I’d say the odds of having a county, town, spring, or creek in Texas named after you these days are slim or none.
Even with the population expected to continue to rise in the Lone Star State throughout the 21st century, most existing towns will just get bigger and bigger. Some large subdivisions and developments around big cities have taken on new names and evolved into incorporated cities. Our streams and rivers were given names long ago by explorers and early settlers who ventured across the Texas landscape.
The names they gave them served as important signpost to travelers who often measured distance and direction of travel based on their names and locations. Those with reliable water throughout the year were important locations for establishing roads, cattle trails, and settlements.
The establishment and naming of all 254 counties in Texas is rooted in the evolution of our history and the influence of French, Spanish, Mexican, Republic of Texas, Confederacy and State of Texas rule. During the colonial period in Texas vast empresario land grants were issued by the Spanish and later Mexican governments to allow settlement in Texas. After Mexico declared its independence from Spain in 1821, Texas was attached to Coahuila, a northern province of Mexico.
Between 1821 and 1834, the Mexican government divided Texas into three administrative departments: Bexar, Nacogdoches and Brazos. In 1832, the Mexican legislature further authorized the creation of municipalities in Texas with local governmental powers and elected officials. Each municipality had an ayuntamiento (governing body,) and an alcalde (chief magistrate, mayor, and judge) to provide for law and order, roads, bridges, health, and education of its residents. A municipality included a town with its surrounding territory and was subdivided into precincts with a Comisarios (justice of the peace) and alguacil (sheriff.)
In 1835, there were 12 municipalities in Texas including Austin, Bevil, Columbia, Gonzales, Harrisburg, Liberty, Matagorda, Mina (Bastrop,) Nacogdoches, San Augustine, Viesca and Washington. By 1836 there were 23. It would be the representatives from those 23 municipalities that met at Washington-on-the-Brazos on March 1, 1836, and signed a declaration of independence from Mexico.
Following the establishment of the Republic of Texas and its new government after the revolution against Mexico, boundaries of the existing municipalities as new counties were vague and not well defined. Surveying the boundaries of those municipalities as counties would continue for several years. The Texas Constitution of 1836 specified that the republic would be divided into counties as needed and that any new county created by the Texas Congress would require the petition of one hundred free males and had to encompass a minimum of 900 square miles.
Rules changed once again after Texas became a state in 1845 when the new Texas Constitution stipulated that no existing county could be reduced to less than 900 square miles without the consent of a two-thirds majority of the Legislature. In addition, the Legislature could continue to create counties without consent of the residents living on the land area being considered.
In 1876, a new Texas Constitution stated that no new counties of less than 900 square miles could be formed out of unorganized land, and that these counties must be as square as possible. The boundary of many earlier established counties were often delineated by creeks or rivers. Counties formed from those already organized had to be at least 700 square miles in size and no parent county could be reduced to less than that minimum. For any county to be between 700 and 900 square miles, a two-thirds majority of the Legislature was required. In addition, the boundary of any new county had to be at least 12 miles from the county seat of the parent county.
Most new counties seats had to be located within 3 miles of the center of the new county. During 1876, 4 new counties were created in the Panhandle and Lower Plains of West Texas by the Texas Legislature in anticipation of growth as railroad construction spread throughout that region and have the near square boundary configuration.
Some counties were created from larger existing counties that were divided into smaller units. After being created, for a county to change from unorganized status to organized status, the citizens of the county had to present a petition with the names of 150 qualified voters to the court of the organized county from which the county was attached.
For instance, Palo Pinto County was created from portions of Navarro and Bosque counties on Aug. 27, 1856, and formally organized on April 27, 1857, with Galconda as the county seat (later changed to Palo Pinto.) Its boundaries were modified by the Legislature in 1866, having once included a large portion of present northwestern Erath County.
Breaking them down
The name of a county was often included in the petition presented to the Legislature – but not always. In some instances, the Republic or later State of Texas imposed the name of the new county while in others, no one knows for sure how the county got its name.
Of Texas’ 254 counties:
• Forty-two counties have Indian, French or Spanish names.
• Ten were named after early colonial organizers and 12 after American patriots.
• Ninety-six counties were named for men who died in the Texas war for independence from Mexico, signed the declaration of independence from Mexico, or served as statesmen in the Republic of Texas.
• Twenty-three were named for frontiersmen and pioneers.
• Eleven were named for American statesmen associated with annexation of Texas.
• Ten counties were named for Texas leaders after statehood.
• Thirty-six were named for individuals and heroes of the Confederacy during the Civil War.
• Nine counties were named for geographic features of the land, two for battles, two for trees and one for a military fort (Mason.)
The Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, which was signed following the United States-Mexican War of 1846-1848, granted Texas all lands east of the Rio Grande River from its mouth to its source. Texas created Santa Fe County, which encompassed all lands west of the Pecos River northward into portions of present New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas and Wyoming. It later subdivided that vast county into four counties: Santa Fe, Worth, El Paso and Presidio.
This claim on the upper Rio Grande land was disputed by the United States that had stationed federal troops in Santa Fe and prohibited Texas from establishing a judiciary body there. It was not until the compromise of 1850 that Texas relinquished its claim on those lands in exchange for $10 million dollars to pay off its debt and adopted the western boundary that exists today.
Texas also extended its claim to lands along the Red River from Arkansas that extended from present Miller County, Ark., westward including present Bowie, Cass, Delta, Fannin, Franklin, Hopkins, Hunt, Lamar, Morris, Red River and Titus counties.
The Republic of Texas Congress established Bowie County to include all that region that stretched from Texarkana to Wichita Falls and from the Red River south to Longview in a north-south direction. That region was in contention with Arkansas until Texas became a state in 1846 and the boundary dispute was settled at its present location. It was later subdivided into all or parts of 28 counties.
Texas also laid claim to Greer County, whose northern boundary was on the North Fork of the Red River rather than the South Fork of the Red River in present southwestern Oklahoma. It was created in 1860 by the Texas Legislature and organized in 1886 with Mangum as the county seat. Following a dispute with the United States for 36 years over ownership of the land, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the United States in 1896 and in 1906 it became part of Oklahoma.
Loving County in far West Texas, named for Oliver Loving who once ranched in Palo Pinto County, was created in 1887 but not formally organized until 1931, making it the last one to be organized in the state.
Rockwall County was created from Kaufman County in 1873 due to poor access to the former county seat at Kaufman and is the smallest county in Texas at 149 square miles. Brewster County in West Texas is the largest with 5,935 square miles, which is three times the size of Delaware and over 500 square miles larger than Connecticut.
At least 32 counties established by Texas law no longer exist, having become defunct due to changes in the Texas constitution, deleted due to their designation as judicial counties, or political party wrangling during Reconstruction following the Civil War. The five counties that were authorized but never organized were Buchel, Dawson, Encinal, Foley and Wegefarth. Five counties’ names changed from their original name including present Harris (Harrisburg,) Brazos (Navasota,) Cass (Davis,) Stephens (Buchanan,) and Wilson (Cibolo).
Come to find out, there is a Dillard Creek located 2.5 miles south of Avery in Red River County, Texas, that empties into Roden Creek 7.5 miles downstream in southeastern Bowie County. Not sure who it was named for but I imagine they were real fine folks. Unless some of the big counties in far west Texas decide to break up into smaller counties and can’t find anyone to name them after, Dillard County will do nicely although I doubt my credentials would stand the test of time.
Jim Dillard is a retired wildlife biologist and freelance writer from Mineral Wells. Question/comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.