THE HISTORY OF CLAY COUNTY

Written by Lucille Glasgow of the Clay County Historical Society, Inc.,
Henrietta, TX, using as sources A HISTORY OF CLAY COUNTY by William Charles Taylor (Austin: Jenkins Pub. Co., 1972 ) and HISTORY OF CLAY COUNTY AND NORTHWEST TEXAS by J.P. Earle (Austin: The Brick Row Book Shop, 1900; facsimile edition 1963.)



Clay County lies along the 98th Meridian in North Texas bordered by the Red River on the north, Montague County on the east, Jack County on the south, Archer and Wichita on the west.  It was authorized by the Texas Legislature in 1857, organized in 1860, de-organized in 1863 because of the forts being abandoned during the Civil War and the consequent depredations of the Comanche and Kiowa Indians.  After the war ended and the forts were again occupied, the county was reorganized in 1873.

In the late 1850's and early 1860's, ranchers had brought their herds onto the free range in Clay and counties farther west but lived in Montague County and came to round them up several times a year.  They suffered heavy losses but Clay County had always been a land of excellent grass, adequate water, and a climate conducive to ranching.  A few farmers came to grow corn, wheat, oats and domestic farm animals.

A little village sprang up near the center of the county named Henrietta.  It had some ten houses and a general store by the time the county was abandoned to the Indians, who burned all of it after the whites left.

Clay County was a hideout for outlaws and deserters during the waning years of the Civil War.  Fort Buffalo Springs was built in the south part of the county in 1867 and moved to Jacksboro less than a year later.  In 1869, Ft. Sill was established and soldiers patrolling between there and Ft. Richardson in Jacksboro afforded some protection from marauding Indians so that settlers began to trickle back into the county; some rebuilt cabins up to the blackened stone chimneys left from the first houses in Henrietta.

In 1869, Brevet Major G.B. McClellan and some 50 men of the Sixth Cavalry were attacked near the charred remains of Henrietta by a force of 300 warriors under Chief Kicking Bird.  The soldiers managed to hold out during a hard day's fighting and the Indians withdrew during the night.

Henry Whaley was the first truly permanent white settler in Clay County, near the present-day Waurika Bridge.  He and some ten or fifteen helpers grew oats to sell to the government for use at Ft. Sill.  He came in 1869 and managed to survive in spite of several skirmishes with Indians and great losses in livestock and the loss of several of the men.

In 1870 the Koozier family built in Henrietta and were murdered and kidnaped by the Indians, the women and children later being ransomed.  In the 1870's, Henrietta was the supply station for the buffalo hunters who went out onto the western prairies, killed and skinned the buffalo by the thousands and brought the hides back to Henrietta to be shipped by ox drawn freight wagons to the railroad in Sherman.  Later it was a depot for the bones gathered up from the prairies and shipped by rail to be made into fertilizer.  The Fort Worth and Denver City Railroad came through Henrietta in 1882, building west toward Denver and creating towns and populated counties along the way.

Besides some of the ranchers running cattle on the free range, farmers came into the county, first in the south at Newport in 1872 and then along the Red River at Benvenue in 1876 and Charlie in 1878.   In 1876 the U.S. Government put a telegraph line from Ft. Richardson to Ft. Sill, running through the little town of New Henrietta, later called Cambridge, about six miles east of Henrietta.  For some time there was stiff rivalry between the two towns for the county seat.  When the railroad came through Henrietta in 1882, most of the residents of Cambridge moved their houses to Henrietta.

In 1873 William Sude Ikard established a ranch in the central part of the county and introduced the first Hereford cattle into the area in 1876.  He suffered heavy losses to Texas fever until the tick was discovered to be the carrier and cattlemen began to dip the cattle to rid them of the deadly pests.

In 1878 Shannon was settled in the extreme south part of the county and Buffalo Springs several miles northeast, where the fort had been earlier. Also, Joy, Prospect and Bluegrove were settled in the south central part of the county in the late '70's and early '80's .

As barbed wire was introduced into the county, the free range began to disappear.  A prolonged drought precipitated a fence-cutting war in the south part of the county and elsewhere in Texas.  After much destruction of fences and several shootings, the legislature met in special session and passed laws which resolved the conflict.  Mr. Sanborn, an early barbed wire promoter, established the Stanfield Ranch in northern Clay Co. in 1883.  Thus was born also the community of Stanfield.

Other communities settled in the '80's and '90's were Thornberry in the northwest, Hurnville and Riverland in the north and northeast, Deer Creek and Halsell in the south central part.  Bellevue had been established as a shipping point on the new railroad in the east in 1882 and Jolly in the west in 1890.

In 1901, oil was discovered on the Lockridge farm about 15 miles northwest of Henrietta.  The boom was on; Oil City was born on the barren prairie. The Wichita and Oklahoma Railroad was built from Wichita Falls northeast to the Red River.  Oil City moved over to the railroad and became Petrolia in 1904 and in that same year town lots were sold by the Byers Brothers Ranch to form the town of Byers some five miles northeast of Petrolia.

In 1906 the Petrolia oil was found to have a high gas content and Lone Star Gas Co. was formed to distribute gas to Wichita Falls, Henrietta, and on to Dallas and Fort Worth.  Oil was eventually found in nearly all parts of the county to be one of its major industries, along with agriculture.

From the eighty some odd rural schools Clay County has had at one time or another have come five modern, highly accredited consolidated school districts: Henrietta, Byers, Petrolia, Bellevue and Midway.  Many county residents work in Wichita Falls, Bowie and as far away as the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex.

Clay County is still the home of ranches of all sizes, where pick-up trucks and four wheelers vie with cow ponies as the preferred mode of transportation and where hunting leases are a new source of income.  Large fields of wheat and cotton still abound in the northern part of the county.

Residents are proud of their frontier heritage that has produced friendly people who pride themselves on being independent, individualistic, tough, God-fearing citizens who help their neighbors and cherish their Pioneer Reunion and Rodeo in September.  It is a good place to live.


 


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