EDWARDS COUNTY. Edwards County is located in Southwest Texas east of the Big Bend country and 100 miles west of San Antonio. The center point of the county is 29°45' north latitude, 100°16' west longitude. The county encompasses 2,120 square miles of the Edwards Plateau region. The elevation varies from 1,500 feet to 2,410 feet. The average annual rainfall is twenty-two inches. The temperature ranges from 34° F to 62° in January and 71° to 97° in July; the growing season lasts 250 days, beginning in mid-March and ending in late November. The eastern section of the county has generally rolling terrain, with many hills and caves. The western region is typically flat. The county is situated upon a major limestone deposit surfaced with dark, calcareous stony clays and clay loams that principally support oak, juniper, mesquite, and cedar trees, as well as prairie grasses. Edwards County has more than fifteen natural springs that flow year-round; the headwaters of the Llano, Nueces, and West Nueces rivers are in the county. The vegetation, temperature, and abundant water supply make this an ideal area for many types of game animals, including white-tail deer, javelina, turkey, and quail. The area is rich in iron ore and sulfur and has some silver deposits, though these have not been mined or developed.
The region that became Edwards County was home to Lipan Apache Indians. Spain established the mission of San Lorenzo de la Santa Cruz in 1762 to help Christianize the Indians, but was otherwise unable to settle the area. White settlement in the region did not begin until the mid-1800s. In 1858 the county was formed from Bexar County; the first land was sold in 1876. Edwards County was not officially organized until 1883. It was named for Hayden Edwards, one of the first American settlers of Nacogdoches. The county seat was originally Bullhead, which subsequently changed its name to Vance. Rock Springs (now Rocksprings) became county seat in 1891. In 1913, Real County was taken from the eastern section of Edwards County, thus decreasing Edwards County to its present size.
The early settlers of this region soon realized that the area was not suitable for farming, but that it did supply ample natural food for sheep and angora goats. Ranching began to dominate the county as the demand for wool and mohair increased in the early twentieth century. The production of wool and mohair reached its apex in 1940, with 331,970 sheep and 376,322 angora goats being counted in the county, after which Rocksprings called itself the "Top-o-the-World" in mohair production. The number of animals declined to 43,293 sheep and 154,144 angora goats in 1987. Ranching continues to control the economy of the county, with most available land still used for raising sheep and goats. Less than 5 percent of the county is under cultivation.
The population of Edwards County increased from 266 in 1880 to 3,768 in 1910. The county saw a steady decline in population since that time, to 2,933 in 1940 and 2,033 in 1980. Between 1980 and 1990 the trend reversed toward moderate growth, with the 1990 population being 2,266. The county is 50 percent Anglo and 50 percent Hispanic. This equal split developed in the 1980s. Most young Anglos leave the county to look for education and employment elsewhere and do not return, whereas the Hispanics generally stay near their families. Other minority populations are nonexistent; the largest population of blacks, eleven, was recorded in 1900.
The number of high school graduates increased from 19 percent of the population aged twenty-five or older in 1950 to more than 50 percent in 1980. The county voted Republican in all elections after 1976, with the exception of the senatorial races of 1976 and 1988, which were won by Democrats. Before 1976 neither party consistently won a majority. More than 50 percent of the population in 1980 were registered voters.
Very little growth has taken place in the towns of this ranching county. Rocksprings, the largest population center, had 1,339 residents in 1990. Such transportation services as railroads have not entered the county. The closest railroad for transporting goods, the Southern Pacific, is twenty-five miles south of the county. The only reliable transportation came in the 1930s with the construction of the state and federal highway systems; State Highway 55 and U.S. 377 intersect in Rocksprings. The new roads enabled the county to expand the production of wool and mohair by giving ranchers greater access to markets. Perhaps the development of mineral resources has been prevented by inadequate transportation.
Edwards County is in a state of arrested economic growth. The demand for mohair has decreased, thus hurting the economy, though a small amount of oil has been produced. Oil was discovered in this region in 1946, and production increased from 1,066 barrels in 1958 to 8,254 barrels in 1978. Production had slowed to 4,371 barrels a year by 1990. The county has benefitted from tourism dollars spent by hunters and fishermen drawn to the area by the abundant game and wildlife. The revenue from these activities now constitutes 20 percent of the annual county income. Edwards County also benefitted when the state of Texas purchased the old hospital building in Rocksprings, turned it into the Sheriff Departments office, and built a new jail that houses both state and federal prisoners. The state has also purchased 40,000 acres of land around the Devil's Sinkhole, a cave that is home to thousands of Mexican freetail bats. The size and shape of this cave have kept it from being developed-the walls drop straight down 150 feet, and the mouth is about fifty feet wide. Plans for the area include creating a wildlife preserve, though no mention has been made of opening it to the general public. No other development has been discussed.
In 2014 the U.S. Census counted 1,879 people living in Edwards County; about 43.7 percent were Anglo, and 54.6 percent Hispanic. Of residents twenty-five and older, 57 percent had graduated from high school and 17 percent had college degrees. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, ranching, natural gas production, and tourism were central elements of the area’s economy. In 2002 the county had 349 farms and ranches covering 973,512 acres, 95 percent of which were devoted to pasture. That year farmers and ranchers in the area earned $7,473,000 (down 20 percent from 1997); livestock sales accounted for $7,229,000 of the total. Mohair-wool, angora goats, sheep and cattle were the chief agricultural products. Almost 4,600 barrels of oil, and 16,662,884 thousand cubic feet of gas well gas, were produced in the county in 2004; by the end of that year 528,688 barrels of oil had been taken from county lands since 1946.
Rocksprings (population, 1,055) is the county’s largest town and seat of government; other communities include Barksdale (100) and Carta Valley. The county has a Fourth of July rodeo and parade each year. The Top-of-the-World festival, held annually in May, celebrates the wool and mohair industry. See also GOAT RANCHING, SHEEP RANCHING.
Rocksprings Woman's Club Historical Committee, A History of Edwards County (San Angelo, Texas: Anchor, 1984)
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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, James B. McCrain, "EDWARDS COUNTY," accessed August 11, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hce03.
Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Modified on September 11, 2019. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.