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The year 1914 was the peak year of cotton production. Over 40 gins were operating then when 43,595 bales of cotton were harvested. The price of cotton was $0.40 per pound. Although the price dropped to $0.15 per pound two years later, the demise of “King Cotton” was a few years in coming.

Depression (1930-1939)
When the real estate market hit bottom during the Great Depression the best of homes could be bought for a few hundred dollars in Montague County. Because the county’s economy was based on agriculture more so than in the 1980s, the depression was especially difficult. Cotton prices dropped from nearly $0.50 per pound to as low as $0.05 per pound. When the bottom dropped out in 1929, many farmers went broke/ Foreclosures took place time after time in the county. Many farmers tried to rent out their now bank-owned land, thus creating the term share cropper. Neighbors helped neighbors during this difficult time and although total wealth decreased dramatically in the county and cotton production was nearly curtailed, the population increased slightly due to the high birth rate. Furthermore, the discovery of oil brought numerous oil-field workers and sizable capital.

Oil Production (1924-1986)
In 1924, after the first oil funding in Nocona, production dramatically increased from 107,135 barrels in 1925 to 1,963,088 and 4,241,242 barrels in 1926 and 1927, respectively. Production then declined to nearly 2 million barrels per year, where it remained until a steady increase began about 1938. In 1952 the county’s record 9,183,806 barrels were produced with 35 new discoveries recorded that year. As of January 1, 1987, the county has produced a total of 258,227,390 barrels of oil from 400 fields. Most of the old wells in this part of Texas are considered shallow. They can produce as little as a barrel a day and may pump for 10 to 20 more years almost irrespective of prices. The ranch has one working well owned by a large, dispersed group of mineral holders. Most inherited their interests and each is so small it is uneconomic to acquire.

In the 1920s Longhorns were becoming increasingly rare. European breeds were taking hold in the East and many ranchers were experimenting with higher yielding livestock. Farming began replacing cattle grazing as a primary industry. The upland prairies yielded to the plow. The great plains were crushed simultaneously by the great depression and a great drought--made worse by ignorant soil conservation practices. Longhorns were in danger of dying out. Representatives from the U.S. Forest Service and the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Cache, Oklahoma, began a search for the specimen Texas Longhorns to start a federal herd authorized by Congress. Refuge employees located and acquired 20 cows and three bulls.

Detailed records have been kept since 1931 on each Longhorn at the Wildlife Refuge. Prairie Oaks Ranch is home to approximately 50 WR (Wildlife Refuge) Longhorn cattle. The WR brand is the result of selective breeding that began in 1927. The Wildlife Refuge objective (then and now) is to maintain a representative herd of these historically significant cattle for study and appreciation by present and future generations under as natural conditions as possible.

At about the same time that the Wildlife Refuge was founded six wealthy Texas ranchers observed the tragic occurrence and also became alarmed. Acting separately, each ranch began their own conservation program. Each ranch began to breed its favorite characteristics, with distinct appearances becoming evident over time. Today seven distinct groups exist, each with their identifying name. Longhorn cattle, while unique, do not actually constitute a breed and over time they have been given the status of a breed. Some purists say WR Refuge is the only authentic breed since it was the most representative of all herds.

Prairie Oaks Ranch can support a herd of 65 longhorn cattle.

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