Loving County, Texas

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Loving County
Loving County Courthouse, the only two-story building in Mentone
Loving County Courthouse, the only two-story building in Mentone
Map of Texas highlighting Loving County
Location within the U.S. state of Texas
Map of the United States highlighting Texas
Texas's location within the U.S.
Coordinates: 31°50′N 103°34′W / 31.84°N 103.57°W / 31.84; -103.57
Country United States
State Texas
Founded1887
Named forOliver Loving
SeatMentone
Largest communityMentone
Area
 • Total677 sq mi (1,750 km2)
 • Land669 sq mi (1,730 km2)
 • Water7.8 sq mi (20 km2)  1.1%
Population
 (2020)
 • Total64 Decrease
 • Density.095/sq mi (0.037/km2)
Time zoneUTC−6 (Central)
 • Summer (DST)UTC−5 (CDT)
Congressional district23rd
Websitewww.co.loving.tx.us

Loving County is a county in the U.S. state of Texas. With a population of 64 per the 2020 census, it is the least-populous county in the United States.[1][2] Its county seat and only community is Mentone.[3] The county was originally created in 1887, and after being disorganized in 1897, was reorganized in 1931.[4]

History[edit]

Nomadic hunters inhabited the area during prehistory. Antonio de Espejo traveled in the area in 1583, and crossed the Pecos River. Immigrants used a ford, later named Pope's Crossing, for travel in the 1840s. John Pope surveyed the area in 1854, for the building of a transcontinental railroad. He created a camp in 1855, and conducted three drilling attempts, but only found water once and was unable to access it. Andrew A. Humphreys ordered Pope to end his drilling and abandon the camp on July 10, 1858. Soldiers were stationed at the camp created by Pope from 1858 to 1861. The route of the Butterfield Overland Mail went through the area.[5][6][7]

Oliver Loving, whom the county would be named after, and Charles Goodnight drove cattle through the area in 1866, creating the Goodnight–Loving Trail. Loving was shot by a Comanche native in 1867, and died from gangrene. The area was a part of Bexar County from 1837 to 1874, when it became a part of Tom Green County. Eleven people in the area, including Clay Allison, petitioned to the 19th session of the Texas Legislature to become a part of Reeves County. Loving County was created in 1887, by House Bill No. 113 although it was to be attached to Reeves County for purposes, including judicial and surveying.[8][5][7]

Six men from Denver came to the county in 1893, and founded the Loving Canal and Irrigation Company and Mentone, which was named by a French surveyor for his home of Menton, France. On June 13, the men filed a petition with 150 signatures to the Reeves County Commissioners Court requesting the organization of the county and it was accepted. The county organization was approved by an election held on July 8, with eighty-three voters participating and Mentone became the county seat. Another election was held in 1894, and both elections held in the county are believed to have been fraudulent. The county commission issued bonds worth $6,000 in order to construct a courthouse in Mentone, but the project was not completed as a flood in August destroyed the work that was done on the irrigation project. There were accusations of illegal county organization which were investigated by H. C. Withers and A. H. Randolph. They were informed by W.A. Hunter, the sheriff and tax collector, that R. G. Munn, the county clerk, took the tax records to Denver. All of the county officials had left the county by 1897, and the county was dissolved on May 12, 1897, and returned to Reeves County.[5][7]

In December 1896, Hunter traveled to Pecos, Texas, but went missing with his horses either dying from starvation or being unaccounted for. His sister Jennie M. Mettler attempted to receive the $15,000 in life insurance that Hunter took out in November, but the insurance company refused to pay as Hunter's body was not discovered. She filed a lawsuit and won in the first case and in the appeal made by the company to the Supreme Court of the United States. Hunter was found living in Birmingham, Alabama, under the name of Al Hunt in 1902. He had abandoned one of his horses while riding the other one in order to take a train from Barstow, Texas. He was sentenced to serve five years in prison, but his conviction was overturned on appeal.[5][7]

There is no cemetery in the county and the only grave in the area is for Shady Davis, a twenty-one year old cowboy who was killed by his horse and buried twelve miles away from Mentone in the 1920s.[9][10] The population in the area increased following the discovery of oil and led to the creation of the town of Ramsey. Loving County was reorganized in 1931, becoming the only county in Texas to be organized twice, and Ramsey was later renamed to Mentone.[7]

