San Jacinto County is in southeastern Texas on the
Trinity River. Shepherd, the largest town, is fifty miles north
of Houston on U.S. Highway 59. The county's center is at 30°41'
north latitude and 95°00' west longitude. San Jacinto County
comprises 628 square miles of the East Texas Timberlands and is heavily wooded with longleaf and loblolly pine,
cedar, oak, walnut, hickory, gum, ash, and pecan. Sixty percent
of the county is in the Sam Houston National Forest. Gently rolling hills characterize the area, and the soils are
reddish with a loamy surface and mostly clayey subsoils that are
high in iron. Along the Trinity River, there are dark loamy to
cracking clayey subsoils. Between 20 and 30 percent of the land
is considered prime farmland. The Trinity River serves as the
eastern boundary of the county. The San Jacinto River, Big Creek,
Winter Bayou, and Stephen Creek also flow through the county,
and Peach Creek flows along the southwestern boundary. The elevation
ranges from 374 to 386 feet. Average annual precipitation is forty-eight
inches, and the temperature ranges from an average low of 36°
F in January to an average high of 94° in July. The average
growing season extends 261 days.
The original inhabitants of San Jacinto County probably
belonged to either the Atakapa or the Patiri Indian tribes. Little
is known about the latter group except the name. The Atakapans
sparsely populated the area and hunted game such as deer and bear.
Anglo-American settlement began in the lower Trinity River
region during the 1820s. Numerous Mexican land grants were made
in the area in the early 1830s. Among the largest grantees were
José María de la Garza, J. Fernández de Rumayor,
Vital Flores, Ralph McGee, and the Martínez family. The
first post office in the area was established in 1847 in Coonskin,
then in Polk County. The name was changed to Coldspring in 1850.
The land on which Coldspring is located was originally granted
by the Mexican government to Robert Rankin. The Texas legislature established San Jacinto County with Coldspring
as the county seat on August 13, 1870, out of parts of Liberty,
Montgomery, Polk, and Walker counties. The county was named in
honor of the battle of San Jacinto, which ended the Texas Revolution. On March 12, 1877, the Commissioners' Court met to consider plans
for building a courthouse and agreed to pay Thomas and Werner,
builder and architects of Fort Worth, $8,000 to build the structure.
A brick jail was also built for $1,500 by Thomas Ireland. The
first census taken after the county was organized shows 6,186
residents by 1880. The county's first weekly newspaper began publication
in 1897 in Coldspring under the name the San Jacinto Times.
Transportation was slow to develop in the area. Steamboats
occasionally ascended the Trinity River for several hundred miles
in the 1850s, and early settlers frequently made short trips downriver
to reach other parts of the county. They depended on these steamboats
and the cargo they brought from ports on the Gulf of Mexico. Residents
were able to ship part of their cotton crop on the return voyages
of the steamboats. In 1871 a $500 bond was posted to establish
a ferry across the Trinity River at Swartwout. About the same
time, a public ferry across Mussels Shoals Creek was established.
Wagoning and freighting were also an early form of transportation.
The cotton that was not shipped by steamer was taken to Lynchburg
in ox wagons, a trip which usually lasted two to three weeks.
Schools appeared soon after settlements were established
in the area. The early schools were conducted privately, and attendance
was poor. Students often dropped out as soon as they were old
enough to work or could no longer afford to attend. Next to be
established were academies, which later became training schools
for teachers. One of the earliest academies in the area was the
Cold Springs Female Institute, which opened in 1854. Public schools were not in operation until
several decades after the county was formally established. "County
Institutes" were held in Coldspring to prepare teachers for
the school year. As was the case in many schools throughout the
state in the late 1800s, most teachers were poorly prepared and
relied heavily on textbooks such as McGuffey's Readers and the
Blue-Backed Speller. The county judge served as the ex-officio
county school superintendent. The county's largest town, Shepherd,
was named for B. A. Shepherd, a banker and landowner, who moved
to San Jacinto County from Houston to locate a new town in 1875.
The Houston East and West Texas Railway passed through this newly
established town, eleven miles south of Coldspring. A post office
was established in Shepherd in 1879 and discontinued for a brief
period in 1881.
Religious organizations were also important in the
county's history. A Methodist Episcopal church was established
at Coldspring on June 27, 1847. The original frame building stood
a quarter of a mile from Coldspring until it was relocated when
the town moved in 1916. A Sunday school annex was added in 1938.
Both Shepherd and Evergreen had a Methodist church serviced by
the Coldspring minister. A Baptist church was established in Coldspring
on August 11, 1855, and in Shepherd in 1939. The two congregations
shared a pastor until the middle of the twentieth century. A Presbyterian
congregation was established at Waverly in May 1860 and erected
its own building in 1904. A Church of Christ was organized in
Evergreen in 1888 and another in Shepherd in 1930. There were
only a few Catholics in the county by 1940, and they had no organized
church. There was one small Mormon congregation at Embryfield
and a Pentecostal organization at Shepherd. Partly due to the
lack of available churches, camp meetings were popular in the
early days. They were usually held in the summer and attracted
people from miles around. Local residents began building an enormous
shed, called a "brush arbor," and preparing the campground
months before the meeting was to take place. These meetings declined
in number in the early 1900s as a result of improved transportation
which made camping unnecessary.
