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by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

Newspapers these days get election results from official sources, but the process used to be a lot less formal. In the summer of 1891, for instance, the San Angelo Standard learned the outcome of the first election in Crockett County from two men who had just ridden in from Ozona.

"W.S. Kelly and N.P. Lewis arrived from Crockett County yesterday and from them the Standard obtained the following approximately correct news of the election in that county," the West Texas newspaper reported.

Named for David Crockett, the county had existed on paper since 1875, first attached for judicial purposes to Kinney County and by 1885 to Val Verde County. Finally, on July 7, 1891, Crockett County's all-male electorate cast ballots for the first time.

Residents voted in the county's first office holders. But more important for posterity's sake, they picked the county seat.

As the Standard reported, "The vote for county seat with two boxes yet to hear from is as follows:
* Joe Moss Ranch: Ozona 24, Eureka, 7.
* Jackson Ranch: Ozona 9, Eureka, 3.
* Henderson's Ranch: Ozona 12, Eureka, 6.
* Couch's ranch: Ozona 9, Eureka, 3."

Doing the math showed 54 votes for Ozona to 19 for Eureka.

That, the Standard went on, "is so far above the two-third of all the votes that have already been counted that it is almost impossible for Eureka to get a one-third of the vote from the boxes not yet heard from, but we would not yet be certain that Ozona has won."

Of course, Ozona did become the county seat. Today, Eureka - first known as Couch Well - is not even a ghost town, only a ghost name.

A couple of weeks after the election, a correspondent known as "La Vaquero" (either someone who didn't know Spanish very well, a woman with a sense of humor or both) wrote a letter to the editor the Standard published on August 11. Ozona, the local informant said, boomed with a capital B.

"The town, although only a few weeks old, boasts of one store, with lumber on the ground for two more, one saloon, two restaurants, meat market, feed yard, boot shop, etc.," they wrote. "Most of the business is done in tents, although there are a dozen houses in course of construction and the sound of the saw and hammer is heard on every hand."

Despite the fact that the electorate had spoken on whether the capital of Crockett County should be the rapidly growing Ozona or Eureka, a judge in Val Verde County had a petition before him to overturn the results of the vote.

"Although we have been informed that the…judge…has reversed his decision in regard to our county seat," the correspondent continued, "the people are paying no attention to it, as it is a settled fact that Ozona will still be the county seat, there being no opposite worth mentioning."

Indeed, the will of the people prevailed, no matter the validity of the election.

"The land on which Ozona is situated is patented and belongs to E.M. Powell," the newspaper report continued. Powell had "generously donated to the town a good well, with 18-foot Eclipse windmill and cistern, also all lands for public buildings such as courthouse, jail, churches, etc.

"He has also just completed a nice school…24x50, which has also been donated to the town, his idea being to build a good town regardless of the cost to himself, as he has a large body of land in the county which will enhance in value as the town improves.

"Joe Moss, our handsome surveyor [something of a clue that the letter writer was a cow girl], is his agent, and is kept constantly busy selling lots and showing prospectors around."

So far, some 75 lots had been sold, the letter writer said. And though reports had made the rounds that the lots went for "enormous prices," the author strove to set the record straight: "Right here I wish to state that the size of the residence lots are 200 square and can be bought from $25 to $50, according to location, one-third cash, balance on time. Compared with the size of lots in other towns (50x100) they are cheaper than any town in the state."

In addition to the sale of lots, Moss and Powell were drilling two more wells in the new town, enough to insure "abundance of pure water for all purposes."

"La Vaquero," though writing under an ambiguous name, had no doubt as to the future of Ozona and Crockett County.

"Prospectors are coming in every day," the dispatch concluded, "and the majority of them invest before leaving, well satisfied that they have found the best portion of the stockman's paradise."

© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" May 12, 2006 column

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