Big Spring is a city in and the county seat of Howard County, Texas, United States, at the crossroads of U.S. Highway 87 and Interstate 20. With a population of 27,282 at the 2010 census, it is the largest city between Midland to the west, Abilene to the east, Lubbock to the north, and San Angelo to the south. Big Spring was established as the county seat of Howard County in 1882; it is the largest community in the county.
The city got its name from the single, large spring that issued into a small gorge between the base of Scenic Mountain and a neighboring hill in the southwestern part of the city limits. Although the name is sometimes still mistakenly pluralized, it is officially singular. "To the native or established residents who may wince at the plural in Big Springs, it should be explained that until about 1916, when for some unexplained reason the name dropped the final "s," the official name of the town was indeed Big Springs." There is also a small community named Big Springs, Texas, located in Rusk County in East Texas.
Although the area had long been a popular watering hole for Native Americans and other prehistoric residents and nomads, including members of the more recently established Jumano, Apache, and Comanche tribes, the first European to view the site now known as Big Spring was probably a member of a Spanish expedition, possibly that of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, although the record of his travels cannot confirm his visit.
United States Army Captain Randolph B. Marcy's expedition was the first United States expedition to explore and map the area in 1849. Marcy marked the spring as a campsite on the Overland Trail to California. The site began to collect inhabitants and by the late 1870s, a settlement had sprung up to support buffalo hunters who frequented the area. The original settlement consisted largely of hide huts and saloons. Ranching quickly became a major industry in the area; early ranchers included F.G. Oxsheer, C.C. Slaughter, and B.F. Wolcott.
One notable early rancher was Briton Joseph Heneage Finch, the Seventh Earl of Aylesford. Finch purchased of ranch land in the area in 1883, and is credited with building Big Spring's first permanent structure, a butcher's shop.
The completion of the Texas and Pacific Railroad led to the founding in the early 1880s of Abilene, Colorado City, and Big Spring, three railroading and ranching cities where saloons and gambling dens flourished.
More important in the city's history was the discovery of oil in the region during the 1920s. The early discoveries in the area marked the beginning of the oil industry in the Permian Basin area of West Texas, and the oil industry has continued to be a dominant part of the area's economy. The oil industry in Big Spring reached its peak during the oil boom of the 1950s.
Another major part of Big Spring's economy and life during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s was Webb Air Force Base. It initially opened during World War II as the Big Spring Bombardier School. Following the war, it was converted to a US Air Force training base and was named for James Webb, a Big Spring native who died in action during World War II. Webb Air Force Base was active until 1977, when the base facilities were deeded to the city.
Big Spring was also featured in the 1969 film Midnight Cowboy, which starred Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight and received the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1969. The opening scenes featuring Voight, then a relatively unknown actor, playing the character Joe Buck were filmed in Big Spring and the neighboring city of Stanton.
In 1980, Hollywood returned to Big Spring with the filming of Hangar 18. It was a low-budget sci-fi movie about a space shuttle's collision with an alien spacecraft and the ensuing government cover-up. It starred such big names as Gary Collins, James Hampton, Robert Vaughn, Darrin McGavin and a host of other B-list actors, including Stuart Pankin, who at that time was relatively unknown. The film received low marks, both in critics' reviews and box-office earnings. Despite its poor performance, it became an instant cult classic, appearing on television under a different title and featuring an alternate ending. Several local residents were used as on-screen extras.
The FAI World Hang Gliding Championship was hosted by Big Spring in August 2007.