Founding of Hill County

Dr. George Washington Hill
  Dr. George Washington Hill

In an effort to stimulate land speculation along the Brazos River, army doctor Josephus Steiner of Fort Graham and General Land Office clerk Elijah Clark devised a plan to divide what was then Navarro County.  The plan was approved in Austin, and with 150 voters, Hill County was organized in 1853 in the village of Lexington on Jack’s Branch, near Union Bluff.

Lawyer Roger Q. Mills [more] was handling the paperwork for the formation of the new county.  The place for the county name had been left blank by the Legislature, so Mills took it upon himself to fill that in with "Hill", after Dr. George Washington Hill who was a personal friend and mentor of Mills. Dr. Hill had been a surgeon for the Texas Army in the 1836 War for Independence, had served as President Sam Houston’s Secretary of War and Navy for the Republic of Texas, and had settled in Navarro County.

In September 260 acres at about the center of the county were donated by John A. Carruthers, Jonathan Newby, and Josephus Steiner’s brother Thomas for a county seat.  The name Hillsborough was chosen, but it was soon changed by the post office when it decreed that names ending in –borough should be shortened to –boro. A man was hired to survey the new town for $2 per day; the chain carriers who assisted him were paid $1.25 per day.

James Wood
James Wood


James H. Dyer, co-owner of the Towash Mill, was elected first County Judge in a fiercely contested election with Thomas Bell.  The followers of both candidates became involved in a fist fight, and Dyer fled on a big, black horse. A chase ensued but the judge escaped. The episode resulted in the formation of two political forces which endured for some years.

Soon after the county was organized, one of the precinct meetings was held at the home of James and Isabella Wood.  The Woods had fallen under the spell of one of the many "land agents" who combed the British Isles around the middle of the 19th century, enticing people to move to Texas where land could be bought for 25 cents per acre. Mr. Wood sold his dairy farm in Scotland for $485 per acre and headed with his family to land he had bought sight unseen in Bosque County. 

On their way to their new home, the Woods stopped for a short time near Fort Graham. While there, in September of 1851, Mrs. Wood wrote a letter back to Scotland detailing their journey so far. She wrote about the hardships they had encountered making their way from New Orleans to Galveston, and then to what was to become Hill County, ending with a description of life at Fort Graham.
[Transcription of letter]    [Handwritten letter (this is a large file )]

The land agent that had sold land to the Woods had failed to mention the fact that there were Indians in the Bosque County area, and so shortly after moving to their new land the Wood family moved back east of the Brazos River to the more populous and more protected area near Fort Graham. A few years later, James Wood became the first naturalized citizen of Hill County.

Pioneer Home near Peoria
  Pioneer Home near Peoria

"It’s the richest land in the world" was the message sent back to relatives and friends in the southern states about the time of the Civil War. Full page ads describing cheap land and plentiful crops were posted in Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi and Georgia. Families headed west in wagons drawn by horses and mules.  Often, there was not enough room on the wagons for everyone, and some of the family would follow behind on foot.

Young men came bringing their brides and belongings looking for a better life. They located near streams, building log houses and "lean-tos" for storage and to protect their animals.

Pioneer Home

Initially, the county was similar to what was depicted on the mid-20th century television show Gunsmoke [more]. Gunfights were common.  Horse thieves were shot down whenever they were found – if the one who found the thieves was brave enough. Saloons prospered, there were few churches, and the towns were not family-friendly.

Churches near Malone, Texas
  Salem and St. Peter's Churches near Malone, 1908

Even so, settlers came in large numbers. Corn and cotton were grown primarily for subsistence [more]. Mills were located on streams to supply meal and flour for the families. Many wild animals and birds, especially pigeons, provided food. For entertainment they enjoyed dominoes, dancing, quilting, card games and horse racing. Since tornadoes skipped across the land, most homes had a storm house.

In the 1880’s, the railroads arrived and the county experienced dramatic growth.  Not only did the railroad bring new jobs, but farmers had a method for shipping crops efficiently, and cotton became king.  The area grew rapidly, churches were built, and it was now safe to bring families into town for shopping and entertainment.  Four decades after its formation, Hill County was thriving.

True Texas Tales of the People, Places, and Events of Hill County, Texas