Handbook of Texas Online
Ochiltree County is in the far northern Panhandle,
bordered on the north by Oklahoma, on the east by
Lipscomb County, on the south by Roberts County, and
on the west by Hansford County. The county is in the
heart of the High Plains, with its center at
36°17' north latitude and 100°49' west
Perryton, the county seat, is in the north central
part of the county, 120 miles northeast of Amarillo.
The area was named for William Beck Ochiltree, a
Republic of Texas judge, secretary of treasury, and
an officer in the army of the Confederacy.
The county occupies 907 square miles of level
prairies cut by Wolf Creek, which runs eastward from
the center of the county; by South Wolf Creek, which
runs northward into Wolf Creek from the south
central part of the county; and by Palo Duro and
Chiquita creeks, which flow northward into Oklahoma
from the northwestern corner of the county. These
streams are all intermittent. The rich clay and loam
soils support abundant native grasses as well as
wheat, grain sorghum, corn, and alfalfa.
Oil and gas are produced in substantial quantities.
Elevations range from 2,600 to 3,100 feet above sea
level, and the county's annual average rainfall is
20.48 inches. Temperatures range from an average
minimum of 18° F in January to an average
maximum of 93° F in July. The average growing
season lasts 191 days.
A modern highway system focusing on Perryton
developed between the 1930s and the 1950s. U.S.
Highway 83 runs from Liberal, Kansas, to Perryton,
then on to Canadian, and U.S. Highway 70 runs from
Perryton south to Pampa. State Highway 15 runs east
to west across the county, parallel to the Santa Fe
Railroad, and various farm-to-market roads link the
major routes to the rural area.
Prehistoric cultures occupied this region, then the
Plains Apaches appeared. The historic-era Apaches
arrived, then were pushed out of the region in the
early eighteenth century by the Comanche Indians,
who dominated the Texas Panhandle until the 1870s.
The Red River War of 1874-75 led to the removal of
the nomadic Indians to Indian Territory, which in
turn led to the arrival of the ranching era. In 1876
the Texas legislature established Ochiltree County
from lands formerly assigned to the Bexar District.
Ranching arrived a little later in Ochiltree County
than it did farther south in the Panhandle. By 1885
Henry W. Cresswell had purchased or leased most of
the county and established the Cresswell Ranch (Bar
CC) on Wolf Creek in the eastern part of the county
and moved its headquarters from Roberts County to
the new site on Wolf Creek.
His company, the Cresswell Land and Cattle Company
of Colorado, was syndicated as the Cresswell Ranch
and Cattle Company by 1885. The Cresswell Ranch
controlled most of the land in the county. Dee
Eubank and Tom Connell, who arrived on Wolf Creek in
1879, controlled much smaller acreages in the
eastern part of Ochiltree and the western part of
After the blizzards of 1886-87 county lands were
opened to settlement by stock farmers who operated
on a much smaller scale. The availability of land in
Ochiltree County coincided with the proximity of a
new railroad. In 1887 the Southern Kansas Railway
Company of Texas, a Santa Fe subsidiary, built a
line from Kansas through Oklahoma into the Panhandle
via Canadian and Panhandle. This line passed through
Lipscomb County, thirty to forty miles east of
Ochiltree. Thus the county was only one or two days'
travel from the railroad.
Proximity to the railroad brought an influx of
settlers into the county, especially after 1900, and
the ranching economy evolved into a stock-farming
system. Between 1890 and 1900 the number of ranches
in the area increased from forty-seven to
seventy-one, and the number of cattle grew from
10,000 to 84,000. At the same time the area's
population rose from 198 to 267.
Almost no crops were grown in the area at the
beginning of the twentieth century, though some
ranchers did grow corn and vegetables for their own
consumption. Between 1900 and 1910, however, stock
farming began to give way to wheat farming. As local
stock farmers determined that wheat was a viable
crop and new settlers moved into the area, the local
By 1910 there were 264 farms and ranches in the
area, encompassing almost 226,000 acres, including
more than 53,000 acres reported to be "improved."
That year the agricultural census reported 9,000
acres planted in wheat in the county; another 2,075
acres were planted in corn, and 7,400 acres were
devoted to sorghum. By the beginning of World War I
Ochiltree County possessed a diversified
agricultural economy poised for expansion.
