In 1876, Randall County was created from the Bexar District (and organized in 1889). Named after Confederate General Horace Randal, the County that bears his name also misspelled it. Colonel Charles Goodnight settled in Randall County in 1876 with 1,600 head of cattle, and would eventually control almost 1,000 square miles of Panhandle Plains.
In 1878, Jot Gunter and William B. Munson selected the site for the City of Canyon for the T Anchor Ranch.
In 1887, Canyon City (as it was called at the time) began to see settlers with arrival of L.G. Conner. Within two years, Conner’s home also operated as Canyon City’s post office, general store, and voting place. Canyon City was selected as the county seat for Randall County in 1889.
In 1898, the arrival of the Pecos and Northern Railroad gave Canyon City its first industry – railhead for shipping cattle. As Canyon City entered the next century, its population had grown to 560 persons. Cattle and the railroad served to establish the City’s prominence in the Panhandle.
In 1906, Canyon City was formally incorporated.
Canyon’s growth paralleled neighboring Amarillo’s and both prospered. As the agricultural base diversified, Randall County’s soil conditions (silty clay loam) proved ideal for increased farming. Throughout periods of economic reversal – including World War I and the Great Depression – Canyon continued to grow. By 1940, the City had grown to a population of 2,622 persons – over four times the size of Canyon City in 1900.
West Texas State Normal College
In 1910, West Texas State Normal College opened and became a degree-granting institution by 1917. It has undergone several name changes including West Texas Teacher’s College (1923), West Texas College (1949), West Texas State University (1963), and West Texas A&M University (1990).
The University has been responsible for several key aspects of the City’s growth. In 1921, the University helped form the Panhandle Plain Historical Society to document and preserve the region’s history. By 1933, the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum was opened on the West Texas campus. Initially a 25,000 square foot building, the museum has grown to over 285,000 square feet, making it the largest State-supported museum in Texas.
Artist Georgia O'Keeffe
As West Texas State Normal College was just getting started, just 20 miles north, noted American artist Georgia O’Keeffe was living in Amarillo where she was an elementary school art teacher (1912-14). Although O’Keeffe left Amarillo in 1914 (to return to the University of Virginia), she returned to the Panhandle just two years later to accept a faculty position at West Texas. As head of the College’s art department (and its only instructor), O’Keeffe lived in Canyon from 1916 to 1918. She rented a room at the home of fellow faculty member D.A. Shirley (500 20th Street) and would often take meals at the Hudspeth House (1905 4th Ave.). As a young instructor (29 years old) and unconventional artist, stories circulated in Canyon regarding O’Keeffe’s eccentricities.
Regardless of her unconventional mannerisms and dress, O’Keeffe found great inspiration in the plains of Randall County. It is widely believed that nearby Palo Duro Canyon was key in the development of her distinctive Southwest style.
O’Keeffe left Canyon in 1918 to relocate to New York City, where she spent the next 30 years. Her time in Canyon and Amarillo undoubtedly fueled her desire to return to the Southwest in the 1940s. Georgia O’Keeffe’s years in Canyon were fundamental to the development of her style that has cemented her as one of America’s most renowned artists.