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 longitude.
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
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
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 Lipscomb counties.
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 economy shifted.
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
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 increased growth.
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 1990.
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 went Republican.
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
Oil production, valued at $61 million in 1983, helped to
balance the agricultural economy. Feedlot operations,
agribusinesses, and oilfield services also added to the
Communities in the county include Perryton (1990
population, 7,606), the seat of government; Waka (145);
Huntoon (21); Farnsworth (149); and Twichell (22).
Wheatheart of the Plains: An Early History of Ochiltree
County (Perryton, Texas: Ochiltree County Historical
Survey Committee, 1969).
Donald R. Abbe
was last updated March 17, 2003.