by Bob Bowman
the early 1900s, during a time of low crop production and a depressed
farm economy in East Texas, Tyler and Smith County pioneered a concept
that celebrates its 100th anniversary this year--the county agricultural
In a meeting on November 12, 1906, at an opera house near Tyler's
downtown square, forty-four farm leaders from the county met with
Dr. Seaman A. Knapp of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the
Tyler Commercial Club to discuss ways to boost farm production and
improve the rural economy.
The meeting came three years after Kaufman County started the first
cooperative farm demonstration program on the farm of Walter C. Porter
three miles north of Terrell. There, dramatic changes were proposed
in the ways farmers produced their crops.
Because all of this was new to Kaufman County farmers, they raised
$1,000 to indemnify Porter against possible losses from the new methods.
But the money was never needed; Porter's cotton crop almost doubled
the first year. After the 1906 meeting in Tyler, Smith County appointed
William C. Stallings as the first county agent in Texas and the first
in the nation to serve a single county. Stallings, already in his
sixties, was a well-respected farmer living in the Dixie community
west of Tyler.
When Congress passed the Smith-Lever Act in 1914, the fledgling Texas
Agriculture Extension Cooperative became the Texas Agricultural Extension
Service, a part of the Texas A&M system.
Stallings' work as the first county agent in Texs was different than
what county agents do today. He and other early county agents were
primarily involved in educating farmers in better farm techniques
and the use of research and science--all with the purpose of helping
rural people improve their lives.
When Texas A&M hired Clarence N. Ousley as the first director of the
Extensive Service, he began to hire specialists in plant pathology,
animal science, dairy science, agronomy, poultry science, horticulture
and agricultural engineering to support the county agents.
By 1912, Mrs. Edna W. Trigg of Milam County became the first woman
county agent in Texas and went to work on demonstration shows and
The job soon evolved into home demonstration work and Mary Edwards
Hunter, also of Smith County, became the first black home demonstration
From the beginning of her career, Mrs. Hunter campaigned for better
homes and more canned goods for farm families and shared her creative
ideas with other home demonstration agents in Texas.
Today, the Porter farm near Terrell--where improved farm techniques
were pioneered--is a designated national landmark and is still operated
by descendants of W.C. Porter. At Tyler,
a Texas Historical Marker erected on the downtown square in 1971 tells
the story of Smith County's key role in the agricultural movement
and William C. Stallings' service as the first county agent in Texas.
Stallings died in 1916 at the age of 74.
East Texas Publishers - Order Here
November 27, 2006 Column.
Published with permission
A weekly column syndicated in over 40 East Texas newspapers
Distributed by the East Texas Historical Association. Bob Bowman of
Lufkin is a former president of the Association and the author of
more than 30 books about East Texas