“Bee County covers 866 square miles that slope gently to the coast. The elevation ranges from 200 to 300 feet. Geologically northern Bee County is in the Rio Grande embayment; the Lissie and Beaumont formations extend into the southern part of the county to form a broad, flat, and fertile plain. Blanco, Medio, and Aransas creeks and their tributaries, which flow in a southeasterly direction, drain the county.”
“At the time of the first contact with Europeans, various Karankawa bands inhabited the eastern part of the future county, while Lipan Apaches and Borrados roamed the northwest and southwest sections. The Skidi Pawnees left arrowheads in Sulphur Creek near the site of present Pawnee.”
“The first Spanish grant in the area was made to Carlos Martínez in 1789 for his services in the king’s army at La Bahía and his father’s deed of killing an Apache chief at San Antonio de Béxar Presidio. The first permanent settlers, Jeremiah O’Tool, his sons Martin and Michael, and James O’Reilly, sailed from Ireland in 1826. Women and children arrived in 1829 and helped to established the community of Corrigan, named for Ellen O’Tool Corrigan’s husband. In 1828 William and Patrick Quinn settled in the Power and Hewetson colony at Papalote Creek, and in 1834 settlers from Tipperary, Ireland, landed at Copano Bay and went to the headwaters of the Aransas River (near the site of present Beeville), in the McMullen-McGloin colony.”
“Eleven Bee County landowners, including Timothy Hart, William Quinn, James O’Conner, and James and William St. John, were among the signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence. During the Texas Revolution many of the settlers fled to New Orleans, but most returned, and in the 1840s and 1850s a small but steady stream of settlers moved to the area. Most took up ranching, which was ideally suited for the broad open expanses of grasslands.”
“Bee County was established shortly after the settlement of the Cart War, which originated ten miles east of the site of Beeville. The county, named for Barnard E. Bee, Sr., was formed from San Patricio, Goliad, Refugio, Live Oak, and Karnes counties on December 8, 1857, and officially organized on January 25, 1858, when the first officers were elected. Beeville, the first county seat, was on Medio Creek, near Medio Hill, where the first post office had been established in 1857. In 1860 Maryville became county seat; this community was later designated Beeville-on-the-Poesta to distinguish it from the former county seat.”
“In antebellum Texas the Bee County economy was based almost exclusively on cattle ranching. By 1860 cattle in the county numbered 33,376. Some families grew small crops of corn and other grains, but farming remained on the subsistence level until well after the Civil War. Because of the emphasis on ranching, on the eve of the war only seventy-nine slaves lived in the county, out of a total population of 910, most of whom were evidently cowherds and drovers.”
“The most important economic event in the early postwar period was the great cattle boom. Many postwar cattle drives to the north followed the Chisholm Trail until about 1877, when that route was replaced by the Dodge or Western Trail. During the 1870s and early 1880s many Bee County ranchers drove their cattle to the Rockport-Fulton area, where a large number of hide and tallow plants had sprung up. In 1880 the census counted 25,030 cattle in the county, and in 1890 the total was more than 32,000. During the decade of the 1870s sheep ranching also enjoyed a brief heyday.”
“The 1880s saw the beginnings of large-scale agriculture, with corn and oats as the principal crops. In 1870 the county had only twenty-five farms; by 1890 it had 264; and by 1900 the farms numbered 628. In 1895 a state Agricultural Experimental Station was opened near Beeville, which assisted local farmers in selecting appropriate crops and introducing modern farming methods. Corn, flax, peanuts, fruits, vegetables, and onions became the principal products.”
“The railroads contributed to the rise of the farming economy. The San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway was completed from San Antonio to Pettus and Beeville in 1886. The following year the railroad extended south to Skidmore and Papalote. In 1888 the Gulf, Western Texas and Pacific Railway was built from Victoria to Beeville. The railroads not only opened up new markets outside the county, but also brought large numbers of new settlers. Between 1870 and 1890 the population of the county nearly quadrupled, from 1,082 to 3,720.”
