Located in southwestern Oklahoma, Greer County is bounded by Beckham County on the north, Kiowa County on the east, Jackson County on the south, and Harmon County on the west. Organized from Old Greer County at 1907 statehood, Greer County is named for former Texas Lt. Governor John A. Greer. Mangum is the county seat. The western two-thirds of the county lies in the Gypsum Hills, while the eastern one-third is in the Red Bed Plains physiographic region. The county's boundaries have changed several times. In 1909 Harmon County was formed from the western part of Greer, and in 1910 a southern portion of Beckham County was annexed back to Greer. With 643.66 square miles in land and water, Greer County is drained by the North Fork, Elm Fork, and Salt Fork of the Red River.
Greer County's prehistory is represented by ninety-six known archaeological sites reported in a 1981 survey. Through artifacts found at several sites scientists believe that sedentary farmers lived along the forks of the Red River between A.D. 800 and 1400. The Taylor Site yielded clues that bison-hunting, semisedentary people inhabited the area after A.D. 1400. It is speculated that this site represents a sixteenth century trading center inhabited by Southern Plains tribes such as the Apache and Wichita. In the 1600s and 1700s Spaniards passed through the eastern edge of future Greer County when they used the Great Spanish Road that paralleled the North Fork of the Red River. When this area became part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, explorers traversed the region. One of those explorers was Randolph B. Marcy, who traveled west from Fort Arbuckle and followed the North Fork of the Red River in 1852.
From 1860 to 1896 Greer County was part of Texas. On March 16, 1896, a U.S. Supreme Court decision made Old Greer County part of Oklahoma Territory. In the 1860s and 1870s the Kiowa and Comanche used the area as a hunting ground. In the 1880s the Day Land and Cattle Company of Texas established a large ranching presence in the area of Greer County. Jim Haney, Ed Handy, John Powers, and Mat Murphy had a herd of approximately fifteen to twenty thousand head on open range in western Greer County in the early 1880s. W. S. Ikard and E. B. Harrold established the Ikard and Harrold Ranch, with their headquarters near present Granite. They had between sixty and seventy thousand cattle. Representative of a small rancher, David C. Jester built a two-room, frame ranch house circa 1890 on his land in northwestern Greer County. He had three hundred cattle on five sections of land. The former community of Jester was named in his honor.
Mangum has been the county seat since 1886, when Greer County was situated in Texas. In 1896 when Greer County became part of Oklahoma Territory, county officials rented space in several buildings. In 1901 a fire in one of those structures destroyed some county records. At that time the county commissioners considered building a courthouse. Designed by architect Solomon A. Layton, the facility was completed in 1906. The Greer County Courthouse is listed in the National Register of Historic Places (NR 85000682).
Greer County's economy has been based primarily on agriculture and livestock raising. At 1907 statehood farmers planted 89,603 acres in cotton, 34,950 in corn, 19,523 in oats, 12,667 in wheat, and 2,569 in alfalfa. In 1930 the county had 2,455 farms, of which 64.8 percent were operated by tenants. The average farm size was 156 acres. At that time livestock numbered 9,220 cattle, 4,056 horses, 3,663 mules, 905 swine, and 567 sheep and goats. By 1963 farmers had 24,000 cattle, 1,100 milk cows, 19,500 poultry, and 1,600 hogs. They had planted 49,500 acres in wheat, 41,000 in cotton, 14,300 in sorghums, and 7,900 in oats. In 2000 Greer County had 478 farms comprising 314,416 acres. Through farm consolidation the average farm size increased to 657 acres. By the 1930s nineteen cotton gins, one cotton oil mill, and three grain elevators operated.
A few other industries have supplemented the economy. For example, quarrying at Quartz Mountain near Granite created two companies in that town by the 1930s. Also at that time a mattress factory existed in Mangum. By the mid-1940s Mangum also had a brick and tile company and a cotton compress. At the turn of the twenty-first century Greer County reported two manufacturers. Since 1910 the Oklahoma State Reformatory, a medium-security institution in Granite, has provided employment.
In addition, Works Progress Administration (WPA) projects during the 1930s helped employ Greer County residents. The H. E. Curtis farm near Mangum benefitted from a shelterbelt planted in 1935, the first shelterbelt made possible by the U.S. Forest Service through WPA funding. Two other WPA projects involved the construction of the Mangum National Guard Armory (NR 94000278) and the Mangum Community Building (NR 95000236) are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Early-day pioneers supported their children's educational needs. Students first received an education in primitive dugouts, progressing to wood-frame and brick school buildings with prosperous times. Supposedly, the first school in Greer County was a subscription school taught by John R. Nigh in a dugout near Mangum. He had thirteen pupils in the fall 1887. In 1912 the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma moved their Southwest Baptist College from Hastings, Oklahoma, to Mangum. The institution reopened in Mangum as a junior college and served the area until it closed in 1915.
At the turn of the twenty-first century incorporated towns included Mangum, Granite, and Willow. Brinkman, Reed, and Russell represent ghost towns. Located seven miles north of Mangum, Brinkman had a post office from 1910 to 1965. It reached its economic high point in the mid-1920s as a trade center for wheat and cotton. Brinkman met its demise gradually as a result of the Great Depression of the 1930s and the abandonment of the railroad in 1972. When State Highway 34 was being constructed in 1953, it bypassed Brinkman. Reed and Russell also ceased to exist as a result of population shifts during the Great Depression and after World War II.
Early travel routes followed the waterways and American Indian trails. The Spaniards used the Great Spanish Road in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Camp Supply Road connecting Camp Supply (later Fort Supply) in present northwestern Oklahoma with the Red River traversed through Greer County. Cattle drives from Texas used the Western Trail, which passed into Indian Territory at Doan's Crossing and followed the eastern boundary of present Greer County on its way north to Dodge City, Kansas. In 1900 the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railway connected Mangum and Granite with outside markets. Ten years later the Wichita Falls and Northwestern Railway (later the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway) passed through Mangum and Willow. Motorists used U.S. Highway 283 and State Highways 6, 9, and 34. A municipal airport was located near Mangum.
At 1907 statehood Greer County had 23,624 citizens. Numbers dropped in 1910 and 1920 to 16,449 and 15,836, respectively. Population climbed to 20,282 in 1930, only to drop to 14,550 in 1940. The population has continued to decline through the remaining decades. The censuses reported 8,877 in 1960 and 7,028 in 1980. In 2000 Greer County had a population of 6,061, of which 82.2 percent were white, 7.7 percent African American, 7 percent Hispanic, 2.7 percent American Indian, and .3 percent Asian.
Outdoor enthusiasts enjoyed Quartz Mountain State Park and nearby Lake Altus. An annual rattlesnake derby drew visitors to Mangum. The Old Greer County Museum and Pioneer Hall of Fame in Mangum preserved artifacts relating to the local history. Prominent Greer County residents have included U.S. Rep. Victor E. Wickersham, Oklahoma historian Edward Everett Dale, and World War I flying ace Lt. William T. Ponder.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: James Albert Barnett, "A History of the 'Empire of Greer'" (M.A. thesis, Oklahoma A&M College, 1938). "Greer County," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City. Thelma Olive, ed., A History of Old Greer County and Its Pioneers (Mangum, Okla.: Old Greer County Museum and Hall of Fame, 1980). Profiles of America, Vol. 2 (2d ed.; Millerton, N.Y.: Grey House Publishing, 2003).
Linda D. Wilson
© Oklahoma Historical Society