Burnet County, in central Texas, is bordered by Lampasas, Bell, Williamson, Travis, Blanco, Llano, and San Saba counties. Burnet, the county seat, is at the intersection of U.S. Highway 281 and State Highway 29 and on the Austin and Northwestern Railroad, about fifty miles northwest of Austin and 150 miles southwest of Fort Worth.
Cities, Towns & Communities
In the 1840s, after the annexation of Texas to the United States, the federal government became responsible for the protection of frontier settlers from Indian raids. Several companies of Texas Rangers, financed by the federal government, were stationed along the frontier. In December 1847 a company commanded by Henry E. McCulloch took up a position about three miles south of the site of present Burnet. Samuel E. Holland visited McCulloch’s station in 1848 and purchased the 1,280-acre John P. Rozier grant, including the land on which the ranger station was located; the residence he built on that land is said to have been the first permanent home in Burnet County. When the Rangers were relieved by a company of United States Dragoons in December, 1848, Holland protested the construction of a fort on his property; as a result, Fort Croghan was established at the site of future Burnet, three miles to the north. The military abandoned Fort Croghan in December 1853, when it was thought that the population of the area was sufficient to hold its own against the remaining Indians.
The presence of troops had encouraged settlers to make their homes in Burnet County. Among these were such county notables as Noah Smithwick, Logan Vandeveer, and Peter Kerr. A group of Mormons led by Lyman Wight established a colony at the falls of Hamilton Creek in 1851. By December 1851 the population of the region was large enough to warrant petitioning for the foundation of a new county. Burnet County was formed by the Fourth Texas Legislature on February 5, 1852, from parts of Travis, Williamson, and Bell counties. It was named for David G. Burnet, president of the provisional government of the Republic of Texas. The first county officials were elected later that year.
Residents of the new county were divided on the issue of where to locate the county seat. Some thought it should be on Oatmeal Creek, east of the watershed separating the Brazos and Colorado rivers; others wanted it to be on Delaware Creek, just southwest of the site of Burnet. The faction that won included Vandeveer, Holland, and Kerr, who argued that Hamilton should be the county seat. To help convince people, Kerr donated 100 acres to the county for a townsite. The first post office in the county was established at Hamilton in 1853; the name of the town was changed to Burnet in February 1858.
By 1860 Burnet County had 2,487 residents. Aside from Burnet, the earliest settlements in the county were Smithwick, Oatmeal, and the Backbone Valley community. Stock raising and subsistence farming formed the basis of the early economy.
The first efforts at education in Burnet County were hampered by the constant threat of Indian attacks. In the 1850s some early schools were conducted under shade trees, the older boys keeping rifles ready for protection. Small community schools, such as those at Hairston Creek, Pool Branch, Hoover’s Valley, and Oatmeal, provided basic education in the county until the establishment of a district system in the 1890s. Marble Falls Alliance University was established in 1890, but did not last long as a college.Large-scale consolidation of common-school districts into larger, independent school districts took place in the 1930s and 1940s.
Among the earliest churches in the county were a congregation at Mormon Mill in 1851, a Christian church established at Sycamore Springs in 1851, a Baptist church established on Oatmeal Creek in 1854, and a Church of Christ established at Burnet in 1856. Few communities had their own preacher; itinerant ministers held periodic camp meetings to which people came from miles away. One of the first of these was held in the fall of 1855 by Methodists at Sand Springs, south of Burnet. The first land deed specifically for church purposes was executed in 1859 in Backbone Valley. Most often, early church services were held in a building that also served as the schoolhouse. A Catholic church was established at Burnet in 1930; an African Methodist Episcopal church was established there in 1953. In the early 1980s the county’s forty-seven churches had an estimated combined membership of 10,329; Southern Baptist, Church of Christ, and United Methodist were the largest denominations.
Although most early residents of Burnet County came from other Texas counties or other Southern states, the slave population was relatively small; the 235 slaves reported in the 1860 census were divided among sixty-nine owners. After the war some former slaves left the county, but many stayed. A group of them settled on land in the eastern part of Oatmeal.
The Austin and Northwestern finished laying the track between Austin and Burnet in 1882. The track to Granite Mountain was built in the mid-1880s, and branches to Marble Falls and Llano were completed by 1889 and 1892, respectively. The Houston and Texas Central Railway was completed from Burnet to Lampasas in 1903. Lake Victor and Bertram were established as railroad towns and prospered as shipping points and commercial centers for area farmers and ranchers. Such other communities in the county as Lacy, Naruna, South Gabriel, Sage, Wolf’s Crossing, Shady Grove, and Strickling were bypassed by the railroads and faded as their populations were drawn to more promising locations.
When the depression hit in the 1930s, however, prices for all agricultural products plummeted. Cotton, which averaged sixteen cents a pound in 1929, sold for only five cents in 1931; wheat prices fell as low as forty-five cents a bushel. The value of livestock dropped as well: a ewe and lamb that cost twenty dollars in 1929 sold for two dollars; wool, which sold for forty cents a pound in the late 1920s, fell to seven or eight cents.
In the early 1980s between 80 and 90 percent of the land in the county was devoted to farming or stock raising. 1980 Burnet County had 17,803 residents, a 56 percent increase over the 1970 population of 11,420; the population increased a further 27 percent in the late 1980s, reaching 22,677 in 1990.
Jacob Wolf: Burnet County Pioneer, 1969
Burnet County History, 2 vols., 1979.