Cimarron County History

CIMARRON COUNTY

Source: The Oklahoma Historical Society

Covering a total land and water area of 1,842.2 square miles, Cimarron County is the farthest west of the three Oklahoma Panhandle counties. Black Mesa, in the northeastern corner of the county, is the highest point in Oklahoma, rising to 4,972.97 feet above sea level. In the county's northern portion the Cimarron River flows eastward turning north into Kansas, while the North Canadian, or Beaver River, traverses the county's southern section. Cimarron is the only county in the United States that touches five states: Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and its own, Oklahoma. Kenton, in the far northwestern corner, is the only Oklahoma community on Mountain Time. The county is served by U.S. Highways 56/65/412 east and west and 287/385 north and south. 

In the Black Mesa area numerous dinosaur tracks and fossils have been discovered, including examples of brontosaurus, camptosaurus, stegosaurus, and ceratosaurus. The area's paleontological history is commemorated on State Highway 325 east of Kenton, where a replica of a brontosaurus femur on a pedestal sits outside a dinosaur quarry. Also near Kenton, the Kenton Caves contained artifacts that represent thousands of years of area occupation. A few of the finds include rock art, projectile points, potsherds, seeds, storage bags, cloth, shell jewelry, the desiccated body of a child, and other items. One of the last precontact groups to live in the area would have been the Antelope Phase Culture (between 1200 and 1500 A.D.). Francisco Vasquez de Coronado may have crossed the county on his return trip from Quivira in Kansas. At Castle Rock, a publicly inaccessible, controversial landmark, the explorer (or more likely a member of his party) may have been the one who inscribed the words "Coronatto 1541" into the stone. Autograph Rock, northwest of Boise City, is a well-documented feature of the famed Cimarron Cutoff of the Santa Fe Trail, which transects Cimarron County. On the rock face are more than three hundred signatures dating from the early nineteenth century into the twentieth century. Cold Spring and Inscription Rock Historic District were listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1994 (NR 94000317). 

Prior to the Oklahoma Organic Act of May 2, 1890, there was no law in No Man's Land, also called the Public Land Strip (now known as the Oklahoma Panhandle), and scant population in what later became Cimarron County. Of the inhabitants, some were felons searching for places to avoid the law, a few were sheep ranchers from New Mexico Territory, and several were cattle ranchers from surrounding states. There were no schools in the county and only one post office, Mineral City, before 1890. 

In 1890 the entire Public Land Strip became Beaver County, Oklahoma Territory, and in that year the United States conducted the first census. Only two communities in the area, Carrizo (just over the line, in New Mexico Territory) and Mineral City, had enough residents to bother enumerating. Carrizo claimed eighty-three inhabitants and Mineral City ninety-eight. According to that census, the two earliest citizens, John Threldkell, from Kentucky, and Charles Grammar, a German immigrant, had been there since 1873. Earlier, a prominent New Mexican sheepherding family, the Bacas, ran sheep in the county. A few of their pastores, including Juan Cruz Lujan, continued sheep ranching in Cimarron County into the twentieth century. 

At 1907 statehood Cimarron County was created, and within it were twenty post offices and fifty-six schools. In 1908 the Southwestern Immigration and Development Company of Guthrie, Oklahoma, composed of J. E. Stanley, A. J. Kline, and W. T. Douglas, established the town of Boise City. Seven communities fought for the county seat designation, including Boise City (approximately in the center of the county), Cimarron (three miles north of Boise City), Doby (five miles northwest of Boise City), Hurley (five miles northeast of Boise City), Willowbar (twelve miles east of Boise City), and Centerview (location unknown). Rail access arrived relatively late. The Elkhart and Santa Fe Railway completed a line from Elkhart, Kansas, into the county in 1925 and on into New Mexico in 1932, but service ended in 1942. The same corporation completed tracks from Colorado to Boise City in 1931 and south to Texas in 1937. Operated as part of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway system, by 2000 the remaining line was part of the Burlington-Northern Santa Fe system. 

Until the county seat election of June 11, 1908, Kenton, which had previously been named the temporary county seat, held the county records. Boise City won a runoff election over Doby to capture the designation. A Boise City contingent soon confiscated the county seat papers, prior to the end of the mandatory thirty-day waiting period, creating a controversy and a local legend that Boise City stole the courthouse. 

Agriculture and cattle ranching remained the economic base throughout the twentieth century. Wheat and grain sorghum were important crops. After the area recovered from the 1930s devastating dust storms that centered in the Panhandle, the wheat harvest rose to a high of 4.7 million bushels in 1980; grain sorghum also peaked in 1980 at 4.6 million bushels. There were 481 farms in 2000, involving 1,077,004 acres of land. In the 1950s the county earnestly commenced natural gas and oil extraction, with 7,411,981 barrels of oil and 1,316,791,103 cubic feet of natural gas produced between 1979 and 1993. In 1959 a large extraction plant at Keyes began taking advantage of rich helium gas deposits beneath the area. Cimarron County's per capita income in 2000 was $22,907, ranking ninth of the seventy-seven Oklahoma counties. 

In 1907 the population stood at 5,927. Census counts have varied since statehood, generally trending lower, with 4,553 in 1910, 3,436 in 1920, 5,408 in 1930, 4,589 in 1950, 4,145 in 1970, 3,301 in 1990 and 3,148 in 2000. In 1930 the populations of the existing towns included Boise City, 746, Keyes, 252, Felt, 136, and Kenton, 96. During World War II 428 men and women from Cimarron County served their country. Population figures in 2000 revealed that the majority of residents were white, and Hispanics ranked second. 

