Beaver County lies in the Oklahoma Panhandle, a part of the Great Plains proper. It is one of only a few Oklahoma counties in that physiographic region. Beaver County borders Kansas on the north, Texas on the south, Texas County on the west, and Harper and Ellis on the east. The county has 1,817.58 square miles. The concept of Beaver County did not come about until Cimarron Territory formed in 1886. That organization included all of No Man's Land, now the Panhandle. However, there were settlements in the area long before that time.
The first evidence of habitation dates from Paleo-Indian (more than six thousand years old) artifacts found in abundance at the Nall Site, a sand dune blowout in present Cimarron County. Clovis, Folsom, Meserve, Milnesand, Midland, Scottsbluff, and Plainview points have been found in the area. More recent and permanent habitation has been found in stone slabs as wall foundations in house structures that were used from A.D. 1000 to 1500. These slab houses were first excavated in 1919–20 and run throughout the three counties of the Oklahoma Panhandle. Other evidence of early culture can be found in pit houses and Basketmaker caves in the western end of the area.
In modern times the area was first visited by Coronado's expedition in 1541 in its search for the Seven Cities of Cibola. However, approximately a hundred thousand Comanches had occupied an area of fifteen hundred square miles including present Beaver County, although they never established any permanent locations. Relative newcomers to the area included the Apache, the Cheyenne, and the Kiowa, who also used the area as hunting grounds. No permanent dwellings were made until 1863 when Juan and Vincenta Baca trailed more than a thousand sheep across the trackless prairie and wild foothill region from Las Vegas, New Mexico Territory, to the Cimarron Valley near the present site of Kenton, Oklahoma. The herders were soon joined by the Bernal family and the Lujan brothers. At the same time the Coe outlaw gang had established a ranch from which to raid the Santa Fe Trail as it came through on the Cimarron Cutoff. Finally, Col. William F. Penrose broke up the gang. In 1865 Kit Carson was ordered to establish a fort on Cold Springs to protect the travelers. However, his efforts were short lived, and he abandoned the new Fort Nichols in a few months and returned to New Mexico Territory.
The area became known popularly as No Man's Land. However, it was also known as the Neutral Strip or Public Land Strip because of its long, narrow dimension. This came about because of certain decisions made concerning statehood for the Republic of Texas and the Territory of Kansas. When the Republic of Texas sought statehood as a slave state, latitude 36˚30´ N became the Texas Panhandle's northern border. When Kansas came into the Union as a free state and used the Compromise of 1850 rules, that state's southern boundary was set at latitude 37˚ N. Indian Territory was already established with the 100th Meridian as its western boundary, and New Mexico Territory established the 103rd Meridian as its eastern boundary.
In the 1870s cattle trails began crossing No Man's Land. The Fort Bascom Trail began in New Mexico Territory, crossed into present western Beaver County, and ended in Abilene, Kansas, at the rail terminal. The Arizona Trail served as a military route over which supplies and equipment came to a military post south of present Boise City, then on to Fort Nichols and the Santa Fe Trail. In the 1860s the Rath Trail was established to freight whiskey, kegs of gunpowder, and provisions to buffalo hunters. Better known than any of these trails was the Tascosa Trail, which served from 1870 to 1887 for trail herds from Texas to Dodge City. Other routes included the Tuttle Trail, the National Trail, and the Liberal, Hardesty, and Hansford Trail.
In 1874 Charles Edward (Ed) Jones and his partner Joe H. Plummer began a trail to ship hides and later to freight supplies from Tascosa to Dodge City. The Jones and Plummer Trail proved successful, and in 1880 Jim Lane built a combination freight station, general store, hotel, saloon, and livery stable, the beginning of the town of Beaver City. He also moved the post office from the sand hills into his store. This building still stands and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places (NR 74001654). Other towns that were established in the 1880s were Carrizo (Kenton), Optima, Hardesty, and Gate City. None of these four were on their present town sites, as they were moved with the coming of railroads. At the same time, ranches were established, often by cowboys who had ridden the cattle trails or hunted buffalo. The Anchor D, which ran upwards of thirty thousand head of cattle during its best years, covered fifteen hundred sections across present Texas County. The 101 Ranch was established in 1877. The Box H and the ZH lay northwest of present Boise City. The CCC Ranch spread over present Texas and Cimarron counties, and the Taintor ranch lay north of the Gate City area. In the eastern area ranches were established by John Beebe, the future father-in-law of Otto Barby, by William H. Healy, whose ranch was known as the KK Ranch, by the Hardesty Brothers on the Beaver River, by James K. Hitch, later joined by his brother Charles, and by Boss Sebastian Neff near Hardesty.
During the early days of cattle ranching and trailing, no formal laws or government existed in No Man's Land. This gave rise to cattle rustling, staking of land without legal authority, and the coming of those from Kansas and Texas who were running from the law. Since there was no law of any kind or any legal restrictions, there was no recourse from illegal operations. People sometimes referred to the area as belonging to Indian Territory; however, this was not the case. Indian Territory ended at the 100th Meridian. A vigilante committee arose, taking unto themselves the trial and punishment of men whom they saw as unsavory. After the committee had held a number of hangings, a group of fifty men decided to try to curtail their actions. It met twice during 1886 to form a claims board and to set up elections in the respective areas in No Man's Land. An attempt to bring law and order was made by the establishment of Cimarron Territory. With its capital at Beaver City, the territory encompassed all of No Man's Land. This attempt at government continued until May 2, 1890, when Congress tacked Cimarron Territory onto Oklahoma Territory and declared it to be the seventh county of Oklahoma Territory (or Beaver County) with Beaver City as the county seat. It again included all the area of No Man's Land, population 2,674, growing to 3,051 in 1900. The area continued thus named until the coming of statehood in 1907. Then it was divided into three counties, with the easternmost remaining Beaver County and keeping Beaver City as its county seat. At that time, new Beaver County counted 13,364 residents.
