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Dickens County and its History

*Historic big-ranch country on Rolling Plains of West Texas just below the Caprock, created in 1876 and organized 1891 from Bexar District. The legend is that it was named for J. Dickens, hero of Texas Revolution. Research has shown there was no J. Dickens but there was a patriot by the name of James Dempkins so "Dickens" was probably a result of variance in the spelling of the name. Soldier´s Mound near Spur was an army supply camp for General Mackenzie´s forces.
*Altitude is 2,000 - 3,000 feet, with about 15,000 acres on the High Plains in NW corner of the county with the remaining lands rolling to broke. Rough Croton Breaks are in SE portion. Good ground cover is provided for quail, dove and small game.
*Most of the county was originally land of big ranches - Spur (Swenson), Matador and Pitchfork. The Pitchfork is the only one still intact, (the others having been broken up into small ranches) and has increased in size by adding some of the Matador land to make the present total approximately 166,000 acres (part in King County). Pitchfork celebrated its 100th year of operation by the same family in 1983.
*The ranches, devoted to primarily raising beef cattle are mostly in rolling and rough lands. The land which lies on the high plains above the Cap Rock is mostly used for farming as are the level areas scattered through the county. There is some irrigation and the principal crops are cotton and feed grains for cattle. Oil production is very small.
*The population in 1986 was 3,539. It is semi arid with an annual rainfall of around 21 inches.

Dickens County History

Source: Dickens County History...its Land and People 1986 by Dickens Historical Commission

Dickens County was at one time on the edge of the sea. Prehistoric reptile remains and shells are frequently found.

"In 1920 Professor E.C. Case, paleontologist for the University of Michigan found, near Spur, a sub-order of prehistoric reptile hitherto unknown to the scientific world, Desmatosuchus Spurensis (named for Spur). It was eighteen feet long and in remarkably good state of preservation. A splendid picture of this petrified giant reptile is available, showing form of life which inhabited this section millions of years prior to the Masodon age. Remains of the Mastodon (*much larger than the Elephant) are found in Dickens. County.

It is interesting also to realize that eons later this country was above the cap rock and on the Llano Estacado or Staked Plains. Scientists advise that the cap rock was once far east and south of its present location, and that covering a period of untold centuries the process of erosion has pushed it continuously backward."

Dickens County was created in 1876 from Bexar County and later was successively attached to Mitchell County and Baylor County for judicial purposes, but was finally organized March 19, 1891. The County was named from J. Dickens, (actually J. Dinkens, sometimes quoted in history as J. Dempkins) who gave his life in the Battle of the Alamo.

Dickens County was at one time nearly all owned by the Matador Ranch and the Spur Ranch, the latter owned successively by the Espuela Cattle Company, Ltd., of London, from whom S.M. Swenson and Sons and associates acquired the Spur Ranch in 1907.


West Texas in 1870 was a wild unsettled land, with no white settlers, Indians roamed the plains, hunting buffalo and other game, graveling over this area.

The buffalo had begun to move out of the plains area into the Caprock Country. Thousands upon thousands of these wooly beasts would eventually make the Caprock area their home.

Probably the first white men to try to live in this area were Rath and Reynolds, in 1875. They tried to establish a trading post in Motley County at TeePee City. It was reported they only stayed about two weeks before hostile Indians drove them out.

In 1871, General Mackenzie was camped at Fort Concho, when he was ordered to Comanche County to capture or kill these Indians. He came by way of Grapevine and Kickapoo Springs and crossed the Colorado River, where the town of Snyder is now located, going down to Double Mountain Creek. He went between two mountains, one still known as Mackenzie Mountain, the other was flat-topped. He crossed Double Mountain below the mouth of Yellow House creek, then by way of the Salt Fork of Brazos, which he crossed at the Mouth of Catfish. He then went up Red Mud Creek, on to where he located Camp Swan, in what is now Dickens County.

Camp Swan or Soldiers Mound is located about four miles north of the present town of Spur. This would be his headquarters for the raids into deeper West Texas after the Comanche.

Soldiers Mound was supplied out of Fort Griffin. General Mackenzie would make several trips out of Dickens County during the next few years.

