MARTIN COUNTY. Martin County, on the southern High Plains of west Central Texas, comprises 911 square miles and is bounded on the north by Dawson County, on the west by Andrews County, on the east by Howard County, and on the South by Midland and Glasscock counties. Its center lies at 32°18' north latitude and 101°70' west longitude, twenty-five miles northeast of Midland, and its elevation is 2,550 to 3,000 feet. Soils are predominantly red sandy loam; trees include hackberry, wild china, willow, plum, and mesquite. The annual average rainfall is 15.72 inches. The January minimum temperature averages 30° F, and the average maximum in July is 95° F. The growing season of 215 days produces a $36 million annual agricultural income, 90 percent of which is derived from the production of cotton, small grains, and corn, with the remainder from cattle, hogs, and goats. In 1982 the county produced 8,859,780 barrels of oil valued at $234 million. Sulphur Spring Creek, a tributary of the Colorado River, and Mustang Creek, a tributary of the North Concho River, drain the northern and southern portions of the county, respectively.
Comanche Indians displaced Lipan Apaches in the region in the mid-eighteenth century and were in turn forced out by the United States Army after the Civil War. Martin County was formed on August 21, 1876, from Bexar County and named for Wylie Martin, one of Stephen F. Austin's Old Three Hundred colonists. Martin County was attached to Mitchell County for administrative purposes for five months and then attached to Howard County until 1884, when the county was reduced to its present size and organized with Mariensfield (now Stanton) as the county seat. The first white settlement in what is now Martin County was Grelton (later known as Mariensfield), which was established in 1881 by John Konz and his family under the sponsorship of the Texas and Pacific Railway. Railroad promotion was a key element in attracting settlers to West Texas. "It is emphatically the country for the poor man," urged one railroad brochure. "No matter how poor a man may be, if he has health he may easily become the possessor of independent wealth in a few years." In support of such optimistic forecasts the railroad started a twenty-acre experimental farm at Grelton for wheat, barley, rye, and oats. The region was pleasing in appearance and well watered by springs, including Mustang Pond, where United States Army officers had once observed Indians watering 1,000 mustangs. "This beautiful country," said one pioneer, "was just a lush garden with green plums, prairie chicken, and quail galore." In 1881 the Texas and Pacific line began service to its lands in the Martin County area, which it sold to settlers for $1.50 to two dollars per acre. The drought of 1886 almost depopulated the nascent community. Settlers planted grain, cotton, vegetables, vines, and orchards and hunted antelope, deer, quail, and the few buffalo still remaining, to become self-sustaining. Cattle and, especially, sheep were introduced in greater numbers in the mid-1880s to utilize range not already preempted by Christopher C. Slaughter and others who had run cattle since 1877. Slaughter's 37,500 section Lazy S Ranch extended into Martin County and had its headquarters at Mustang Spring. By 1890, 3,316 cattle and 12,600 sheep were in the county; by 1900, however, sheep raising was clearly on the wane, while cattle ranching had increased significantly. In 1890 only 663 sheep but 32,000 cattle were reported. Sheep farming would not really become an important part of Martin County's economy again until the 1930s.
