De Leon’s Historic Population
De Leon was founded in 1881, more than a year after the 1880 U.S. Census was taken, therefore the first official count of De Leon’s population was in 1890. Sadly, on January 21, 1921, a fire at the Census Bureau destroyed most of the records for that census. Coupled with the loss of the early Free Press issues in a fire in June 1923, many of the names of the earliest residents and business owners of the town are lost. The 1890 population shown here was the population mentioned in an article in the Comanche Chief.
Although many early settlers in northern Comanche County came from throughout the “old states” of the south, starting about five years after the founding of De Leon until around 1905, the population of northern Comanche County was increased by the repeated immigration of new families usually traveling by chartered trains primarily from Lafayette and Pontotoc Counties in Mississippi. These families settled throughout the area but generally to the west and north of De Leon around Oliver Springs, Rucker, Duster, Indian Mountain and Robinson Springs. But even though the farm population of the area grew, the town of De Leon did not experience dramatic growth until 1910.
In 1910 the Texas Central/MKT Railroad constructed a branch line from De Leon to Cross Plains and shifted the division point of the railroad from Dublin to De Leon. Those two events added dozens of railroad employees and their families to the population. Then, with the discovery of oil in 1918, virtually all the communities in Eastland, Erath and Comanche Counties saw tremendous growth. But the actual growth was significantly less than the exaggerated population claims made by all the communities in an effort to bring business to their respective city.
In mid 1919, at the peak of the oil boom, the De Leon City Council decided to consider changing the form of municipal government from General Law to Home Rule. To be eligible for such a change the city’s population had to exceed 5,000. Ghent Sanderford, a De Leon native and attorney, surveyed the community and “reasonably estimated” the population at 5,240 people. An election was held that approved the new charter and the new Home Rule council and mayor took office on January 1, 1920. Between the time the population estimate was made and the first of the year when the council changeover was completed, the oil boom had ended abruptly and thousands left the Desdemona field virtually overnight. When the census was taken in January 1920, the official population was significantly lower at 3,302 than the estimate made only months before.
One of the impacts of the oil boom was a dramatic change in the demographics and heritage of the population. Since the first settlers arrived in 1854 the vast majority Comanche County citizens had been of Irish, Scotch-Irish and English stock with a scattering of German, Dutch and French backgrounds. Virtually all were Protestants and virtually all had been born in the states of the south and their ancestors had moved ever westward often settling for a time in several of those states prior to arriving in Texas. In the 1910 census, of the 1,122 people residing within De Leon’s city limits, only 30 had been born outside of the eleven states that comprised the Confederacy. But of those thirty, seven had been born in Kentucky including members of the F.L. Terrill, C.C. Morris and J.W. Howard families. Eight residents had been born in Oklahoma or the Indian Territory before statehood. Four were identified only as having been born in the United States. Only two had been born outside the United States with one in England and one in Ireland. The remaining nine came from Kansas, California and the mid-western states of Illinois, Indiana and Michigan.
While the majority of the population in De Leon by 1920 had been born in Texas followed in numbers by those born in the states of the old south and the neighboring states of Oklahoma and New Mexico, a staggering number in this census were born in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Delaware, Iowa, Missouri, Ohio, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Colorado, New York, Idaho, Montana, California, Oregon and Arizona. Also in constrast to 1910, large numbers had been born outside the United States. The census shows they were natives of England, Ireland, Italy, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Canada, Holland and Russia. From Greece and Turkey came people from places De Leonians had only read about in the history books including Sparta, Troy, Corinth, the Dardanelles and Smyrna. In 1920 there were over 100 workers on the railroad who had been born in Mexico. They were generally single men who were providing maintenance on the rails and constructing a railroad line to Desdemona. They left not long after the census was taken when construction on the line ceased.
As to religion, the Mexicans and others brought their Catholic faith but also came people of Jewish, Greek Orthodox and even the Muslim religion. In the case of a De Leon Jewish merchant, the daughter wrote the school song and her brother coached the Bearcats while a Jewish merchant in Desdemona had the goods in his store destroyed in a dispute with a customer that evolved into what was called a riot.
Ten years later, in the depths of the Depression, De Leon’s population had dropped to below 2,000 and with the exception of the growth spurred by the railroad had generally returned to the base of families dependent on agriculture that were here by 1910.
The 1920 populations of area communities impacted by the oil boom were: Comanche 3,524; Gorman 3,200 (actual count-not rounded); Desdemona 3,100 (actual count-not rounded); Breckenridge 1,846; Cisco 7,422, Dublin 3,229, Stephenville 3,891; Carbon742; Eastland 9,368; Ranger 16,201; and for a little fun, Midland 1,795.
A few unincorporated areas of Comanche County were identified by community name in the 1920 census and are included here. Since there were no city limits, the count includes anyone living in what the census taker considered to be that community. They include: Robinson Springs 685; Indian Mountain 255; Beattie 570; and Sipe Springs 1,822.