MARATHON, TEXAS. Marathon, the second-largest town in Brewster County, is located on the Southern Pacific Railroad at the intersection of U.S. highways 90 and 385, twenty-six miles southeast of Alpine in the northern part of the county. The town was founded when the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway built across what was then part of Presidio County. A crew building east from El Paso reached the townsite in March 1882.
At that time the area had already attracted a few settlers. Among the first were two brothers from San Antonio, Solomon and Mayer Halff, who established the headquarters of their Circle Dot Ranch near Peña Colorado Springs, four miles southwest of the townsite. In 1879 the Halffs leased part of their land to the federal government for the establishment of Camp Peña Colorado, which became the local center of population before the railroad.
Capt. Albion E. Shepard, a former sea captain who had worked as a surveyor for the railroad, bought land in the area on March 10, 1882, and established the Iron Mountain Ranch, north of the site of future Marathon. When he applied for a post office in September 1882, he estimated that the local population was about 130 and "increasing rapidly." A post office was established there on February 13, 1883. Shepard named the site Marathon because its terrain reminded him of the plains of Marathon, Greece.
In 1911, with the threat of raids from across the Rio Grande during the Mexican Revolution, Marathon became the local center of military operations. Capt. Douglas MacArthur's company was the first to arrive at Marathon, under a special order that authorized the movement of United States Army troops into Texas to aid the civil authorities in maintaining order. MacArthur's company was replaced by troops under Lt. George S. Patton.
In 1990 the Bailey Fluorspar Company was the only industry operating in Marathon. The town was still a center of the local ranching industry, however, thanks to its location on the Southern Pacific. Marathon is also the principal gateway to Big Bend National Park, thirty-six miles south, for tourists coming from the north on U.S. Highway 385 or from the east on U.S. Highway 90. The population was 800 in 1990.
Text from the Handbook of Texas Online