Bexar County

By: Christopher Long

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: September 30, 2020

Bexar County (BAY-har), in the interior belt of the Coastal Plain of South Central Texas, is crossed by the Balcones Escarpment. The area northwest of the escarpment, about one-eighth of the county, lies on the Edwards Plateau in high, hilly country, the source of numerous springs and artesian and underground wells. The San Antonio River and San Pedro Creek originate in such springs. The San Antonio is the county's principal river, and into it flow a number of smaller streams, including the Medina River and Medio, Leon, Helotes, Salado, and Calvares creeks. Cibolo Creek forms the boundary between Bexar and Comal counties on the north and Guadalupe on the east.

The county is bounded on the north by Kendall and Comal counties, on the east by Guadalupe and Wilson counties, on the south by Atascosa County, and on the west by Medina and Bandera counties. The county seat and largest city is San Antonio. Other large population centers include Alamo Heights, Balcones Heights, Castle Hills, Converse, Lytle, Olmos Park, Terrell Hills, Timberwood Park, Universal City, and Windcrest. Several major highways serve the county, including Interstate highways 10, 37, 35, and 410, and U.S. highways 81, 87, 90, 181, and 281. The county's transportation needs are also served by various branches of the Union Pacific railroad, as well as San Antonio International Airport.

Bexar County comprises 1,248 square miles. The altitude varies from 600 to 1,200 feet. In the far northwestern corner of the county are the Glenrose Hills, in which the highest elevations of the county are found. To the southeast lie the somewhat lower Edwards Flint Hills. The northern third of the county has undulating to hilly terrain, with alkaline soils over limestone and limy earths with shallow to deep loamy soils. The remainder of the county has very dark, loamy soils with some clayey subsoils and gray to black, cracking clayey soils with a high shrink-swell potential. In the far south is a narrow strip of nearly level to gently rolling terrain with loamy surface layers and loamy to clayey subsoils. The northern quarter of the county has Edwards Plateau vegetation of tall and medium-height grasses, live oak, juniper, and mesquite. A central strip is Blackland Prairie with vegetation consisting of tall grasses. The remainder of the county has South Texas Plains vegetation, including grasses, live oak, mesquite, thorny bushes, and cacti. Mineral resources include sulfur springs, limestone, kaolin, clay, fuller's earth, greensand, lignite, petroleum, and natural gas.

The climate is subtropical-subhumid, with mild winters and hot summers. Temperatures in January range from an average low of 39° F to an average high of 62° and in July from 73° to 96°. The average annual rainfall is thirty-one inches; the average relative humidity is 84 percent at six a.m. and 52 percent at six p.m. The growing season averages 265 days a year, with the last freeze in early March and the first freeze in late November. Crops include oats, sorghum, hay, corn, wheat, and a variety of fruits and vegetables.

Bexar County is located in an area that has long been the site of human habitation. Archeological artifacts from the Clovis culture recovered in the region suggest that hunting and gathering peoples established themselves in the region more than 10,000 years ago. During historic times, the area was occupied by the Coahuiltecans, Tonkawas, and Lipan Apaches.

The first Europeans to explore the region came with an expedition in 1691 led by Domingo Terán de los Ríos and Fray Damián Massanet, who evidently reached the San Antonio River near where San Juan Capistrano Mission was later founded. Nearby they found a group of Payayas living on the riverbank. The Indians, as Massanet recorded in his diary, called the place Yanaguana; he, however, renamed the site San Antonio de Padua to celebrate the memorial day of St. Anthony, June 13. The next group of Spanish explorers, an expedition led by two Franciscans, fathers Antonio de San Buenaventura y Olivares and Isidro Félix de Espinosa, and a military officer, Pedro de Aguirre, did not reach the area until April 1709. Much impressed by the setting and the availability of water, they noted that the area might make a promising site for future settlement. In 1714 Louis Juchereau de St. Denis crossed the region on his way to San Juan Bautista. Espinosa again visited the site in 1716 on his way to East Texas with the expedition of Domingo Ramón and this time recommended San Pedro Springs as a mission site. Near that spot, in May 1718, Martín de Alarcón led the expedition that founded San Antonio de Valero Mission and San Antonio de Béxar (or Béjar) Presidio, named in honor of the family of the dukes of Bexar. By the end of the winter of 1718 numerous Indians of the Jamrame, Payaya, and Pamaya groups had joined the mission. In 1720 Fray Antonio Margil de Jesús founded San José y San Miguel de Aguayo Mission a short distance to the south. Another mission, San Francisco Xavier de Naxara, was established in 1722, but proved unsuccessful and was merged with San Antonio de Valero in 1726. In 1724 the San Antonio de Valero mission compound, which had originally been located at the site of the present-day Chapel of Miracles south of San Pedro Springs, was moved to Alamo Plaza. In 1731, after the removal of the missions from East Texas, three additional missions—Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña, San Francisco de la Espada, and San Juan Capistrano—were founded along the San Antonio River.

