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Carson County, Texas

An early pioneer of the Texas Panhandle, Judge J. C. Paul, recalls Carson County when he first arrived in January 1888: “It was a beautiful, smooth prairie, as far as the eye could see – not a tree – not even a shrub knee high to hide a jack rabbit, for miles in every direction. No fences, no roads, no houses, only a few people around Panhandle, the only settlement then in all of that plains county.”

He recalls the soul occupants being great herds of antelope, which had replaced the buffalo. When Judge Paul first arrived to the Llano Estacado piles of American bison bones still dotted the land.

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This is only about one-third of a huge herd of antelope we discovered on an early winter morning as we popped over a small rise.

Carson County was organized in 1888 with the following: O. H. Nelson as County Judge, W. C. Bright as County Clerk, J. C. Paul as County Treasurer, T. N. Adams as Sheriff. Panhandle City was to be a temporary depot for the Santa Fe Railroad line which was being built from Kiowa, Kansas.

“This little group of prospectors had simple tastes, but must have had a vision and purpose to have fought successfully the dust and the wind and the droughts…” Judge Paul writes.


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School was held in available rooms around town, with students sitting on boxes and borrowed benches. One of the teachers, Miss Kate Roberts, became the Sheriff’s wife at the first wedding ceremony held in the county. Water came from Miami, fifty miles away. Every Saturday, the towns people scanned the horizon watching for the twenty to thirty water wagons. It wasn’t until several years later that an abundance of water was discovered to have been underneath their feet all along. They just had to drill for it.


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The cattle herds trailed through in 1895 on their way to Wyoming and Montana, bringing hundreds of cowboys. Square dances provide the first entertainment, soon followed by pony races and horse racing. Professional gamblers frequented the gambling halls with adjoining saloons and dance halls. Judge Paul recalls, “And many an old-time cowboy, such as Mac Sanford and Cal Merchant, could tell interesting tales of how it felt to leave town dead broke, to follow the chuck wagon another month.”


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That cowboy, Mac Sanford, married a judge’s daughter, Garland Snow Whiteside. They set up house in a dugout and raised beef cattle establishing the Sanford Ranch. It’s on this grassland that our cows graze today.

Sanford Ranch Dugout ca. 1895, Carson County, Texas.

Sanford Ranch Dugout ca. 1895, Carson County, Texas.

The judge recalls one subject continually discussed in those early days; will this country ever produce anything but grass? Should the great pasture lands of the plains be turned by a farmer’s plow? The older cow men argued that to cultivate the sod would ruin the land for countless generations.

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Today the 25,610 square miles known as the Texas Panhandle produces an abundance of many things including cattle, cotton, wheat, and dairy products. The people are just as hard-working and determined too. Our  joined efforts continue to “make two blades of grass to grow where but one had grown before.”

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The town of Panhandle, Texas is located in the central part of the Texas Panhandle. Originally called Carson City, then later Panhandle City, it is the county seat of Carson County. Learn more about the story of this area at the Carson County Square House Museum complex located in Panhandle.

About Natalie

Natalie Cline Bright is a blogger and author of the fun, historical western TROUBLE IN TEXAS series for middle grades, the RESCUE ANIMAL eBook series, and is currently working on an action-packed novel for young adults, WOLF’S WAR. Read about Natalie’s grandmother and her cherry salad recipe, recently selected for “THE WESTERN WRITERS OF AMERICA COOKBOOK: Favorite Recipes, Cooking Tips, and Writing Wisdom” (TwoDot Publishing, June 2017).

REF Panhandle Plains Historical Review 1932.