Beef Capital of the World and a Rich Western Heritage
by: Bobby McDonald
Located in Deaf Smith County, in the Texas Panhandle, Hereford, Texas is the county seat and home to approximately 15,000 people. The area is in a rich farming area and because of the large number of beef cattle feedlots in the area, it is known as the "Beef Capital of the World." The corn, soybeans, and milo crops are fed to the cattle that are brought to the region to be fattened to slaughter weight, from all across the state of Texas.
Although Erastus "Deaf" Smith never set foot in Deaf Smith County, it was in his honor and memory that the county bears his name. Erastus "Deaf" Smith was a hero of the Texas Revolution. He was the scout commander under General Sam Houston. Smith’s exploits during the revolution led to his being made a Captain of the Texas Rangers. After retiring from the Rangers, he made his home in Richmond, Texas where he died in 1837. His "heroic acts" were admired by many and he was known as "The Texas Spy" for his bravery and scouting ability. La Plata was the first county seat, but the winter of 1897 brought disaster to the once promising little town. In February of that year, four inches of sleet was covered with eight inches of snow. The temperature was freezing or below for 21 consecutive days making it impossible for cattle to break through the ice for water or grass. Over 350 head were lost, forcing folks to leave and begin again elsewhere. The railroad missed La Plata by 26 miles prompting the citizens to relocate the town near the railroad.
Hereford was born on September 1, 1898. Troy Womble owns the distinction of being the first resident. His dugout was 40 yards west of Hwy. 385 and 10 feet south of the present railroad track. Hereford got its name from registered Hereford cattle brought by L.R. Bradley and G.R. Jowell. The cattle were from Hereford, England. Hereford became the county seat that same year. By 1900, the population had grown to 843 residents.
As Hereford grew at a steady rate, water was pumped from underground. Windmills provided the solution to meeting the growth demand. Hereford became known as the "Windmill City" with more than 400 windmills in the town. Area farmers began growing wheat in 1903. The first irrigation well was dug on the G. R. Jowell ranch in 1903. It was a ten inch well, 100 feet deep, and produced 280 gallons of water per minute. The area became prime farmland with the ability to make a profit of $1,000 per year and producing 40 bushels to the acre. Hundreds of people at a time began arriving by immigration trains to look at Hereford as a place to relocate and start a new life. They were drawn by agricultural products like cabbage, onions, corn, cotton, and wheat. After the "Dust Bowl" days, Hereford resumed as one of the top producers of agricultural products.
The railroad was the heart of trade for Hereford and it allowed Hereford to prosper and grow very rapidly. In 1910, Hereford was doing so well that it constructed a new courthouse. It was built of white Georgia marble. It is the only marble courthouse in Texas. Downtown Hereford began a rapid growth and became a trade center for the area. That’s pretty much the way it has been ever since. Hereford has prospered and grown and is still recognized as one of the more progressive cities in the Texas Panhandle.
Other interesting facts about Hereford, Texas, include that the water supply in Hereford contains an unusually high level of naturally occuring flourine. Because flouride is used to protect against tooth decay, Hereford earned the title, "The Town Without a Toothache." High levels of flouride consumed by longtime or younger residents may cause staining of a person's teeth if they live in the area long.
The local economy in Hereford is driven by farming, beef cattle, feedlots, and a recent growth in dairy and ethanol industries. It receives its water supply from the Ogallala Aquifer and the saltier, Santa Rosa Aquifer, beneath it.
Hereford was also the birthplace of the Texas Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, begun by Hereford resident, Margaret Clark Formby (1929-200). It was later moved permanently to Ft. Worth, Texas, for a larger tourist market.
And, Hereford was once located on part of the famous XIT Ranch, and just south of Hereford was the historic Las Escrbadas ranch house of the XIT. The restored structure has now been moved to the National Ranching Heritage Center, at Texas Tech University, in Lubbock.
The Deaf Smith County Historical Museum is a rich source of Panhandle history, and is located at 400 Sampson Street, in Hereford, Texas.
Make plans to visit the Hereford area, the next time you are in the Texas Panhandle.