Crosbyton can boast of a history of Native Americans, Quakers, cowboys, prairie ladies and businessmen. One of the most prominent citizens in this cast of characters was Hank Smith. Hank was born Heinrick Schmitt in Rossbrunn, Germany. He immigrated to the United States as a young boy and began a life that reflects the raw and endless opportunity that was America in the nineteenth century. Before settling in Blanco Canyon, north of Crosbyton, Hank was a bullwhacker, a surveyor, and panned for gold in Arizona. He was conscripted into the Confederate Army in 1861. When he left the Confederate ranks (his choice), he was forced into the Union Army. Hank landed in Crosbyton in 1878 with his wife, Elizabeth Boyle, born in Scotland. The Hank Smith house in Blanco Canyon was the first permanent dwelling on the South Plains. And Uncle Hank and Aunt Hank as they began to be called operated a store catering to buffalo hunters, ran the post office and built a life in one of the most beautiful spots on the featureless Llano Estacado. Their story is a compelling pioneer saga that is well-documented in the Crosby County Pioneer Memorial Museum located in Crosbyton.
As well as being one of Crosbyton’s most colorful pioneers, Hank is still one of the most well-connected figures in our history. His story is a quintessential American story that gives Crosbyton a strong connection to his home country of Germany. The German writer Karl May wrote about the Llano Estacado using the characters of the Native American, Winnetou and his German counterpart, Old Shatterhand. May’s chronicles of life on the Plains have inflamed a passionate interest among Germans for years and Tech professor Dr. Meredith McClain and Hank and Elizabeth’s granddaughter, Georgia Mae Smith Ericson, established a connection with German’s that have read about Winnetou and wish to visit the Llano Estacado. Today, the land that Karl May immortalized in his literature remains much the same. It is land of open spaces, opportunity of those with vision, and respect for a history that connects Crosbyton to the homeland of Heinrick Schmitt-Uncle Hank. Visit Crosbyton to learn more of this connection.
Crosbyton, county seat of Crosby County, is on U.S. Highway 82 on the Llano Estacado a few miles west of Blanco Canyon and thirty-six miles east of Lubbock near the county’s center. It was named for General Land Office commissioner Stephen Crosby, and lies in the center of a productive dairying and farming area.
This territory was still cattle country when, in 1902, the C. B. Livestock Company purchased 90,000 acres from the Kentucky Cattle Company. By 1912 a 10,000-acre demonstration farm was under the C. B.’s supervision, with Judge L. Gough serving as farm manager. From about 1907 to 1915 the company engaged in land sales, promoting the area as a great cotton-growing region, and thereby aiding the growth of Crosbyton.
In January 1908 the C. B. Livestock Company surveyed a town site, and in February Crosbyton was opened and town lots were sold. Another opening sale took place in June of that year, and the next month the Crosbyton post office was established, with Julian M. Bassett as postmaster. The Crosbyton Inn, a three-story hotel that became noted for its hospitality, was also constructed in 1908. On September 17, 1910, Crosbyton won, by a vote of 198 to 120, a county-seat election over Emma, and after a court fight Crosbyton became the county seat. A few months later, on April 10, 1911, the first train left on the Crosbyton-South Plains Railroad. From the period of World War I through the 1920s the population of Crosbyton and Crosby County grew steadily.
The effects of the Great Depression, however, were heavily felt in the county and contributed to the 8.9 percent decrease in county population between 1930 and 1940. In spite of this, during the decade the town of Crosbyton increased in population from 1,250 to 1,615 and gained roughly twenty more businesses.
Crosbyton’s first hospital opened in August 1947, and the Crosbyton Municipal Airport was dedicated in 1975. On May 1, 1976, the Federal Energy Research and Development Administration awarded a $2.4 million research grant to Texas Tech University for a solar power project at Crosbyton. In addition, the United States Department of Energy signed a $2.5 million contract with Texas Tech for construction of a sixty-five-foot mirrored dish 2½ miles south of Crosbyton. At the time it was the largest single solar collector in the world and was designed to reduce energy costs by converting solar power to electricity for use by the city-owned power plant. Recognizing the town’s need for both a community center and a museum, Zina Lamar set up a foundation in 1958 to finance the construction, operation, and maintenance of the Crosby County Pioneer Memorial Museum. The building includes an auditorium and a kitchen as well as exhibit space for numerous artifacts of area pioneers. The museum’s façade is a replica of the front of Henry Clay (Hank) Smith’s rock house, the first home on the West Texas Plains.
Crosbyton, a marketing center for hogs, wheat, and grain sorghum, was also at one time the home of the world’s largest cotton gin. In 1980 the town had fifty-five businesses and a population of 2,289. In 1990 the population of Crosbyton was 2,026. By 2000 the population had dropped to 1,874 and in 2,012 was at 1707.