During the 1720s the Spanish population of the area was about 200, including fifty-three soldiers and their families and four civilians with their families. On March 9, 1731, fifty-five Canary Islanders arrived at Bexar, and the villa of San Fernando de Béxar became the first municipality in the Spanish province of Texas. The five missions, together with the presidio and the villa of San Fernando, constituted the most important Spanish concentration in Texas. By the mid-1730s the total population of the area was some 900, including 300 Spanish and 600 Indian converts. An epidemic in 1738–39 devastated the missions, killing perhaps three-fourths of the Indian population. At Mission San Antonio de Valero alone, only 182 of 837 Indians who had been baptized survived. By 1740, however, the missions' populations began to recover. The number of converts at the five missions reached more than 500, as many of the indigenous Coahuilatecan peoples living in the region fled to them as a refuge from the Apaches and Comanches.

The missions developed as self-supporting communities, each ringed with farmland irrigated by a comprehensive system of acequias, or irrigation ditches. Crops included grain, cotton, flax, beans, sugarcane, and vegetables. Each of the missions also maintained sizable herds of cattle, sheep, and goats on extensive ranchlands located around Bexar. Governor Manuel M. de Salcedo described Mission Concepción's ranch in 1809 as comprising some thirty-eight square miles and extending east and northeast from the mission to Cibolo Creek. An inventory in 1756 recorded that the Concepción ranch had 700 cattle, 1,800 sheep, and large herds of goats and horses.

Both the missions and the villa of Bexar were subject to sporadic attacks of Apaches and Comanches; nearly a quarter of the Spanish who died between 1718 and 1731 were reportedly victims of Apache attacks. A truce was signed with the Apaches in August 1749, but occasional attacks by Comanches and Apaches continued well into the nineteenth century.

In 1772 the government offices of Spanish Texas were moved from Los Adaes to Bexar, and some of the East Texas settlers also moved. Nonetheless, Bexar remained a small frontier outpost, as Father Juan A. Morfi described in a report of the late 1770s, with "fifty-nine houses of stone and mud, seventy-nine of wood, all poorly built without a preconceived plan. The whole town," he continued, "resembles a poor village rather than the capital of a province."

After the secularization of the missions in 1793–94, they gradually became satellite civilian communities under the authority of the town of Bexar. The mission lands were distributed to the few remaining Indians and the increasing number of Spanish settlers; most of the better land nearest the settled areas was controlled by the town's elite, which was made up of the descendants of the original Canary Islanders and presidial soldiers. The complex network of irrigation systems that had been operated by the missions was partially abandoned, and by 1815 the amount of irrigated farmland had declined markedly.

Despite the downturn brought on by the secularization of the Spanish missions, San Antonio de Béxar continued to be an overwhelmingly agricultural community. Subsistence farming was the rule. The largest number of cultivators worked small family plots, though many farms were also worked by tenant farmers or day laborers. The elite landowners increased the size of their holdings after the secularization of the missions, and some of the largest ranchers exported horses and cattle to Coahuila or Louisiana.

During the late colonial period, Bexar continued to serve as the capital of the province of Texas as well as the main shipping point for supplies headed for Nacogdoches and La Bahía. Between 1811 and 1813 the city was also center of revolutionary activity against Spanish rule. In 1811 a former militia captain, Juan Bautista de Las Casas (see CASAS REVOLT) following the lead of Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla in Mexico, mounted an insurrection in Bexar that quickly spread throughout the province of Texas. Las Casas's band of followers, which included the poorer soldiers and civilians of the lower social stratum who resented the rule of the Spanish elite, scored early successes, arresting the governor and his military staff and seizing the property of the most ardent royalists. On March 1, 1811, however, some of the conservative military officers and clergy supported by the isleños (aristocratic decedents of the original Canary Island settlers), staged a counterrevolution. Las Casas was captured in Chihuahua and executed, and his head was salted and shipped in a box to Bexar for display on Military Plaza in an attempt to dissuade others from taking up his cause.

