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PARMER COUNTY. Parmer County, on the western border of the Panhandle of Texas, is bordered on the west by New Mexico, on the north by Deaf Smith County, on the east by Castro County, and on the south by Bailey and Lamb counties. The county is on the High Plains of Texas, and its center is located at 34°33' north latitude and 102°47' west longitude. Farwell, the county seat, is on the Texas-New Mexico border, fifteen miles southwest of the center of the county and eighty-five miles southwest of Amarillo. The county was named for Martin Parmer, an early settler and Texas Revolution veteran. Parmer County occupies 859 square miles of level plains surfaced by sandy, clay, and loam soils. These soils support some native grasses, but now the land is largely cultivated and produces abundant corn, sugar beets, and potatoes, as well as sorghums, cotton, wheat, hay, and soybeans. The elevation ranges from 3,800 to 4,202 feet above sea level, and the county is bisected from northwest to southeast by Running Water Draw, an intermittent but flood-prone creek. Lesser dry arroyos, such as Catfish Draw and Frio Draw, also serve to break the level plains in some areas. Rainfall averages 17.50 inches per year. The average annual minimum temperature is 21° F in January, and the average maximum is 92° F in July. The growing season averages 183 days per year.
The region including Parmer County has remained rather isolated throughout its history. It is possible that the José Mares expedition from Santa Fe to San Antonio crossed the northeastern corner of the county in 1787, but for the most part the region remained under the control of its aboriginal inhabitants. Apaches occupied the Panhandle-Plains until they were pushed out around 1700 by the Kiowas and Comanches, who ruled the Texas High Plains between 1700 and the end of the Red River War in 1874. After their defeat and removal to Indian Territory, the Parmer County region was opened for white settlement.
In 1876 Parmer County was established by the Texas legislature from lands formerly assigned to the Bexar District. No settlement occurred in the county until 1882. In January of that year the Capitol Syndicate agreed to build a new state capitol in return for 3,000,000 acres of land in West Texas. Parmer County lay entirely within the lands granted to the Chicago syndicate for its huge XIT Ranch. For the rest of the century Parmer County remained unorganized and unpopulated, except for the XIT cowboys. The 1890 population of seven grew only to thirty-four by 1900, and ranching dominated the region. According to the United States agricultural census for 1900, the XIT (the only ranch in the area at the time) extended across 150,000 acres of Parmer County land. The census reported 13,675 cattle in the county that year; only 350 acres were considered to be "improved," and no crops were reported. While the area was solely devoted to cattle in 1900, developments that would reshape the area had already begun to occur. In 1898 the Pecos and Northern Texas Railway Company began construction of a ninety-five-mile branch line from Amarillo to the Texas-New Mexico border. On this line, which was eventually to run from Amarillo to the Santa Fe main line in Belen, New Mexico, grew several communities in Parmer County. Parmerton appeared in 1898 as a Capitol Syndicate townsite, while Black, Friona, and Bovina appeared the same year as switches and townsites on the line. Farwell, established in 1904 and surveyed in 1905, was founded by the syndicate as a central point from which the company could administer the sales of XIT lands. The appearance of Farwell led to the quick demise of Parmerton. In 1904 the Capitol Syndicate launched a campaign to sell the holdings of the XIT Ranch to land speculators, smaller ranchers, and farmers. Between 1904 and 1910 farmers slowly but steadily arrived to establish new operations, and by 1910 there were 161 farms and ranches in the county. About 7,000 acres was planted in corn, the county's most important crop, that year; another 2,000 acres was planted in wheat, and 4,900 acres was devoted to sorghum. By 1920 there were 212 farms and ranches in the county; about 15,000 acres was planted in sorghum that year, along with 1,300 acres of corn and 5,370 acres of wheat. Meanwhile, reflecting this early growth, the population of the county rose to 1,555 by 1910 and to 1,699 by 1920. During these early years of agricultural development, the citizens decided to organize the county and establish a local government. Accordingly, a petition for organization passed through the county in May of 1907. On May 7 an election to choose county officials and a county seat was held. Parmerton became the county seat, but in another election held in December 1907, the county's voters chose Farwell to become county seat in 1908.
