Presidio County Texas
A Short History

A Short History of
Presidio County

Contributed by Verner Bonner

The history of Presidio County stretches over three eras: the Spanish period, 1536-1821; the Mexican period, 1821-1848; and the American period, 1848-to present.

BThe prior history of the area is known only through Indian rock paintings of their religion, myths, messages and ceremonies. Using materials such as iron oxide, cinnabar and carbon, Jumano hunters, Mescalero and Lipan Apaches, Commances and Kiowas recorded significant events.

Cabeza de Vaca crossed the Big Bend on his wanderings from Florida to Spanish settlements in northern Mexico. He was followed by other explorers and missionaries who found Indian rancherias and farms where they raised crops and hunted animals and birds. Few settlements were established in the area because the Indians could not be controlled.

The Mexican period was marked by constant Indian attacks. The Mexican government placed a bounty on Indian scalps.

The American period began after the Mexican Civil War with pioneers settling in the southern part of Presidio County and the town of Presidio del Norte. By the fall of 1851, they had obtained Mexican land grants and filed for unoccupied tracts to create large holdings. In 1850, the Trans-Pecos area was divided into two counties, El Paso and Presidio. Eventually Presidio County,. which stretched from the Rio Grande to the Pecos River to El Paso County would be divided into six counties. by 1860, the 21,820 acres of Presidio County had 580 people. A settlement on Limpia Creek raised corn and hay for the stage coach. To protect the settlement, Secretary of War Jefferson Davis established any army post that was the bear his name, Fort Davis, around 1854. It was the second permanent settlement in Presidio County.

During the Civil War, federal troops were removed from Presidio County. Subsequently, passenger and freight traffic decreased and Indian raids increased. Many settlers moved to safety, and some joined the Confederate Arny. In 1867, after the Civil War, Fort Davis was regarrisoned, permanent quarters erected and prosperity began to return to the are.

By 1880, a new generation of livestock businessmen began to arrive in Presidio County. P. H. Pruett drove 275 longhorns up Limpia Canyon from Fort Davis. A year later, Charlie Nevill and his Texas Rangers drove out cattle thieves and outlaws. He stayed to settle, ranch and to become the first sheriff of Presidio County, serving from 1883 to 1890.

John Humphris, Sr. came from England in 1882 with fine horses and bulls. All his possessions were lost in a storm at sea. Working on the King Ranch, he saved and created a herd of 6,000 sheep, which he brought to Presidio County. He and Charlie Murphy, founder of Alpine, formed a partnership running large numbers of sheep, cattle and horses. They created Humphris and Company, a general merchandising firm and stagecoach line.

In 1884, W. F. Mitchell brought a heard of Durham cattle to Presidio County. In 188, he built the first barbed wire fence in Presidio County to create a holding trap. By 1885, there were 60,000 head of cattle in Presidio County, but only two windmills. Two years, later, the state legislature created Presidio County out of the original county, but the final organization was not completed 1895, with the county seat at Fort Davis.

Fort Davis had the opportunity to obtain the Southern Pacific Railroad through town. Legend claims the people of Fort Davis did not want the noise of the railroad and the line was laid south. A town named Marfa grew where the railroad crossed the Fort Davis-Presidio Road. Discussion about moving the county seat arose and the citizens voted to change the county seat. Dissatisfaction led to a movement to create two more counties from Presidio County. Brewster County was formed in February 1887, and Jeff Davis County was organized in March 1887. What once had been an empire of 21,820 square miles became 3,970 square miles by 1905 as Pecos, Reeves and Terrell counties were born.

In 1911, the Mexican Revolution had alarmed the residents of Presidio County who feared anti-Diaz forces might conduct raids across the border. The U. S. government sent cavalry troops in 1911, beginning an era of military influence. During the Mexican Revolution, biplanes flew the Rio Grande from their canvas hangars in Marfa. The first installation of troops in Marfa was named Camp Albert, which was changed to Camp Marfa and then to Fort D. A. Russell. During World War II, Marfa Army Air Field was built 10 miles east of Marfa. Before the base was dismantled, the World Soaring Meet, the only international gliding competition in the northern hemisphere, was conducted in 1970.

Although livestock was the basis of early settlements, the town of Shafter developed through silver mining. The Rio Grande settlements of Redford, Candelaria, Ruidosa and Presidio raised farms that produced cantaloupe, bell peppers and onions. There also has been increasing exploration for oil, gas and uranium in the area.


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