Gaines County, on the southern High Plains of West Texas, is bordered on the west by New Mexico, on the south by Andrews County, on the east by Dawson County, and on the north by Yoakum and Terry counties. Its center point is at 32°45' north latitude and 102°57' west longitude, about eighty miles southwest of Lubbock. The county was named for James Gaines, a merchant who signed the Texas Declaration of Independence. Gaines County covers 1,489 square miles of rolling land that drains to scattered playas and draws. Sandy loam and sandy soils lie over the county's red-clay subsoil and support a growth of mesquite, shinnery, and catclaw. Cedar Lake (called Laguna Salinas by the Spanish), in northeastern Gaines County, is the largest salt lake on the Texas plains. The county's elevation ranges from 3,000 to 3,600 feet above sea level, and its annual average rainfall is 15.83 inches. The average minimum temperature in January is 16° F; the average maximum in July is 94°. The county has a 210-day growing season. The agricultural components of the local economy earn about $92 million annually from cotton (Gaines County ranks second among cotton-producing counties in Texas), sorghums, vegetables, peanuts, sunflowers, peaches, pecans, cattle, sheep, and hogs. Irrigated land amounts to about 400,000 acres. Gaines County is also one of the state's leading oil counties; it produced 42,810,261 barrels in 1990.
The area was Comanche country until the United States Army campaigns of 1875 and 1876. An Indian burial mound has been excavated near Cedar Lake. It is believed that Quanah Parker, the last great Comanche chief, was born in the vicinity. Cedar Lake was also the site of a skirmish between Indians and United States cavalrymen in October 1875. Buffalo hunters moved into the region in the 1870s, and some of them began ranches and remained in the area after their game had disappeared; the land was plush with grama grasses but limited in surface water. In 1876 the Texas legislature formed Gaines County from Bexar County. Gaines County was attached to Bexar County for administrative purposes in 1876, then to Shackelford County in 1877 and to Martin County in 1885. As early as 1879 ranchman C. C. Slaughter ran herds on much of eastern Gaines County from his headquarters at Rattlesnake Canyon. C. C. Meddin, who moved his family and herd to Gaines County in 1880, was the first permanent settler; the United States census reported only eight people in the county in 1880. In the 1880s and 1890s other ranchers moved into the area, including C. M. Breckon, the Brunson brothers, Bill Anderson, Dave Ernest, Robinson and Winfield Scott of the Hat Ranch, C. Bill Higgins of the Wishbone Ranch, J. E. Millhollon of the MH Ranch, and the several owners of the Triangle H Triangle north of Seminole. Until the early twentieth century cattle raising was the only industry in the county. The population was sixty-eight in 1890 and fifty-five in 1900, when six ranches and 16,432 cattle were reported by the agricultural census.