“Deaf Smith County, on the western edge of the Panhandle, is bounded on the west by New Mexico, on the north by Oldham County, on the east by Randall County, and on the south by Parmer and Castro counties. It was named for Erastus “Deaf” Smith, a famous scout of the Texas Revolution.”
“Deaf Smith County comprises approximately 1,497 square miles of level prairies and rolling plains on the western edge of the Llano Estacado. Its loam soils, ranging from deep chocolate to sandy, support abundant native grasses as well as numerous agricultural products. Elevations range from 3,200 to 4,200 feet above sea level; the minimum average temperature is 22° F in January, and the average annual maximum is 93° in July.
“The earliest prehistoric inhabitants of these prairies gave way to Plains Apaches, who in turn were forced out by the warlike Comanches and Kiowas. In 1787, and again in 1788, José Mares followed Tierra Blanca Creek in his search for a route from Santa Fe to San Antonio. The Indian wars of the 1870s, culminating in the Red River War of 1874–75, led to the nomadic red man’s removal to the Indian Territory. Shortly thereafter ranchers began to appear in the area, and in 1876 the Texas legislature formed Deaf Smith County from the Bexar District. The census counted thirty-eight people in the county in 1880.”
“Beginning in 1882, the western half of the county lay within the XIT Ranch, a real estate-cattle project of the Capitol Syndicate. One of the eight XIT division headquarters was established at Las Escarbadas, on Tierra Blanca Creek, in the southwestern corner of Deaf Smith County.”
“By 1890 the county’s population had increased to 179, and the census found seventeen farms or ranches in the area, seven of which were smaller than 500 acres. More than 28,600 cattle were counted in the county, while crop production occupied only a few acres: seventy-eight acres was planted in corn and eighty in cotton.”
“As the cattle industry in the county developed, the rising population created a need for local government. Accordingly, after an election on December 1, 1890, the county was organized with the new town of La Plata as county seat. Jerry R. Dean was elected the first county judge, and the colorful Jim Cook became the first county sheriff. In 1898 the Pecos and Northern Texas Railway, a subsidiary of the Santa Fe line, built tracks from Amarillo to the Texas-New Mexico border at Farwell. This railroad crossed the southeastern corner of Deaf Smith County and brought easy and economical transportation to the local ranchers.”
“The coming of the railroad also brought forth a new town, Hereford, which quickly outstripped the other local hamlets. As a result Hereford became the county seat after an election on November 8, 1898, and La Plata soon faded into oblivion. By 1900 the county had ninety-seven ranches and farms and a population of 843.” [La Plata's fate is no different than countless more little plains villages and small Texas communities. The railroad decided all in those days.]
“Between 1900 and 1910 the large ranchers began to sell their lands, and land-company promotions brought a rush of settlers to the area. With them came significant changes in the local agricultural economy during the first half of the twentieth century. The number of farms and ranches in the county increased steadily during most of this period, rising to 361 in 1910, 382 in 1920, 605 in 1930, and 854 in 1940. The expansion of farming was responsible for most of this growth.”
“In 1900, for example, little if any wheat was grown in the county; by 1920 more than 9,000 acres was planted in that grain, and by 1930 wheat acreage exceeded 26,000 acres. Sorghum became another important crop, and the production of corn also expanded. Meanwhile, local farmers diversified into poultry production; in 1929 local chicken farms had more than 51,000 birds, and county farmers sold 208,023 dozen eggs.”
“Beginning in the late 1930s, U.S. 385 (originally State Highway 51) was built from Brownfield to Dalhart via Dimmitt, Hereford, Vega, and Channing. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s a full network of paved farm-to-market roads emerged, linking all parts of the county to either main highways or railroad lines. U.S. 66, which, with the Rock Island Railroad, cuts across the extreme northwestern corner of the county, gave rise to the border community of Glenrio, which declined after the completion of Interstate 40.”
“Cattle feeding also began to flourish in the 1960s with the opening of several feedlots that used much locally grown grain. By the 1970s these lots were bringing 80 percent of the county’s $230 million annual average income. In the late 1980s the county led the state in numbers of cattle fed; it often led the nation in this category. The establishment of feedlots brought commercial production of corn and the establishment of several meat-packing plants in the county.”
“The discovery and use of copious underground water in the Ogallala Aquifer in the 1930s led to large-scale irrigation in the 1950s, which further encouraged the expansion of farming. The labor needs of the farming economy drew large numbers of migrant laborers, mostly Hispanic, to the county’s packing sheds. As this labor force grew, it became less migratory, and increasing numbers of Mexican Americans moved into the area permanently. By the 1980s, just over 40 percent of the county’s population was of Hispanic descent.”