On November 17, 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Loving County was the last county in the contiguous United States to confirm at least one case of COVID-19, with three cases confirmed in the area. Earlier in August, a non-resident male at a man camp was confirmed to have contracted the disease. Additionally, at least two residents who had contracted the disease elsewhere returned to Loving County and quarantined, but those cases were not counted in the county's totals.[11]

Water tower, Loving County

Geography[edit]

The county is three-fifths the size of Rhode Island.[12] According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 677 square miles (1,750 km2), of which 669 square miles (1,730 km2) are land and 7.8 square miles (20 km2) (1.1%) are covered by water.[13]

Water in the area has to be imported from Kermit, Texas or Pecos, Texas, due to the groundwater in the area containing gypsum and the Pecos River was previously used for water before its salinity became too high.[12][10] The Pecos River is the county's western boundary, forming the Red Bluff Reservoir along its northwestern border with Reeves County and Eddy County, New Mexico. The terrain of Loving County is described as flat desert, with a few low hills. Desert shrubs, range grass, and cacti abound, with salt cedars along the river. Elevations vary from 2,686 to 3,311 feet (819 to 1,009 m) above sea level.

Loving is the smallest county by area in the Permian Basin region.

Major highways[edit]

Adjacent counties[edit]

Communities[edit]

Town[edit]

Ghost towns[edit]

Demographics[edit]

Historical population
Census Pop.
1940285
1950227−20.4%
1960226−0.4%
1970164−27.4%
198091−44.5%
199010717.6%
200067−37.4%
20108222.4%
202064−22.0%
U.S. Decennial Census[15]
1850–2010[16] 2010[17] 2020[18]
Loving County, Texas - Demographic Profile
(NH = Non-Hispanic)
Race / Ethnicity Pop 2010[17] Pop 2020[18] % 2010 % 2020
White alone (NH) 60 56 73.17% 87.50%
Black or African American alone (NH) 0 0 0.00% 0.00%
Native American or Alaska Native alone (NH) 4 1 4.88% 1.56%
Asian alone (NH) 0 0 0.00% 0.00%
Pacific Islander alone (NH) 0 0 0.00% 0.00%
Some Other Race alone (NH) 0 1 0.00% 1.56%
Mixed Race/Multi-Racial (NH) 0 5 0.00% 7.81%
Hispanic or Latino (any race) 18 1 21.95% 1.56%
Total 82 64 100.00% 100.00%

Note: the US Census treats Hispanic/Latino as an ethnic category. This table excludes Latinos from the racial categories and assigns them to a separate category. Hispanics/Latinos can be of any race.

As of the 2020 United States census, there were 64 people, 30 households, and 20 families residing in the county, down from 67 people, 31 households, and 19 families living in the county in 2000.[1]

The county had been the least-populous county in the United States, with a 2010 census population of only 82 persons (an increase of 22.4% over the 2000 figure of 67 residents), but the 2015 estimate by the U.S. Census Bureau places it as the second-least populous county nationwide.[19] With an average of only 0.0646 inhabitants/km2 (0.167/sq mi) as of 2015, the county is also the least-densely populated county outside of Alaska. Lake and Peninsula Borough and North Slope Borough in Alaska are both lower, as is the Yukon-Koyukuk census area.

The majority of the population since 2000 has been non-Hispanic white, though six identified as "some other race" and one person identified as multiracial. Additionally, in the 2000 census, seven people identified as being of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin of any race. Loving is one of only a few counties in the U.S. outside of the Northeast where the largest self-identified ancestry group is Irish-American.

Five of the 31 households in 2000 had children under the age of 18, 17 were married couples living together, two had a female householder with no husband present, and 11 were not families. Ten households were made up of individuals, and two consisted of someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.16, while the average family size was 2.65. In 2020, there were 25 households and 13 were married couples living together.[20]

In 2000, the population included 13 people under the age of 18, one between 18 and 24, 18 from 25 to 44, 24 from 45 to 64, and 11 who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 46 years. For every 10 females, there were 11.61 males. For every 10 females age 18 and over, there were 12.50 males. By 2020, 21.4% of the population were aged under 5, 74.5% aged 18 and older, and 25.5% aged 65 and older; the median age increased to 55.2 years, up from the state's median age of 35.1.[21]

