Sutton County is a small county located on the Edwards Plateau in Texas, with a population of 4,128 in 2010. The county was created in 1887 and organized in 1890, named for John S. Sutton, an officer in the Confederate Army.
Before the 1860s, Sutton County was occupied by Paleo-Indians, who left behind archaeological remains, including a burned-rock midden with a mortar and pestle, as well as other tools. Later inhabitants include Tonkawa, Comanche, and Lipan Apache Native Americans.
In 1852, Camp Terrett, which would later come to be known as Fort Terrett, was established to protect settlers from Comanches. During this period, the settlements remained small, as Sutton County gets little rainfall. In 1881, Wall’s Well was discovered, allowing ranchers and farmers access to water for irrigation.
By 1915, ranchers organized into the Texas Sheep & Goat Raiser’s Association, and by 1928, the county seat, Sonora, was connected to the outside world and other neighboring cities like San Angelo and Del Rio by the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway.
In 1930, sheep and goat ranching was at its peak, and the Sonora Wool and Mohair Company was established, which would help minimize the economic crisis faced by the county during the Great Depression.
The soil in Sutton County is generally shallow and stony, although there are deep loams to be found along waterways and irregular outcrops of limestone. While the region typically is characterized by range grasses, Sutton County’s grasslands are not true grasslands, since they have small isolated strands of shin oak, juniper, and mesquite.
The vegetation, shallow soils, and meager rainfall kept the county from growing cash crops like cotton or even pecans, but Sutton County’s terrain was perfect for cattle, sheep, and goat ranching. The region also has moderate-sized oil and gas reserves, which went into significant production during the 1960s and 70s.
Aside from the oil and ranching industries, Sutton County has a rich tourism industry–arguably the main industry of modern day Sutton County. The area was originally home to a wide variety of game animals and predators that were driven out during the ranching heyday. In contemporary times, game animals like deer have been reintroduced to the area and have done well, attracting hunters to the area.
Hunting, fishing, and other outdoor attractions are the main draw for tourism in Sutton County. Of note are the Caverns of Sonora, which stretch for miles and were opened to the public in 1960.
Sutton County is a remarkable, rugged area with an economy based in oil, livestock ranching, and tourism. The economy continues to grow and offer opportunities in these economies, as well as burgeoning industries.