Andrews County is located in the Permian Basin, which is approximately 250 miles wide and 300 miles long. The basin was formed during the Permian Period, the final portion of the Paleozoic Era (approximately 280 million years ago). At one time the basin was filled with marine life and plants. As the ocean dried up, the decaying plants and animals eventually helped form the gigantic pools of oil and gas that are still being taken from the basin.
Little of the actual history of the Indians who inhibited, or passed through, what is now Andrews is known. However, research documents have been made of the surrounding counties of the South Plains and the Permian Basin of Texas. This area of Texas known as the 'Llano Estacado' or 'staked plains' (referring to stakes placed for subsequent travelers) has an interesting and colorful history. In research documents there are few actual references to Andrews County and the Indians who inhabited the area. Angostura type arrowheads discovered by archeologists indicate the possibility of an aboriginal population as early as 6,000 - 4,000 B.C., but pottery sherds and other evidence establish occupation by the Anasazi Navajo from around 900 A.D. Many pieces of this type pottery had been found at numerous “campsites” in Andrews County.
In more recent times the Apaches and Comanches occupied the region. It is believed to be the Comanche Indians who dominated this area of West Texas. The Comanches were in reality late-comers to this area and successfully ruled it for more than 400 years The Comanches did not arrive to this region as a large body, rather they gradually migrated in families or small bands at different times. They were nomadic people that followed the game such as buffalo and antelope, which were plentiful in this area at that time. They lived mostly in teepees and seldom built dwellings of any type. It is said the Comanche Indians were the most stubborn foes that the Texas and U.S. Army had and were among the last of the Indian tribes to be subdued. The Comanche Era ended in 1845 when the State of Texas was admitted to the Union and the Gold Rush of California got underway in 1849. These two events touched off a large-scale migration to the West, and the Indians were driven from their lands as the United States Army campaigns of 1874-75 cleared the way for white settlement.
It took seven different, distinct waves of white men to pass through the county, who remained a relatively short period of time before wandering on, but each time leaving behind a few of their number who planted ever deepening tap roots. And in those who remained from each succeeding wave of people who came from other parts of the state and nation came the seed, that ultimately blossomed into something unique, something mysteriously Andrews, something experienced by few other counties.
From those who remained sprung a peculiar oneness, a striking cohesiveness, an almost built-in hereditary togetherness not repeated elsewhere in Texas. Perhaps it is a shared feeling of remoteness from other communities. The distinct gut reaction of being orphaned from the mainstream of travel, commerce, and culture. The carry over from being handed from one government unit to another like an unwelcome relative that developed the distinct Texas trait of 'going-it-alone' and saying to hell with other distant neighbors.
Other communities have evolved into one city in a major county. Still others have one countywide school district. But nowhere has the all-inclusive feeling of togetherness, of oneness, created a one-city, one-school, one-water-system, one-strata of society that was, and is, all encompassing to the perfection that exists in Andrews. Maybe it was the feeling of isolation, of no one else caring, of having to 'make-do' that spawned the independence of the Andrews community at large that officially was the last county in the state of Texas to ask for, or receive, any kind of federal grant or aid and it came years after the end of World War II.
It is said that the waters of Shafter Lake turned salty over the years from the tears of women who spent their first year in Andrews crying. The land was inhospitable, unwelcoming, and unrelenting for the men charged with launching a new family beginning, & it was doubly hard with the absence of water and women that delayed until the turn of the century, Andrews emerging into the bright sunshine of recognition.
The land in Andrews has been the subject of controversy, bitter arguments, and involved shenanigans in Austin and Washington for over 150 years. The greatest lure Texas had was the vast expanse of free or cheap land. According to the English economist and novelist Harriet Martineau, who took an extended tour of the United States in 1834-1836: 'The possession of land is the aim of all actions, generally speaking, and a cure for all social evils, among men in the United States. If a man is disappointed in politics or love, he goes and buys land. If he disgraces himself, he betakes to a lot in the West. If the demand for any article of manufactured items slacken, the operatives drop into the unsettled lands of the West.” Land was the key to stability and growth in the western states and Texas was no exception.
During the ten years that Texas existed as a Republic following its independence from Mexico, the state gave away 41,570,733 acres of land to encourage settlement, to reward veterans of the war of Independence, to pay debts, and to finance the state's operations. All heads of households in Texas could claim a league of land (about 4605) acres. In 1844, as negotiations proceeded for Texas to join the Union, the resulting treaty stipulated that the U.S. would pay $10 million of the Republic's debts and acquire 175 million acres of the public domain.
