“Dawson County lies on the eastern edge of the Llano Estacado on the southern High Plains.”
“The county comprises 902 square miles of rolling prairie, broken on the east. The land, surfaced with sandy and loam soils, drains to playas. The altitude ranges from 2,600 to 3,200 feet above mean sea level.”
“In the fall of 1875 the Twenty-fourth United States Infantry, commanded by Col. William Rufus Shafter, visited the area to prepare a report on the local Indians. On October 18, 1875, the company discovered an Indian encampment at Laguna Sabinas or Cedar Lake, the legendary birthplace of Quanah Parker; the band, however, escaped to the west. The Shafter party made the first wagon roads on the plains and reported favorably on grazing conditions, but the Indian menace remained too severe for immediate settlement.”
“The Nolan expedition of 1877 got lost in the area of the future Dawson and Lynn counties, and several members of the party of sixty died of thirst. Buffalo hunters, more than soldiers, were probably responsible for driving the Indians from the area. A surveying party for Texas and Pacific Railway lands in 1875 reported the presence of thousands of buffalo, and hunters moved in. As cattlemen learned that the grass on the Plains would produce fat cattle, ranchmen moved from the Lower Plains south of the Caprock to the new lands. By the mid-1880s four ranches, C. C. Slaughter‘s Lazy S, the TJF, the Fish, and the Bartow, occupied most of the land in Dawson County. The Texas and Pacific reached Big Spring in neighboring Howard County in 1881, and that community served as the shipping point for the area. By 1890 there were 28,536 cattle reported in the county.”
“The first decade of the twentieth century was a time of dramatic growth for Dawson County, as the population jumped from thirty-seven people in 1900 to 2,320 in 1910, and the number of ranches and farms increased from four to 330. Between 1902 and 1905, as the grazing leases expired, Dawson County lands were filed on for settlement. Prospective settlers waited in line in Big Spring for as long as six weeks when choice pieces of land were released. In 1907 the first railroad land was sold at from three to five dollars an acre.”
“The first post office was north of Lamesa at the Bartow ranch headquarters, where residents produced a wagonload of mail to prove to postal authorities that a post office was needed. They were so impressed by the amount of their own handiwork that they humorously named their post office Chicago. That same year, the Dawson County News was begun by J. E. Garrison and the Dawson County Bank was organized.”
“Dawson County, named for Nicholas Mosby Dawson, had been formed on August 21, 1876, but was attached to Howard County for judicial purposes until February 13, 1905, when separate organization was authorized. Dawson County’s first election to choose officials and select the county seat was held on March 20, 1905. The contesting towns, Lamesa and Chicago, were only two miles apart. Lamesa won by five votes, but a movement was already afoot to consolidate the towns and all businesses and residences in Chicago were moved into Lamesa. After six years of effort to secure a railroad, the Santa Fe was built into Lamesa in 1911.”
“More than 24,000 acres was planted in cotton by 1920; in 1930, 182,527 acres, well more than 60 percent of all county cropland harvested, was devoted to cotton production. The county population grew to 4,309 by 1920 and increased almost threefold during the 1920s to reach 13,373 in 1930. However, by 1930, under the impact of adverse farming conditions and prices, almost 70 percent of the county’s 2,218 farms were worked by tenants.”
“Oil development began in 1934. Twenty-eight wells were producing in the Welch community and two in the southeastern part of the county in 1946. Intermittent wildcatting has continued. In 1940 the county had a population of 15,367. Agriculture was more diversified, as county farmers grew sorghum on twice as much land as was planted with cotton. During World War II Dawson County provided more men per capita for the armed services than did any other county in Texas.”
“Despite critical farm-labor shortages, an organization of merchants, farmers, and the chamber of commerce met every agricultural quota set for the county. The egg-drying plant turned its entire facilities over to lend-lease production. Dawson County was one of the five counties in the state to win the coveted Army-Navy “E” award. Lamesa Field, an army airfield, was established in 1942 and deactivated two years later.”
“Irrigation was introduced into the county in the late 1940s, and cotton once again dominated the agricultural economy, with some 300,000 acres planted in 1950 and more than 180,000 in 1960. The county population reached 19,113 in 1950 and an all-time high of 19,185 in 1960, but declined thereafter to 16,604 in 1970 and 16,184 in 1980. New agricultural methods and the increasing use of farming technology saw the number of farms in the county shrink from a peak of more than 2,000 in 1930 to 841 in 1960 and 581 in 1980.”
“The mainstays of the county economy in the 1980s were agribusiness and oil. Dawson County was second in the state in cotton production in 1980, and through the 1980s cotton continued to be the most important agricultural product. Sorghum and wheat were also important crops, and cattle and hogs were raised. Between the first discovery of oil and 1990, oil production totaled 294,809,170 barrels. In 2014 the county population was 13,372. County towns included Lamesa (9,383), Ackerly (232 in Dawson County), O’Donnell (792 in Dawson County) and Los Ybanez (20).”
Handbook of Texas Online, Leona M. Gelin and Mark Odintz, “Dawson County“
I was the guest of Lamesa and Dawson County on July 3, 2015.
Dawson County Courthouse – 1905
(Photo Courtesy: THC)
We don’t know much about this courthouse, except that it was two stories tall and made of wood. Weren’t they all?
It turns out the county didn’t decide to demolish it for more room. Nor, as it happens, did it burn. When the county eventually decided to construct a larger courthouse, this building was simply relocated and made into the Adams Hotel. I have no idea if it still stands, but my money’s on no.
Dawson County Courthouse – 1916
(Photo Courtesy: THC)
(Photo Courtesy: TxDOT)
Popular West Texas architect Marshall Robert Sanguinet (of the firm Sanguinet & Staats – who were known for their fairly distinct Classical Revival approach) provided the original designs for Dawson County’s second courthouse. It was a three-story brick building with, as the Texas Historical Commission describes: “very little detail except for a decorative cornice and parapet”.
In 1952, an annex was constructed and attached to the courthouse based on plans of a Mr. Howard Allen. The same year saw an extensive remodeling effort, presumably led by the same man. This process either obscured or replaced nearly every classical detail from the 1916 version. Suggs Construction Co. served as general contractors.
Sometime between 1952 and 2015, the large entryways were painted with expansive murals detailing the history and culture of Dawson County. They add an architectural tone to an already curiously-shaped building that is…just something else.
The heavily shaded Dawson County Courthouse, facing slightly southwest on Austin Avenue
The intersection of Austin Street and South 1st Street
The northwest corner: a hodgepodge of different colored bricks
The rat trap at this entrance tells you everything you need to know. This courthouse is just screaming for a proper renovation. I hope it gets one.
What perhaps may have once been a northern entrance is now a collection of air conditioners.
The northeast corner
The 1916 cornerstone remains, but it’s a hard-to-spot rarity from the original structure.
This is the eastern entrance, facing slightly northeast on Main Avenue.
The mural on this side details a bit of county history.
The southern doors, facing South 1st Street…
…and their view
Dawson County’s Economy: oil, cotton, peanuts, and ranching
The southwest corner
Back around the western side: this is the view of Austin Avenue from that façade.
Dawson County & Lamesa
The buildings lining the Lamesa square delightfully play music for passerby (at least in the summertime).
Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” and Gene Watson’s “Fourteen Carat Mind” were two of the selections I heard.
North 1st Street, Downtown Lamesa
The Tornadoes are Lamesa’s hometown team.
Previous Courthouse: Borden County
Next Courthouse: Gaines County