“For several decades the diversified agricultural economy of Deaf Smith County was a thriving, coordinated system. By the early 1980s, however, though farmers produced more on their land, they began realizing a smaller return than at any other time in history. The county population began to drop between 1980 and 1982; by 1992 it was estimated at 19,153, almost 10 percent less than only ten years earlier.”
“Tight economic conditions, combined with a diminishing supply of groundwater, presented new problems. A search for innovations in farming methods intensified. Fearing contamination of the valuable aquifer, residents opposed attempts by the United States Department of Energy during the 1980s to make the county a nuclear-waste dump site.” [Can you imagine?]
“Communities in Deaf Smith County include Dawn, Glenrio, and Westway. Hereford (population, 15,211) is the county’s seat of government and only urban center; in the late 1980s the town had six public elementary schools, two junior highs, a large high school, a county library, and two museums (the Deaf Smith County Historical Museum, and the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center). Every August the town conducts a Miss Hereford contest and hosts the Cowgirl Hall of Fame All-Girl Rodeo. The total population of the county was 19,195, as of 2014.”
- Handbook of Texas Online, H. Allen Anderson, “Deaf Smith County”
I was the guest of Hereford and Deaf Smith County on August 16, 2016.
Deaf Smith County Courthouse – 1891
(Photo Courtesy: THC)
A small, two story, Second Empire courthouse was constructed to accommodate the sparse population of Deaf Smith County between 1890 and 1891. No information about who design it still exists, however we know the contractor came all the way from Vernon to do the work. His name was John A. White. This courthouse first came to life in the original county seat La Plata, but was literally moved to Hereford after the election to move seats. That was in 1898.
It survived for roughly twelve more years. What caused its demise is not clear, but we know that it was gone by 1910 at the most.
Deaf Smith County Courthouse – 1910
(Photo Courtesy: TxDOT) (Circa 1939)
(Photo Courtesy: THC) (Circa 1944)
Architects Chamberlin & Co. all the way from Birmingham, Alabama served here to create this testament to the Classical Revival style. The contracting firm was Falls City Construction Co..
The Texas Historical Commission describes it as:
“Four story brick courthouse constructed of Georgia marble veneer. The building was the second marble courthouse built in the U.S. (unverified and questionable) The main faade features an classical portico with very simple columns with no capitals and a pediment rising above the fourth story with a Lone Star detail. The raised portico rests on a rusticated first floor base. The fourth floor actually rises above the decorative cornice.”
I’m astounded by the fact that this was only the second marble courthouse in the US. Even if this particular fact doesn’t actually ever turn out to be true, as far as I can remember, this courthouse is the only one in Texas. Marble isn’t typically the first building material of choice where Texas courthouses are concerned, I’ve found.
It underwent a renovation in 1961 that included lowering the ceilings, installing a water-cooled HVAC system, and replacing the original windows, part of the front steps, some wiring, and the courtroom balcony.
The eastern corner, at the intersection of Schley Avenue & 3rd Street
The large arrow sculpture is part of the Quanah Parker Trail, a series of sculptures at various locations throughout this region that mark places of significance to the Comanche tribe.
The main entrance, facing southeast on 3rd Street
The lower doors are not open to the public. Access is provided from the other doors above.
3rd Street from the main doors
The State Historical Survey Committee maintains that this is indeed the second marble courthouse in the entire country.
Inside the Courthouse
At the center of the lobby is a bust honoring the county namesake, Erastus “Deaf” Smith.
I noticed this only after going through my photos later, but Deaf Smith’s Christian name was Erastus, not Erasmus as this courthouse plaque suggests.
I entered the building through the southeast entrance, and was led directly into the lobby through a short hallway. Out the adjacent northwest doors, one encounters this view. I imagine this entrance isn’t widely used, because the Deaf Smith County jail was built here in 1961.
This stairway leads to a walkway that will eventually spill out onto the courthouse lawn around the western side of the building, but I didn’t see it getting a lot of foot traffic.
The back patio has seen better days.
This looks like a popular smoke break area, though.
The southwest façade…
…and its view of Sampson Street
The walkway behind this yard ornament is the one that leads to the backdoor of the lobby.
The northeast façade on Schley Avenue
The north corner
The courthouse is a popular roost.
Nearby is the unassuming Deaf Smith County courthouse annex, at Schley & 3rd.
Hereford & Deaf Smith County
The Hereford, himself
So that’s why it smells…
Previous Courthouse: Oldham County
Next Courthouse: Castro County