One of the first records of Big Spring is in the form of a journal entry, dated October 3, 1849, by Captain Randolph Barnes Marcy. The captain encountered the spring on the return trip from Santa Fe and marked it as a campsite on both the Overland Trail to California and the Santa Fe Trail between Fort Smith, Arkansas and El Paso.
“In a detailed diary, Marcy describes his parties’ arrival at the spring,” wrote Tammy Burrow Schrecengost, author of the books ‘Big Spring in Howard County’ and ‘Big Spring Revisited,’ printed by Arcadia Publishing in 2002 and 2010. “He said they travelled over a beautiful road that brought them to a spring flowing over a deep chasm in the limestone rocks.”
Although records indicate that Spanish explorer Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca drank from the spring in the 16th century, it was Capt. Marcy who dubbed the body of water “Big Spring” in the 19th century, according to a Texas Parks and Wildlife publication.
Capt. Marcy discovered a spot that had also been previously discovered the Native American tribe, the Comanches. The spring in Sulfur Draw marked the crossroads of the Comanche War Trail and was frequented by other tribes, as well, including the Kiowas and the Apaches. The spring, which was also a watering hole for coyotes, wolves, buffalo, antelope, and mustangs, was a place of war for the Comanche and Shawnee tribes, according to the Texas State Historical Association.
However, between 1871 and 1874, approximately 4.5 million buffalo — the tribes’ main source of food, clothing and shelter — were killed by traveling hunters, and tribes were forced onto government reservations, according to Schrecengost.
In the early 1880s, Howard County’s first settlers were ranchers David Abner Rhoton and W.T. “Bud” Roberts. Soon after, a makeshift city of tents was erected in anticipation of the railroad being built through the area, bringing with it commerce. After Texas and Pacific Railroad President Jay Gould made good on his promise and the railroad began service, permanent dwellings and structures were built in the town, two miles north of the railroad.
“Schools were established to educate the young, and a newspaper, The Pantagraph, was started by a lawyer and a preacher,” Schrecengost noted. “Churches were organized by different faiths, hotels were built, and banks were formed. Law and government were established and a courthouse and jail were constructed, and homesteaders began claiming land for farming and ranching.”
When Howard County was organized in 1882 and Big Spring was named the county seat, the city’s first post office and first general store opened. Big Spring reached an estimated population of 1,200 people in 1884, and grew only slightly to 1,255 by 1900, according to the Texas State Historical Association.
The Big Spring Herald, still in publication today and now the city’s only newspaper, was founded as a weekly in 1904. Big Spring incorporated with an aldermanic form of city government in 1907 and the city installed waterworks in 1913. Big Spring struck “Black Gold” in 1925 upon the discovery of oil reservoirs in the ground. The historic Hotel Settles, now restored after decades of neglect, first opened it’s doors in 1930. The hotel was built by Will R. and Lillian Settles after discovering oil on their ranch. The Settles family owned the hotel for two years before selling due to financial loss in the Great Depression.
“The Great Depression was not felt as harshly in Big Spring as other areas, but building expansion halted by 1930,” Schrecengost penned.
By 1930, the population of Big Spring grew to 13,375. By 1927, Big Spring had already switched to a council-manager form of city government in response to the city’s rapid growth. By 1936, there were 810 wells in production in the surrounding oilfields, according to the Texas State Historical Association.
“After World War II erupted, trains were in full use, hauling troops and material. Cosden Petroleum Corporation had maximized its production, and the U.S. Army selected Big Spring to be home of the bombardier school,” Schrecengost wrote. “In 1952, Webb [Air Force Base] opened and trained pilots from around the world until its closure in 1977.”
Big Spring’s population skyrocketed in the 1950s, increasing by an astounding 80 percent to include 31,230 residents.
“In 1978, facilities at the recently closed Webb AFB were used to house the Federal Correctional Prison and five Cornell Correctional Centers were later added,” Schrecengost noted.
The city suffered a slow population decline over the years following, and the 2015 Census quantified the city’s population at 27,677.
Today, Big Spring, a city situated in a rocky gorge between two high foothills of the Caprock escarpment, is booming with industry, history and culture. Enclosed in the 47-acre Comanche Trail Park, Big Spring has no shortage on natural beauty and is home to some of the state’s friendliest Texans. Also in Howard County are Big Spring suburbs Coahoma, located 10 miles northeast of Big Spring on Interstate 20, and Forsan, located in the southern part of the county, about 12 miles from the city. According to the 2015 Census, Howard County is home to nearly 36,000 residents.
Several times a year, Big Spring residents come together for family-friendly events, such as the Comanche Trail Festival of Lights each December and the Big Spring Cowboy Reunion and Rodeo each summer.