Wheeler County is on the eastern edge of the Panhandle of Texas, along the Oklahoma border. The center of the county is at 35°25' north latitude and 100°15' west longitude. Wheeler, the county seat, is three miles northwest of the center of the county and 100 miles east of Amarillo. The area was named for Royal T. Wheeler, the second chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court. Wheeler County occupies 914 square miles of rolling prairies and rough river breaks in the area east of the High Plains; elevations range from 2,000 to 2,800 feet above sea level. The red sandy loam and black clay soils produce abundant native grasses as well as wheat, sorghums, cotton, and alfalfa. Cottonwood, black walnut, chinaberry, willow, hackberry, mesquite, and shin oak trees are found along river and creek bottoms and in other watered areas in the county. The North Fork of the Red River and Sweetwater Creek are the two major streams in the county. Numerous lesser streams drain into them, contributing to the rough nature of the terrain. The average annual rainfall is 23.7 inches. Temperatures range from an average minimum of 26° F in January to an average maximum of 97° F in July. The average growing season lasts 208 days. Mineral resources include caliche, gypsum, petroleum, and natural gas.
The area that became Wheeler County was occupied by a Plains Apache culture, which was followed by a modern Apache people, who in turn were displaced by the Kiowas and Comanches around A.D. 1700. The Kiowas and Comanches dominated the Panhandle until they were finally defeated in the Red River War of 1874 and moved to reservations in Indian Territory during 1875 and 1876. Buffalo hunters had begun moving into the area before the Indians were removed. In the spring of 1874 they established a crude outpost, called Hidetown or Sweetwater, on Sweetwater Creek, in the northwestern part of what is now Wheeler County. To curb Indian escapes from Indian Territory, in June 1875 the United States Army established a post near Hidetown. It was named Fort Elliott in 1876 and remained operative until 1890, providing both protection and economic benefits for newly arrived residents. In 1878 the first post office in the Panhandle was established there. As the Indian threat diminished in 1875 and 1876, settlers began to congregate around Fort Elliott and Hidetown, and in 1876 the Texas state legislature established Wheeler County from lands formerly assigned to the Bexar and Young districts. As the buffalo were hunted out of existence, cattle ranching began to develop in the area, and former buffalo hunters, discharged soldiers, and newly arriving ranchers settled into the county. In 1879 the local residents petitioned for county organization. On April 12, 1879, Wheeler County became the first organized county in the Panhandle, with fourteen other unorganized counties attached to it. The small camp of Sweetwater was chosen to be the county seat; the settlement was renamed Mobeetie in 1880, when a post office was established there. Throughout the second half of the 1870s and during the 1880s and 1890s, ranching and Fort Elliott dominated the local economy. In 1890, when the United States agricultural census counted forty-six ranches or farms in the county, almost 9,300 cattle and 1,700 sheep were reported, but only 400 acres were planted in corn, the county's most important crop at that time. In 1900 there were 119 ranches or farms, and 33,000 cattle and 900 sheep were reported, but only 600 acres were planted in corn and ten acres in cotton. For the most part, ranches in Wheeler County at this time were relatively small compared to ranches in other Panhandle counties. Only the J-Buckle Ranch, in the southeastern corner of the county, could be considered large. The United States census found 512 people living in the county in 1880 and 778 in 1890. The population declined after Fort Elliott was closed about 1890, and by 1900 there were 636 people living there.
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