About Briscoe County
Briscoe County is on the edge of the Texas High Plains along the eastern Caprock escarpment, which separates the Llano Estacado from the rolling plains. It is bordered on the east by Hall County, on the west by Swisher County, on the north by Armstrong County, and on the south by Floyd and Motley counties. Briscoe County was separated from the Bexar District in 1876, organized in 1892, and named for Andrew Briscoe, a soldier in the Texas Revolution, who during the period of the republic became a judge and railroad promoter.
The county comprises 887 square miles of irregular terrain ranging up to 3,300 feet in altitude; the elevation drops in Tule Canyon as low as 1,000 feet. The annual precipitation averages 10.5 inches, and the growing season averages 214 days a year. The average annual minimum temperature is 26░ F in January, and the annual maximum is 94░ in July. Silverton, the county seat, is five miles southwest of the center of the county, which is at 101░15' west longitude and 34░30' north latitude, sixty miles southeast of Amarillo.
Geologists have found evidence of occupation by pre-Columbian people throughout Briscoe County; ruins of irrigation canals or of stockades attest to a high degree of civilization. Plains Apaches followed these Indians and were displaced around 1700 by the Comanches, who found the canyon recesses abundant with buffalo, antelope, and other wild game. JosÚ Mares and Pedro Vialq led trading expeditions through the vicinity in the late 1780s, as did Francisco Amangual in 1808. The advance party of the Texan Santa Fe expedition passed by the Quitaque country in 1841, and in 1852 captains Randolph B. Marcy and George B. McClellan followed the Prairie Dog Town Fork through the area of the present county.
The town of Quitaque began in 1890 as a stage stop. In 1891 Thomas J. Braidfoot laid out the townsite of Silverton and led the movement for the organization of the county. By the spring of 1892 enough settlers had arrived to bring Braidfoot's plan to fruition. A petition was circulated, and on March 15, 1892, the electorate officially organized the county and chose Silverton as its seat.
J. N. Stalbird was elected the first county judge, F. D. Fisher county attorney, R. I. Hanna treasurer, T. L. Anderson clerk, and Miner Crawford sheriff. By 1900 the population had grown to 1,253, and six school districts had been established. Immigrant farmers introduced various crops to the region before World War I, the most promising of which were wheat, sorghum, and cotton.
Cotton was first grown in Briscoe County on an experimental basis but became one of the county's most important crops by 1930. In 1900 only eight acres of Briscoe County land was planted in cotton; in 1910 over 3,400 acres were devoted to the fiber, then 7,535 acres in 1920, and over 36,000 acres in 1929. The county's first gin was built in 1912.
Between 1900 and 1930 ranches gave way to farms, until most of the arable lands were under cultivation by the early 1930s. The number of farms in the county grew from 170 in 1900 to 307 in 1910, then to 397 in 1920 and 679 in 1930. As farming expanded, the population grew, from 2,162 in 1910 to 2,948 by 1920 and to 5,590 by 1930. During the Great Depression the agricultural economy suffered and contracted. The number of farms in the county dropped from 679 to 516 between 1929 and 1940, and cotton production dropped by more than 30 percent.
In the early 1990s Briscoe County continued to rely heavily on agriculture as a major source of revenue; its irrigated land comprised 40,000 acres. Cotton, grain sorghums, and wheat continued to be of prime importance, though vegetables and melons were beginning to be introduced. Ranching in the county was almost entirely limited to cattle.
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