Located on State Highway 125 at the junction of FM 595, 769, and 2182 in west-central Cochran County, about 2 miles from the Texas-New Mexico state line. The town was established by Nelson W. Willard in 1925. Willard was an Illinois-based land speculator who had caught wind of plans by the South Plains & Santa Fe Railway to build a 63-mile-long rail line from Lubbock west through Hockley and Cochran counties. Willard purchased a couple sections of land that had been part of the Joab Alexander Ranch, including a site where Alexander had built a home and drilled a water well. Willard platted the site for a town and used the well as its first public water supply. The community was named for Samuel T. Bledsoe, an official of the railroad, who later became its president.
The first train rolled into town on Decmber 1, 1925. The railroad had originally planned to extend the line to Roswell, New Mexico to connect with another Santa Fe line. The plan was abandoned and the rail line became a dead end–Bledsoe becoming the end of the line. The economic viability of the line, as far as the Cochran County portion of it was concerned, became locked together with the economic success of Bledsoe. The town was in a good location to serve the ranchers of Eastern New Mexico and West Texas, so it grew rapidly and quickly became a major shipping point for cattle and sheep. This activity reached its zenith around 1929, when Bledsoe also reached its highest population level of 400 people.
The community’s first settlers were Mr. and Mrs. R. C. Strickland. It was a hard-scrabble life and many of the new arrivals lived in tents until they could construct a house. It was primitive frontier life, but the people worked together as a community and things began to take shape. The first school opened in November 1925 and a larger brick school building was built in 1927. The first business building was occupied by a firm that printed the Cochran County News, the county’s first newspaper. In 1926 a post office was established, with James M. Lackey as postmaster; his wife taught at the first school in Bledsoe.
By 1929 Bledsoe had several stores, four filling stations, three lumberyards, two hotels, a church, a cafe, an electric plant, an ice plant, a barbershop, a movie theater, and a dance hall. A small park was established at the public windmill and residents planted trees and flowers. Several events came together beginning that year that would lead to the rapid decline of Bledsoe’s population, even as it was just beginning to grow. By the time the town was established in 1925, many of the cattle barons who first settled the area in the late 1880s had died and their heirs broke up the large ranches into smaller parcels that could be sold as farms. The dream of farming the virgin prairie is what lured many of the early settlers to Bledsoe. Large cattle operations were already becoming a thing of the past by the time the town sprouted up. The stock market crash of 1929 signaled the beginning of the Great Depression and the economy went into a tailspin.
The following year, 1930, was the beginning of the Dust Bowl years brought on by an extended drought and deep-plowing of the fragile prairie soil. By 1936 the population had declined to 150, and only ten businesses remained. After 1970, the population stabilized at 125, where it remained in 2000, when three businesses were operating. In 2009, local officials estimated the population at 126. The Bledsoe school was closed in 1996 and the school district consolidated with the Whiteface school district. A group of alumni bought the building, and are keeping it maintained. It is used for reunions and community events. The school’s closing signaled the closing of an era. The bustling town that rose up from the empty prairie is gradually fading away along with those who carry the memories of those adventurous early days on Texas’ Last Frontier.
In 1984, the Santa Fe Railroad abandoned the rail line from just west of Whiteface to Bledsoe, removing the 23 miles of rails, ties and other infrastructure belonging to the railroad. The right-of-way was returned to adjacent landowners, but some of its physical characteristics are still visible today. Today farming, ranching, and oil are the mainstays of the local economy. However, even with the advent of modern irrigation technology in the 1940s, ground water (the life-blood of the county) is a scarce commodity in western Cochran County for both farmers and ranchers, presenting a major obstacle for economic development. Discovery of new oil reserves around Bledsoe in the 1980s didn’t provide the economic revival hoped for by local residents. Still, the community manages to hold on.
The townsite was treeless prairie in 1925, but today it is a green oasis of large elm and evergreen trees. Though little is left of the once bustling town, Bledsoe and it’s people have left an endearing mark on the landscape, both physically and historically.
Sources: Cochran County Legacy: Texas Last Frontier 1924-1986 ( Morton, Texas: Last Frontier History Book Commission, 1986).
Elvis Eugene Fleming and David J. Murrah, Texas’ Last Frontier: A History of Cochran County (Morton, Texas: Cochran County Historical Commission, 1965).
James Marshall, Santa Fe: The Railroad That Built an Empire (New York: Random House, 1945).
Kathleen E. and Clifton R. St. Clair, eds., Little Towns of Texas (Jacksonville, Texas: Jayroe Graphic Arts, 1982).