The 1870´s were turbulent years for the State of Texas. Texas like other States in the South would go through reconstruction with many changes in State Government.

In 1874 the Texas Legislature adopted a new constitution. All of West Texas at this time was in Bexar County. The Crosby County Land District was created in this Constitution. Most of the area was still in Bexar County but attached to the Crosby County Land District.

Two years later another State Constitution was adopted. This Constitution would create 54 counties out of Crosby County Land District in West Texas. This legislation was adopted on August 21, 1876. The session laws creating Dickens County were very brief only saying Dickens County would be named for J. Dickens (J. Dinkins or J. Dempkins some records show) who died in the Alamo.

After General Mackenzie made West Texas safe from the Indians; settlers began to move westward. First came the buffalo hunters. Great herds of these wooly beasts roamed this area. In 1875 Goldstein of St. Louis sent hide buyers out to Texas. The great hunt was on. The buffalo were slaughtered all over the area, only the hides were taken with the rest left to rot. As late as the 1930´s buffalo bones were found all over this area.

One of the first buffalo hunters was named Patton, who camped at a spring on the south side of the Tongue River. This spring would be the namesake of Patton Springs school. Sanders was another buffalo hunter who camped over in the present East Afton area and named a creek after himself. Sanders Hollow runs about 1/2 mile east of the present site of East Afton.

By the late 1870´s buffalo began to leave and settlers arrived. The first area of the county to be settled was on Dockum Creek, named for W.C. Dockum who established a store and trading post on the south side of this creek. This is in the present Highway Community. Tap, Croton, Afton and along Duck Creek on the south county line would soon be attracting settlers.

In the late 1890´s a drive was undertaken to try to obtain signatures of 150 qualified voters requesting the Crosby County Commissioners Court permission to organize a county. On February 10, 1891 Crosby County Commissioners Court approved this petition and Crosby County Judge E.B. Covington ordered an election to be held to select the first officers of the county and select a county seat. Voting and Commissioner precincts were designated as voting places: Precinct#1 - W.L. Browning residence; Precinct#2 - School house on Cottonwood Creek; Precinct#3 - Dockums ranch; and Precinct #4 - A.J. Hagins residence.

The election was called for on March 14, 1891.

The following officials were elected for the newly created Dickens County: A.J. McClain - County Judge, D.S. Dunwoody - County & District Clerk; James Jones - Treasure; J.D. Harkey - Sheriff-Tax Collector; J.D. Kutch - Tax Assessor; John Hale - Surveyor; J.A. Stokes - Commissioner , Precinct #1: J.A. Stokes - J.P. Precinct #1; E.P. Taylor - Constable, M. Wilson - J.P. Precinct #2; P.G. Scott - Commissioner Precinct #2; Jess Fullingam - Constable; W. F. Gilbert - Commissioner Precinct #3; W. F. Gilbert - J P Precinct #3; W.C. Garrett - Constable; J.R. Waller - Commissioner Precinct #4; J. Carlisle - J P Precinct #4; and A. W. McDonald - Constable



The Crosby County Commissioners Court declared the officials duly elected, but refused the election of a county seat. Since no one place received a majority of the votes needed to determine a place for a county seat, it is duly ordered that the County Judge of Dickens County call another election for a county seat.

Meeting in the first called Commissioners Court at Dockums on April 1, 1891, the court recognizes there was no duly elected county seat, it was hereby appointed temporary county seat for said Dickens County, Texas.

Meeting again in the temporary County seat on April 16, 1891, County Judge A.J. McClain, ordered an election to be held on May 8, 1891. The election was held on May 1, 1891. The Commissioners met to canvas the returns of the election. Having found 132 votes cast and Espuela receiving 74 and Dickens City 58 it was hereby declared by the Court that Espuela was duly elected County Seat of Dickens County. The vote of the court was Precinct #1 yea, Precinct #2 no, Precinct #3 yea, Precinct #4 no. County Judge yea. Only the third meeting of the newly organized county court and already a split vote.

At the July meeting an order was passed to sell bonds to build a courthouse and jail not to exceed $10,000 in the newly declared county seat. However, a group of citizens from Dickens City filed a lawsuit requesting an injunction against any bond sales and requesting the Honorable Judge McGill, 50th Judicial district Judge at Seymour, to grant the injunction and order another election for a county seat.