Early exploration reports to Washington reported on the absence of waterholes, streams, and rivers in the western section of the state that contained most of the state's public domain. Yankee congressmen 'THREW A FIT' over the treaty. Many denounced West Texas as a 'barren desert unknown neither to man nor beast' and by no stretch of the imagination could it be valued at $10 million dollars. In the compromise worked out prior to the passage of the annexation treaty, Texas officials agreed to keep their debt and also their public lands. Because of the West Texas oil boom, that was undoubtedly the worst decision made by Washington in the 19th century.
In 1855 Texas cleared up all its debts and still had over 98 million acres of public lands, of which 1500 square miles were located in Andrews County. Texas gave away over 30 million acres to promote railroad construction and 50 million acres were set aside as an endowment to public schools and colleges.
Three years after Texas gained its independence from Mexico, Mirabeau B. Lamar, president of the Republic of Texas, approved a measure passed by Congress setting aside 50 leagues (221,420 acres) of public lands for establishment of two universities. The ultimate result was the University of Texas and Texas A&M University. In 1876, the legislature in Austin donated an additional 1,000,000 acres to the two universities and in 1883, another 1,000,000 acres. The last grant contained many acres in West Texas including Andrews County. The land in Andrews had been termed too arid, too worthless, and too unstable by railroads and other prospective grantees to justify the cost of locating and surveying it. In all, the University wound up with 293,000 acres or 20 percent of the land in Andrews County.
It is ironic, even to present day residents of the county, that the land spurned by the U.S. congressmen, laughed at by the Texas legislature and bestowed by the governor as worthless, should ultimately prove of immense wealth to the University and the State. There is a lesson to be learned here that we should not forget.
Colonel William Shafter made a famous 840-mile march through this area, which marked a new era for Andrews County. Operating out of his military base in Fort Concho near San Angelo, Colonel Shafter set out to prove that the county was not absolutely devoid of water as believed by many Easterners. In October 1875, Colonel Shafter came upon a body of water five miles northwest of the present site of Andrews. This body of water is now named Shafter Lake. Colonel Shafter wrote that the water, although quite strong in alkali, could be used and that the area was covered in excellent grass and other foliage. Three years later, a buffalo hunter by the name of Henry Moore, made the first permanent improvement in what is now Andrews County. He hand dug a well on what is now the Ralph McWhorter ranch in the extreme western portion of the county. By this time fierce railroad construction across the nation and Texas had succeeded in making huge dents in the 12 to 15 million buffalo estimated to be roaming the plains in 1865.
In 1876, Texans had regained control of their state government, carpetbaggers disappeared and conservative goals were established throughout the state. Oil had already been produced for 16 years in Pennsylvania and six years earlier the transcontinental railroad had been completed. The new constitution created 54 counties that lay in the Panhandle and South Plains, and among them was Andrews County.
Andrews County was formed from Bexar County on August 21, 1876, just a year after the first detailed exploration made by Colonel William R. Shafter. The county was named after Richard Andrews, a hero of the Texas Revolution. Andrews was the first man killed at the Battle of Concepción in the war for Texas independence in 1835. For administrative purposes the area was placed within the jurisdiction of Shackelford County in 1876, within the Howard Land District from 1882 to 1887, and within the Martin Land District from 1887 to 1891. The area was then placed within the jurisdiction of Martin County from 1891 until 1910, when Andrews County was formally organized with Andrews as its county seat. Subsequent boundary alterations occurred in 1902, 1931, and 1932.
Following Colonel Shafter's report concerning luxurious grass and ample waterholes, ranching took hold. John S. Chisum first operated a herd near Fort Concho that was said to exceed 100,000 head of cattle. A man could make a new start on the Plains by buying one section and grazing his cows free on all the land that he could successfully hold against newcomers. Waterholes held the key to success. Ranching, to a large extent, revolved around the distance that a cow could graze in a day's time, and still get back to the water by nightfall. Waterholes dotted the county during an average year of 15 inches of rainfall. A legislative act in 1883 made it possible to purchase huge tracts of land at 50 cents an acre with 1/2 of the proceeds going to the state public school fund and the other half going to the general revenue fund of Texas.
