WARD COUNTY HISTORY
Ward County Historical Commission
- CHAIRMAN - Ellen Friar
- VICE-CHARIMAN - Arcadio Rivera
- SECRETARY - Bonnie Moore
- TREASURER - Camilla Blum
And So It Began
In 1887 the 20th Texas State Legislature divided Tom Green County into six different counties: Ector, Crane, Loving, Winkler, Upton and Ward. At this time Ward County remained “attached” to Reeves County politically, until the population increased and was able to function as its own political entity. Over ten years of time had passed while the population steadily increased. At this time Ward County citizens organized and petitioned to become an independent political party. The petition was granted on February 22, 1892 and precincts were designated. The first election was held on March 29, 1892 where the county seat was determined, and county officers were elected.
Barstow was selected as the county seat in a vote of 72 to 12. The first Commissioner’s Court was comprised of the following members: County Judge – R.D. Gage; Pct 1 Commissioner – P. H. Wheat; Pct 2 Commissioner – W.C. Carson; Pct 3 Commissioner – P.H. Duraske; Pct 4 Commissioner – A.D. Irwin.
Bids were open for the construction of a new courthouse in August of 1892. Memory & McErvan from Fort Worth were awarded the bid for the amount of $15,182.00. Construction of the courthouse and jail was completed in March of 1893. The sandstone used for the courthouse came from the Quito Quarry, located southeast of Barstow.
Though you would not know it today, Barstow at one time flourished in agriculture. Barstow, which is bordered by the Pecos River, used the abundant water supply to support a large agriculture industry. In 1903 it was reported in the Dallas News that Barstow plantings included 350 acres of grapes, 150 acres of peaches, 150 acres of pears, and 950 acres of melons. The year 1904 put Barstow on the map when Barstow Grapes won first prize at the World’s Fair in St. Louis. Not even California’s Fresno Valley could surpass the Pecos Valley. All types of vegetables, almonds, apples and strawberries flourished in the basin.
A new variety of alfalfa, called the Barstow Common, was developed near Grandfalls and became famous across the United States. The seed is still sold today.
Many immigrants settled along the river comprising the towns of Pecos, Barstow and Grandfalls. Economic stability seemed assured until the McMillan Dam on the Pecos near Carlsbad, NM was built and cut off most of the water supply below. Slowly the agriculture industry in Ward County diminished. Today the county supports approximately: 20 acres of pecans, 1000 acres of cotton, and 150 acres of alfalfa.
Million Barrel Tank
The 80 acres of land was purchased for $4,000 on January 13th 1928 to construct a million barrel tank to be used by the Shell Oil Company. As with many west Texas towns, the Oil Boom created temporary prosperity to all residents. Jobs were plenty, and business was good. The tank was to be built in 90 days and construction began immediately by workers who labored in shifts through 24 hour days. Calculations were by abacus, earth work was done by horses, mules, the fresno and other tools.
The “Million Barrel” was to relieve the markets’ glut of oil, ruining the price by over-supply. As oil continued to sprout from newly discovered fields, the need to store the oil until it could be shipped by rail or pipeline to the refinery increased exponentially. Eventually the concrete lined tank was completed and the giant wooden roof began construction. The roof was constructed of 8” square upright supports, topped with a wooded roof to over hang the sides to provide a seal to eliminate evaporation of the crude. The roof was provided with a maze of lightening rods for fire protection.
Once completed, the tank was immediately filled with oil. The tank covered eight acres of land and measured over 20’ high, 620’ in length and 510’ wide. Its capacity was 1,084,000 barrels. Built at a cost of more than a quarter million dollars, the tank was only filled once. After this initial and only use of the tank the project was abandoned, due to the tank leaking, an increase of taxes for stored oil, and the Great Depression.
In 1956 the tank was filled for a second and final time. The tank was to be used for a recreational water facility. “Melody Park” was opened and closed the same day. Unfortunately the tank was no more successful at holding water than it had been at holding oil.