The basis for this lawsuit was state law dictated in an election for a county seat, if a town was more than five miles from the geographic center of the county it had to receive 2/3 majority vote by 14 votes.

The following is a copy of the minutes of the Commissioners court meeting on September 1, 1891.


Thus far Commissioners Court met in Espuela on Tuesday the 1st day of September 1891 in called session. A Suit of injunction having been filed against the officers of the Commissioners court of this county restraining the said court from issuing bonds or from creating indebtedness against Dickens County in the erection of the Courthouse and jail in Espuela as heretofore ordered by this Court and the Honorable W. R. McGill of the 50th Judicial District of Texas which includes the county of Dickens having granted a temporary injunction against the officers of the court restraining them from issuing bonds or building or contracting for the erection of the said courthouse and jail until further proceedings are held in the District Court of Dickens County Texas in said suit. Be it ordered that the county attorney be authorized and he is hereby directed to take the necessary steps to bring this suit before the Honorable District Judge at as early a day as is respectable on a motion to dissolve the said unit of injunction and he is authorized to employ an associate counsel should he deem it necessary and advisable to aid and assist in the persecution and defense of the said suit - and the Honorable A. J. McClain, County Judge is authorized to draw on the special fund for a sufficient sum of money to meet the necessary expenses of prosecuting and defending this suit - and the clerk will issue his warrant in the County Treasury for such sum or sums at such time or times as he may be called upon to do so in the said county. It is ordered that the Road reviewer heretofore appointed be and they are hereby authorized to use a wagon and team while they are actually engaged in making the necessary repairs heretofore directed for which they may make an allowance of $2.00 per day for such time as a team may be required and used.


On petition of W.L. Browning, Minor Wilson, John A. Askins, B.F. Whitaker, Jonas Carlisle, Frank Greer, and others representing themselves to be resident citizens and tax payers of Dickens County are asking an election to locate and determine the county seat of Dickens County Texas the said petition being hereto attached: 1st whereas on May 11th 1891 an order and judgment was made and rendered in substance as follows whereas on the 14th day of March 1891 the county of Dickens was duly and legally organized and the various officers of said county were duly elected and qualified and whereas at said election there was a failure to elect a county seat for said county as required by law and whereas I, A. J. McClain the duly elected qualified and acting county Judge of said county did on the 16th day of April 1891 make an order to the effect that the election for said county seat and whereas I have duly opened and examined and estimated such returns and find that the Town of Espuela has met the requisite number of votes over and above all the competing places to entitle it to be the county seat of said county. Now, therefore I, A. J. McClain, County Judge of said Dickens County do hereby order and declare and adjudge that the said place of Espuela has at said election been duly elected, located, and fixed as the county seat of said Dickens County - The law to my mind clearly provides that whenever an election for the location or removal of a county seat shall have been voted on by the election of any county and the question settled by the election and the result declared it shall not be lawful for a same application for a like election to be made within five years thereafter - and if there was any questions as to the validity - of the foregoing order and law there before me the last legislature of the State of Texas passed an act in regard to county seats - known as the validity act declaring all places in newly organized counties which had an election and received a majority of the votes cast whether within or without the geographical outline of the county should be the county seat of said county. The act further provides that all counties organized between the taking effect of this act and any other act passed by this legislature the place receiving a majority vote at the election for county seat shall be the county seat until the same is removed by a vote of the people in accordance with law - Since the organization and election above confirmed to be held one term of the District Court of the 50th Judicial District which includes the county of Dickens, being in the Town of Espuela, also a term of the county court has been held as will numerous terms both regular and called sessions of the Commissioners Court - in all of said county - for both the state and county has been transacted and legal and valid, order and decree, has been made and returned - In view of said recited order and law and last above mentioned facts, I do not deem it necessary to examine further into your petition to ascertain whether the signatures thereof are legal and qualified votes of this county or not. But, after having given the said application a fair and careful consideration, I feel that I have no discretion in the matter or authority under the law to grant this application. Therefore, the same is rejected and denied, and it is now ordered that the said application together with this ruling and order be spread upon the minutes of the Commissioners Court of Dickens County Texas the court in which the same was prosecuted given under my hand at office in the town of Espuela, Texas this the 12th day of August 1891.

