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|A number of Europeans, beginning with the Spanish Indian trader Athanase de Mézières,
visited the area that became Wichita County during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Among these
were Pedro Vial and José Mares, who crossed the region in the course of developing trails from San Antonio
to Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1786 and 1787, and members of the Texan Santa Fe expedition in 1841. Although local
lands had been granted to survivors and heirs of soldiers who fought in the Texas Revolution as early as the 1830s,
the first surveys of the area that is now Wichita County took place in 1854 under the direction of the Texan Emigration
and Land Company. Mabel Gilbert, a pioneer of the settlement that became Dallas, became Wichita County's first
permanent Anglo-American settler when he built a house on a bluff above the Red River, ten miles north of the site
of present Wichita Falls, in 1855.
|Although Native Americans twice drove him from his isolated farm, in 1855 and 1862,
he returned in 1867 and died there three years later. Wichita County was established by act of the Texas legislature
on February 1, 1858, from the Cooke Land District, and was attached to Clay County for judicial purposes. The new
county was named for the Wichita Indians, and settlement was hindered by Indian attacks. Most of the area's Anglo-American
pioneers arrived after 1870, when school lands were purchased to become cattle ranches, which have remained an
important part of the economy.
|On June 7, 1882, Robert E. Huff, a recently arrived attorney, presented a petition
bearing 150 signatures-some of which allegedly were fraudulent-to the Clay County commissioners court seeking independence
for Wichita County. Elections for county officers took place on June 21 of that year. The Fort Worth and
Denver City Railroad reached the tiny settlement of Wichita Falls from Fort Worth in September 1882. This connection
ensured the existence of Wichita Falls, which adopted the date of the arrival of the first train, September 26,
1882, as its birthday. Additional railroad-building activity resulted, in large measure, from the efforts of two
Wichita Falls businessmen, Joseph A. Kemp and Frank Kell. Between 1884 and 1911 these men, acting independently
and in concert, organized and promoted three rail lines out of Wichita Falls: the Wichita Falls and Northwestern,
the Wichita Falls and Southern, and the Wichita Falls and Wellington. The construction of these roads, all of which
were purchased by the Missouri, Kansas and Texas line in 1911, established Wichita Falls as a regional transportation
and distribution center.
Wichita County War Memorial
Cities and towns
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