In the 1880s and 1890s some settlers had come and attempted to farm land in the area, but few of them stayed until the Homestead Act prompted a large influx in 1902 and 1903. Within three years this new group claimed practically every acre of tillable land. Farmers from Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, and Illinois also came to acquire this land. Mennonites from Germany and Russia came, too, for religious freedom, as did Catholics and Lutherans from Germany, Bohemia, and other southern European countries. Farming methods and seed quality had improved so that these farmers did not starve out like their predecessors. Their major crop was broomcorn, followed by wheat in the 1920s, with 1.2 million bushels produced.
The coming of the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railway in 1888 to Liberal, Kansas, just at the edge of the state/territory line, as well as the coming of other railroad lines, helped draw settlers to the area. In 1912 the Wichita Falls and Northwestern Railway completed a line from Woodward through Gate to Forgan, and three years later the Beaver, Meade and Englewood Railroad completed a spur from Beaver to Forgan. The line was extended westward in 1925 and 1927 to Hooker. Thus the county was connected to agricultural markets at last. Rail service ended in 1972.
New towns sprang up or old ones were moved to along the rail lines. Some of these new railroad towns were Gate (moved from its original site), Knowles (moved from its original site of Sands City), Mocane, Forgan, Turpin (moved from two other town sites), and Greenough. These towns had banks, stores, new schools, lumberyards, and the amenities of the areas from which their inhabitants had come. At one time in the early 1920s there were thirty-seven town sites and fifty-three one-room schools in Beaver County.
The old ranchers called these newcomers "pumpkin rollers," although it is doubtful that they really grew many pumpkins. They prospered in dry land farming, raising large wheat crops. Eventually, the decades of using the moldboard plow to break out the dry soil made the surface ready for the drought and prevailing winds that came in the 1930s. The seven-year drought during this time created the Dust Bowl. Nevertheless, in 1930, 2.9 million bushels of wheat were produced, but prices continued to fall. The population of Beaver County, which had risen to 13,631 in 1910 and to 14,048 in 1920, dropped to 11,452 in 1930 and to 8,648 in 1940. People fled their farms, often after bank foreclosure, to seek employment elsewhere. The number of farms declined from 2,518 in 1920 to 1,370 in 1950, and the number of farms larger than five hundred acres grew by more than 50 percent.
Times were extremely hard for those left behind during the Great Depression. However, in the 1950s with the discovery of natural gas and oil, the area again prospered. New farming practices and government programs allowed the inhabitants to recover the land and again grow wheat, sorghum, and cattle. Wheat production in 1960, 4.6 million bushels, rose to 6.9 million in 1980, with the county being the state's tenth-largest producer. At the turn of the twenty-first century Beaver County was one of the state's most prosperous.
Although the remaining towns are much smaller than their original sizes, they provide resources for the surrounding area. Beaver (having dropped the "City" for most usage) is the county seat. The incorporated towns Gate and Forgan have experienced recent upgrades and renovations, due to grants. Turpin has grown with people from Liberal, Kansas, and from new settlements lying to the south, across the Oklahoma line. Knowles (also incorporated) and Balko have declined significantly, but each has kept a church. Knowles also has a store and a community building. Unincorporated areas of growth exist at Bryan's Corner at the junction of U.S. Highway 83 and State Highway 3 and the Ponderosa development north of Turpin. The Beaver County population of 7,411 in 1950 declined to 6,282 in 1970, grew to 6,806 in 1980, fell to 5,857 in 2000, and in 2010 stood at 5,636. The population was approximately 82.8 percent white, 1.1 percent American Indian, 0.8 percent African American, and 0.1 percent Asian. Hispanic ethnicity was identified as 20.0 percent.
Transportation arteries provide access to residents of the adjoining states. U.S. Highways 83 and 270/State Highway 23 run north and south through the county. East-west traffic is facilitated by U.S. Highway 64 in the northern section and by U.S. Highway 412/State Highway 3 in the southern. Beaver County hosts two museums that preserve its unique history. In Beaver, the Jones and Plummer Trail Museum commemorates that pathway. The Gate Museum lies on U.S. Highway 64. Citizens remember their heritage every April with the Cimarron Territory Celebration and World Cow Chip Throwing Contest.
W. David Baird, "Agriculture in the Oklahoma Panhandle, 1898–1942," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 72 (Summer 1994).
Harry E. Chrisman, Lost Trails of the Cimarron (Denver, Colo.: Sage Books, 1961).
V. Pauline Hodges, "No Man's Land and Cimarron Territory," Denver Westerners Roundup 58 (March 2002).
Berenice Jackson, Jewel Carlisle, and Iris Colwell, Man and the Oklahoma Panhandle (North Newton, Kans.: Mennonite Press, 1982).
Richard Lowitt, "From Petroleum to Pigs: The Oklahoma Panhandle in the Last Half of the Twentieth Century," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 80 (Fall 2002).
Fred C. Tracy, Recollections of No Man's Land, ed. V. Pauline Hodges (Goodwell, Okla.: No Man's Land Historical Society, 1998).
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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
V. Pauline Hodges, “Beaver County,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=BE006.
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