The story of Collingsworth County, Texas is typical of the Great Plains of the United States development. The United States Great Plains covers the area from the 98th Meridian west to the Rocky Mountains and from the Rio Grande River north to the Canadian border. Collingsworth County is located near the middle of the Great Plains region in the southeast corner of the Texas Panhandle. People who migrated to the Great Plains in the 19th Century had to adjust to less rainfall, fewer trees, more wind, drought, man-killing blizzards, very few streams or creeks, and extreme temperature changes that could happen in just a few hours.
Bone fragments of prehistoric animals, Indian burial sites and artifacts are numerous in the county and the entire Panhandle of Texas.
In the 1500s and 1600s Spain sent expeditions to what is now Texas in search of gold. Later they established missions in the region in an effort to educate the natives. Spanish explorer Pedro Vial was the first European to cross the Great Plains of the United States. Vial was hired by the Spanish Governor of San Antonio, to find a trail from San Antonio to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Vial left San Antonio in October 1786, traveled north to the Red River, then followed it west. He traveled within 15 miles of Collingsworth County. The first Anglo men to explore the county were members of a military expedition commanded by Captain Randolph Marcy. The expedition entered the county from the south, traveled north to Rolla then east to Attebury Creek east of Wellington. They camped overnight at Attebury Creek then traveled east, going just north of present day Dodson, into Oklahoma. An historical marker two miles south of Wellington on U.S. Highway 83 marks his trail. Marcy led this expedition searching for the headwaters of the Red River in 1852.
Native Indians controlled the area until the mid-1870’s when the United States military moved all the Indians to the reservation in Indian Territory (Oklahoma). Buffalo hunters occupied the area until the early 1880s when ranchers began to claim and use the country. In 1876 the first Angelo child was born in Collingsworth County at Red Bluff a few miles west of Wellington. He was the son of a buffalo hunter named Bowers.
The Rocking Chair Ranche was established in London, England in 1883. The Honorable Edward Marjoribanks (Second Barron of Tweedmouth) and John Campbell Hamilton Gordon (Seventh Earl of Aberdeen) formed the Rocking Chair Ranche Company Limited and bought 150,400 acres of Collingsworth County land from the from Earl W. Spencer & J. John Drew. They ran cattle on all of their land and numerous sections of school land.
The State of Texas established Collingsworth County in 1876 and named it after James Collinsworth, a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence and first Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court. The spelling of Collingsworth was an error of the state legislature. The election for county organization was held in September 1890, with vote of 56 for and 32 against county organization. Wellington won the county seat election on the same day.
Collingsworth County has always depended on agriculture for its primary source of economic activity. Cattle ranching was the main source of income up to 1900. Then cotton farming became a thriving business. The first cotton gins built in the county were one and two stand gins powered by mules. In early 1905 construction began on the first steam powered, five stand cotton gin on the southeast corner of the Wellington town section. Cattle ranching started Collingsworth County, cotton farming built it.
A two-story brick courthouse was completed in 1905 at a cost of about $30,000 on the square in Wellington. It was replaced in 1932 with a new Art Deco building which still stands. Other buildings around the square in 1905 were: a hotel and one small store on the east side; one small store and a drug store on the south side; First National Bank, a general store, and a hardware store on the west side; one residence on the north side. North of the northeast corner of the square was the Collingsworth County Courier newspaper building.
Beginning in the late 1880s rural communities sprang up all over the county. By 1935 there were 52 different community schools within the 919 square miles of the county. Some of these had abbreviated school terms in the early years because they had little funding. In the mid-1930s consolidation of these small community schools began in order to provide high schools for all children of the county. By the late 1940s there were only four schools in the county. Today (2015) there is only one school in the county, Wellington ISD.
Transportation in the early days was by horseback or wagons drawn by horses or mules. Only one bridge was built prior to 1903. From 1903 to 1908, five bridges were built in the county and some roads were graded. From the late 1880s through early 1900s a stagecoach line ran from Clarendon, Texas, to Pistol Palace, which was a few miles southwest of Wellington on Buck Creek, then to the Red River and on to Sherman, Texas. Another stagecoach line ran from Memphis, Texas, to Wellington. A third stage line ran from Childress, Texas, to Wellington then north to Mobeetie, Texas. Prior to 1910 all supplies for farming, ranching, and living had to be freighted by mule-drawn wagons from Childress or Memphis. Both are about 30 miles from Wellington. The first interstate road in the Plains Country was the Ozark Trail. This trail—or road–was from Kansas City and St. Louis, Missouri, to El Paso, Texas, and Las Vegas, New Mexico. The Ozark Trail came into Collingsworth from the east, ran to Wellington then split with one route southwest and one west across the county. One of the original trail markers is located on the courthouse square in Wellington. It is a cement pillar about 12 feet tall, and is marked with mileage to Hedley 32 W and Clarendon 47 W. The trail was completed in 1919. US Highway 83, the first hard surface road in the county, was built by the Texas High Department, in 1932.
Farming began slowly. The 1890 U.S. census shows 89 farms, 19,800 cattle, and 357 people in Collingsworth County. The 1930 U.S. census shows 2,112 farms, 26,400 cattle, and 14, 641 people. Today, 2015, there are about 700 farms and 3,057 people in the county and 25,000 cattle. From 1930 to 2010 population of the county has dropped each decade. Reasons for the population loss are several. First the great depression and drought of the 1930s caused many farms to fail and people left the rural areas and moved to the cities. After WWII men did not come back to the farm; they located in the cities to find employment. The seven years drought in the Great Plains during the 1950s caused more farms to fail and people to move to the cities. In the 1960s farm equipment manufacturers began to build larger and more powerful farm equipment. From 1950 to 2000 farm equipment size increased fourfold. As this equipment size increased from decade to decade the need for manpower decreased in the same proportion, thus less population in rural areas.
The 21st century began on a positive note for Collingsworth County. Land values are the highest since farming began in the United States. Production levels have been good, except for the drought of 2011 through 2013.
The number of businesses on the square in Wellington has decreased substantially. Business activity in the county in 2015, other than farming and ranching, is primarily farm supply businesses. However, the county population has a positive attitude. In the last few years one of the best rodeo and agriculture exhibit facilities in the region has been built. A new health clinic, hospital and assisted living facility have been built. The 1928 Ritz Theatre has been restored and regularly hosts nationally-known entertainers, which draws support from adjoining counties. A state-of-the art activity center that offers multiple activities for all ages is thriving. A large multipurpose water park, “The WAV” (Wellington Aquatic Center), offers slides and a state of the art Olympic size pool designed to meet competitive standards. The airport runway is being lengthened. The Wellington Opportunity Center provides an after-school and summer program for children up through the fifth grade. The Collingsworth Public Library is located in a modern facility and provides programs of community interest as well as the usual library services.
A highlight for the whole county in 2013 was winning the state championship by the Wellington Skyrocket football team.
Citizens of Collingsworth County are progressive thinkers who are looking to the future with gusto.