"Lea County was created from Eddy and Chaves counties in 1917 and named for Captain Joseph Calloway Lea, just five years after New Mexico was admitted to the Union as a State. Captain Lea was the first Mayor of Roswell and the father of the New Mexico Military Institute. Lea County had virtually nothing to offer except the vision of a handful of hardy settlers. Wagon roads and cattle trails were the only roads connecting the sparse settlements; there were no railroad, telegraph, daily newspaper, running stream, river, or any major center of population that could properly be called a city. The mail was a horse-conveyed means of communication requiring days to be picked up and delivered."
"Political realists in Santa Fe could not justify the creation of a county from an area that was little more than a vast pastureland for cattle and sheep on the semi-arid, windswept, southwestern corner of the High Plains, or Llano Estacado, cradled in the arm of the neighboring Texas to the east and south. There were no known tax-generating natural resources other than grass and water. Little did they know that deep in the confines of the High Plains country, behind the Caprock that looked down on their rich Pecos Valley lands, was more wealth in gas, oil, and potash than had been known in all the centuries since the Spaniards had proclaimed the Kingdom of New Mexico. (Source: Lea, New Mexico's Last Frontier, by Gil Hinshaw)"
Lea County's history has been one of change and growth. The original settlers of this area would find it hard to believe that Lea County has become so populated and plays a vital role in the production of some of the nation's energy resources.
Once known as part of the Great American Desert, the area held no promise of open water for travelers. At one time, a spring was discovered which flowed in the early part of the year, and a tall mound of rocks was built to mark the spot. This monument was a welcome sight to the people who passed through this area. It is no longer standing because the rocks were used to build a house, but the spring still flows near Monument, New Mexico.
Today, Lea County flourishes not only in oil and gas, but also in agriculture, cattle, and the dairy industry, and is the home to a state correctional institution.
Communities in Lea County
The total population of Lea County is 64,727 (2010 census)
Population (2010 census) is given for the five largest communities of Lea County.
Founded in 1939. This oilfield community was named after the Buckeye Sheep Ranch.
Founded in 1913. Named by Charles E. Crossland for the nearby Caprock. Mr. Crossland planted many cottonwood trees near and around his encampment.
Population 2,922 - founded in 1909. John N. Carson founded the town and named it after his youngest daughter Eunice Carson.
Population 34,122 - founded in 1910 by James Berry Hobbs who had the Post Office Station located in the back of the store he owned.
Founded in 1930. This town was named after Humble Oil Company.
Population 2,047 - founded in 1910. Named for the JAL ranch, which used this brand. Two ranchers, James A. Lawrence and James Allen Lee used the brand.
Founded in 1903 by Ben L. Knowles. Knowles was the second town to be founded in Lea County, and for a number of years had the largest population.
Population 11,009 - founded in 1908 by Jim and Robert Florence Love. Robert Love first requested that the city be named Loving, but the Post Office refused stating that there was already a Loving in Eddy County.
Founded in 1912 and named for William C. McDonald. Mr. McDonald was New Mexico's first governor, from 1912 to 1917.
Founded in 1926. The name was a combination of Malcolm, Janet, and Margaret, children of William Mitchell the founder of Maljamar Oil & Gas Company.
Founded in 1900 and was the first town in Lea County. The monument was named after the mound of rocks that were placed there by passing cowboys to mark the location of the spring.
Founded in 1937 and named for the Phillips Petroleum and El Paso Natural Gas plants located in that territory.
Population 798 - founded in 1909. James A. Tatum submitted three possible names to the Post Office so that they would locate a Postal Station in the store he owned.
The names were Tatum, Martha James and Bilderback, the government officials chose Tatum.
Lea County is located in the southeastern corner of New Mexico, approximately 325 miles southeast of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Situated at an average elevation of 4,000 feet above sea level. Lea County is characterized most often by its flat topography. The County covers 4,393 square miles or approximately 2,822,522 acres which is three times the size of Rhode Island and only slightly smaller than Connecticut. From north to south, the County spans 108 miles and 44 miles at its widest point.
