“The area was named for Williamson Simpson Oldham, pioneer Texas lawyer and Confederate senator. Oldham County comprises 1,485 square miles of relatively level grassland, broken by the Canadian River and its numerous intermittent tributaries; elevations range from 3,200 to 4,200 feet above sea level. The fine sandy loam and caliche soils in the area support a variety of native grasses as well as mesquite, sage, and shin oaks.”
“Oldham County’s history has revolved around the Canadian River, which runs in an east–west direction across the northern part of the county. Archeological investigations, beginning with the 1932 excavations of Saddleback Mesa, have unearthed evidence of the Panhandle Pueblo culture. Petroglyphs and other artifacts attest to the presence of other pre-Columbian peoples. Plains Apaches, followed by the warlike Comanches and Kiowas, found refuge in the breaks of the Canadian. Various Spanish entradas utilized the river as they traveled eastward from New Mexico.”
“The Facundo Melgares party came through the county as it searched for Zebulon M. Pike in 1806. Likewise, the ciboleros and Comancheros from northern New Mexico all used the Canadian as a major trade route; indeed, the Atascosa Springs area was a frequent trading ground for Comancheros and their Indian customers.”
“In 1876 the Texas legislature established Oldham County from the huge original Bexar County, and the county was organized in 1880, with Tascosa as the county seat. Caleb B. (Cape) Willingham became the first sheriff, C. B. Vivian was elected county clerk, and William S. Mabry was made county surveyor. Sixteen unorganized Panhandle counties were attached to Oldham County for administrative purposes.”
“A population of 287 in 1880 made the county the second most populous of the Panhandle area; only Wheeler County, on the east side of the Panhandle, had more residents. The ranching industry of Oldham County began very soon after the Red River War of 1874–75 forced the Comanches and other Plains nomads onto reservations in Indian Territory. Soon after the Indian removal, Casimiro Romero and his fellow pastores from New Mexico established sheep ranches, dotted with stone and adobe plazas, throughout the area, along the Canadian River and its tributaries. As a result Mexican-American settlers outnumbered Anglo-Americans for some time.”
“In 1882 the Capitol Syndicate marked off a large amount of Oldham County lands for use in its famous XIT Ranch. Only the southeastern part of the county fell outside the XIT after that time. Following a certain amount of property exchanging and dislocation within the local ranching industry, other ranches (the LX and the Frying Pan, for instance) occupied Oldham County acreage.”
“Tascosa, originally called Plaza Atascosa, was an Oldham County village by 1875. As one of only three towns in the Panhandle, it developed a reputation as a rowdy and sometimes violent cowtown. When it became the county seat in 1880, its position as a leading early Panhandle town was strengthened. For decades Tascosa continued to serve as a small trade and administrative center. In 1887 the Fort Worth and Denver City Railway, building from Amarillo to Colorado, crossed the northeastern corner of the county, passing within two miles of Tascosa. Another village, “new” Tascosa, popped up on the road less than two miles from the old site.”
“Crop farmers began to move into the area after 1904, when the Chicago, Rock Island and Gulf Railway laid tracks through the southern part of the county for a line connecting Amarillo to Tucumcari, New Mexico. The new railroad encouraged additional settlement, and a small number of wheat farms were established along the Rock Island right-of-way between 1900 and 1910; the towns of Adrian, Vega, and Wildorado also sprang up along the route. By 1910 Oldham County had eighty-seven farms and ranches and a population of 812.”
“As the county developed Tascosa slowly lost population and influence to Vega. By 1915, when a special election moved the county seat to Vega, only fifteen people lived in Tascosa. The county as a whole also lost population during the 1910s, although cropland expanded during that decade. Though only 709 people lived in the county by 1920, more than 7,000 acres were planted in wheat, the county’s most important crop; another 65 acres were planted in corn, 1,674 acres in sorghum, and 27 acres in cotton.”
“The expansion of wheat farming continued during the 1930s during the Great Depression. By 1940, 67,000 acres in the county were planted in wheat. Cattle ranching also expanded significantly during this period; while there were never more than 25,000 cattle reported between 1910 and 1930, by 1940 there were 60,000. The number of farms and ranches also rose by 1940 to 177.”
