History

Everything is Bigger in Texas…Including the Number of Counties

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The state of Texas is recognized as the second-largest state by both population and area. Yet, it has 95 counties more than the next highest state. As an example, the state of California, which has the highest population, has only 58 counties. In terms of quantity, the state of Georgia has the second largest number of counties at 159. What made Texas so special to warrant 254 counties?

As it turns out, the size of the Lone Star State played a huge role in its formal layout. Its founders recognized that Texans would need to be close to their local governments, which would be responsible for schools, roads, courts, jails, etc. Wanting to keep local governments in Texas small, they opted to have smaller counties. The original determination of the counties took place in 1845, when Texas became a state. At that time, they needed to be small enough that their residents would have the ability to travel to the courthouse by horse to do their business and return home that same day. As Texas was filled with farmers, one day was recognized as the amount of time most affordable for a farmer or rancher to be able to take away from their livelihood in order to get to the county seat.

Everything is Bigger in Texas…Including the Number of Counties

Photo: Wikimedia

As time went on and the state and its population expanded, so too did the number of counties. According to the Texas Association of Counties, the earliest ones in the history of Texas were known as municipios, which date back to Spanish rule. Record books indicate that there were close to two dozen municipios in what’s now known as southeast Texas. When Texas became independent in 1836, the municipios were recognized as counties. Then when settlers began to fill parts of west Texas, 14 additional counties took shape in less than a decade. By the time the state joined the United States, the number of counties practically doubled – from 37 to 67.

When the state sold land to the United States as part of what’s known as the Compromise of 1850, nine additional counties came to be. By 1860, Texas had 152 in total. Following that, according to the Bullock Texas State History Museum, the state’s growth slowed during the Civil War and ramped back up post-reconstruction. What comprises today’s set requirements for a county comes from the Constitution of 1876, which is what generated the majority of Texas state law today. New counties were required to be laid out like a grid where possible, and needed to be a minimum of 900 square miles.

Everything is Bigger in Texas…Including the Number of Counties

Photo: Wikimedia

What was formerly known as the Young Territory up in the Texas Panhandle was divided into 54 counties at that time, which explains why the counties in the northwest part of the state are laid out like rectangles and squares. Counties in the southern portion of the state follow water basins and other such natural boundaries. As the population of West Texas grew toward the close of the 19th century, its larger counties were split into smaller shapes and sizes. The last county to be added to Texas was Loving County in 1931, bringing the total to 254. And now you know. Everything is bigger in Texas…including the number of counties.