Brewster County, Texas

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Brewster County, Texas
Brewster County Courthouse - Alpine, TX.JPG
The Brewster County Courthouse in Alpine
Map of Texas highlighting Brewster County
Location in the state of Texas
Map of the United States highlighting Texas
Texas's location in the U.S.
Founded 1887
Named for Henry Percy Brewster
Seat Alpine
Largest city Alpine
 • Total 6,192 sq mi (16,037 km2)
 • Land 6,184 sq mi (16,016 km2)
 • Water 8.5 sq mi (22 km2), 0.1%
 • (2010) 9,232
 • Density 1.5/sq mi (1/km²)
Congressional district 23rd
Time zone Central: UTC-6/-5

Brewster County is a county located in western part of the U.S. state of Texas. As of the 2010 census, the population was 9,232.[1] Its county seat and only city is Alpine.[2] The county is named for Colonel Henry Percy Brewster, a Secretary of War for the Republic of Texas.

Brewster County is the largest county by area in the state, over three times the size of the state of Delaware, and more than 500 square miles (1,300 km2) bigger than Connecticut.[3] It is one of the nine counties that comprise the Trans-Pecos region of West Texas and borders Mexico.

Oilman, geologist, and historian Clayton Wheat Williams, Sr., operated a ranch near Alpine in Brewster County though his residence was in Fort Stockton.


Native Americans[edit]

Paleo-Indians Hunter-gatherers existed at least 9000 years ago. Mescalaro Apaches emerged later and conducted raids that discouraged settlers. Between 1779 and 1787 Col. Juan de Ugalde drove the Mescalaros back across the Rio Grande and into the Chisos Mountains. The three leading Mescalero chiefs, Patula Grande, Quemado, and Zapato Tuerto, agreed in March 1789 to submit to Spanish rule.[4] Comanche raiding parties continued through much of the 19th century.[5]

Early explorations[edit]

Chihuahuan Desert landscape in Brewster County

Spanish explorers Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca in 1535 and Antonio de Espejo in 1583 crossed Brewster County on their way to La Junta de los Ríos, the juncture of the Rio Grande and the Rio Conchos.[6]

In 1684 Juan Domínguez de Mendoza camped at Kokernot Spring and wrote the earliest recorded description of it.[7]

Pedro de Rábago y Terán, Governor of Coahuila in the 1740s led an expedition to La Junta de los Ríos.[8]

Northern Mexican military governor Lt. Col. Hugo Oconór led a 1772 expedition to locate sites for forts on the Comanche Trail along the Rio Grande.[9][10]

In October 1851 Danish born Col. Edvard Emil Langberg, Mexican commandant of Chihuahua, visited southern Brewster County.[11]

Surveyor William H. Emory in 1852 sent M. T. W. Chandler to survey what is now the heart of Big Bend National Park. Chandler explored Santa Elena Canyon, the Chisos Mountains Mariscal Canyon, and Boquillas Canyon.[12]

An 1859 expedition of the U.S. Camel Corps under 2d Lt. Edward L. Hartz set explored the Comanche Trail through Persimmon Gap and down Tornillo Creek to the Rio Grande. A year later, a second camel expedition under 2d Lt. William Echols also explored along the Rio Grande.[5]

County established and growth[edit]

Brewster County was marked off in 1887 from Presidio County and named for Henry Percy Brewster. Murphyville, later renamed Alpine, was selected as county seat.[13]

In response to threats of ongoing Indian attacks, Camp Peña Colorado was established in 1879 a few miles south of the future site of Marathon.[14]

Word of mouth about the open rangeland in the area was spread by freighters John W Burgess and August Santleben, leading the way for settlers.[15]

The Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway built through the area in 1882, opening up opportunity for entrepreneurs who came on railroad-related business and stayed.[16]

Alfred S. Gage moved to the area in 1882 to help his brother’s ranching operation, founding the A. S. Gage Ranch, one of the largest ranching operations in Texas, in 1883. In 1927 he built the Gage Hotel in Marathon.[17][18][19]

