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KENT COUNTY. Kent County, in West Texas, is bounded on the north by Dickens County, on the west by Garza County, on the east by Stonewall County, and on the south by Scurry and Fisher counties. It comprises 878 square miles of rolling, broken terrain, part prairie and part mesquite woodland, drained by the Salt and Double Mountain forks of the Brazos River. The county center is at 33°10' north latitude and 100°45' west longitude, eighty-five miles southeast of Lubbock. The soils are sand and sandy loam, the elevation is 1,900 to 2,400 feet, and the average annual rainfall is 20.75 inches. The average minimum temperature in January is 28° F; the average maximum in July is 97°. The 216-day growing season produces about $10 million average annual income from agriculture, 55 percent from cattle, sheep, and hogs and the rest from cotton, sorghums, and grain. Irrigation is used on only 500 acres. There is no manufacturing, but more than 10.5 million barrels of oil produced in 1982 earned $514,387,691. Total production from 1946 to 1982 was 363,582,743 barrels. Timber includes cottonwood, cedar, and mesquite. There are deposits of brick clay, sand, gravel, and kaolin.
The earliest evidence of man found in the area consists of artifacts of the Folsom culture, dating back approximately 10,000 years. Comanches of the Wanderers band dominated the area in more modern times; they were a people even more restless and wide-ranging than the other Comanches, who flourished in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as mounted hunters and raiders. In 1872 Ranald S. Mackenzie and his soldiers routed the Comanches at Treasure Butte, southeast of Clairemont. Treasure Butte is also famous as the supposed site of Mexican treasure, but seekers of it have not yet been rewarded. When the buffalo were locally exterminated and the Indians removed, the country was opened to settlement.
Kent County was marked off in 1876 from Bexar and Young counties and named for Andrew Kent, one of the so-called "Immortal Thirty-two" from Gonzales, who became immortal by dying at the Alamo (some scholars question that the number was thirty-two, or that they were all from Gonzales). Until Kent County was organized, Scurry County assumed the duties of judicial administration. Cattleman R. L. Rhomberg settled in Kent County in 1888 and named a midcounty settlement Clairemont for his daughter, Claire. The county did not attract many settlers. In 1890 the census counted only 324 residents, scattered over forty-eight farms and ranches. Almost 4,200 cattle were counted in Kent County that year, but farming of the four major county crops (corn, oats, wheat, and cotton) occupied less than 500 acres total. In 1891 a conflict arose between fence-cutting ranchers and nesters who tried to fence their farms against cattle. Much of the northeastern part of the county was included in the great SMS ranches, a complex of some 300,000 acres originally established by S. M. Swenson.
Kent County was organized in 1892 with Clairemont as the county seat, and settlement accelerated. By 1900, 899 people lived in the county and 134 farms and ranches had been established. Oats (3,330 acres) and corn (1,069 acres) were the county's most popular crops, but the cattle business continued to dominate the economy; almost 29,600 cattle were counted in Kent County that year. In 1909 the Stamford and Northeastern Railway built a line across the county's northeast corner. The railroad, which connected Stamford and Spur, later became part of the Wichita Valley Railroad. As the railroad encouraged the settlement of Swedes and others, Jayton was founded in the eastern part of the county in 1909. By 1910 Kent County included 326 farms, and the county population had reached 2,655.
The county continued to grow during the 1920s. In 1920, it had 412 farms and 3,335 residents; by 1930 the farms numbered 588 and residents 3,851. Like other West Texas counties during these years, Kent County became less dominated by the cattle industry and more focused on crop production. In 1920 the census counted fewer than 18,000 cattle, while cotton, the most important crop, was planted on 19,410 acres; and more than 7,200 acres was planted in corn and wheat that year. The trend extended into the 1920s; fewer than 16,000 cattle were counted in Kent County in 1930, while almost 49,000 acres was devoted to cotton culture. In 1930 the county's population peaked at 3,851, then dropped dramatically over the next twenty years as the county lost 134 farms between 1930 and 1940 and another 117 between 1940 and 1950. Unlike some nearby counties, Kent County never really recovered from the agricultural decline brought on by the Great Depression and the subsequent disenchantment with dry-land farming. By 1950, only 2,249 people lived in the county.
Fortunately, petroleum production helped to balance the economy after World War II. Oil was first discovered in Kent County in 1946, and production was 17,944 barrels in 1948; it rose to 6,007,000 barrels in 1956, then dropped during the early 1960s before rising again. It was about 18,952,000 barrels in 1974, 13,850,000 in 1978, 10,525,000 in 1982, and 11,384,000 in 1990. By 1991 more than 448,448,000 barrels had been produced in the county since 1946.
The population dropped to 1,727 in 1960, 1,434 in 1970, 1,145 in 1980, and 1,010 in 1990. Jayton became the county seat in 1954, after a two-year political struggle. Clairemont's growth had long been retarded by lack of rail service, and after 1954 the town was largely abandoned. As of 2014, 785 people lived in the county. Of those, 79.9 percent were Anglo, 1.2 percent African American, and 17 percent Hispanic. Jayton (population, 516) has more than half of the county's residents. Girard, Clairemont, and Polar are other communities. The county's highway network includes State highways 70 and 208 (north to south) and U.S. Highway 380 (west to east). Hunters are attracted to the area, and tourists visit the scenic Croton Breaks nearby in Dickens County.
Jewell G. Pritchett and Erma B. Black, Kent County and Its People (Rotan, Texas: Rotan Advance, 1983).
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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, "Kent County," accessed March 22, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hck05.
Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on February 8, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.