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By Bartee Haile

The Texas legislature created four and a half dozen counties in the Panhandle and South Plains on Aug. 21, 1876, but it took more than drawing lines on a map to populate the last frontier in the Lone Star State. The region was still cattle country well into the 1890’s with only a scattering of villages like Clarendon and Tascosa. But the coming of the railroad, improvements in agriculture and a steep drop in beef prices, that made the ranchers’ range more valuable as farmland, set the stage for a turn-of-the-century land boom. The willingness of the XIT and other cow kingdoms to sell off huge chunks of pasture attracted the interest of heartland sodbusters. Land prices across the Midwest had soared from $20 an acre in the 1880’s to as high as $125 by 1908, and the lure of dirt-cheap real estate was irresistible.

To counter the parched plains’ reputation as an arid wasteland, land promoters came up with wet names like Spring Lake, Oasis, Roaring Springs and Running Water. But the buyers of waterfront property at Shafter Lake discovered the salty body of water was as dry as a bone in the spring and fall and too shallow for pleasure cruises in the summer and winter.


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