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  Texas : Features : Columns : "Texas Tales"

Terrell County

by Mike Cox

These days, Texas has 254 political subdivisions known as counties – and 128 of them once were part of Bexar County.
Mike Cox
In the beginning, there was Bexar.

Well, the heavens and earth came first, but in Texas history, Bexar County is about as fundamental as it gets in considering land ownership.

Dating back to the late Mexican period, the province of Texas was divided for administrative purposes into four departments. One of those departments was Bexar, with San Antonio as its only settlement.

The Department of Bexar stretched from the Nueces River on the south to the Red River on the north, but it would get bigger.

After Texas won its independence from Mexico in 1836, the Congress of the Republic of Texas started organizing the new nation. Late in its first year of existence, Congress designated 23 counties. One of those original counties was Bexar, large enough to have been its own state or country.

Bexar County took in even more real estate than the old Department of Bexar. It now extended beyond the Pecos as far west as El Paso, as far south as the Rio Grande and as far north as what is now the top of the Panhandle. On the east it was roughly bounded by an imaginary north-south line bisecting the state’s center.

When Texas became the 28th state in the Union in 1845, the first state legislature transformed Bexar County into the Bexar Land District. Not that it had many people, but the district included roughly half of the Texas we know today.

As Texas grew to the west, the district slowly shrunk as the legislature created new counties. When Bandera County came into being in 1856, the Bexar Land District existed for the first time as a separate entity from Bexar County. Even so, it still covered about a quarter of the state, lasting until the creation of the 54 Panhandle counties in 1876.

These days, Texas has 254 political subdivisions known as counties – and 128 of them once were part of Bexar County. Hard to tell without running a survey, but a casual examination of a map showing the evolution of the state’s counties indicates at least another dozen or so counties which had been partially in the original Bexar County.


One of the pureblood baby Bexars, Terrell County, is celebrating its centennial this year. It was created by legislative fiat effective April 8, 1905 and named for Alexander Watkins Terrell, a Southerner who had the good sense to come to the Lone Star State in 1852.

After fighting in the Civil War, he settled in Houston to practice law. But, as an early biography put it, “owing to the unsettled condition of the courts” (in Harris County), he moved to a plantation on the Brazos River in Robertson County. After four years as a gentleman farmer, he moved to Austin in 1872.

Three years after becoming a resident of the Capital City, Terrell won election to the state senate. After seven years in the upper chamber, the “urgent solicitation of his fellow citizens” resulted in his running for a seat in the House. In all, he served 16 years in the Legislature, earning a reputation as having been “the author of more good laws for Texas than any other man, living or dead.”

Speaking of the dead, unlike the namesakes of most Texas counties, Terrell lived to see a county named in his honor. He died on Sept. 9, 1912 and is buried in Austin.

Terrell County is a relative newcomer as Texas counties go, but it has an impressive pedigree. Before Terrell County came into political being in West Texas, it had been part of Pecos County, with Fort Stockton as county seat. But that’s only part of its geographic family tree.

Legislators had carved Pecos County from Presidio County on May 3, 1871. Presidio County, in turn, came from Bexar County (technically, it was called the Bexar Land District) in 1850.

Now that Terrell County has turned 100, only nine Texas counties still have centennials to look forward to. The next round of celebrations will come in 2011, when Brooks, Culberson, Jim Wells and Willacy counties hit the century mark. All of them, once upon a time, were part of Bexar County.

Jim Hogg, Kleberg and Real counties will get to hoop and holler in 2013. And yep, they all used to be in Bexar County.

Another baby Bexar, Hudspeth County (cut from El Paso, which came from Bexar), can look forward to a 2017 centennial.

Finally, folks in tiny Kenedy County can eagerly anticipate their centennial in 2021. It, too, is a baby Bexar.

Thanks to 145 years of legislative whittling, the original Bexar County is a mere slip of itself, only 1,248 square miles. But it’s the granddaddy of half of Texas.
© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales"
July 14, 2005 column
 
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