchers from Howard County extended their range into Borden County. By 1880 there were thirty-five residents who, unlike most pioneers, resisted intrusions of railroads and other settlers who might disrupt their use of the open range. As late as 1890, only 222 people lived in the county on twenty-five farms and ranches; only 1,146 acres in the county were classified as "improved" by the United States census that year. At this time the local economy revolved completely around the cattle industry, and in 1890 over 71,000 cattle were counted in Borden. The county was organized in 1891, and Gail was made the county seat.

More farmers moved into the area between 1890 and 1910. In 1900, there were 129 ranches and farms in Borden County, and the population had increased to 776. A small boom occurred in 1902, when state school lands became available for leasing. New arrivals, mostly farmers, were not welcomed by the established ranchers, and many left. Nevertheless, by 1910 there were 228 farms and 1,386 residents in the county; thirty-six of the farms were worked by tenants. For the scattered population of the county, isolated rural life brought its own rewards. As young Mary Blankenship, who passed through the area in 1901 to settle with her husband somewhat to the north, reflected: "We had plenty of time to be still and know God. He was our nearest neighbor." The farms in the county dropped to 197 by 1920, but by 1930 the number had increased to 292 and the population was 1,505.

Many of the newcomers grew cotton, which by 1930 had become the county's most important crop. Cotton was first planted in the area during the 1890s; in 1900, it was grown on 137 acres of Borden County land. Cotton farming in 1910 comprised 2,206 acres, and in 1920, 3,820 acres; by 1929 more than 20,000 acres of county land was planted in cotton, while only 28,000 acres of cropland was harvested in the entire county.

The Great Depression of the 1930s put an end to the budding development of the county. By 1940 only about 12,000 acres of county land was planted in cotton, and only 233 farms remained in Borden; only 1,356 residents were counted that year. The discovery of considerable oilfields in 1949 did not arrest the decline of Borden County population, although it did provide fortunate ranchers and farmers with another source of income. Oil production in the county was more than 3,150,000 barrels in 1950, almost 9,819,000 barrels in 1960, and more than 10,876,000 barrels in 1974. Production decreased during the 1980s, however, and in 1990 amounted to only 5,679,658 barrels. By 1991, more than 340,003,000 barrels of petroleum had been taken out of Borden County since discovery in 1949. During the early 1980s the area's farmers earned and average annual agricultural income of $12.5 million from beef cattle, sheep, cotton, wheat, sorghums, and other grains. There was no manufacturing, but 7,620,366 barrels of oil produced in 1982 earned almost $245 million.

The population of the county continued to decline after World War II. Only 1,106 people lived in Borden County in 1950, and only 1,076 in 1960, 888 in 1970, 859 in 1980, and 799 in 1990. 

Most voters in Borden County supported the Democratic candidates in virtually every presidential election from 1892 through 1964; the only exception occurred in 1928, when Republican Herbert Hoover carried the area. The area’s sympathies began to shift in 1968, when Democrat Hubert Humphrey won only a plurality of the county’s votes, and in 1972, when Republican Richard Nixon easily carried the area. Though Democrat Jimmy Carter won most of the county’s votes in 1976, thereafter the Republican candidates carried the county in every presidential election from 1980 through 2004.

The U.S. census counted 652 people living in Borden County in 2014. About 82.1 percent were Anglo and 15.5 percent Hispanic. Of residents age twenty-five and older, 84 percent had completed high school, and 21 percent had college degrees. In the early twenty-first century agriculture, hunting leases, oil, and wind turbines were important elements of the local economy. In 2002 the county had 132 farms and ranches covering 480,015 acres, 85 percent of which were devoted to pasture and 15 percent to crops. That year farmers and ranchers in the area earned $7,837,000; livestock sales accounted for $3,961,000 of the total. Beef cattle, cotton, oats, hay, and pecans were the chief agricultural products. More than 4,500,000 barrels of oil were produced in the county in 2004; by the end of that year 405,593,743 barrels of petroleum had been taken from county lands since 1949. Tourists, mostly hunters and fishermen at Lake J. B. Thomas, contribute to the economy. Gail, the county seat and only town of note, had an estimated population of 202 in 1991 and 256 in 2014. 

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, William R. Hunt and John Leffler, "BORDEN COUNTY," accessed August 05, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hcb09.

Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Modified on March 1, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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