“By 1910 nearly a quarter of the county’s population was foreign born, with new residents from Mexico (1,381) and Germany (188) forming the largest contingents. The growth in population encouraged dramatic growth in agriculture. Between 1900 and 1920 the number of farms in Bee County increased from 628 to 1,497, and agricultural receipts grew nearly fivefold.”
“Despite the impressive growth of farming, livestock raising continued to play a central role in the county’s economy. The number of ranches and cattle continued to increase steadily after the turn of the century. Commercial-scale poultry raising was introduced during the early 1900s. By 1930 county farms raised 73,236 chickens, and turkeys and geese were also being raised in significant numbers. Horse ranching also played an important role in the economy during the first three decades of the century. In 1920 there were more than 5,000 horses on Bee County’s ranches, and buyers came from all over South Texas to attend horse auctions in Beeville.”
“In 1929 oil and gas were discovered at Pettus, and revenues and jobs from the oilfields helped to offset some of the affects of the depression. But the economy did not begin to recover until World War II, when several military installations were opened in and around Beeville. Despite the downturn in the county’s economy, the population continued to grow steadily. In 1940 it was 16,481, up nearly 1,000 since 1930, and in 1950 it reached 18,110.”
“In 1954 the first United States Navy all-jet base opened at Naval Auxiliary Air Station (now Chase Naval Air Station) in Beeville; the base continues to contribute a significant part of the county’s payroll. Several small industries–most of them relating to agribusiness–have opened in Beeville and Pettus in the late twentieth century, but the mainstay of the economy remained farming and ranching.”
“[By 1982,] Oil and gas extraction form[ed] the other mainstay of the local economy. In the early 1990s oil production averaged some 800,000 barrels annually; between 1930 and 1991 crude production was 99,091,271 barrels. A number of petroleum industries and oilfield-service firms are located in Pettus.”
“In the early 1990s the county ranked forty-ninth among all United States counties in the percentage of persons of Hispanic origin, and persons of Hispanic descent (46 percent) form the largest ancestry group, followed by English (16 percent) and German (16 percent). In 2014, 33.1 percent of the population was Anglo, 8.5 percent African American, and 57.4 percent Hispanic. Rural Bee County grew in population by 24 percent between 1970 and 1980.”
“Beeville (population, 13,061) is the county’s largest town and its seat of government; other communities include Blue Berry Hill (880), Skidmore (918), Tynan (282), Tuleta (296), Pawnee (165), and Mineral (65). Hunting leases and camping draw numbers of tourists to the area. Among the leading attractions are the Beeville Art Gallery and Museum, the annual West Fest held in October, the Diez y Seis de Septiembre celebration (one of the fiestas patrias) and nearby Choke Canyon State Park and Lake Corpus Christi.”
- Handbook of Texas Online, Grace Bauer, “Bee County”
I was the guest of Beeville and Bee County on June 23, 2015.
Bee County Courthouse – 1912
(Photo Courtesy: THC)
The current courthouse is the third to ever grace the county. 1860 and 1879 also saw courthouses built in their respective eras. Both burned. The first went up in flames in 1888 and the second followed suit in 1911.
The 1879 courthouse was a simple, two-story building with a mansard roof and pavilion at the top. and a Classical Revival portico at the front entrance. Historians ascribe the building as following the “Greek Revival” style. It cost Bee County $3,425.
When that one burned on January 15, 1911, plans were set in motion for a larger, much more elaborate building to fit the county’s needs. The architects employed were Stephenson and Heldenfels, and they drafted the plans for a massive, majestic, three-story brick courthouse with giant Corinthian order columns, a golden statue of the Goddess of Justice, and a fitting “beehive” shaped dome. W.C. Whitney was the contractor for this grand Classical Revival courthouse.
Some remodeling work went on in the 1970s, and that was led by Ayres & Ayres. Additionally, other renovations had to occur after severe fire damage and vandalism incidents in the early Nineties. The courthouse, however, has recovered since then.
It’s a shining testament to the people of Bee County today.
The view from the main doors
A county official keeps a miniature courthouse on his or her desk. I just happened to see this through the window.
The southwest corner
Beeville & Bee County
Bee County Justice Center, across St Marys Street from the courthouse
On the Beeville Square
Previous Courthouse: San Patricio County
Next Courthouse: Fisher County