Historical and natural points of interest attract tourists to Cimarron County. Traces of the Santa Fe Trail can be seen at many locations. The remnants of Camp Nichols, a historic military site, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places (NR 66000628) and is a National Historic Landmark. Col. Christopher "Kit" Carson established the camp in 1865 to protect the Cimarron Cutoff. The lack of law enforcement in No Man's Land attracted several outlaws, and one such group, led by William Coe, reportedly built a rock building on top of a strategically situated mesa that became known as Robbers' Roost. Lake Carl Etling, inside the Black Mesa State Park, Rita Blanca National Grassland, and numerous mesas attract many hikers and outdoors enthusiasts to the area. The Cimarron Heritage House in Boise City interprets the county's history. Actor Vera Miles was born in Boise City, and western movie hero Jack Hoxie moved to Keyes after he retired from the film industry. 

BIBLIOGRAPHY: W. David Baird, "Agriculture in the Oklahoma Panhandle, 1898-1942," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 72 (Summer 1994). William E. Baker, "A History of Cimarron County," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 31 (Autumn 1953). Berenice Jackson, Jewel Carlisle, and Iris Colwell, Man and the Oklahoma Panhandle (North Newton, Kans.: Mennonite Press, 1982). Richard Lowitt, "From Petroleum to Pigs: The Oklahoma Panhandle in the Last Half of the Twentieth Century," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 80 (Fall 2002). Norma Gene Young, Still Not a Stop Light in the County (Boise City, Okla.: Yucca Publishing Company, 1997). Norma Gene Young, ed., The Tracks We Followed (Amarillo, Tex.: Southwestern Publications, 1991). 

Norma Gene Young

© Oklahoma Historical Society

For an expanded History of Cimarron County including early photograghs,
please visit the Oklahoma Historical Society website

History of the Region

Source: Oklahoma Byways

Agriculture and Farming

The Cimarron County area has become diversified in its economic growth. The production of feed grains contributes greatly to the economy of Cimarron County and the surrounding area. Improved farming techniques and present research are helping to maintain high yields. Irrigated land has decreased in Cimarron County due to the cost of natural gas needed to fuel irrigation engines. Along with numerous individual ranchers, Cimarron County has three feedlots and one dairy. A grape vineyard for wine production is in its infancy as a diverse crop. Producers are currently experimenting with soybeans, cotton, potatoes, grass seed production, and other crops.

Ranching

Ranching in the area dates back to the 1870’s and has been a major industry in the region since that time. 

Dust Bowl

By the time Cimarron Territory was organized as part of Oklahoma Territory, the settlers had arrived and to farm over-graze the land. This over-grazing and farming along with the driest summer on record led into the “Dust Bowl Era”. During these dry years, excessive heating of bare soil caused the winds to be abnormally strong. During the 1930’s there were numerous severe dust storms. (Conservation Guide)

Cowboys

In addition to cattle drives and ranching, some outlaws were also present in the region historically. Some of these famous outlaws included the Coe Gang and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Outlaws led primarily by the Coe Gang set up a small fortress just southeast of Black Mesa know as “Robbers’ Roost”. Because of the menace to wagon trains, Kit Carson was ordered in 1865 by the U.S. War Department to establish a military post in New Mexico Territory to secure the Santa Fe Trail. Carson did establish Camp Nichols in the area, but it was located three miles from the territory line in No Man’s Land. The camp was abandoned later the same year; however, rock ruins still outline the camp today. 

Native American Tribes

Prior to settlement by pioneers, this region was part of the homeland of such Plains Indian tribes as: Kiowa, Comanche, Cheyenne and Arapaho. The Plains tribes lived a nomadic life as they followed the vast herds of buffalo which roamed the Great Plains. For thousands of years, small bands of Native Americans traveled across this vast, open land in pursuit of wild game. The bison or buffalo provided food, clothing, shelter, and implements. Until the 1700’s Plains Tribes had to hunt buffalo on foot. Hunting techniques included stalking individual animals or stampeding a herd into a box canyon or over a cliff. 

With the settlement of the Southern Great Plains by the Spanish and Mexican cultures, domesticated horses became available to the Plains Tribes. By the 1700’s most of the Plains tribes owned horses. The horse dramatically changed the lives of these native people by allowing them to become more mobile. Tribes who effectively used the horse for hunting and warfare dominated the plains region. The Kiowa and Comanche were particularly well-known as excellent horsemen. The Plains Indians aggressively defended their homeland against intruders. Wagon trains on the nearby Santa Fe Trail were subject to Indian attack. Following the Civil War, the U.S. Army focused much of its attention on removal of these tribes from the Plains. The extermination of the buffalo, along with the Army’s bloody campaigns against the southern Plains tribes in 1867-69, eventually forced these tribes to live on reservations in southwest Oklahoma. Their nomadic, free-ranging, way of life had sadly come to an end. 

Oil and Gas History

Production of oil and gas has been going on in Cimarron County since the drilling of the Ramsey oil well north of Boise City in 1926. The first gas well was drilled during the early 1940’s in the Keyes field north of Keyes by the Pure Oil Co. 

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