Growth slowed significantly in the early twentieth
century. By 1910 the population had leveled off at 9,542, probably
due to mill developments in adjacent counties and to poor transportation
facilities within the county. There were over 1,600 farms in the
county in 1920. That year the black population reached a high
of 5,487. That number may have declined later as a result of operations
of the Ku Klux Klan, which experienced a revival after World War I. A chapter of the organization was organized at Coldspring, and
several meetings were held outside of town. Meetings were discontinued
before World War II. Just after the turn of the century there were 2,500 students in
thirty-one white and twenty-eight black schools. A graded high
school in Coldspring had 100 students. School consolidation began
in San Jacinto County in 1928. Three high schools were organized-at
Coldspring, Oakhurst, and Shepherd. The common school districts
were Pine Valley, Waverly, Byspot, and Gibbs. The first county
superintendent was elected in 1928.
San Jacinto State Bank was chartered in the county
and opened in Coldspring on October 11, 1907. Sixteen years later
the Guaranty State Bank assumed ownership of the bank, which in
1927 became known as the Coldspring State Bank. In 1932 it merged
with the Peoples State Bank in Shepherd, and there was no longer
a bank in Coldspring. Oakhurst Bank opened in 1916. It was organized
to handle Liberty Bonds for the employees of the Palmetto Lumber
Company and operated for three years. After the original county
courthouse burned down in 1915, the town of Coldspring moved to
a more elevated site, and a new $15,000 courthouse was built.
Other businesses followed the county seat to its new site.
The lumber industry has been instrumental in the economic development of San Jacinto
County. Most of the land lies within the East Texas pine timber
area. The rainfall, soil, and long growing season have all contributed
to the county's timber growth. Several large lumber mills were
established along the Houston East and West Texas Railway. The
Gibbs brothers made their first purchases of lands in San Jacinto
County between 1869 and 1874 and began operation of the Palmetto
Lumber Company in 1874. Between 1900 and 1939 they acquired another
32,000 acres of timberland. The Foster Lumber Company also owned
thousands of acres along the East San Jacinto River. In 1935 the
company sold 30,000 acres to the federal government; this land
became part of Sam Houston National Forest when it was established
that year. During the Great Depression the Civilian Conservation Corps established camps in San Jacinto County. A white camp was organized
in Oakhurst in April 1933, and a black camp was established a
short time later. Both camps were discontinued in 1940, the same
year the Rural Electrification Administration's efforts reached
San Jacinto County. Oil was first discovered in San Jacinto County
in 1940. At that time Coldspring had five general stores, three
filling stations, two garages, two cafes, two drugstores, a meat
market, a pressing shop, a barbershop, and a food store. In 1950
the county had 1,100 farms and the population had fallen to 6,153.
Until then African Americans had outnumbered whites. In 1970, however, there were almost three
whites for every two blacks. Between 1970 and 1980 the county
population jumped from 6,702 to 11,434. This reflected the general
pattern throughout the state, as the oil boom rushed the economy
County voters have supported the Democratic party in most presidential elections through 1992, although the majority
voted for Republican candidates in 1972 and 1984. In 1990 intercity
bus service was available, and four motor freight carriers operated
in San Jacinto County. The Southern Pacific Railroad, which had
taken over the Houston East and West Texas Railway, carried 10
to 20 million tons of freight annually. While the economy was
based on timber and oil, natural resources in also included industrial
sand, sand and gravel, and gas. The number of farms in the county
in 1987 was 350. Crop production has always been relatively poor
compared to the rest of Texas. Primary crops include Indian corn,
hay, sweet potatoes, peaches, and pecans. Livestock have mostly
played a subsistence role in the economic life of the county.
In 1990 livestock and livestock production earned 50 percent of
agricultural receipts, primarily from cattle, milk, and hogs.
Agribusiness employs most of the people in the county. Retail
trade and service industries provided most of the other jobs.
At least 70 percent of the population was employed outside the
county, many in Houston or at the Texas State Penitentiary at
In 1990 there was one weekly newspaper in San Jacinto
County, the San Jacinto News-Times, published in Shepherd.
Coldspring's San Jacinto County Jail was on the National Register
of Historic Places. Recreation areas include Lake Livingston State
Recreation Area and Wolf Creek Park, and hunting is plentiful in the county. The
Texas Forest Trail is a scenic drive through the farming, ranching,
and oilfield areas of the East Texas Pineywoods. Raven Hill, the
plantation home of Sam Houston built in 1844, is a local historic site. Pioneer Days are held
each April in Coldspring, and the County Fair is held every September.
The population of San Jacinto County in 1990 was 16,372; 80 percent
were white and 15 percent were black. Most residents lived in
rural areas. Shepherd was the largest town (1990 population, 1,812).
Other towns included Coldspring (538), Pointblank (443), and Oakhurst
(219). San Jacinto County had two elementary, two middle, and
two high schools. There was one public library in Shepherd. There
were a county ambulance service and a county health services clinic,
three physicians, and four dentists. Twenty-nine churches
met in San Jacinto County with a combined membership of 4,000;
the largest denominations were Southern Baptist, United Methodist,
and Baptist Missionary. San Jacinto County is known for the beauty
of the Sam Houston National Forest and its timberland amid rolling
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Ruth Hansbro, History of San Jacinto
County (M.A. thesis, Sam Houston State Teachers College, 1940).
Kelly A. Woestman
This information comes from the Texas State Historical Association
Handbook of Texas Online.