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Callahan County History

Callahan County. Until the 1870s the county was dominated by Comanche Indians. The area was first explored and described by Dr. Henry C. Connelly of the Chihuahua expedition in 1839-40. Callahan County was formed by the Texas legislature in 1858 from Bexar, Bosque, and Travis counties and named for James Hughes Callahan, a survivor of the Goliad Massacre and leader of the Callahan expedition. Because of the threat of Comanche attack, little permanent settlement took place in the area until after the Civil War. The first white settler to reside in the county was probably James Dulan, a native of Georgia, who built a shelter on Hubbard Creek in 1859 and tended a small herd of cattle. Sometime before November 1863 the Whitten family moved in and established a camp on Deep Creek in the northeastern part of the county. They were followed by the Hittsons and Eubankses, who ranched in both Callahan and Shackelford counties just after the Civil War. The first permanent residence in the county was built by A. A. and Caroline Hart and their four sons, John, Jim, Early, and Jesse, who settled on the South Prong of Pecan Bayou in 1868. They moved to Coleman County shortly thereafter, but returned to Callahan County in 1872 and constructed a double log cabin that for many years was a county landmark.

During the early 1870s a number of other settlers arrived. Most were ranchers, drawn to the area by abundant grazing land. In 1873 John Hittson established the headquarters of his Three Circle Ranch in Callahan County, and in 1874 Jasper McCoy established a ranch on Pecan Bayou. Other early settlers included the Merchant brothers and Dr. J. D. Windham, a physician, who also started a ranch operated by his sons in the southwestern part of the county. Despite the growing population, the threat of attack from hostile Comanches continued during the early 1870s. In 1874 United States troops under Col. Ranald S. Mackenzie defeated the Comanches at Palo Duro Canyon, and the same year Company E of the Frontier Battalion of the Texas Rangers, under the command of William J. Maltby, was sent to the area to drive the remaining Indians away. With the danger of Indian attacks over, large numbers of settlers began moving in. By 1875 land promoter Nelson A. Smith established the first town, Belle Plain, near the center of the county. During the mid-1870s Callahan County became a transit area for cattlemen driving their herds to Kansas. On the way to Dodge City the Western Trail ran up the Pecan Bayou valley, passed near Belle Plain, and extended northward by way of the Bar-be-cue Ranch, just east of the site of present-day Baird. The Jacksboro Echo of July 21, 1876, estimated that some 73,000 cattle were driven up the trail in the first part of that year alone, and by 1880 the annual figure surpassed 260,000. The drives ended in the mid-1880s with the coming of the railroads, but they played an important role in drawing settlers to the area.

Between 1858 and 1877, Callahan County was attached successively to Bexar County, Travis County, and Eastland County for administrative and judicial purposes. In 1877 the residents, more than 150 strong, signed a petition requesting the organization of Callahan County. At the election of July 3, 1877, Callahan City became the first county seat, a position the town retained only until the election of October 13, 1877, when Belle Plain was voted in as the new county seat. Belle Plain showed signs of rapid growth, and a number of settlers moved there in anticipation of the railroad; by 1878 it had a population of more than 100, and by 1880 the number of residents had grown to nearly 300. In 1880-81 the Texas and Pacific Railway was constructed from Fort Worth to El Paso. Stations for the railroad were located at Putnam, Baird, and Clyde, all of which soon developed into towns, but bypassed Belle Plain six miles to the north. An election on January 16, 1883, made Baird the new county seat. Belle Plain soon declined; the stone jail and many of residences were moved to Baird, and by 1897 only four families remained. The construction of the railroad also opened the way for numerous new settlers. During the 1870s and 1880s several communities formed, including Cottonwood, Atwell, Cross Plains, Caddo Peak, Eagle Cove, and Eula. More settlers continued to arrive during the 1890s, and by the turn of the century there were post offices in Oplin, Tecumseh, Denton, Dressy, Admiral, and Dudley. In 1880 the county population was 3,419; by 1890 it had grown to 5,274.  - Callahan County History from the Handbook of Texas Online.  Continue reading the history >>

Callahan County History Written in 1922

Callahan County at historictexas.net