In the early 1880s the building of the Texas and Pacific Railway through Midland County and Andrews County gave promise of future growth. The railroad promoted immigration and had millions of acres to offer settlers. But since there was plenty of land in West Texas with better access to transportation than Andrews County, the population grew slowly. The census showed only 24 residents in 1890, and as late as 1900 only 87 people lived in Andrews County.
Two partnerships in Midland purchased 228,000 acres of land in the southeastern corner of the county. The land was sold the same year to Nelson Morris, a wealthy meat packer in Chicago. The large 'Chicago Ranch' or C-ranch became the first privately owned ranching property in the area. Mr. Morris developed the ranch into an operation fueled by banking and meat packing operations in both Chicago and Canada. The innovative rancher pioneered many ranching developments not only for Andrews County but the West Texas ranching economy in general.
He stocked Angus cattle, black hornless, compact in build, with short legs and large bodies. The breed was noted for its ease of handling and raising. The cattle were kept on the C-Ranch until they were yearlings and then shipped to Morris' ranches in the Dakotas for feeding out until slaughter. In 1886 O. B. Holt was the first to file for county lands, although the huge Chicago Ranch founded by Nelson Morris had previously purchased 228,000 acres of land in Andrews County.
After the droughts of 1886 and 1887, two important events occurred on the Nelson Morris’ C-Ranch, which ultimately changed the face of ranching in West Texas. Morris brought the first 'windmill' to the area. Nelson Morris introduced windmills to draw ground water. He had seventy-nine of the wind machines spaced on his ranch. Morris also introduced barbed wire fences as 'drift fences' to keep cattle from drifting far and wide. The net effect of the windmill and fences was to make it possible to not only develop pure bred herds but to graze large areas of the county not available during dry seasons of the past. The ultimate effect of the windmill and fencing was to eventually bring about the demise of the open ranges of West Texas.
The county's aridity and its lack of surface streams encouraged novel rain making experiments in 1891 by the United States Department of Agriculture. Sixty mortars charged with blasting powder and thirty kites suspending dynamite released their destructive forces at clouds while a number of ten-foot balloons, each holding a thousand cubic feet of oxygen and hydrogen gas were simultaneously discharged. Despite these notable bombardments no rain fell locally, although a copious precipitation to the east and south was, perhaps, a result of the experiment.
In 1894 the Scharbauers purchased the Wells Ranch, which with Morris's C-Ranch, occupied most of the eastern part of the county. A year later the Texas legislature passed the four-section law, which helped to end open-range ranching in Texas by encouraging the breakup up of great ranches for the benefit of homesteaders and small tract purchasers. As late as 1900, only 87 people lived in Andrews County. The town of Andrews began forming around 1908 with a general store and a schoolhouse. There were only 87 people living in the county, most of them ranchers. In 1903 the Means Memorial Methodist Church became the first Andrews church to organize officially. A one-room schoolhouse had opened in Andrews in 1907 and by 1909 it had 25 students. A year later six county school districts were established. A post office was established in 1909, and another church congregation was joined in 1910 by Andrews Baptist Church. Andrews then became the county seat in 1910 after a spirited contest against Shafter Lake.
By 1910, however, the population was 975, principally farmers and ranchers. Though only 70 acres of farmland had been classified as improved in the 1900 census, by 1910 the census counted 1,105 improved acres. The county had more than 53,000 cattle in 1900, and more than 54,000 in 1910. In 1911 the Commissioner’s Court voted to accept plans and specifications for a new courthouse. On February 17, 1911 an election for an $8,000 bond issue to finance the proposed courthouse carried, 66 to 44 and residents of Andrews County built their first courthouse.
The terrible drought of 1917-18, World War I, the great influenza epidemic of 1917-18, storm blizzards, and a drop in cattle prices all had great effects in the reduced county population, which dropped to 350 in 1920. By 1920 more than 6,000 acres of farmland had been classified as improved. Almost 2,700 acres was planted in corn, at that time the county's most important crop. Still, actual cropland accounted for relatively little of the county's economic activity; ranching, while declining somewhat between 1910 and 1920, continued to dominate the local economy.