Legendary lawman and later Texas Rangers Hall of Fame member James B. Gillett served as Sheriff of Brewster County, operated a ranch in Alpine in the late 19th century and early 20th century. He later retired to his Barrel Spring Ranch in Jeff Davis County.[20][21][22]

Joseph Daniel Jackson came to the area in 1882 as part of Company B of the Texas Rangers assigned to protect the railroad. By 1882, he had settled near Alpine and taken up ranching, branching out later to merchant and civic leader. Jackson is known locally as the father of Sul Ross University due to his efforts that helped lead to the establishment of the school.[23] Sul Ross University, named for Texas Governor Lawrence Sullivan Ross, was created by an act of the 35th Legislature in 1917 as a state normal college to train teachers.[24]

Population boom[edit]

The population grew from 710 in 1890 to 5,220 in 1910 due for the most part to industries that relied on natural resources.[5]

From the turn of the 20th century through World War II, the Terlingua Mining District was a boom town due to the extraction of cinnabar, also known as mercury ore, in the Chisos Mountains. Silver and lead from mines on the Mexican side of the river in the Boquillas area were shipped north, as were candelilla wax produced at factories at Glenn Spring and Mariscal, and the guayule rubber from a factory in Marathon.[25]

Pancho Villa and bandidos[edit]

Brewster County became targeted by incursions of bandits from Mexico, due at least in part to Pancho Villa. In June 1915 Governor James E. Ferguson asked President Woodrow Wilson to station troops in the Big Bend. The request was denied by Commander Maj. Gen. Frederick Funston, who believed such security was a state issue. Although a number of events took place to effect policy change, the tipping point would be the May 5, 1916 raid at Glenn Spring. Only nine soldiers had been stationed in the area for protection against the bandits. Estimates vary as to the number of Mexican raiders who attacked the soldiers, anywhere from 60 to several hundred. The raid caused a larger military presence in the area. President Wilson mobilized the National Guard to reinforce the Army, and by the end of 1916 an estimated 116,957 guardsmen were stationed along the border from California to Texas. As the mines and wax factories played out after World War I, raiders from across the border abated.[26]

During the 1918 influenza epidemic, an African-American nurse (Viola Pettus) living in the border area of Brewster County became legendary for her courageous and selfless treatment of anyone with the disease – including raiders and refugees from Mexico, and local members of the Ku Klux Klan.[27]

Big Bend[edit]

Big Bend National Park was established as a state park in 1933 by the state legislature, and expanded the same year by Governor Miriam A. Ferguson. In 1935, the United States Congress passed legislation founding it as a national park. Big Bend opened to the public in 1944.[28]

Big Bend Ranch State Park opened to the public in 1991; at 300,000 acres (1,200 km2) in size, it is the largest state park in Texas.[29]

Terlingua Chili Cookoffs[edit]

Terlingua produced 40% of the nation’s quicksilver in 1920, but declining population has since qualified it as a ghost town. In 1962, The Dallas Morning News columnist Francis X. Tolbert published his ode to chili Bowl of Red and founded the Chili Appreciation Society. Fellow columnist Wick Fowler joined in the fun and became a charter member. The World Championship Chili Cookoff at Terlingua began as a tongue-in-cheek challenge between Wick Fowler and humorist H. Allen Smith in 1967 and has become a November tradition, celebrated across the state and nation. The first Saturday in November, Terlingua now hosts two competing international chili championships: the Terlingua International Chili Championship, and the Original Terlingua International Chili Cookoff.[30]


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 6,192 square miles (16,040 km2), of which 6,184 square miles (16,020 km2) is land and 8.5 square miles (22 km2) (0.1%) is water.[31] It is the largest county in Texas by area. The only substantial water is half the width of the Rio Grande.

The county's area is larger than the area of Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island individually, and larger than the combined area of Delaware and Rhode Island.

