“Winkler County is mostly in the Pecos Valley of West Texas; its northeastern section is on the Llano Estacado. The county is adjacent to the southeastern corner of New Mexico.”
“Winkler County comprises 840 square miles of gently rolling to level terrain. Stretching diagonally across the central section of the county is a belt of sand dunes, which are active, windblown, and raised as much as thirty to forty feet above the surrounding surface.”
“The first people to live in the area of Winkler County were the Anasazi Indians, who migrated there about 900 and left their discarded pottery as evidence of their presence. At some later time, the Apaches etched a trail across the county from Monument Springs in New Mexico to Shafter Lake in the area of present Andrews County. After the Apaches, the Comanche Indians moved into the White Sandhills and Blue Mountain areas of the county territory, using them as meeting places from the seventeenth century until the 1870s.”
“On June 29, 1875, Col. William R. Shafterand eighty-one men and officers tracked Comanches into county lands, when Col. Ranald S. Mackenzie conducted a campaign to drive them from the area. By 1876 all threat of Comanche attack was eliminated, and the area of Winkler County was opened for white settlement. In 1881 the Texas and Pacific Railway was built across nearby Ward County, giving easy assess to the area.”
“With good transportation, with the land outside the dunefields covered in tall grasses, and with a good water supply available, the area was well equipped for open range ranching. A few ranchers took advantage of free state land to carve out large ranches. Among those first ranchers were John Avary, J. J. Draper, and the Cowden brothers-Doc, Tom, and Walter.”
“On February 26, 1887, Winkler County was established from territory in Tom Green County. It was named for Confederate Col. Clinton M. Winkler. By 1890 eleven men and seven women, all white, lived in Winkler County. The state ended free use of its land in 1900, and state agents were sent across West Texas to collect rents from ranchers on public land. In the census of 1900 twelve ranches, totaling 67,537 acres and 11,982 cattle, were operated by four owners and eight nonowners, and the county population was sixty.”
“From 1901 through 1905 a state law allowed the sale of school lands in West Texas. Since one could purchase four sections of land on generous credit terms, Winkler and other West Texas counties experienced a school-land rush as new settlers arrived. In 1905 the law was changed to benefit the highest bidder, but newcomers continued to come to Winkler County. To serve the new residents, a post office was opened at Duval on April 3, 1908. It was located on the John Howe ranch, 1½ miles west of the site of present Kermit. Lots in the townsite of Duval were widely promoted, and the town competed with Kermit for the county seat. When the promoters of Kermit townsite offered lots for free, county residents chose that town as the seat. After losing the race with Kermit, Duval faded, and the post office closed in 1910.”
“On April 5, 1910, Winkler County was organized.”
“A drought swept across Winkler County in 1916, and many families who came during the school-land rush gave up their farms and moved. By 1920 only eighty-one people lived in the county, and only twenty-seven farms remained. The number of range cattle increased to nearly 13,000, but all other livestock decreased. Only seventy-six acres of hay and grains was harvested, providing small yields. Because the drought lasted into 1926, the population continued to decline. The public school and post office in Kermit were in the courthouse from 1924 through 1926 to serve the few residents who remained in the area.”
“On July 16, 1926, oil was discovered when Roy Westbrook and Company brought in the Hendrick No. 1 on ranchland owned by Thomas G. and Ada Hendrick in central Winkler County. The boom established the town of Wink in the southwestern part of the county, seven miles southwest of Kermit. The increased population caused a housing shortage and forced newcomers to live in tents and makeshift structures.”
“The boom also produced several small and ephemeral towns. A post office opened at Tulsa in southern Winkler County on August 20, 1927, but it closed in 1929 when the town failed to boom as its namesake had. Brookfield, another town, was a mile and a half southwest of Wink. That town had a hotel, a few stores, and several dance halls. As Wink grew, Brookfield declined. Cheyenne was laid out nine miles north of Kermit. A post office operated there from 1929 to 1944, but the town dwindled long before the post office closed. Leck was founded five miles west of Cheyenne. For a short time, it had several businesses and residences, but it soon disappeared. By 1930 the oil boom brought an increase in population to 6,784.”
“With the impact of oil and of the earlier drought, cultivation of crops continued to decline. Twenty-five farms were operated by fourteen owners and eleven tenants, but no crops were sown in 1930. The number and value of all livestock decreased, but the number of cattle continued strong at 11,000 head. By 1940 the population had declined to 6,141. Twenty-five farms, averaging 22,700 acres each, were operated by fourteen owners and eleven tenants.”
“The population sharply increased to 10,064 by 1950. During the 1950s livestock production dominated agriculture. In 1954 thirty-six farms of 620,000 acres operated, but less than 500 acres were devoted to cropland. Although the county harvested $60,000 in crops in 1959, it was the last year in which crops were reported. The value of livestock reached $1.25 million by 1969 but dropped to $1 million by 1982. The population in 1960 reached an all-time high of 13,652, including 439 non-white residents.”
“By 1980 West Texas had experienced a dramatic oil boom with greatly increased drilling activity and an influx of new people in blue-collar jobs. The population of Winkler County reflected the boom with 9,944 residents. That number included 2.42 percent African Americans and 25.8 percent Mexican Americans. High school graduates continued to increase, and their number reached 52.9 percent of the population. During the early 1980s the oil industry began another decline, brought on by falling prices for crude. Winkler County in the early 1990s continued as an oil and ranching county. By 2014 population of the county dipped again to 7,821; about 39.2 percent were Anglo, 2.9 percent African American, and 57.3 percent Hispanic. Most of the population lived in Kermit (population, 6,187) or Wink (1,028).”
Handbook of Texas Online, Julia Cauble Smith, “Winkler County“
I was the guest of Kermit and Winkler County on July 4, 2015.
Winkler County Courthouse – 1910
This was a wooden frame structure, made of gray and white boards. Its roof and cupola, meanwhile, were black. We can’t be sure who the architect or the contractors were, but we know that the entire building was sold to a newly formed community church in 1930. By that point, Winkler County officials had decided they wanted more space for county business.
It served the church for six more years, but was ultimately demolished in 1936.
Winkler County Courthouse – 1929
(Photo Courtesy: TxDOT)
David S. Castle served as the architect for this four story, brick, Classical Revival building. The firm C.S. Oates & Son drove up from Abilene to serve as contractors.
A one story addition was built around the back of the building in 1954. Additionally, the fourth floor was used as a sheriff’s quarters and county jail until 1995.
The imposing Winkler County Courthouse faces southeast on Winkler Street.
Inside the main entry lobby
The courthouse’s eastern corner
Unfortunately, most of the aesthetically-pleasing portions of this courthouse are highly obscured by trees. These are the eastern doors.
Here’s their view. That’s Poplar Street / TX-18.
The decorative, stone flowers are a pleasant and defining characteristic of this courthouse.
The northeast corner
The northern façade, on Austin Street / TX-115
The courthouse addition was built in 1954. Its coloring pattern matches the rest of the building well for a separate construction twenty-five years later.
The western doors, facing slightly southwest on Oak Street
On the courthouse lawn
Across Austin Street from the courthouse is the very small, and crumbling, Heritage Park.
A set of murals details Winkler County history.
Poplar Street, Downtown Kermit
Kermit has two water towers.
For several years, the one in the foreground was painted with the iconic face of Kermit the Frog. Unfortunately, I just missed that design by a year or two.
Kermit City Hall, at the intersection of Winkler and Tornillo Streets
Previous Courthouse: Ector County
Next Courthouse: Ward County