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What happens in Montague County stays in Montague County est county in Texas, in part because of its rich history in boot manufacturing. For much of the 20th century, the small town of Nocona, with its population of 3,200 people, was known as the “Leather Goods Capital of the Southwest.” Local factories churned out bountiful numbers of cowboy boots, belts, and baseball gloves. But by the mid-1990s, the demand for Western wear was drying up. At the same time, many boot factories were moving to Mexico and China. The free fall in boot production hit the residents of Nocona particularly hard. In 1999, after nearly 75 years of operation, the Nocona Boot Company factory shut its doors. For years, the factory had been the area’s largest nonagricultural employer. At the time, more than 300 employees were reportedly laid off. Recently, Nocona’s boot industry has made a minor recovery thanks to the Montague Boot Company, which opened in 2001. But the overall upswing in the local economy has been minimal. In 1990, countywide unemployment rested at 4.3 percent. By 2002, unemployment had increased to 6.3 percent. In the heady days of the 1980s, the Nocona Boot Factory was cranking out around 500,000 pairs of boots each year. These days, the Montague Boot Company is producing roughly 25,000 pairs a year. Accordingly, the website for the Nocona Chamber of Commerce has scaled back the town’s ambitious claim, welcoming visitors to the “Leathergoods Center of North Texas.” The decline in boot manufacturing in Montague County has coincided with the rise of two new industries: gambling and methamphetamine production. About the time that the boot factory was shutting down, homespun meth factories began popping up with increasing frequency along the back roads of the county. These days, a local nonprofit organizaanother nickname for the county, referring to it as “The #1 place for the manufacturing of methamphetamines.” Robert Donald, the vice president of the organization, speculates that the sheriff’s department doesn’t have the manpower to tackle both vices at once. And while the game rooms are a problem, he says, it’s nothing like the havoc that meth is wreaking. “The sheriff only has a couple of deputies to cover the entire county,” says Donald. “They literally don’t have the resources 10 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7/16 /04