From 2015 to 2019, the median household income for the county was $83,750, up from $40,000 in 2000.[22] Owing partly to its small and dispersed population, it had the highest median per capita and household incomes of any county in Texas.[23][24] Loving County was the only county in the United States with no people below the poverty line as of 2000;[25] as of 2010, this was no longer true.[26][27]

There were three people living in the county, all males in the same house, according to the 1890 United States census.[5] Following the disestablishment of Mentone in 1897 there were no settlements in the county until the creation of Juanita in 1910, which was renamed to Porterville.[5][7] The 1970 United States census recorded the county as the least populated county in the United States.[10]

Politics and government[edit]

United States presidential election results for Loving County, Texas[7][28]
Year Republican Democratic Third party
No.  % No.  % No.  %
2020 60 90.91% 4 6.06% 2 3.03%
2016 58 89.23% 4 6.15% 3 4.62%
2012 54 84.38% 9 14.06% 1 1.56%
2008 67 84.81% 12 15.19% 0 0.00%
2004 65 81.25% 12 15.00% 3 3.75%
2000 124 79.49% 29 18.59% 3 1.92%
1996 48 62.34% 14 18.18% 15 19.48%
1992 31 32.29% 20 20.83% 45 46.88%
1988 54 70.13% 23 29.87% 0 0.00%
1984 57 78.08% 16 21.92% 0 0.00%
1980 50 69.44% 22 30.56% 0 0.00%
1976 47 54.65% 35 40.70% 4 4.65%
1972 55 88.71% 7 11.29% 0 0.00%
1968 23 28.40% 18 22.22% 40 49.38%
1964 32 40.51% 46 58.23% 1 1.27%
1960 42 44.21% 46 48.42% 7 7.37%
1956 55 60.44% 36 39.56% 0 0.00%
1952 71 74.74% 24 25.26% 0 0.00%
1948 29 30.53% 62 65.26% 4 4.21%
1944 18 21.43% 60 71.43% 6 7.14%
1940 21 17.65% 98 82.35% 0 0.00%
1936 21 12.88% 118 72.39% 24 14.72%
1932 27 12.56% 187 86.98% 1 0.47%
1928 6 37.50% 10 62.50% 0 0.00%
1924 2 14.29% 12 85.71% 0 0.00%
1908 0 0.00% 3 100.00% 0 0.00%


Since the 1988 election early voting has accounted for at least 13.11% of votes in the county with early voting accounting for a majority of the votes in the 1994 election with 53.54%, 1998 election with 50%, 2000 election with 74.36%, 2006 election with 58.89%, and 2020 election with 68.18%. The lowest voter turnout since the 1988 election was in the 2018 election with 49% and the highest in the 1990 election with 85.71%.[29] The county had the highest voter turnout in Texas in the 1986 election.[9] At some points in the county's history there were more registered voters than residents and precincts would close early to deny people the ability to vote.[30]

J. J. Combs was appointed as county judge by the county commission on September 6, 1893.[7] Edna Reed Clayton DeWees served as sheriff in the county from 1946 to 1948, making her the first woman to be elected as sheriff in both the county and the state.[30]

The county judge is the highest elected official in the county and the position has been held by Skeet Jones since 2007. The Creager family once had family members who served as county judge, postmaster, sheriff, tax assessor, and on the county commission. The Jones are a political family in the county with members of the family controlling the positions of judge, clerk, attorney, and constable. The Jones family is a ranching family that moved to the county when Elgin "Punk" Jones and Mary Belle Jones built their ranch in 1953. Mary Belle stated in 1997 that she asked her husband "how long are we going to live in this godforsaken place?". Punk served as the sheriff for twenty-eight years and Mary Belle served as the chief appraiser. Skeet was arrested in 2022, with two other men for stealing livestock.[30][31]

In 2022, Sheriff Chris Busse reported that a ranch with eleven registered voters, including county commissioner Ysidro Renteria, had no inhabitants since 2008.[32]

Economy[edit]

There were three cattle businesses in the county in 1887, with 12,100 cattle worth $96,800 and the county had a livestock value of $568,406 in 1900. Taxes were not collected in the area from 1893 to 1896. The Toyah-Bell Oil Company was created in 1921, and became the first oil producer in the county later that year. Oil production in the area reached its height in 1931, with 1,233,801 barrels.[5][7]

