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The county was originally named Buchanan
County, after U.S. President James Buchanan, but was renamed in 1861
for Alexander H. Stephens, the vice president of the Confederate
States of America.
The county seat is Breckenridge.
Comanches and Tonkawas occupied what is now
Stephens County before Anglo settlement began in the late 1850s.
John R. Baylor, probably the first white settler in the area, built
a cabin on the Clear Fork in 1857, and others soon followed. The
Texas legislature established Stephens County in 1858 from lands
formerly assigned to Bosque County. By 1860 there were 198 people
living in the area; the United States census did not report any
slaves living in the county at that time. In 1861, after Texas had
left the Union, the small town of Picketville was designated the
temporary county seat, and the county was renamed to honor the vice
president of the Confederacy. During the Civil War about 100 local
residents lived together for protection at Fort Davis, a "citizens'
fort" in the area; a school was established at the place. A salt
works was operated on Big Caddo Creek at this time. County tax rolls
reveal that there were thirty-three slaves in the county in 1864,
near the end of the war, possibly brought there by slaveholders who
moved to the area during the conflict. Though the Tonkawa Indians
were friendly, early settlers were in constant danger of attacks by
the Comanches and Kiowas who roamed the area. Samuel P. Newcomb, a
pioneer schoolteacher, wrote sadly in 1865, "My pen is incapable of
doing justice in recording the horrible depredations committed on
this frontier by the barbaric, uncivilized savages." The last large
Comanche and Kiowa raids on the Clear Fork took place in 1871,
although a few settlers lost their lives to raiders as late as 1873.
After Indian removal settlers were free to deal with what Newcomb
called the county's "disagreeable peculiarities," which included
"sand storms in spring, northers in winter, traveling grasshoppers
in the fall, and long, severe, and parching droughts in the summer
and all other seasons of the year." The agricultural census for 1870
reported twenty-four farms and ranches in Stephens County. Though
settlers grew some corn and vegetables for their own consumption,
the economy of the area at that time revolved almost entirely around
ranching; while only about 600 bushels of corn were produced in the
county that year, more than 43,000 cattle were reported. There were
only 300 people living in the county in 1870, and as late as 1875
ranchers were still traveling 200 miles to Tarrant County for flour
and other necessities. The county was organized in 1876, and
Breckenridge became the seat of government. [Excerpted from John Leffler, "STEPHENS COUNTY,"
Handbook of Texas Online; Published by the Texas State Historical
Breckenridge Caddo * Eolian * Gunsight *
Harpersville * Ivan * La Casa * Necessity * Wayland * Reach *