After Las Casas's death, the leadership of the insurrectionists fell to Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara, who led an army of Mexican revolutionaries and sympathetic Americans from Louisiana that seized San Antonio in the spring of 1813 and proclaimed Texas an independent state (see GUTIÉRREZ-MAGEE EXPEDITION). But in August, royalist forces commanded by José Joaquín Arredondo succeeded in routing the insurrectionists and restoring order. Arredondo's victory was followed by a period of reprisals that included confiscation, detentions, and executions; in San Antonio alone, loyalists shot 327 supporters of the rebellion.

In the wake of the rebellion, the population of Bexar and the surrounding region fell markedly and did not begin to grow again until the end of the decade. By 1820, however, Bexar had some 2,000 inhabitants, with slightly more females (1,021) than males (973); several hundred more lived on ranches in the outlying countryside. During the 1830s the population again increased slightly, although the number of inhabitants in Bexar declined as more town dwellers moved out to adjoining farms and ranches.

Soon after the first Anglo-American colonists came to Texas in 1821, San Antonio became the western outpost of settlement. In 1824 Texas and Coahuila were united into one state with the capital at Saltillo; a Department of Bexar was created with a political chief to have authority over the Texas portion of the state. During the late 1820s and early 1830s increasing numbers of American settlers began moving to San Antonio, though the city remained preponderantly Mexican at the beginning of the Texas Revolution.

In late October 1835, Texas volunteers laid siege to the city, which was garrisoned by the Mexican army under Martín Perfecto de Cos. On December 10, after fierce hand-to-hand fighting, it was occupied by Texan forces (see BEXAR, SIEGE OF). San Antonio was retaken by government forces commanded by Antonio López de Santa Anna during the battle of the Alamo on March 6 of the following year. After the subsequent defeat of Santa Anna's army in the battle of San Jacinto, the city was reoccupied by Texan forces, but the area, claimed by both sides, continued to be fought over. In March 1842, six years after Texas independence, Mexican general Rafael Vásquez briefly occupied San Antonio, and in September of the same year, Adrián Woll led another Mexican invasion force that seized the city.

Because of the uncertainty posed by the frequent invasions, San Antonio and the surrounding area were largely depopulated. Many settlers fled during the Runaway Scrape of 1836 or during subsequent attacks, and did not return in large numbers until after Texas joined the Union. As late as 1844, San Antonio had only some 1,000 residents, nine-tenths of whom were of Mexican descent.

The first Protestant churches in what became Bexar County were not organized until 1844, when two circuit riders, Methodist John Wesley DeVilbiss and Presbyterian John McCullough formed congregations. In 1847 the Presbyterians built a small adobe church, and the Methodists constructed their own building in 1852. Trinity Mission of the Episcopal Church was founded in 1850, an Evangelical Lutheran church was organized in 1857, and the Baptists organized their first church in 1861.

The newly formed Bexar County covered much of the western edge of settlement in Texas. During the late Mexican period, Texas had been divided into four departments, with the department of Bexar stretching from the Rio Grande to the Panhandle and as far west as El Paso. With the winning of Texas independence, the departments became counties, and on December 20, 1836, Bexar County was established, with San Antonio as county seat. Since 1860, when the partitioning of Bexar County began, 128 counties have been carved from the original county, leaving the present county at 1,248 square miles.

Despite the steady growth of the population in the late 1840s, fueled by large numbers of immigrants from the Old South and from Germany, Bexar County was still a sparsely populated region during the early years of statehood. In 1850 the county had a total population of 5,633, 3,488 of whom lived in San Antonio. The economy, as during the Spanish and Mexican periods, was still based on ranching and subsistence agriculture. Livestock accounted for the most important agricultural product in the county's early years. The census of 1850 reported 5,023 cattle, 1,025 oxen, 3,241 milk cows, 2,715 swine, 633 horses, and 7,007 sheep. Corn constituted the most important crop, followed by oats, beans, and other vegetables. The amount of farmland actually in use was very small: less than 5 percent of the total land in farms (5,062 of 135,182 acres) had been tilled, and as late as 1858 three-fourths of the county's terrain was still prairie. Most of the farms were also small; on the eve of the Civil War only one farm in the county was larger than 1,000 acres, and most were smaller than fifty.