The tank and land surrounding it was donated to in 1984 for the development of the Million Barrel Museum. This effort was driven by the Texas Sesquicentennial Project to encompass the history of Ward County as it developed from the influence of the railroad, agriculture, ranching, and the oil industry. Since that time the Holman House/Hotel, the first Ward County Jail house, a railroad section house, oil field equipment, farming tools, a windmill, and school house has been moved to the grounds. An amphitheatre was also constructed in one corner of the tank to be used for concerts and other special events.
Monahans “steals” County Seat
Since the establishment of Ward County, the county seat had been located in Barstow. In 1918 the agriculture industry in Barstow had been declining due to the dam on the Pecos River in New Mexico. As the population in Barstow declined, the population in Monahans increased. Oil had been discovered around Monahans and the town steadily grew. In 1937 the citizens of Monahans decided that they wanted to become the county seat of Ward County and figured they had the votes to do so.
After a rough start to organize the proper formal process for the move, an election was held on May 10, 1938. A sweeping majority of 1,649 to 453 citizens supported the relocation of the move. Much legal maneuvering took place in the following month while the county swore to the district court that they had no intensions to move the county records from Barstow until all litigation was finished.
Suddenly a quick meeting of Commissioners’ Court was held on June 14th. A vote concerning the removal of the records from Barstow was won by a vote of 3 to 2, as records show. It is told, however, that the actual vote was 3 to 1, as the Barstow commissioner was not in attendance.
A short time before court was held, 5 large moving vans waited on top of the hill east of Barstow. As soon as the motion passed, the vans were flagged from the top story of the courthouse. Immediately after the signal, the vans traveled in to town and began a systematic cleaning of the courthouse.
Members of the county government who did not support this action drove at breakneck speed to Kermit to ask the District Judge to issue a restraint against the removal of the records. The order was promptly issued under one circumstance… the order needed the county seal on the document to be considered official. As the workers returned to Barstow to obtain the seal, they found that it had already been confiscated. The seal was in one of the vans that had already arrived in Monahans, leaving the document unsealed and of no effect.
While the records were being removed from the courthouse in Barstow, numerous Monahans “volunteers” stood under armed guard. Additionally a group of Barstow citizens congregated armed as well. All parties involved remained on edge, and a small spark could have initiated a West Texas shoot out. However, there were no sparks and the records were removed without incident.
Temporary space was designated for the county government at the Monahans City Hall until a new courthouse was constructed and finished in 1941.
Pyote Bomber Base
Known for the unending flat terrain and continuous clear blue skies Pyote was selected from numerous West Texas towns to support a World War II training facility for bombers. The Army Airfield was located on 2745 acres of University of Texas land, one mile southwest of Pyote. Construction began at the end of 1942 and was completed nearly over night. The facility contained two giant runways, each over 1 ½ miles and an intersecting taxiway which formed a triangle. The base also included 5 large hangers, shops, warehouses, and living quarters. During the construction, the base earned the nick name “Rattlesnake Bomber Base” in recognition of the hundreds of infamous diamondback rattlesnakes found in the area.
Training programs started soon after New Years Day of 1943, rapidly turning out crews proficient in hitting targets from the B-17 Flying Fortress, and the B-29 Super Fortress. Time served at the base was bittersweet for the military men, as it was their last stop before they headed off to war…without a promise of a safe return. Thousands of men and women claimed Pyote as home, even if for just a short while. At the end of the war in 1945, most of the service men and women still stationed in Pyote were discharged or sent elsewhere. Immediately the base was turned into a storage depot for some 2000+ aircraft. A select few servicemen remained to tend to the base upkeep and aircraft storage responsibilities. After the Korean War, all the planes at Pyote were moved or scrapped, and most of the activity on the base ceased. In 1963, after several transformations from the original purpose, the base was closed for good.
Today, all that remains of the once busy populated base are the concrete walls of the main hanger. There are also some concrete vaults with armored doors still in place that were used to store the top-secret Norden bombsights between training missions. There are also numerous foundations scattered across the site. The runways and taxiway are all in fairly good condition with some native desert flora slowly taking over. The water tower with a beacon on top, the officer’s club swimming pool, and the main entrance built by German POWs all remain as well.