The history of Sanderson and Terrell county begins in the shrouded mists of pre-history, with the influx of Native Americans into
the area thousands of years ago.
European incursions began in 1535 when Cabeza de Vaca explored the Trans-Pecos. Other
Spanish and Mexican explorers followed through the next three centuries.
In 1848 the Hays-Highsmith expedition made one of the
first official explorations of West Texas by the United States.
At the cessation of hostilities in the Mexican War, the Treaty
of Hidalgo decreed that a boundary be surveyed and established between the United States and Mexico. The Boundary Commission Expedition
took place in 1851 with Major Emory at the helm, drawing newly-conquered lands from Mexico into the boundaries of the United States.
In 1856, Lt. Edward Harte made the first camel expedition through the TransPecos. Eventual aban-donment
of that project left wild camels roaming the area for years afterward.
An 1860 expedition by Brevet Major W. H. Echols surveyed
the Comanche Trail using camels and mules.
But, in spite of all this activity, true settlement of the region was hindered
by Native American peoples of the area, who did not give in easily to the confiscation of their lands by U. S. settlers.
kidnappings and atrocities were committed by the Comanches, Lipan Apaches and other indigenous peoples until the 1880s, when Lieutenant
John Lapham Bullis and his Seminole Scouts and Buffalo Soldiers put a stop to Indian raids in West Texas.
Though Mexican settlers
had lived in the area for centuries, one of the first U. S. sheepmen, Mr. Charles Downie, moved into the Sanderson area and
established his ranch in 1881.
This coincided with the arrival of Chinese workers building an all-weather southern transcontinental
rail route for the Southern Pacific Railroad. This set the stage for the coming of Sanderson.
Born as a railroad boomtown
and engine servicing terminal with the coming of the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1882, Sanderson served area ranchers as a shipping
point for cattle, sheep and mohair products.
Every bit a “Wild West” town, Sanderson had a colorful and lurid history before
finally becoming the county seat of the new Terrell County in 1905. With a background of outlaws, gambling, bawdy saloons and
deadly shootouts, the lawless element was banished with the coming of the new sheriff and his tough deputies.
With the criminal
element in check, the town was free to become a commercial center, with modern amenities not available in neighboring towns.
The addition of a water system in 1907 and a power generation plant in 1912 allowed the town to blossom in the forbidding Chihuahua
Desert of West Texas.
The relatively high wages of the railroadmen and the entrepreneurial spirit of its early businessmen helped
create an oasis, drawing many newcomers to the flourishing community.
The citizens boasted of having the best hotel and
department store between El Paso and San Antonio, and rightly, so. And that, along with pharmacies, auto dealers, milliners,
haberdashers, grocery stores, mom-and-pop tiendas, bakeries, beauty salons, barbershops, a newspaper and full-service printing
shop, a contingent of motels, hotels, restaurants, auto service stations and other businesses, made Sanderson and Terrell County a
mecca for area shoppers and those seeking a better life.
From the beginning of the county in 1905 until the present day, the
city has maintained a top-rated school system, with modern facilities and the best staff in every generation. Sanderson has
always valued its children and their education, and has made sure that they were properly prepared to make their way in the modern
And, all of this history is captured in great detail in the first-hand accounts of our citizens in our county history
book, "Terrell County - Its Past - Its People." Often told in their own, colorful language, their stories read like recorded interviews.
At times hilarious and at other times filled with great drama and pathos, their accounts are always entertaining, gripping the reader
like a good adventure novel.