“Although the present county was part of DeWitt’s colony and settlement dates to colonization in 1825, the county officially has two dates of origin. The first, DeWitt County (Judicial), was formed on February 2, 1842, but was declared unconstitutional along with other judicial counties later that autumn. The present DeWitt County was formed from Goliad, Gonzales, and Victoria counties in 1846 and named for empresario Green DeWitt. It comprises 910 square miles, most of which is nearly level to sloping; the areas of greatest elevation are mostly in the northwest.”
“The development of DeWitt’s colony brought the first white settlement to the county. In April 1825 empresario Green DeWitt was authorized by the Mexican government to settle 400 families between the Guadalupe and Lavaca rivers. These pioneers began landing at the mouth of the Lavaca, which became the site of the Old Station settlement. Of the 179 people who took up the 199 DeWitt colony grants, 39 were located in what is now DeWitt County, almost all on farms along the Guadalupe River.”
“Between 1826 and 1831 the area was settled by people primarily from Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, and other Southern states. At the onset of the Texas Revolution, these colonists pledged loyalty to Mexico until late 1835, and although no important battle occurred in the future county, many area colonists, most notably Daniel Boone Friar, Thomas R. Miller, David Murphree, John York, Bennet, Clements, and Davis were involved in the battle of Gonzales, the siege of Bexar, the battle of the Alamo, the Goliad Massacre, and the battle of San Jacinto.”
“In 1846–47 the county seat was Daniel Boone Friar’s store at the junction of the La Bahía Road and the Gonzales-Victoria road. A courthouse was constructed at Cameron, but in the next four years the county had four new seats of government, each change being the result of an election, a recount of votes, an appeal, or a Supreme Court decision. On November 28, 1850, the county court met at Clinton near Chisholm’s Ferry, and Clinton remained the center of county government until Cuero became county seat in 1876. The first post office was established at Friar’s store in 1846 and named Cuero; it was one of the earliest United States post offices in Texas.”
“In the antebellum years, grazing stock was the primary business; agriculture and industry were postwar developments. Nevertheless, a significant corn, cotton, and tobacco economy developed, assisted with slave labor. The 5,493 acres of improved farmland recorded in the 1850 census, valued at $173,233, jumped to 34,134 acres valued at $1.5 million before the Civil War. These figures hint at the increasing prosperity underway in Southeast Texas in the decade preceding the war, and some idea of its details can be gleaned from the increased production of principal farm crops and stock raising.”
“In 1861, with the election of Abraham Lincoln and the outbreak of secession among the Southern states, DeWitt County joined the majority of organized Texas counties in voting to leave the Union. Several military units were raised in the county: Josiah Taylor’s DeWitt Guerella [sic] Company, H. G. Wood’s Shilo Home Guards, A. J. Scarborough’s Davis Guards, Robert Kleberg’s Coleto Guards, Charles Eckhardt’s York Town Hulan Reserve Companie, William R. Friend‘s DeWitt Rifles, and M. G. Jacobs’s Concrete Home Guards. Although citizens of Clinton protested the use of the county courthouse for military and hospital purposes, DeWitt County was not a center of conflict.”
“Nevertheless, the ferries and roads were much used for shipping commerce, clothes, and supplies to the Confederate forces, since DeWitt county lay on the important route from Indianola to San Antonio. During Reconstruction, the county was placed in the Fifth Military District and was occupied by the Fourth Corps, based at Victoria. From April 1866 until December 1868 a subassistant commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau served at Clinton. The notorious Sutton-Taylor Feud, the most bloody and longest in Texas history, originated in Clinton in December 1868 and ended in December 1875, and is traditionally attributed to the bad feelings generated during this period.”
“Reconstruction also contributed to important transportation improvements in the county. The railroad from Victoria to Indianola was destroyed in 1863, but was rebuilt by the federal government in 1866. This line, the Gulf, Western Texas and Pacific, the first railroad to enter DeWitt County, was extended to San Antonio. It was responsible for the establishment of three towns: Cuero, which became the county seat in 1876, Thomaston, and Burns Station (present Verhelle). A second line, the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway, was extended through Cuero, Yorktown, and Nordheim to San Antonio in 1887–88, and led to the development of Yoakum and Edgar.”