The county accounted for 0.057% of the wealth in Texas in 1970, and had no unemployment or any residents on welfare.[10] The county had the sixth-highest unemployment rate in the country in 1986, with 29.7% unemployment.[33] The Texas Almanac listed fifteen ranches in the county in 1986-1987, with the average size being above 23,000 acres and being worth above an average of $4 million. The county has one of the highest per capita incomes in the United States due to oil revenue with its residents having a per capita income of $32,505 in 1983, compared to the national average of $9,496. In 1986, taxes on oil and gas companies accounted for ninety-nine percent of tax revenue in the county.[12]

Loving County's economy is based almost entirely upon oil and gas drilling, ranching, and county services.[34]

Education[edit]

No federal funding was ever given to schools in the county as of 1970, and its school was still racial segregated. In 1970, the elementary school had thirty students and three teachers while the seventeen high school students were educated in Winkler County.[10] The elementary school in Mentone was closed in 1978, as the school only had two students and two teachers left and the county voted to consolidate into the Wink-Loving Independent School District.[35][9] The county is zoned to Wink-Loving Independent School District and Odessa College.[36][37]

In popular culture[edit]

"Loving County" is the name of a song written and performed by Charlie Robison. It appears on his 1998 album Life of the Party.[38] In the novel Echo Burning by Lee Child, Jack Reacher passes through Loving County.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "2020 Population and Housing State Data". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on August 24, 2021. Retrieved August 12, 2021.
  2. ^ "Loving County, Texas". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on March 6, 2022. Retrieved February 23, 2021.
  3. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Archived from the original on May 9, 2015. Retrieved June 7, 2011.
  4. ^ "Texas: Individual County Chronologies". Texas Atlas of Historical County Boundaries. The Newberry Library. 2008. Archived from the original on December 11, 2017. Retrieved May 25, 2015.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "Loving Organized In '93, 'Disorganized' in 1897". San Angelo Standard-Times. July 4, 1976. p. 84 – via Newspapers.com.
  6. ^ "Pope's Camp". Texas State Historical Association. Archived from the original on March 3, 2022. Retrieved May 24, 2022.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Loving County". Texas State Historical Association. Archived from the original on April 19, 2022. Retrieved May 24, 2022.
  8. ^ Gannett, Henry (1905). The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States. U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 191.
  9. ^ a b c "Plenty of nothin' continued". Fort Worth Star-Telegram. January 11, 1987. p. 68. Archived from the original on May 24, 2022. Retrieved May 24, 2022 – via Newspapers.com.
  10. ^ a b c d e "Where Did Everybody Go?". New York Daily News. June 19, 1970. p. 20. Archived from the original on May 24, 2022. Retrieved May 24, 2022 – via Newspapers.com.
  11. ^ "Loving County, Texas, was the last 'COVID-free' place in the continental U.S. Now it isn't". The Week. November 18, 2020. Archived from the original on November 20, 2020. Retrieved November 20, 2020.
  12. ^ a b c "Plenty of nothin'". Fort Worth Star-Telegram. January 11, 1987. p. 61. Archived from the original on May 24, 2022. Retrieved May 24, 2022 – via Newspapers.com.
  13. ^ "2010 Census Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. August 22, 2012. Archived from the original on April 19, 2015. Retrieved May 3, 2015.
  14. ^ Woody Archived December 10, 2020, at the Wayback Machine (Texas State Historical Association)
  15. ^ "Decennial Census by Decade". US Census Bureau.
  16. ^ "Texas Almanac: Population History of Counties from 1850–2010" (PDF). Texas Almanac. Archived (PDF) from the original on February 26, 2015. Retrieved May 3, 2015.
  17. ^ a b "P2 HISPANIC OR LATINO, AND NOT HISPANIC OR LATINO BY RACE - 2010: DEC Redistricting Data (PL 94-171) - Loving County, Texas". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on March 6, 2022. Retrieved March 6, 2022.
  18. ^ a b "P2 HISPANIC OR LATINO, AND NOT HISPANIC OR LATINO BY RACE - 2020: DEC Redistricting Data (PL 94-171) - Loving County, Texas". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on March 6, 2022. Retrieved March 6, 2022.