The agricultural growth of the years between 1904 and 1920 set the stage for greater expansion that occurred in the county between 1920 and 1930. A tremendous amount of range land was put into production, and the population grew accordingly. By 1930 the county had 818 farms and ranches, and 100,000 acres was planted in sorghum, 11,000 acres in corn, 2,500 acres in wheat, and 4,500 acres in cotton. Poultry raising was also becoming a significant part of the county economy; more than 62,000 chickens were reported in the county in 1930, and local farmers sold 255,000 dozens of eggs that year. Though cattle ranching was declining in its relative importance to the local economy, there were almost 15,375 cattle reported in Parmer County that year. Reflecting these trends the population of Parmer County more than doubled during the 1920s; by 1930 it was 5,869. The growth slowed but continued during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Cropland harvested in the county grew from 225,000 acres in 1930 to 281,000 acres in 1940; by that year, there were 915 farms in the county. Over 109,000 acres in the county was planted in wheat by 1940, and 15,000 acres was planted in cotton. The population of the county also grew slightly during the depression, rising to 5,890 by 1940. Though Parmer County declined somewhat during the 1940s, the area regained its economic impetus in the 1950s, when rapid growth was encouraged by a dramatic increase in irrigated farming, as irrigation wells were drilled into the huge Ogallala aquifer. The county's population grew from 5,787 in 1950 to 9,583 by 1960. The development of a large cattle feedlot industry in the county in the 1960s also contributed to the county's growth. There were 10,509 people living in Parmer County in 1970 and 11,038 by 1980. The population declined during the 1980s, however, and in 1990 the area's population was 9,863. The census counted 9,908 people living in the county in 2014. About 36.6 percent were Anglo, 1.6 percent African American, and 61.4 percent Hispanic.
As the farm economy of the county expanded, a transportation network emerged to handle the crops and to link the county to the outside world. In 1913 the Pecos and Northern Texas Railway built a branch line from Farwell to Lubbock to complement its earlier line to Amarillo. While the automobile was becoming a vital part of America's everyday life, a road network was built in the county. By the early 1920s a crude graded road, State Road 33 (now U.S. Highway 60), linked Farwell to Amarillo via Bovina, Friona, Hereford, and Canyon, while an even cruder track (later U.S. Highway 84) tied Farwell to Lubbock via Muleshoe and Littlefield. During the 1930s both of these routes were paved, and the primitive system grew to include dirt-surfaced farm and ranch roads. After World War II a building and paving boom resulted in the road network of the 1980s. The voters of Parmer County supported the Democratic candidates in virtually every presidential election between 1908 and 1956; the only exceptions occurred in 1928, when they supported Herbert Hoover over Al Smith, and in 1952, when they supported Dwight D. Eisenhower over Adlai Stevenson. In elections from 1960 through 2004, however, Parmer County's voters almost always backed Republican candidates. The only exceptions occurred in 1964, when Lyndon B. Johnson took the county, and in 1976, when the county's voters supported Jimmy Carter. By the 1980s Parmer County was recognized as one of the leading agricultural counties in Texas. Its yearly agricultural income averaged $215 million, a sum derived from a mix of cattle ranching, feedlot operations, and wheat, corn, cotton, and grain sorghum production. In 1983 the county had 309,000 acres planted in crops, of which 260,000 was irrigated. No production of oil or gas was reported. In 2002 the county had 660 farms and ranches covering 576,461 acres, 79 percent of which were devoted to crops and 15 percent to pasture. In that year farmers and ranchers in the area earned $603,910,000, placing Parmer County among the leading Texas counties in farm income; livestock sales accounted for $531,867,000 of the total. Beef cattle were the county's most important product, but crops such as wheat, corn, cotton, grain sorghum, alfalfa, apples, and potatoes were also raised there. Most of the people who lived in Parmer County resided in the towns and communities of the county; the remainder of the population resided on farms or ranches or in close proximity to the many feedlot operations found in the county. By 2000 nearly one-half of the county's residents were of Mexican descent. Communities included Farwell (population, 1,287), the county's seat of government and an agribusiness and trade center; Friona (3,911); Bovina (1,761); Lazbuddie (248); Lariat; Oklahoma Lane; Black; and Rhea.
Frank H. Hayne, "Early Days in Parmer County," West Texas Historical Association Year Book 23 (1947). Highways of Texas, 1927 (Houston: Gulf Oil and Refining, 1927). Parmer County Historical Society, A History of Parmer County (Quanah, Texas: Nortex, 1974). S. G. Reed, A History of the Texas Railroads (Houston: St. Clair, 1941; rpt., New York: Arno, 1981).
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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, Donald R. Abbe, "PARMER COUNTY," accessed August 21, 2019, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hcp04.
Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on September 2, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.