“The return to prosperity that Reconstruction initiated in some areas, coupled with the increasing wealth characteristic of Southeast Texas beginning in the late nineteenth century, is shown in the censuses of 1880, 1890, and 1900. The population steadily increased to 10,082 in 1880, 14,307 in 1890, and 21,311 in 1900. African Americans made up about 29 percent of the population throughout these years, and though Germans continued to dominate records of foreign nativity, they decreased to 54 percent by 1900 as Irish, English, Austrians, Poles, and especially Mexican Americans increasingly settled in the county.”
“The number of DeWitt County cattle increased to 49,678 in 1890 (ranking the county seventeenth in the state), and to 50,790 by 1900. The extension of the railroad into the county made the cattle drives up the Chisholm Trail unnecessary, as shipping points for northern markets grew up around Cuero, Thomaston, and Yorktown. Perhaps the best known was Julia Pens, near Thomaston at the Victoria county line, named for Julia Rose Anderson, daughter of the historian Victor Marion Rose, who once owned the land.”
“Growth in the county’s turkey industry was even more spectacular. Only Gonzales County recorded more turkeys in 1930, when DeWitt County counted 107,255 birds and the Turkey Trot, held in Cuero since 1912, enjoyed record attendance and unprecedented international fame. Indeed, an estimated 40,000 people saw Governor James Allred and other state and federal officials lead the parade and celebrations in Cuero, the “Turkey Capitol of the World.”"
“This increasing prosperity notwithstanding, DeWitt County also suffered during the Great Depression. In the decade from 1930 to 1940 the total farm value plummeted by almost half, from $20.3 million to $10.5 million, and although the numbers of cattle, chickens, turkeys, and other livestock increased, the total value of livestock decreased from $3.5 million to $2.5 million.”
“Despite the growth of its major towns and increasing industry, DeWitt County’s economy remained agribusiness focused until after World War II. In 1930 more than 75 percent of the county’s population was rural, and though this figure decreased to slightly over 55 percent by 1940, it was not until the 1950 census showed 34 percent of the population as rural that the county became predominantly urban.”
“In the mid-1980s DeWitt County’s economy was still primarily based on agribusiness, though there was a variety of other industry, such as wood, furniture, and leather-goods production, cotton weaving, and oil and gas production. About $43 million was generated in annual farm income, primarily from the county’s traditional sources—beef cattle, dairy products, hogs, poultry, and such crops as sorghums, corn, oats, wheat, and pecans. Cotton was no longer planted.”
“Among the county’s incorporated communities, Cuero (2000 population, 6,839) remains the county seat and largest city; Yoakum (5,832), Yorktown (2,307), Westhoff (410), and Nordheim (324) continue to be the principal towns.”
Craig H. Roell, “DEWITT COUNTY,” Handbook of Texas Online
I was the guest of DeWitt County and Cuero on March 12, 2012 and returned to rephotograph the courthouse on June 20, 2015.
DeWitt County Courthouse 1897
(Photo Courtesy: THC)
(Photo Courtesy: TXDoT)
The courthouse preceding this one dated to as far back as 1857. Labeled as an “eyesore” by some, the wood-frame structure was literally moved to Cuero after an election for county seat took the title from Clinton. In April of 1894, an arsonist did away with it.
A.O. Watson of Austin jumped in to get the ball rolling on the next court building. His work is the one you see pictured above and the one standing today. The story goes that midway through building it, Mr. Watson went through a struggle to fund the construction. This caused works to halt their work before a ceiling was installed. After he went broke, Watson stepped down on the project and Eugene Heiner of Houston traveled to Cuero to see it completed.
The finished product came in 1897.
A large palm rests here.
The northern façade, on Live Oak Street
City of Cuero & DeWitt County
Esplanade Street, Cuero’s main thoroughfare.
To my understanding, it wasn’t on this street (but, rather Main Street) that the city of Cuero once held its annual Turkey Trot. I’d encourage you to read up on this peculiar bit of history: here.
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