It was clear by this time that much county land was not suitable for farming. Cattle ranchers bought the abandoned lands of disappointed farmers to extend their ranges. Land owned by the University of Texas, some fourteen blocks scattered around the county, accounted for 29 percent of the total acreage, and much of this was leased for grazing purposes. Nevertheless, agricultural activity did rebound during the 1920s; seventy-five farms and ranches were counted in Andrews in 1930, nearly a 32 percent increase over the figure for 1920. During this same decade cotton came to be the single largest crop raised by the farmers of the county. While the number of acres devoted to corn production fell more than 50 percent between 1920 and 1930, by 1930 almost 1,900 acres was planted with cotton.
The 1920s also saw the beginning of oil production in Andrews County. In 1924, Missourian Charles E. Ogden came to Andrews from Waco. He had traded some Waco town property for a section of land, moved his family to Andrews and started farming, raising cotton and grain sorghum. In 1926 he signed an oil lease with R.C. Sartain who then assigned the lease to Deep Rock Oil Co., Atlantic Producing Oil Co., and The California Co.
The exact location was Section 5, Block A-46 of the Public School Lands, a dry, barren stretch of land about six miles northwest of Andrews. Public School Lands, unlike University Lands, which are held as a permanent endowment, are lands that have been sold off for private ownership with the University retaining a percentage of mineral interest in the land.
Development in Andrews County proceeded slowly until 1929, when the Deep Rock Oil Company made the first major strike in the county. It was on December 5, 1929, with five strings of oil casing run, when the Ogden well bit finally hit the top of the San Andres oil formation at 4,345 ft., an explosion of oil shot through the rig and flowed in prodigious quantities. A level of 700 feet of oil rose in the hole during the next 10 hours. Four days later the well began flowing by heads, a development that attracted a host of oil scouts and drew headlines in the Midland and Odessa weekly newspapers, but it drew the most attention from the Board of Regents at the University in Austin. Dr. Hal P. Bybee, geologist in charge, reported to the board, 'Santa Claus has come to the University in the form of the Deep-Rock Ogden No. 1 well.'
While the excitement was general in oil-industry circles and among county residents, who braced for a great boom, prosperity did not come at once and like other great happenings in Andrews, clouds immediately formed to stop the full production of the discovery. The timing of the new field could not have been worse. The giant East Texas fields were in full production, and the 1929 crash had devastated the market. Oil that brought $1 a barrel in October 1930 was now selling for as little as 10 cents a barrel in July 1931. Even at that price, the Andrews County oil of low gravity and heavy in sulfur, would not have sold. The oil from the Ogden well was heavy with a low gravity of 26 to 31 and was impregnated with excessive sulphur, which caused the pipeline companies to not want to build a pipeline into the county. The people of Deep Rock Oil Company moved several 10,000-barrel tanks onto the lease and partially filled them but there was little or no demand for this type of oil. Finally the company closed down its activities in Andrews County. It appeared as though the Andrews County oil boom had fizzled before it really ever got started.
But then a stranger driving an old Cadillac touring car appeared on the streets of Andrews in the fall of 1931. He visited the Deep Rock location and made a detailed list of the equipment and materials on hand and inspected the remaining oil in the tanks as well as the semi-abandoned oil well. He was J.W. Triplehorn, an experienced cable tool driller, then living in Fort Worth. He was angered while buying and selling used oil-field equipment during those depression days. He had heard about Deep Rock's trouble and came to Andrews to inspect the equipment in preparing to make an offer. He later found that the Deep Rock people not only wanted to sell the tools and equipment but also sell the lease and the wells upon it. They wanted to end, what for them, was a bad memory in Andrews. As a result of the national economic depression and the slow flow of the oil, Deep Rock Oil Company eventually sold all it’s holdings to J.W. Triplehorn, who made the deal of the century and bought it all for $7,500.
Once in control of the lease, J.W. Triplehorn ad his workers proceeded to clean it out and convert it into a reliable producer. They also drilled offsets to the well. On the urging of his son, Maurice, a recent graduate of the University of Oklahoma in petroleum engineering, Triplehorn traded his cable tools for a rotary outfit in order to drill deeper and faster. Triplehorn had worked previously with Humble Oil Company (later Exxon Company, U.S.A.) and encouraged Humble Oil to lease other lands and to build a pipeline in Andrews County.
In 1934 Triplehorn brought in the wells J. S. Means No. 1 and R. M. Means No. 1, and the pace of development quickened. With the discovery of both wells, Andrews was on its way as a confirmed oil producer in West Texas. That same year that Triplehorn's first wells came in, the Andrews County News began publication. Oil may have had its greatest local impact on the public school system because the original districts were consolidated into one, based in Andrews County. If R.S. 'Bob' Means is considered the father of the City of Andrews because of his work in the county, then J.W. Triplehorn could easily be termed the father of the oil industry in Andrews County.
