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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 Association.]
Breckenridge Caddo * Eolian * Gunsight * Harpersville * Ivan * La Casa * Necessity * Wayland * Reach *