Gray County is located in the central part of
the Panhandle and the eastern edge of the High Plains.
Its center point is at 35°25' north latitude and
100°49' west longitude. Lefors is located near the
center of the county, and Pampa, the county seat, is
about twelve miles away in the northwestern corner. Pampa
is approximately sixty miles northeast of Amarillo on
U.S. Highway 60. The county occupies 934 square miles of
level prairie and rolling river breaks. The county's
sandy loam and black waxy soils support a variety of
native grasses as well as abundant wheat, corn, grain
sorghum, and hay crops.
The timber in the riverbottoms includes cottonwoods,
hackberries, elms, and walnuts as well as the
ever-present mesquite. The county has huge reservoirs of
oil and natural gas. Gray County is basically made up of
two distinct parts: the flat plains in the west and
north, and the Red River breaks in the east, center, and
southeast. Gray County is at the head of the North Fork
of the Red River; numerous intermittent and flowing
creeks can be found in the eastern part of the county.
McClellan Creek flows northeastward across the southern
part of the county toward the North Fork, and the North
Fork itself flows across the central part.
Cantonment Creek flows southward and empties into the
North Fork in the northeastern corner of the county. The
elevation ranges from 2,500 to 3,300 feet above sea
level, the average annual rainfall is 20.14 inches, and
the growing season averages 195 days a year. The average
minimum temperature is 23° F in January, and the average
maximum is 94° in July.
Gray County, formed in 1876 out of the Bexar District,
was named for Peter W. Gray, a lawyer and politician of
the Republic of Texas and Civil Warq eras. The county's
prehistoric Plains Apache inhabitants gave way to the
Apaches, who in turn were displaced by the Comanches and
Kiowas. These peoples dominated the Panhandle until they
were crushed in the Red River War of 1874 and removed to
With Gray County for settlement, ranchers began to reach
the region as early as 1877. In 1878 a well-known local
rancher, Perry LeFors, established a small ranch on
Cantonment Creek. Other small ranching operations
developed in the eastern part of the county. In 1882 the
Francklyn Land and Cattle Company purchased a huge tract
of land that included the western part of Gray County.
The company failed in 1886 and was reorganized as the
White Deer Lands (formally the White Deer Lands Trust of
British bondholders), which operated the huge Diamond F
Ranch. For the rest of the nineteenth century Gray County
remained the domain of cattle ranchers.
The population, 56 in 1880, rose only to 203 in 1890 and
480 by 1900. A ranching economy with little need for
manpower occupied the area. By the turn of the century
the county's stable stock-farming population felt a
growing need for self-government. As a result, in 1902
the county was organized with Lefors as the county seat.
Lefors, a tiny ranching town, remained the county seat
until 1928, when Pampa's oil-induced growth led to its
becoming the county seat.
Railroads entered Gray County from two different points
in two different eras. A Santa Fe subsidiary, the
Southern Kansas Railway Company, building from Kansas to
Amarillo in 1887 and 1888, crossed the northwest corner
of the county as it progressed from Canadian to
Panhandle. This line allowed settlers in Gray County to
ship cattle more easily and economically and allowed for
greater ease of travel, but did not bring an influx of
settlers with it.
Fifteen years later, as farmers began to arrive in the
region, the Choctaw, Oklahoma and Texas Railroad, an
affiliate of the Chicago and Rock Island, built a line
westward from Oklahoma to Amarillo. This line crossed far
southern Gray County, and the new settlements of McLean
and Alanreed were founded on the tracks as they moved
westward during 1901 and 1902.
By the turn of the century, farmers began to appear in
the county. White Deer Lands began to sell its huge
holdings in 1902, and a land rush to the area of Carson
and Gray counties began. The county population grew to
3,405 by 1910 and 4,663 by 1920. The newly arriving
farmers settled in the western and northern parts of the
county, planting wheat, corn, and grain sorghums on
fertile, newly broken lands. Farming and ranching
dominated the county's economy for a short time, and then
major petroleum discoveries greatly altered the county.
Oil and gas exploration began in the county during the
early 1920s. A major discovery well five miles south of
Pampa, the H. F. Wilcox Oil and Gas Company's
Worley-Reynolds well, drilled in 1926, led to more
developments around Lefors. Between 1925 and 1928
increasing amounts of oil came out of the county's three
oilfields (the Lefors, Bowers, and south Pampa fields).
Production mushroomed in 1929, and the county became and
remained a substantial oil producer. As of 1990 it had
produced 642,556,026 barrels of oil. A by-product of the
local oil economy is a substantial petrochemical industry
that produces carbon black and other synthetic materials.
The population of the county expanded as the oil industry
grew. From 4,663 in 1920 the number of residents leaped
to 22,090 by 1930, then leveled off to 23,911 in 1940 and
24,728 in 1950. Growth in the petrochemical industry in
the 1950s led to a peak county population of 31,535 in
1960; the population then declined to 26,949 in 1970,
26,386 in 1980, and 23,967 in 1990. Pampa, the chief
beneficiary of the oil industry, emerged as a major oil
town. It became county seat in 1928.
The transportation network grew with the county. State
Highway 33 (now U.S. Highway 60) had been built between
Oklahoma and Amarillo before 1927. This road linked
Canadian, Miami, Pampa, and Panhandle to Amarillo and
greatly facilitated Pampa's development. A network of
farm and oilfield roads emerged during the 1940s and
1950s; in the 1960s Interstate Highway 40 was built
across the far southern part of the county. A slight
increase in rail construction also occurred in the late
During 1920 the Santa Fe extended a subsidiary line,
chartered as the Clinton-Oklahoma Western Railroad
Company of Texas, from Cheyenne, Oklahoma, to Pampa,
where it linked up with the Santa Fe mainline. By the
1980s the great bulk of the county's population lived in
urban areas served by this highway and rail system. Pampa
had 19,959 residents in 1980, and McLean had 849 and
Lefors 656. Other communities were Alanreed, Kings Mill,
Laketon, and Hoover. The modern economy of the county
depends upon a healthy mix of oil, petrochemicals,
farming, and ranching. Agricultural income averages about
$55 to $60 million a year.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Gray County Bicentennial Observance,
1776-1976: Souvenir Program (Pampa, Texas: Gray County
Bicentennial Committee, 1976). Elleta Nolte, For the
Reason We Climb Mountains-Gray County, 1902-1982 (Pampa,
Texas: Gray County Historical Commission, 1982). S. G.
Reed, A History of the Texas Railroads (Houston: St.
Clair, 1941; rpt., New York: Arno, 1981).
Donald R. Abbe
Back to Gray County
This page was last updated January 30,