Andrews pulled out its billionth barrel of crude production in 1965 to permanently etch itself in the history books. The chief factor in bringing the 'good life' to Andrews County has been the oil and gas industry. It has consistently paid the high taxes and high wages that have meant a vital economy and prosperous community and county.
It is ironic that in the early days gas was considered to be the curse of the industry and multi-billions of cubic feet of natural gas have been burned off or 'flared' in Andrews. Many have tried to estimate the tremendous volumes of natural gas flared before the pipelines to California and the Northeast provided markets for this now valuable and vital commodity. It is probably best we don't know, lest the mental anguish could become too great.
There was very little city government until 1937 when the people incorporated the city. One of the reasons the local people were so slow in incorporating the city was because very few people actually lived within the city limits. The town's population, 611 by 1940, did not reflect the increasing importance of the region, for most of the oilmen and their families lived outside of town in company camps.
Though five new oilfields drilled during the 1930s continued local petroleum development, the industry did not really boom in Andrews County until the 1940s, when twenty-six new fields were discovered. Extravagant drilling efforts during this time added an entirely new dimension to life, as thousands of people traveled to the area seeking jobs in the oilfields and service industries. By the 1940s, sorghum had become another leading crop. The population of Andrews County rose from 1,277 in 1940 to more than 5,000 in 1950, and with the growth came housing problems and overcrowded conditions in Andrews, which, like the rest of the county, experienced unprecedented growth and prosperity thanks to the oil boom.
A new high school was built in 1945 and a library was established in one room in the county courthouse in 1947. After the opening of new oilfields in 1942, 1943, and 1944, the industry slumped. Petroleum production rose in Andrews County during the 1950s, when ninety new fields were discovered and a new middle school was built in 1954. Oil income from royalties and tax dollars provided residents with many of modern services and conveniences that could not be afforded earlier, but oil production fell off in the 1960s, when only fifty-three new fields were found, and particularly in the early 1970s, when only thirteen new fields were discovered. Unemployment mounted, and county leaders called for some diversification of industry and by the 1960s most of the oil companies had closed their camps. Left with the choice of diversification or evacuation, many residents stayed on and developed a broader economic base for the town. The population fluctuated during these years, changing from 3,294 in 1950 to 11,135 in 1960.
In 1962 another new high school was built and the library was moved to its own new building in 1967. Population decreased back to 8,655 in 1970, but water flooding of old fields and the Arab oil embargo of 1973-74 stimulated oil production again in the 1970s, and prosperity became general through the decade. In the early 1970s only thirteen new oil fields were discovered. Unemployment mounted, and county leaders called for some diversification of industry. The population was 10,352 in 1970 and in 1973 Andrews saw the construction of a new middle school, complete with a planetarium. The modern and well-equipped schools reflected the system's reputation as one of the best and the wealthiest in the state.
With an income of $146,055,000 and oil production valued at $1,213,228,209 in 1982, Andrews ranked among the leading counties of the state in median annual income and in annual oil production. The oil industry is a major source of employment; by the end of 1982 the county had produced over two billion barrels of oil. Some 293,000 acres of valuable county land has been owned by the state university since 1883. Population for Andrews County was estimated at 15,000 in 1982, before declining slightly to 14,338 in 1990.
In the early 1990s cattle ranching continued to be the most important agricultural activity in the county, while sorghum, cotton, and corn were the most significant crops. Livestock production accounts for roughly two-thirds of the $11 million average agricultural income. Crops of cotton, sorghums, grains, corn, and hay account for the rest. About 8,000 acres of land is irrigated. Oil and gas production and related services produce most of the county's income. Today, the oil & gas industry continues to flourish in Andrews along with farming, ranching, small businesses, and major companies.
Andrews has a history of always being a community in motion. Accomplishments and works in progress can be spotted all over town to this day. Our fervent commitment to free enterprise, our positive outlook, and the constant spirit of cooperation perseveres as the natural attitude in Andrews, Texas. With a population of over 13,000, Andrews County, nestled in the cornerstone county of Texas, is considered the West Texas city for entrepreneurs, manufacturing companies, and those seeking a quality of life.