Adjacent counties and municipios[edit]

National protected areas[edit]

Major highways[edit]

U.S. Highway 90 crosses the county in the north; U.S. Highway 385 enters Brewster County from the northeast and proceeds south to the county's main attraction, Big Bend National Park, part of the Big Bend. The Sunset Route of the Union Pacific Railroad crosses northern parts of the county, and a recently revived portion of the Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railway traverses the county en route to Presidio.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1890 710
1900 2,356 231.8%
1910 5,220 121.6%
1920 4,822 −7.6%
1930 6,624 37.4%
1940 6,478 −2.2%
1950 7,309 12.8%
1960 6,434 −12.0%
1970 7,780 20.9%
1980 7,573 −2.7%
1990 8,681 14.6%
2000 8,866 2.1%
2010 9,232 4.1%
Est. 2014 9,173 −0.6%
U.S. Decennial Census[32]
1850–2010[33] 2010–2014[1]

As of the 2010 United States Census, there were 9,232 people residing in the county. 86.6% were White, 1.1% Black or African American, 1.1% Native American, 0.7% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 7.6% of some other race and 2.8% of two or more races. 42.4% were Hispanic or Latino (of any race).

As of the census[34] of 2000, there were 8,866 people, 3,669 households, and 2,216 families residing in the county. The population density was 1 person per square mile (1/km²). There were 4,614 housing units at an average density of 1 per square mile (0/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 81.09% White, 1.22% Black or African American, 0.85% Native American, 0.37% Asian, 0.06% Pacific Islander, 13.44% from other races, and 2.98% from two or more races. 43.62% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 3,669 households out of which 26.60% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 46.70% were married couples living together, 10.00% had a female householder with no husband present, and 39.60% were non-families. 32.80% of all households were made up of individuals and 11.40% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.31 and the average family size was 2.96.

In the county, the population was spread out with 22.20% under the age of 18, 14.80% from 18 to 24, 24.50% from 25 to 44, 23.90% from 45 to 64, and 14.60% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 99.00 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 98.40 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $27,386, and the median income for a family was $33,962. Males had a median income of $26,934 versus $21,250 for females. The per capita income for the county was $15,183. About 12.60% of families and 18.20% of the population were below the poverty line, including 20.80% of those under age 18 and 13.00% of those age 65 or over.


The following independent school districts serve Brewster County:

In addition, Sul Ross State University is located in Alpine.

Ranching industry[edit]

The sprawling 320,000 deeded acre (1,400 km²) La Escalera Ranch is located 20 miles (32 km) south of Fort Stockton, Texas and is owned and operated by the Gerald Lyda family. The ranch extends over much of Pecos County and portions of Brewster County, Reeves County, Archer County, and Baylor County.

Originally owned by California-based Elsinore Land & Cattle Company, the 100-year old ranch was acquired by building contractor Gerald Lyda of San Antonio, Texas and renamed La Escalera Ranch (Spanish for "The Ladder"). It is known for its herd of Black Angus cattle and its abundant wildlife. Gerald Lyda died in 2005. Today, the ranch is owned and operated by Lyda's sons Gerald D. and Gene Lyda, as well as Lyda's daughter Jo Lyda Granberg.

Located near the entrance to the ranch is Sierra Madera crater. La Escalera Ranch has been ranked by Texas Monthly, Worth and The Land Report magazines as one of the largest cattle ranches in Texas and the United States.[citation needed]



Census-designated places[edit]

