"The History of Johnson County and Surrounding Area"by Viola Block, 1970
"The History of Johnson and Hill Counties Texas" Pub. 1892
"The History of Johnson County, Texas"; Johnson County History Book
Committee 1985; pp 3-4
Like all other counties in Texas, Johnson County was created for the convenience of local settlers. When counties and county seats were few and far between, most of man's time was consumed by the long trips he had to take when he went to pay his taxes, vote, or attend court. There were no railroads at that time to cover the distance in a few hours. The journey took days and days of wearisome travel on horseback or in wagons.
The increase of settlers in the community made the creation of the county necessary. After Texas' admission as a state, her boundless natural resources and advantages drew many immigrants from the other states.
The first settlements in the eastern part of the county were made in 1852, by D. Smith and W. Meadows on Chambers Creek; but as the first settlers in that region were mostly herdsmen and flock owners, no farm was opened until 1856. The first house erected west of Rock Creek was that of Judge McKinsey, being much pleased with the country while riding through it on horseback, he determined to locate a farm and settle thereon.
When brave Texans were fighting for their independence, the territory of Johnson County was composed in the Mexican Municpality of Milam. After they had gained their independence, in 1837, this municipality was changed to a county of the same name. In 1850 McLennan County, comprising also the territory of Johnson County, was cut off from Milam; and on Feb. 4, 1854, Johnson County was cut off from McLennan by an act of the legislature. The original area of Johnson County was 1,376 sq. mi., but in 1866 she lost 636 sq. mi. (nearly half her territory) when Hood County was cut off of the western side of the county, leaving as the present area about 740 square miles. Somervell County was created from 200 square miles of Hood County in 1875.
The original extent of Johnson County created in 1854 was described as follows: "All that territory lying west of Ellis County and north of Hill County, and south of Tarrant County, beginning at the northwest corner of Ellis county and the south boundary of Tarrant County, and continuing due west 20 miles-then south thirty degrees east to Bosque County-then north sixty degrees east to the west bank of the Brazos River-then down same and its meanders to the northwest corner of Hill County-thence north thirty degrees west to a point directly opposite the southwest corner of Dallas County, to the place of beginning."
When the legislature created the county, it named it for Col. Middleton T. Johnson, a brave pioneer. When the Mexican War broke out in 1846 he raised a company of volunteers and served under Zachary Taylor. He was very popular among people who knew him. He was once spoken of in connection with the governorship, but his following was not sufficiently large to secure his nomination. He served a few years on the frontier, fighting Indians, and when the Civil War broke out and Texas seceded, although he was not in favor of secession himself, he offered his services to the Confederates. President Davis promised him a brigade of Texans. Col. Johnson raised the troops but Davis failed to keep his promise and gave the command to someone else. After the war, Col. Johnson served again in the legislature and died a few years after. He was buried near his old home in Tarrant County. Although he was impulsive and had some faults, they were faults which endeared him to his companions. He was brave and generous-a man loved and respected by all who knew him.
At the same time of creating and naming the county, the legislature designated the first Monday in April for the holding of an election for county officers, and stated that the election returns be sent to E.M. Heath. It also authorized Wm. Balch, Wm. Houston, S.D. Kennard and the Rev. Odom to choose three places to be voted upon for a county seat. The county was not organized until August, and the first county officers who were elected were as follows: David Mitchell, Presiding Justice; C. Billingsley, W.O. Neal, A.D. Kennard, County Commissioners; J. Easterwood, county clerk, and A.H. Onstott, Sheriff. To this list later in the year were added F.L. Kirtlye, Assessor; J. H. Waddle, Districk Clerk; E.M. Heath, Justice of Peace for Precinct No. 1; F.L. Kirtley for Precinct No. 2; and W.O. Menefee for Precenct No. 3. The first court was held in Alvarado at John Waddles's store.
