From Lubbock we journey 30 miles to the west to the town of Levelland, home to just under 14,000 people and the seat of Hockley County. It is situated in the area known as the Llano Estacado – of which more tomorrow.
Hockley County was notionally established in 1876 but virtually the whole county was covered by huge ranches and there were hardly any settlers. Well into the 20th century there were barely 100 residents in the county.
Things started to change in the 1910’s and 1920’s as ranch lands began to be broken up and sold to homesteaders and small farmers. The county was organised in 1921 and the tiny community of Hockley City, consisting of just a few families, was named county seat. The town was renamed Levelland the following year, reflecting its geographical location on the flat plains. Levelland grew steadily, with firstly cotton and later oil becoming important industries.
Levelland hit the headlines in 1957 with multiple UFO sightings. Some of the eyewitness accounts read like scenes from the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. More details here.
Since 1958 Levelland has been home to South Plains College, which now has close to 10,000 students. The singers Natalie Maines, from the Dixie Chicks, and Lee Ann Womack both spent some time at the college.
For our first song today we have James McMurtry with a typically sprawling (in a good way) song, which manages to deal with the early settling of West Texas, the effect of farming on the land and the desire of some to break free fom this small-town experience. It has been suggested that the song was not actually written about Levelland but another town called Floydada – Levelland just fitted better into the lyric !
“On the great migration west
Separated from the rest
Though they might have tried their best
They never caught the sun
So they sunk some roots down in the dirt
To keep from blowin’ off the earth
Built a town around here
And when the dust had all but cleared
They called it Levelland, the pride of man
Our second song is an autobiographical tale from Ama native John Baumann.
“When the time came I went off to Texas Tech
But I made bad grades writing fraternity checks
So I transferred out to South Plains in Levelland
Started making A’s so I started up a band”