Unincorporated communities[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "State & County QuickFacts". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved December 8, 2013. 
  2. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Retrieved 2011-06-07. 
  3. ^ U.S. States by size
  4. ^ "Mescalero Apache History and Culture". Mescalero Apache Telecom, Inc. Retrieved December 13, 2010. 
  5. ^ a b c Kohout, Martin Donell. "Brewster County, Texas". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved December 13, 2010. 
  6. ^ Smith, Julia Cauble; Flores, C.D.P., Maria Eva. "La Junta de los Ríos". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved December 13, 2010. 
  7. ^ Kohout, Martin Donell. "Kokernot Spring". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved December 13, 2010. 
  8. ^ Chipman, Donald E. "Pedro de Rábago y Terán". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved December 13, 2010. 
  9. ^ Blake, Robert Bruce. "Hugo Oconór". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved December 13, 2010. 
  10. ^ "The Comanche Trail". National Park Service. Retrieved December 13, 2010. 
  11. ^ Hewitt, Harry P. "Edvard Emil (Emilio) Langberg". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved December 13, 2010. 
  12. ^ Klepper, Dan (2009). 100 Classic Hikes Texas: Panhandle Plains / Pineywoods / Gulf Coast / South Texas Plains / Hill Country / Big Bend Country / Prairies & Lakes. Mountaineers Books. pp. 170–172. ISBN 978-1-59485-075-2. 
  13. ^ "Alpine, Texas". Texas Escapes. Texas Escapes – Blueprints For Travel, LLC. Retrieved December 13, 2010. 
  14. ^ Thompson, Richard A. "Camp Pena Colorado". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved December 13, 2010. 
  15. ^ Ochoa, Ruben E. "August Santleben". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved December 13, 2010. 
  16. ^ Werner, George C. "Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved December 13, 2010. 
  17. ^ Kohout, Martin Donell. "Alfred Stevens Gage". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved December 13, 2010. 
  18. ^ Kohout, Martin Donell. "A. S. Gage Ranches". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved December 13, 2010. 
  19. ^ Ramos, Mary G; Reavis, Dick; Vandivier, Kevin (2004). Compass American Guides: Texas, 3rd Edition. Compass America Guides. p. 66. ISBN 978-0-676-90502-1. 
  20. ^ Metz, Leon Claire (2002). The Encyclopedia of Lawmen, Outlaws, and Gunfighters. Facts on File. pp. 94–95. ISBN 978-0-8160-4543-3. 
  21. ^ "James Buchanan Gillett 1856–1937". Texas Ranger Hall of Fame. Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum. Retrieved December 13, 2010. 
  22. ^ Skelton, Bart. "A Ranch Fit For A Ranger". Guns & Ammo. Retrieved December 13, 2010. 
  23. ^ Kohout, Martin Donell. "Joseph Daniel Jackson". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved December 13, 2010. 
  24. ^ Peterson's (2008). Colleges in the South: Compare Colleges in Your Region. Peterson's. p. 194. ISBN 978-0-7689-2695-8. 
  25. ^ "Terlingua". Texas Escapes. Texas Escapes – Blueprints For Travel, LLC. Retrieved December 13, 2010. 
  26. ^ Kohout, Martin Donell. "Glenn Spring Raid". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved December 13, 2010. 
  27. ^ Montoya, Richard; Culture Clash (2010). "American Night: The Ballad of Juan José". OSF 75th Season. Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Retrieved August 16, 2010. 
  28. ^ "Big Bend". National Park Service. Retrieved December 13, 2010. 
  29. ^ "Big Bend Ranch State Park". Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Retrieved December 13, 2010. 
  30. ^ Patoski, Joe Nick; Chili Relations (November 1992). Texas Monthly: 78, 80, 82, 8586.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  31. ^ "2010 Census Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. August 22, 2012. Retrieved April 19, 2015. 
  32. ^ "U.S. Decennial Census". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved April 19, 2015. 
  33. ^ "Texas Almanac: Population History of Counties from 1850–2010" (PDF). Texas Almanac. Retrieved April 19, 2015. 
  34. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2011-05-14. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Ragsdale, Kenneth Baxter; Frantz, Joe B (1984). Quicksilver: Terlingua and the Chisos Mining Company. TAMU Press. ISBN 978-0-89096-188-9. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 29°48′43″N 103°15′06″W / 29.81185°N 103.2517°W / 29.81185; -103.2517