By 1920 there were 336 farms and ranches; almost
42,000 acres were planted in wheat, and 14,500 acres
devoted to sorghum. Poultry raising was also
becoming significant to the economy by this time; in
1920 23,000 chickens were reported on county farms.
Cattle ranching continued but was less important
than it once had been. About 24,000 cattle were
reported in the county that year.
The urban development of Ochiltree County reflects
its evolution from a ranching to a mixed economy.
The sparse ranching population of the 1880s and
1890s revolved around the village of Ochiltree, in
the central part of the county fifteen miles south
of the site of present Perryton. Ochiltree, founded
in 1885, became the county seat in 1889, when the
local residents decided to organize the county.
By 1915 the town had a population of 500, a
courthouse, a jail, a school, a bank, and two
churches. The population of the county as a whole
grew to 1,602 by 1910 and to 2,331 by 1920. The
construction of the North Texas and Santa Fe
Railway, a Santa Fe subsidiary, from Shattuck,
Oklahoma, to Spearman, Texas, in 1919 altered the
county permanently. The rail line, which ran across
the Texas Panhandle, tapped the newly emerging wheat
market. The post-World War I demand, coupled with
access to rail transportation, made wheat farming
profitable. Another influx of farmers between 1920
and 1930 took advantage of these circumstances.
By 1930 there were 580 farms and ranches in the
county, and almost 210,000 acres were planted in
wheat, the county's most important crop by far.
Reflecting this expansion, the area's population
rose to 5,224 by 1930. As the population and economy
grew, other changes occurred. Ochiltree, fifteen
miles south of the railroad, found itself at a
distinct disadvantage when a new town, Perryton, was
laid out on the railroad in 1919; Perryton was
immediately made the county seat.
During the next year the entire town of Ochiltree
was moved to Perryton, and by 1920 Ochiltree had
disappeared completely. The new railroad also
changed the location of Wawaka, which had been
established in the west central part of the county
by German immigrants in 1885. In 1919 and 1920 this
tiny community moved three miles north to the
railroad and shortened its name to Waka.
Ochiltree County suffered from the effects of the
Great Depression and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. By
1940 there were only 528 farms in the county, and
the number of acres devoted to wheat had declined
substantially; only 67,000 acres were planted in
wheat that year. The population dropped from 5,224
in 1930 to 4,213 in 1940. The economy recovered
during the 1940s, and the discovery of oil and gas
in the southern part of the county in 1951 led to
Although oil and gas exploration had occurred in the
county as early as 1912 and continued periodically
through the 1920s and 1930s, the first successful
major producer blew in 1955.
In 1956 more than 341,500 barrels of crude oil were
produced the county, and production rapidly
expanded: the county's wells produced 4,644,000
barrels in 1960, 5,212,000 barrels in 1965,
4,913,000 barrels in 1974, 2,2,844,000 in 1978, and
3,012,000 in 1982.
In 1990 the county's wells produced 1,716,000
barrels, and by January 1, 1991, 141,784,000 barrels
of oil had been produced in the county since
discovery in 1951.
These petroleum discoveries led to a boom in the
local economy and population. The 1950 population of
6,024 jumped to 9,380 by 1960 and to 9,704 by 1970.
It began to decline in the 1970s, however, as the
oil boom faded: to 9,588 by 1980 and to 9,128 by
The voters of Ochiltree County supported the
Democratic candidate in almost every presidential
election between 1892 and 1948; the only exception
occurred in 1928, when they supported Republican
Herbert Hoover over Al Smith. In every presidential
election between 1952 and 1992, however, the county
In the mid-1980s Ochiltree County possessed a
diversified economy centered around agriculture,
oil, and gas.
The agricultural sector earned $70 million in 1983,
primarily through the production of cattle, hogs,
wheat, sorghums, corn, and alfalfa. Irrigation,
which began in the late 1940s and expanded in the
1960s and 1970s, was used on 40 percent of the
county's croplands in the early 1980s.
Oil production, valued at $61 million in 1983,
helped to balance the agricultural economy. Feedlot
operations, agribusinesses, and oilfield services
also added to the local economy.
Communities in the county include Perryton (1990
population, 7,606), the seat of government; Waka
(145); Huntoon (21); Farnsworth (149); and Twichell
Wheatheart of the Plains: An Early History of
Ochiltree County (Perryton, Texas: Ochiltree County
Historical Survey Committee, 1969).
Donald R. Abbe
was last updated January 9, 2014.