“Nevertheless, the county lost population during the depression; by 1940 only 1,385 people lived in the area. The town of Tascosa, which had been declining for years, was deserted by 1939, but in June of that year Cal Farley acquired the site, tore down most of the crumbling buildings, and built his Maverick Boys Ranch on the site. By 1950 the county’s population had increased to 1,627.”
“Partly because of the oil and gas industry, the county’s population continued to grow, rising to 1,928 by 1960 and 2,258 by 1970, but stabilized thereafter, as the county reported 2,283 inhabitants in 1980 and 2,278 in 1990. In 2014 the census reported 2,070 people living in the area. About 78.8 percent were Anglo, 3.7 percent African American, and 14.9 percent Hispanic.”
- Handbook of Texas Online, Donald R. Abbe and John Leffler, “Oldham County”
I was the guest of Vega and Oldham County on August 16, 2016.
Oldham County Courthouse – 1884
(Photo Courtesy: THC)
While it was constructed in 1884, the information on who designed it or built it is not readily available. We do know that the primary material in its construction was sandstone. It also still stands, though it’s changed use considerably. The courthouse served Oldham County until 1915, when an election moved the county seat to Vega. At that time, county officials moved out and the Bivins Family moved in. Until approximately 1939, the building had full time occupants as a ranch house. Now resting on the property of the Cal Farley Boys’ Ranch, it is the Julian Bivins Museum.
A gable roof and wide, stone porch now exist where none did previously, as you can see below.
(Photo Courtesy: Terry Jeanson) (This is in 2008).
Oldham County Courthouse – 1915
(Photo Courtesy: Terry Jeanson)
(Photo Courtesy: TxDOT)
O.G. Roquemore served the community as architect for this originally Classical Revival courthouse. I’m not sure who the contractor was.
The Texas Historical Commission describes it as a:
“2 story dark brick structure with limestone details. Originally the building was accented by an ornate cornice. The roofline originally had both gables and hipped sections. The entrances were flanked by two story ionic columns. The other elevations contain six pilasters in the central bay.The original roofline has been replaced by a short, inappropriate mansard type roof. Cost $35,000″
An extensive renovation occurred in 1967. This process included completely removing the mansard roof and leaving a simply flat expanse behind. The “double hung windows with transoms” were replaced by “metal sashes”, the THC says. All of this was certainly part of the era’s extensive habit to brutally modernize architecture. An addition was also built on the north side of the courthouse, while a jail was attached to the south.
A second addition was constructed in 1986.
This version has served Oldham County ever since.
101 by the time I got to Vega
To the left stretches the addition constructed in 1967. The jail is at the edge of the photo on the right. As you can tell, the old mansard roof is long gone, though my picture is “blown out”. The sun was no friend to me while in Vega.
The front steps could use a friend or two. Cement, and cracking cement at that, is found where once stood an older, more elaborate entryway.
These Ionic columns really speak to the original Classical Revival style of this courthouse. Today, they look a little out of place with all of the additions and modernizations.
Here’s a look inside. The wooden paneling screams the seventies to me.
The paneled walls are adorned with a seriously impressive collection of arrowheads discovered in the Canadian River draws north of town. This was, after all, the heart of Comanche territory.
Behind the stairs (this is leading towards the northern addition)
The view from the eastern doors, looking at 9th Street
Some exciting times were coming up when I was there. Too bad I couldn’t stick around…
Looking into the addition on the north side of the courthouse
A handicap-accessible entrance was provided as part of that addition, it seems.
A better look at the northwest corner
Here you can find a monument to the Ten Commandments, increasingly rare these days on courthouse lawns.
The southwest corner
Here’s the full courthouse from across Coke Street.
Looking from the courthouse property towards Coke Street
Vega is on the Quanah Parker Trail.
The southern façade (here’s the Oldham County Jail)
The southeast corner
I usually don’t take pictures of courthouse dumpsters, but these were too good to miss.
The rear of the building, facing east towards 9th Street
The northern façade
And lastly, the colorful office of the Justice of the Peace (on Main Street)
Vega & Oldham County
If you ask me, they missed out on the opportunity to make this an actual map of the county. The wall’s already shaped the same, after all.
Get your kicks on Route 66.
Previous Courthouse: Randall County
Next Courthouse: Deaf Smith County