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County of Wheeler History

Updated: Dec 9, 2019

Wheeler County is on the eastern edge of the Panhandle of Texas, along the Oklahoma border. Wheeler, the county seat, is three miles northwest of the center of the county and 100 miles east of Amarillo. The area was named for Royal T. Wheeler, the second chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court. Wheeler County occupies 914 square miles of rolling prairies and rough river breaks in the area east of the High Plains; elevations range from 2,000 to 2,800 feet above sea level.

An original Wheeler County homestead
An original Wheeler County homestead

The North Fork of the Red River and Sweetwater Creek are the two major streams in the county. The average annual rainfall is 23.7 inches.

Temperatures range from an average minimum of 26° F in January to an average maximum of 97° F in July. Mineral resources include caliche, gypsum, petroleum, and natural gas.

The area that became Wheeler County was occupied by a Plains Apache culture, which was followed by a modern Apache people, who in turn, were displaced by the Kiowas and Comanches around A.D. 1700. The Kiowas and Comanches dominated the Panhandle until they were defeated in the Red River War of 1874 and moved to reservations in Indian Territory during 1875 and 1876. Buffalo hunters had begun moving into the area before the Indians were removed.

To curb Indian escapes from Indian Territory, in June 1875, the United States Army established a post near Hidetown. It was named Fort Elliott in 1876 and remained operative until 1890, providing both protection and economic benefits for newly arrived residents.

As the buffalo were hunted out of existence, cattle ranching began to develop in the area, and former buffalo hunters, discharged soldiers, and newly arriving ranchers settled into the county.

In 1879, the local residents petitioned for county organization. On April 12, 1879, Wheeler County became the first organized county in the Panhandle.

The ranching industry began to give way to farming around 1900. Railroad construction during this period encouraged immigration and linked the area to national markets. The Santa Fe Railroad, building into the Panhandle in 1887, had missed Mobeetie by twenty miles, but in 1902, the Rock Island built westward across the Panhandle from Oklahoma to Amarillo, and along it several town sites were developed. Those towns included Crossroads, Lela, Shamrock, Norrick, and Benonine.

Petroleum discoveries further boosted the economy and population during this period. In 1923 a successful gas well near Shamrock launched a moderate oil boom. The first producing oil well was drilled in 1924, and by the end of the 1920s, the entire southwestern part of the county was honeycombed with oil and gas wells, tank batteries, and pipelines. Magic City and Kellerville developed as small oil centers. Oil and gas discoveries also led to more railroad construction. The Santa Fe Railroad extended a line from Clinton, Oklahoma, to Pampa, Texas, in 1929, crossing the northern part of Wheeler County. Town sites on this line included Allison, Zybach, Briscoe, and New Mobeetie (two miles north of Old Mobeetie). The development of the oil and gas industry in the area during the 1920s, combined with the growth of farming, caused Wheeler County’s population to more than double during the decade.

An unusual boundary adjustment on Wheeler County’s eastern border occurred in the late 1920s, when a boundary conflict between Texas and Oklahoma led to a resurvey of the line and a United States Supreme Court decision in 1930. As a result, the eastern border of the Texas Panhandle was moved 3,800 feet to the east, to the true 100th meridian. A strip being 132 miles long expanded Wheeler and other border counties of Texas at the expense of adjacent counties in Oklahoma.

Click here to view a map of Wheeler County Roads & Historical Markers



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