At the first election the committee on choosing a county seat reported four places to be voted upon. They were O'Neil's, Stephen's, Patten's and Tarrnat's and Robinson's. Neither received a majority. In August, 1855, Henderson's ran against O'Neil's, and the latter won by a vote of 161 to 59. It was situated on the west bank of the Nolan and was named Wardville. But this did not remain the county seat long, for it was too far from the center of the county. A new elections was ordered. Wardville ran in the race again, against "Bailey's and Manley's, but neither won. At another election in 1856 Bailey's won out and the new county seat was named Buchanan for the President of the United States. This remained the county seat for ten years, but when Hood County was cut off in 1866, Buchanan was left too much to the west and at a new election, Camp Henderson won by a decided majority. The new town was called Cleburne in honor of one of the bravest generals of the Civil War-General Pat Cleburne, and it has been growing continuously ever since it was founded. The location of the county seat was hard to settle, but the final choice was a wise one as subsequent history has shown.
When the county seat was created, there was not a mile of railway in the state, though the first 32 miles were built in that year. The first railroad through the county was built in 1881. It was the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe system. Today there are 132 miles of railway and six railroads in the county. There were no telegraph lines then, no telephones, nor any of the modern conveniences. The Indians made frequent raids and were very troublesome. The entire county was over-run with wild deer, buffalo, and prairie chickens. Indeed, wild game was plentiful and very often furnished food for the settlers and their families. Houses were few and far apart. When Mr. Menefee, the first justice of the peace in Precinct No. 3, an old pioneer who is still living, carried the first election returns to Alvarado, there was only one house along the entire route. As late as 1870, people had to go in wagons all the way to Houston for lumber.
The population of the county at that time was very scarce. As late as 1860 there were only 4,305 people, of whom 513 were negro slaves. Although Johnson County lost about one half her territory when Hood County was cut off in 1866, her population in 1870 was 4,639. In 1880 it was over 17,000; in 1890, over 22,000; and in 1900, nearly 34,000. In 1854, when the county was created, the population was only about 3.12 to the square mile and now there are about 50 the the square mile.
In 1860, in the original limits of Johnson County, there were only 3,060 horses, 232 mules, and 1,078 oxen-which were the principal draft animals. In the same year 78,064 bushels of corn, and 346 bales of cotton averaging 400 lbs. each were produced. Practically all of this came from three or four farms in the Brazos. But we must remember that one reason for this scarcity was the fact which was mentioned before that the early inhabitants of Johnson County were not farmers but stock raisers. When the Civil War borke out, men left their stock and it was stolen in their absence. When they returned and found their stock gone they saw that they must do something else to make a living, as it was impossible to recover the stolen stock. So it happened that they took up agriculture, and thus stumbled upon what proved more important to them than stock raising. In 1866, just after the war, another tide of immigrations set in and the population steadily increased until it was about 12,000 in 1873.
The Johnson County of the present day lies between the thirty-second and thirty-third parallels of latitude, and the ninety-seventh and ninety-eighth meridians of longitude. Its average altitude is about 772 feet above sea level. Its average temperature is about 64.3 degrees Farenheit and its average rainfall per annum is about 34 inches.
The soil is very diversified, varying from a reddish clay in the west and a fine deep sandy loam in the middle east to a black waxy land in the extreme east. It is suitable for nearly every product. The Cross Timbers, which cross the county diagonally from northeast to southwest is a strip from four to twelve mmiles wide, produce vegetables and fruits. Many truck farms are located there. Timber is the main product of the Cross Timbers, however, and many post-oak and black-jack trees exist there. Pecan, elm, oak, and hackberry grow profusely also, and cedar brakes are found on the southwestern part of the county. There has always been a good supply of water in the county, and the deep well water of Cleburne is famous all over the state. The Brazos River touches the southwestern border and the Nolan flows through the county.
The products of Johnson County are numerous. Wheat, oats, cotton, corn, and all kinds of surghum are grown. Fruits of every kind thrive well, including berries, plums and peaches. We see vegetables galor-cabbage, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, pepper, squash, cucumbers, beets, and lettuce.