Immigration to the area intensified after Konz encouraged a group of Carmelite priests from Anderson County to move to Martin County to establish a monastery. The name of the original settlement, Grelton, was changed to Mariensfield (Field of Mary) by German settlers from Anderson County. Encouraged by Christian D. (Father Anastasius) Peters, immigrants also moved to Martin County directly from Germany. The first Catholic Mass in the county was celebrated on the site of the present county courthouse. During the early 1880s a newspaper, the Mariensfield News, began to be published in the county, and in 1884 Martin County's first school was established. By 1890, when Mariensfield's name was changed to Stanton, the area had a much more settled character than it had only ten years earlier. In 1880 only twelve people lived in the county; by 1890 the population had risen to 262, and by 1900 332 people were living in Martin County. By 1905 Stanton had become a major shipping point in the region; ranchers from as distant as 150 miles to the south drove herds there. In the early twentieth century Martin County prospered and received a new wave of settlers, as land promoters subdivided cattle range into farmsites, and a railroad connection to the north, passing through Lamesa, was constructed. As late as 1900 only thirty-three farms and 203 acres of improved land were in the county, but by 1910 there were 147 farms and 14,500 acres of improved land. That year 2,000 acres were planted in corn, the county's most important crop at that time. Almost 900 acres were devoted to forage, and 946 were planted in cotton. By 1920, however, cotton had become the county's leading crop. Almost 6,700 acres were planted in cotton that year, while only 410 acres were devoted to corn production. Much of this expansion can be attributed to high prices and demand stimulated by the World War I. But increases continued into the 1920s, even as foreign and domestic markets diminished and prices fell. By 1930 80,000 acres in Martin County were planted in cotton, and sorghum (24,735 acres) had become the county's second most important crop. This growth in farm production, and particularly cotton production, in the county was mirrored by population growth during the same period. In 1920 only 1,146 people lived in Martin County, but by 1930 the population was 5,785.
The Great Depression years of the 1930s were difficult for farmers, although the Bankhead Cotton Control Act of 1934 and the Soil Conservation Act helped stabilize the market, and the Domestic Act of 1936 provided incentives for soil conservation. Other federal relief measures may have contributed to survival, if not prosperity, through the 1930s. The World War II years were prosperous. The small irrigated section of the county was increased dramatically, and within ten years Martin County had 20,000 acres of farmland irrigated by sprinklers and another 2,500 in flood irrigation. The yield on each irrigated acre of cotton land was 1½ bales, compared with one bale for nonirrigated land. Water depletion in the 1960s halted the expansion of irrigation, however. Of the 150,000 acres in cotton in the late 1970s, only 20,000 acres were irrigated. Petroleum development was late in coming to Martin County. There was some drilling in the early 1920s, and a producing well was drilled in 1945, when the shallow Mabee field in Andrews County was extended into southwestern Martin County. The first commercial petroleum production occurred in 1950, when the Texas Company drilled over 13,000 feet into the northwest section of the county; more than 90,000 barrels of oil were produced in the county that year. In 1951 three additional fields were located: Glass in the southwest, Breedlove in the northwest, and Stanton in the southwest. Petroleum production quickly became an important part of Martin County's economy. In 1956 615,000 barrels of oil were extracted from Martin County lands, and in 1960 1,392,000 barrels were pumped. In 1974, 11,833,000 barrels of crude were produced there. Production decreased during the late 1970s and through the 1980s but nevertheless remained significant. In 1990, 7,884,000 barrels were produced, and by 1991, 227,421,000 barrels of oil had been produced in the county since 1945. The population of the county was 5,556 in 1940, 5,541 in 1950, 4,956 in 1990, and 5,460 in 2014. Of those, about 52 percent were Anglo, 2.1 percent African American, and 44.7 percent Hispanic. Since the 1950s Martin County has been a member of the Colorado River Municipal Water District and shares construction costs of pipelines, dams, and reservoirs with other communities. Stanton (2,847) is the largest town in the county. Other communities are Ackerly (232, partly in Dawson County), Lenorah, Flower Grove, and Tarzan. U.S. Highway 80 (Interstate 20) crosses the southwestern corner of the county, and U.S. Highway 87 crosses the northeastern tip. State highways 137, 349, and 176 provide other routes.
Pat W. Hull and Fay E. Smithson, Martin County: The First Thirty Years (Hereford, Texas: Pioneer, 1970). Vernen Liles, Pioneering on the Plains: The History of Martin County, Texas (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1953). Martin County Historical Commission, Martin County, Texas (Dallas: Taylor, 1979).
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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, "MARTIN COUNTY," accessed July 06, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hcm03.
Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on December 6, 2019. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.