Lea County enjoys a moderate four-season climate. Frequent rain showers and thunderstorms from June through September account for over half the annual precipitation. Winds of 15 mph or more occur from February through May. Winter brings subfreezing temperatures at night but becomes considerably warmer during the day. Winter and its subzero temperatures are only for a short duration of the year. Destructive storms seldom strike the County, but minor damage results from thunder squalls or hailstorms that are experienced about once a year.
The fertile soil of Lea County consists primarily of sandy loam soil types with a few areas of clay loam soil. The clay components make the overall soil high in natural nutrients like potassium, calcium, and magnesium. This soil offers growers the appropriate conditions for many different crops.
2007 Agricultural Statistics
Number of farms: 527
Total Land in Farms: 2,365,168 acres
Market Value of Agriculture
Products Sold: $93,644,000
Crop Sales: $17,037,000 (18 percent)
Livestock Sales: $ 76,607,000 (82 percent)
Top Five Commodities & Cash Receipts
Dairy products: $46,814,000
Cattle and calves: $28,976,000
Hay and other crops: $ 6,064,000
Cotton and cottonseed: $ 4,895,000
Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, dry peas: $ 1,850,000
(USDA and NM Department of Agriculture)
Due to the "OIL BOOM OR BUST" made famous in Lea County, the population has proven to have a roller coaster effect. The chart below illustrates recent population trends.
Citizenship is comprised of all major races. Anglo is the major Ethnic Group (51.1%), Hispanics represent (43.0%), Black (4.1%), American Indian (1.2%), Asian (0.5%), Hawaiian/ Pacific Islander (0.1%). The median age of the average Lea County Citizen is 31.5 years old, with a median household income of $43,910 per year and a median household size of 2.82 people.
(U.S. Census Bureau, 2006-2010)
Lea County is home to the single most important oil discovery in the history of the state of New Mexico. On June 13, 1928, when the discovery well in the Hobbs field "struck pay" the event led to the opening of one of the most valuable oil fields anywhere in the world. On average, Lea County ranks 1st in oil production and 4th in natural gas production.
Lea County has two post-secondary schools located in Hobbs. The University of the Southwest provides Bachelor, Master, and Doctorate degree programs. Current full-time enrollment is approximately 640 students.
New Mexico Junior College, also located in Hobbs, provides Associate degrees and vocational programs. Current full-time enrollment is approximately 2,829 students.
Lea County also has the Small Business Development Center, which provides services consisting of counseling and resources to the business community. One-on-one counseling services offer the business community the information and guidance needed in order to either run a successful business or open a new business.
The Industrial Development Training Program provides classroom and on-the-job training. This program is directed primarily toward manufacturers but it can also be used to assist businesses in the service sector.
Civilian Labor Force: 29,694
Unemployment Rate: 4.7%
(Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012)
Several golf courses are located throughout the County, including Rockwind Community Links (formerly Ocotillo Golf Course) in Hobbs. Redesigned and renamed in 2014, this is an 18-hole facility with a driving range, a fully equipped pro shop, and a snack bar. Rockwind co-hosts one of the largest Pro-Am tournaments in the State of New Mexico and is home to the nationally ranked New Mexico Junior College Golf team and State Champion Hobbs High School Golf team.
Lovington is the home of the 80-acre Chaparral Park. It includes a 20-acre lake with fish, volleyball, basketball, and softball facilities. The City of Jal has five parks, Jal Lake, and a golf course as well as camping facilities. While Eunice offers Stephens Lake, Marshall Park, and the Eunice Municipal Golf Course. Hobbs offers several parks, pools, and sports centers for the youth in the community.
Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe National Park are within close proximity to Lea County. Tatum boasts a community building and library. Lea County operates an Events Center with a seating capacity of approximately 6,000 people. Last but certainly not least Lovington is home to the Lea County Fair and Rodeo every August; the fairgrounds have an arena, which the children use during the year for LCJRA.
- Harry McAdams Park
- Lea County Athletic Hall of Fame
- Lea County Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center
- Lea County Fair and Rodeo
- Lea County Museum
- Linam Ranch Museum
- Soaring Society of America
- Thelma Webber Southwest Heritage Room