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Land Before Time :: The History of Grayson County (Part 1)

Early American history was a time of great adventure and conflict. After engaging in a revolution that affected the eastern seaboard and a war that dismantled the north and south, the west then emerged with a lawless spirit embodied by money-mongering business men, adventurous cowboys and wild Indians that ripped through the west. 

Or so the story goes. Our Puritan roots leave little room for magic, the Civil War was all too real for romance, and so the expansionism of the west and southwestern regions were granted enough enchantment for all of nineteenth-century America. 

The captivity stories of Mary Rowlandson and their contemporary Wild West folk tales about Billy the Kid and Jesse James shroud the Frontier in mystery, but what hasn’t been fictionalized are documented descriptions of the lives of freewheeling outlaws, iron-willed natives, courageous soldiers and the solid ground they stood upon.

As nineteenth-century western and southwestern America grit its teeth and rode through dust and gun smoke to glory, what were the features of its population and its renowned landscape? During this three-part series entitled “The History of Grayson County, Texas,” we discuss this region of our great southwestern state in light of its rich and vibrant geological and anthropological history.

During the 1800s, Texas itself was a beauty ravaged by war. Around 1821, Mexico established its independence from Spain and claimed colonies between Texas and California. Caravans traveled through New Mexico in order to transport American goods across the border. Once American pioneers settled in Texas—upon invitation from both the Spanish and Mexican governments—there was a climate for rebellion and a vision for independence. Battles such as the Alamo led to a decisive victory for Texan loyalists (Calore). The Texas Revolution lasted one year from 1835 to 1836 (Calore), and its blood was spilt on an equally devastating landscape. 

Prehistoric structural formation created a formidable Texan terrain. During Paleozoic time, the area of Grayson County was a large sedimentary basin full of marine deposits. Eventually, structural deformation formed lesser troughs and arches within the basin, which now gives this landscape a riddled and rugged appearance. Parts of the basin subsequently were deepened and faulted, and the basin received several thousand feet of sediments which produced its current, flat terrain. 

During late Mesozoic time, sea water invaded the area and deposited hundreds of feet of sediment in Grayson County—prehistoric layers that are now represented by about 3,600 feet of sand, shale, marl, chalk, and limestone. The seas gradually withdrew; erosion began and probably continued during Quaternary and Tertiary time. Many present-day topographic features, including stream terraces high above Grayson County valley flood plains, were formed during Pleistocene time.   

In more recent historical accounts of the county’s geology, certain geological and geographical features have played a particularly significant role. Most visible is Red River, which, together with Lake Texoma since the 1940s, forms the northern boundary; most useful is the Preston Anticline, which is an unusually interesting geological feature that grants the availability of Grayson County’s mineral resources.

Among these resources are the much sought-after oil and gas found in the anticlinal portions that have been subject to warping or folding by natural forces; folded or warped earth such as the Preston Anticline presents the pockets that will later facilitate the oil extraction that would greatly define and affect the regions in the distant future. The geology of Grayson County reflects the rough and tumble American history discussed earlier and to be expounded upon later in this series.