Dawson County is a county located in the U.S. state of Texas. In 2000, its population was 14,985. It is named for Nicholas Mosby Dawson, a soldier of the Texas Revolution. The seat of the county is Lamesa. .
In the fall of 1875 the Twenty-fourth United States Infantry, commanded by Col. William Rufus Shafter, visited the area to prepare a report on the local Indians. On October 18, 1875, the company discovered an Indian encampment at Laguna Sabinas or Cedar Lake, the legendary birthplace of Quanah Parker; the band, however, escaped to the west. The Shafter party made the first wagon roads on the plains and reported favorably on grazing conditions, but the Indian menace remained too severe for immediate settlement. The Nolan expedition of 1877 got lost in the area of the future Dawson and Lynn counties, and several members of the party of sixty died of thirst. Buffalo hunters, more than soldiers, were probably responsible for driving the Indians from the area. A surveying party for Texas and Pacific Railway lands in 1875 reported the presence of thousands of buffalo, and hunters moved in. As cattlemen learned that the grass on the Plains would produce fat cattle, ranchmen moved from the Lower Plains south of the Caprock to the new lands. By the mid-1880s four ranches, C. C. Slaughter's, Lazy S, the TJF, the Fish, and the Bartow, occupied most of the land in Dawson County. The Texas and Pacific Railroads reached Big Spring in neighboring Howard County in 1881, and that community served as the shipping point for the area. By 1890 there were 28,536 cattle reported in the county.
The first decade of the twentieth century was a time of dramatic growth for Dawson County, as the population jumped from thirty-seven people in 1900 to 2,320 in 1910, and the number of ranches and farms increased from four to 330. Between 1902 and 1905, as the grazing leases expired, Dawson County lands were filed on for settlement. Prospective settlers waited in line in Big Spring for as long as six weeks when choice pieces of land were released. In 1907 the first railroad land was sold at three to five dollars an acre. One large ranch was not opened for settlers until 1946, when it sold for sixty-five dollars an acre. The first school in Dawson County began in one room of the Mullins ranch house in 1902. The first church was organized by the Baptists in Chicago in 1904, but the Methodists built the first church building in Lamesa in 1907; it was used alternately by four communions on successive Sundays. The first post office was north of Lamesa at the Bartow ranch headquarters, where residents produced a wagonload of mail to prove to postal authorities that a post office was needed. They were so impressed by the amount of their own handiwork that they humorously named their post office Chicago. That same year, the Dawson County News was begun by J. E. Garrison and the Dawson County Bank was organized. Dawson County, named for Nicholas Mosby Dawson, had been formed on August 21, 1876, but was attached to Howard County for judicial purposes until February 13, 1905, when separate organization was authorized. Dawson County's first election to choose officials and select the county seat was held on March 20, 1905. The contesting towns, Lamesa and Chicago, were only two miles apart. Lamesa won by five votes, but a movement was already afoot to consolidate the towns and all businesses and residences in Chicago were moved into Lamesa. After six years of effort to secure a railroad, the Santa Fe was built into Lamesa in 1911. Although the first bale of cotton produced in the county was grown in 1903, cotton did not become a main crop until 1914 or 1915. During World War I prices were good for the bumper crops produced. Settlers poured in, bought pieces of the newly partitioned ranches, and sent land prices soaring. More than 24,000 acres was planted in cotton by 1920; in 1930, 182,527 acres, well more than 60 percent of all county cropland harvested, was devoted to cotton production. The county population grew to 4,309 by 1920 and increased almost threefold during the 1920s to reach 13,373 in 1930. However, by 1930, under the impact of adverse farming conditions and prices, almost 70 percent of the county's 2,218 farms were worked by tenants. The Great Depression caused many businesses to fail, but other industries that developed in the county during the 1930s partially offset these losses. The dairy industry prospered. A powdered-milk plant built in 1929 was closed by the depression but began seasonal operation in 1932 making powdered eggs. Oil development began in 1934. Twenty-eight wells were producing in the Welch community and two in the southeastern part of the county in 1946. Intermittent wildcatting has continued. In 1940 the county had a population of 15,367. Agriculture was more diversified, as county farmers grew sorghum on twice as much land as was planted with cotton. During World War IIqv Dawson County provided more men per capita for the armed services than did any other county in Texas. Despite critical farm-labor shortages, an organization of merchants, farmers, and the chamber of commerce met every agricultural quota set for the county. The egg-drying plant turned its entire facilities over to lend-lease production. Dawson County was one of the five counties in the state to win the coveted Army-Navy "E" award. Lamesa Field, an army airfield, was established in 1942 and deactivated two years later.
Irrigation was introduced into the county in the late 1940s, and cotton once again dominated the agricultural economy, with some 300,000 acres planted in 1950 and more than 180,000 in 1960. The county population reached 19,113 in 1950 and an all-time high of 19,185 in 1960, but declined thereafter to 16,604 in 1970 and 16,184 in 1980. New agricultural methods and the increasing use of farming technology saw the number of farms in the county shrink from a peak of more than 2,000 in 1930 to 841 in 1960 and 581 in 1980.
The mainstays of the county economy in the 1980s were agribusiness and oil. Dawson County was second in the state in cotton production in 1980, and through the 1980s cotton continued to be the most important agricultural product. Sorghum and wheat were also important crops, and cattle and hogs were raised. Between the first discovery of oil and 1990, oil production totaled 294,809,170 barrels. In 1990 the county population was 14,349. County towns included Lamesa (10,809), Ackerly (153 in Dawson County), O'Donnell (134 in Dawson County) and Los Ybanez (83). In 2000, the population had grown to 14,985
J.E. Airhart, a former 30-year member of the Dawson County Commissioners Court, died in 2007. Airhart, a farmer and rancher who served as a county commissioner from 1955-1985, worked to obtain the county livestock and fair barn, the county general aviation airport, and numerous highway improvements. He was instrumental in the successful negotiation of rights-of-way for U.S. Highway 87 north to O'Donnell and south to Ackerly. Like all Texas counties, Dawson County has a four commissioners chosen by single-member district and a countywide elected county judge, the chief administrator of the county.
There were 4,726 households out of which 35.10% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 59.40% were married couples living together, 11.00% had a female householder with no husband present, and 25.90% were non-families. 23.90% of all households were made up of individuals and 13.30% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.69 and the average family size was 3.20.
In the county, the population was spread out with 25.60% under the age of 18, 8.90% from 18 to 24, 30.70% from 25 to 44, 20.50% from 45 to 64, and 14.30% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 124.30 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 129.90 males.
The median income for a household in the county was $28,211, and the median income for a family was $32,745. Males had a median income of $27,259 versus $16,739 for females. The per capita income for the county was $15,011. About 16.40% of families and 19.70% of the population were below the poverty line, including 29.20% of those under age 18 and 12.80% of those age 65 or over.