“The rolling, broken land of the county drains to the Colorado River and its tributaries and to Lake J. B. Thomas. The Caprock, Gail Mountain, and Muchakooga Peak are notable physical features.”
“The county comprises 907 square miles at 2,400–3,000 feet elevation.”
“Comanches hunted buffalo in the region before white settlement. It was within the range of the Penateka band, also called the Honey-Eaters or Wasps, the largest and best-known Comanche band. The Penatekas led the advance into the southern plains in the eighteenth century after the people, a segment of the northern Shoshones, learned the use of Spanish horses and transformed themselves from impoverished root and plant gatherers to hunters. Settlers were not attracted to the area that is now Borden County until the end of the nineteenth century.”
“It was too distant from the United States Army’s frontier outposts to be safe even after the Civil War, and it seemed too dry to sustain ranching and farming. The county was marked off in 1876 from Bosque County and named for Gail Borden, Jr., a newspaper publisher and organizer of the Republic of Texas, and a surveyor who helped lay out the site of Houston and prepared the first topographical map of Texas.”
“In 1876 ranchers from Howard County extended their range into Borden County. By 1880 there were thirty-five residents who, unlike most pioneers, resisted intrusions of railroads and other settlers who might disrupt their use of the open range. As late as 1890, only 222 people lived in the county on twenty-five farms and ranches; only 1,146 acres in the county were classified as “improved” by the United States census that year.”
“At this time the local economy revolved completely around the cattle industry, and in 1890 over 71,000 cattle were counted in Borden. The county was organized in 1891, and Gail was made the county seat.”
“More farmers moved into the area between 1890 and 1910. In 1900, there were 129 ranches and farms in Borden County, and the population had increased to 776. A small boom occurred in 1902, when state school lands became available for leasing. New arrivals, mostly farmers, were not welcomed by the established ranchers, and many left. Nevertheless, by 1910 there were 228 farms and 1,386 residents in the county; thirty-six of the farms were worked by tenants.”
“For the scattered population of the county, isolated rural life brought its own rewards. As young Mary Blankenship, who passed through the area in 1901 to settle with her husband somewhat to the north, reflected: “We had plenty of time to be still and know God. He was our nearest neighbor.” The farms in the county dropped to 197 by 1920, but by 1930 the number had increased to 292 and the population was 1,505.”
“Many of the newcomers grew cotton, which by 1930 had become the county’s most important crop. Cotton was first planted in the area during the 1890s; in 1900, it was grown on 137 acres of Borden County land. Cotton farming in 1910 comprised 2,206 acres, and in 1920, 3,820 acres; by 1929 more than 20,000 acres of county land was planted in cotton, while only 28,000 acres of cropland was harvested in the entire county.”
“The Great Depression of the 1930s put an end to the budding development of the county. By 1940 only about 12,000 acres of county land was planted in cotton, and only 233 farms remained in Borden; only 1,356 residents were counted that year. The discovery of considerable oilfields in 1949 did not arrest the decline of Borden County population, although it did provide fortunate ranchers and farmers with another source of income.”
“The population of the county continued to decline after World War II. Only 1,106 people lived in Borden County in 1950, and only 1,076 in 1960, 888 in 1970, 859 in 1980, and 799 in 1990.”
“The U.S. census counted 652 people living in Borden County in 2014. About 82.1 percent were Anglo and 15.5 percent Hispanic. Of residents age twenty-five and older, 84 percent had completed high school, and 21 percent had college degrees. In the early twenty-first century agriculture, hunting leases, oil, and wind turbines were important elements of the local economy. In 2002 the county had 132 farms and ranches covering 480,015 acres, 85 percent of which were devoted to pasture and 15 percent to crops.”
“Tourists, mostly hunters and fishermen at Lake J. B. Thomas, contribute to the economy. Gail, the county seat and only town of note, had an estimated population of 202 in 1991 and 256 in 2014.”
Handbook of Texas Online, William R. Hunt and John Leffler, “Borden County”
I was the guest of Gail and Borden County on July 3, 2015.
Borden County Courthouse – 1939
(Photo Courtesy: TxDOT)
Replacing a single, two-story, wooden frame, vernacular building (from 1890), Borden County’s Depression-era Moderne courthouse began serving in 1939. David S. Castle was involved in the designs here (as he was in a great chunk of West Texas), while Dunlap & Coughrun constructed the building.
To my knowledge, this is the only single-storied, Moderne courthouse to have ever stood in the state of Texas. Certainly, it is the oldest of all of the state’s current one-story buildings. It also bears significant difference in appearance with the rest since, after all, most of its contemporaries originated in the 1950s or 1960s and look much more like the buildings in Baylor or Aransas County.
The Borden County Courthouse, facing north on Highway 180
The Borden County Courthouse is one of the most rurally set court buildings in the state. This is the view from the northern side of the courthouse lawn.
Not too often do I get this chance: to take a photo of the courtroom even when the courthouse is closed. A one-story courthouse affords me that chance. The district courtroom occupies the full eastern wing.
The northeast corner
Yes, this is the full width of the courthouse. That whole space is the courtroom itself.
The original Borden County Jail
The southeast corner
The southern entrance, facing a county parking lot and Wilbourn AvenueHere’s a brief look inside.
The immediate view from those doors is of a nearby annex.
Out back is also the Borden County AgriLife extension office.
On the Gail “square”
The Borden County Museum is on Facebook, as it happens. A sign there says as much.
The southwest corner
The western entrance, facing FM 669
Here’s that view. Gail Mountain looms in the distance.
The northwest corner
It was Christmas in July when I arrived in Gail.
Gail & Borden County
Highway 180, en route to Gail
The “main drag” of yesteryear
The Coyote Country Store is one of only two visible businesses I saw left in Gail. The other was the Blue Paw Cafe.
As of October 2016, I understand the Coyote has built an outdoor sitting area. Hopefully, their business is doing well.
Gail’s Post Office, at the intersection of Highway 180 and FM 669
You know it’s hot when.
Previous Courthouse: Scurry County
Next Courthouse: Dawson County