  19. ^ "County Totals Dataset: Population, Population Change and Estimated Components of Population Change: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2015". Archived from the original on July 8, 2016. Retrieved July 2, 2016.
  20. ^ "2020 Occupancy Status". U.S. Census Bureau. Archived from the original on May 23, 2022. Retrieved October 12, 2021.
  21. ^ "2019 Age and Sex Statistics". U.S. Census Bureau. Archived from the original on May 23, 2022. Retrieved October 12, 2021.
  22. ^ "2019 Annual Income Estimate". U.S. Census Bureau. Archived from the original on May 23, 2022. Retrieved October 12, 2021.
  23. ^ "SELECTED ECONOMIC CHARACTERISTICS 2006-2010 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates". U.S. Census Bureau. Archived from the original on February 12, 2020. Retrieved November 25, 2012.
  24. ^ "Profile of General Population and Housing Characteristics: 2010 Demographic Profile Data". U.S. Census Bureau. Archived from the original on May 21, 2019. Retrieved November 25, 2012.
  25. ^ Bureau, U.S. Census. "American FactFinder - Results". factfinder.census.gov. Archived from the original on February 12, 2020. Retrieved April 6, 2018.
  26. ^ "Loving County Profile". www.txcip.org. Archived from the original on September 15, 2015. Retrieved April 6, 2018.
  27. ^ "2015-2019 ACS Poverty Statistics". U.S. Census Bureau. Archived from the original on October 18, 2021. Retrieved October 18, 2021.
  28. ^ Dedrick, Calvert (1946). Vote Cast in Presidential and Congressional elections, 1928-1944. United States Census Bureau. p. 74.;
    Scammon, Richard (1966). America Votes: 1964. Congressional Quarterly. p. 401.;
    Scammon, Richard (1973). America Votes: 1972. Congressional Quarterly. p. 353.;
    Scammon, Richard (1973). America Votes: 1976. Congressional Quarterly. p. 354.;
    "1992 presidential election results in Loving County, Texas". Secretary of State of Texas. Archived from the original on May 23, 2022. Retrieved May 23, 2022.;
    "1996 presidential election results in Loving County, Texas". Secretary of State of Texas. Archived from the original on May 23, 2022. Retrieved May 23, 2022.;
    "2000 presidential election results in Loving County, Texas". Secretary of State of Texas. Archived from the original on May 23, 2022. Retrieved May 23, 2022.;
    "2004 presidential election results in Loving County, Texas". Secretary of State of Texas. Archived from the original on May 23, 2022. Retrieved May 23, 2022.;
    "2008 presidential election results in Loving County, Texas". Secretary of State of Texas. Archived from the original on May 23, 2022. Retrieved May 23, 2022.;
    "2012 presidential election results in Loving County, Texas". Secretary of State of Texas. Archived from the original on May 23, 2022. Retrieved May 23, 2022.;
    "2016 presidential election results in Loving County, Texas". Secretary of State of Texas. Archived from the original on October 22, 2020. Retrieved May 23, 2022.
  29. ^ "Loving County Voter Registration Figures". Secretary of State of Texas. Archived from the original on February 1, 2022. Retrieved May 23, 2022.
  30. ^ a b c "Not-So-Loving County". Texas Monthly. October 1997. Archived from the original on May 23, 2022. Retrieved May 23, 2022.
  31. ^ "Skeet Jones is a powerful judge in Texas' smallest county. He is being charged with cattle theft". Yahoo! News. May 21, 2022. Archived from the original on May 23, 2022. Retrieved May 23, 2022.
  32. ^ "Voter fraud claims are heating up a battle for political control in an oil-rich Texas county". NBC News. May 21, 2022. Archived from the original on July 20, 2022.
  33. ^ "Loving". Fort Worth Star-Telegram. December 5, 1988. p. 12. Archived from the original on May 24, 2022. Retrieved May 24, 2022 – via Newspapers.com.
  34. ^ "Texas State Historical Association". Loving County. Archived from the original on September 6, 2019. Retrieved September 6, 2019.
  35. ^ "Loving County isn't making fuss over head count". Odessa American. September 7, 1980. p. 52. Archived from the original on May 24, 2022. Retrieved May 24, 2022 – via Newspapers.com.
  36. ^ "2020 CENSUS - SCHOOL DISTRICT REFERENCE MAP: Loving County, TX" (PDF). U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved June 25, 2022.
  37. ^ "Sec. 130.193. ODESSA COLLEGE DISTRICT SERVICE AREA".
  38. ^ "ERROR". www.galleywinter.com. Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved April 6, 2018.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 31°50′N 103°34′W / 31.84°N 103.57°W / 31.84; -103.57