A.J. McClain
County Judge - Dickens County Texas

On September 2, 1891, the temporary injunction was granted by Judge McGill to prevent the Commissioners Court from issuing bonds to build a courthouse and jail.

The November term of Commissioner Court would be the last meeting the Honorable County Judge A. J. McClain would preside. The new year would see Dickens County with a new County Judge. Judge A. J. McClain had served from the first official Commissioners Court on April 1, 1891 through November 1891.

Judge A.J. Hagins would qualify as County Judge on January 5, 1892 as the second County Judge. At his second Commissioners Court meeting he issued a proclamation declaring that Dickens County had no official county seat and ordered an election held on Tuesday the 8th day of March 1892.

On the 17th day of March, 1892 Court met to canvas the election results with the following results: Pecinct #1 Espuela Dickens received 29 votes, Espuela none - Precinct #2 Morrison - Dickens 20 votes, Espuela none - Precinct #3 Chandler Flats - Dickens 52 votes, Espuela none - Precinct #4 Pitchfork Headquarters - Dickens 11 votes, Espuela none. Total number of votes cast 112. I find that the returns from Precinct #2 are not accompanied by a certificate showing that the regularly appointed presiding officers as prescribed by law, I therefore do not estimate said vote which leaves the total number of votes estimated and counted in said election for Dickens 92 votes and it appearing that Dickens has received a majority of all votes cast in said election and the required number of votes to entitle it to be declared the county seat of Dickens County, Texas.
17th day of March 1892 AD
A.J. Hagins County Judge
Dickens County, Texas

Dickens officials finally had a county seat. The regular meeting would be held in the new county seat in the town of Dickens City.

May 15, 1892 it was ordered that $20,000 in courthouse bonds be sold. They were to be advertised for two weeks in the Fort Worth Gazette, and also posted on the Courthouse door of Dickens County and at Jonas Carlisles´ and on the school house door in Croton Flat.

Construction was started in the summer of 1892 on the Dickens Count Courthouse. El Aiken was the ground contractor. Local labor was used by the contractor and work continued through the winter and on January 9, 1893, construction was started by the same contractor on the county jail. The court was given permission to move in two rooms of the new Courthouse on February 10, 1893. As the Courthouse would be completed additional rooms could be occupied. April 1st 1893 the court officially accepted the Courthouse and moved in. Total price of the Dickens County Courthouse would be $20,000. The Commissioners Court would not accept the jail build on Lot 65 Blk 21 and rejected the building. There is nothing in the Commissioners court minutes as to why the jail was rejected. Dickens County would not have a jail until 1909 when the present jail was accepted.

Dickens County Name

p. 385

Dickens County was created by an act of the Texas Legislature on August 21, 1876. At the same time, 53 other Texas counties were created. The law creating each of these counties was very brief and stated only the metes and bounds of each county and could briefly state who or what the county was named.

This law was to take effect ninety days after the adjournment of the Legislature. On Page 1077 of the session laws was the naming of Dickens County.

"The County of Dickens is named in honor of J. Dickens who sacrificed his life on the alter of Texas liberty at the Alamo." However, there was no J. Dickens who fought at the Alamo, Dickenson fought and died at the Alamo, but no Dickens. Dickens would probably be a variance of the name James R. Dimkins. In the book, "A Critical Study of the Siege of the Alamo," by A. Williams on Page 257 lists a James A. Dimkins as having died at the Alamo.

However, further research shows that no Dimkins fell at the Alamo.

In "Robertson´s Research", page 569 and "Muster Rolls", page 2 and 5, shows who signed the muster rolls shortly before the Alamo fell and the correct spelling is James R. Dinkins. The "Telegraph and Texas Register" dated March 24, 1836, about two weeks after the Alamo fell gives the same James R. Dinkins as having been one of the casualties of the Alamo. Further research shows the Dinkins family to be one of the first families in Texas and probably James R. was a son who died at the Alamo.

Dickens or Dimkins or Dinkins, whatever the name, we are still all extremely proud of our county.

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