The main source of revenue for the county was trade carried on by team trains between San Antonio and Mexico and New Orleans. A number of German and Anglo immigrants opened mercantile establishments in the city, but there was little in the way of industry. In 1860 the county had only twenty-eight manufacturing establishments, with 135 employees.

In contrast to many other areas of Texas, slaves played only a minor role in the Bexar County economy. In 1850 there were only 419 African Americans living in the county, thirty of whom were free. By 1860 the number of slaves had grown to 1,395, or slightly less than 10 percent of the county's total population. Most of the county's 294 slaveholders owned five or fewer slaves; only two owned more than forty.

Bexar County, with its large German population, was a center for antislavery sentiment. Nevertheless, county residents voted for secession 827 to 709 (54 percent for, 46 percent against). On February 16, 1861, Gen. David E. Twiggs, commander of the federal Department of Texas, which was headquartered in San Antonio, surrendered all United States forces, arms, and equipment to a committee of local secessionists backed by a large force of Texas Rangers under Major Benjamin McCulloch. Although Bexar County escaped the destruction that devastated other parts of the South, the war years were difficult for the county's citizens, who were forced to deal with the lack of markets and wild fluctuations in Confederate currency, as well as with concern for those on the battlefield. With many of the men away fighting, the county and the surrounding region experienced an upsurge of cattle rustling and other crimes, and a committee of vigilantes organized "necktie parties" for bandits, cattle thieves, and Union sympathizers.

After the war San Antonio was occupied by Union soldiers, but the county was spared much of the political violence that consumed other parts of Texas. The war and its aftermath, however, had a serious effect on the county's economy. Land prices fell significantly—by as much as half—and most of the county's businesses suffered. Many of the county's farms also fell idle. The amount of improved farmland declined by more than 60 percent between 1860 and 1870, from 13,697 to 5,546 acres. With little tax money coming in, San Antonio and county officials were unable to fund many services. Public sanitation suffered, and as a result the county had a serious cholera outbreak in 1866.

Except for San Antonio, which continued to be a commercial and military center, the county remained scantily settled and undeveloped. Most of the population continued to be concentrated in the San Antonio River valley, with only a few small settlements in the northern, eastern, and western parts of the county. Economic recovery did not begin until the late 1860s and early 1870s with the start of the great cattle drives. Because Bexar County was located at the northern apex of the diamond-shaped area that was the original Texas cattle kingdom, it became an increasingly important center for the ranching industry. By 1870, the number of beef cattle in the county reached 55,325, nearly double the figure for 1860. A sharp increase in the price of wool and the large amount of free range west and south of the city also spurred the development of sheep ranching, particularly in the decade between 1870 and 1880.

The economic recovery, however, found its most important stimulus with the arrival of the first railroad, the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway, which reached San Antonio in February 1877. The completion of the rail link with the coast made the shipment of local products far easier and helped to fuel a rapid growth in population. The number of inhabitants in the county, which had grown by less than 2,000 between 1860 and 1870, nearly doubled over the next decade, increasing from 16,043 in 1870 to 30,470 in 1880. Many of the new residents were recent immigrants from Europe and Mexico. Of the total population in 1880, 7,912 were foreign-born, with the largest numbers coming from Mexico (3,498), Germany (2,621), Ireland (471), England (334), and France (293). After the Civil War the county's black population also grew dramatically as many freed slaves settled in and around San Antonio. By 1880 the number of African-American inhabitants had reached 3,867, nearly three times what it had been in 1860.

In 1881 a second railroad, the International–Great Northern, reached the city from the northeast. The completion of the two railroads not only brought new prosperity, but helped to change the physical face of the county. Before the 1870s most visitors had been struck by the fact that San Antonio and environs, despite relatively large numbers of English, Irish, and Germans, still more resembled a Mexican community than an American one. The influx of new settlers and manufactured building products gradually transformed the city and county, altering its appearance to more closely resemble that of other communities in Texas. The changing character of Bexar was perhaps most tellingly revealed in 1890, when for the first time the number of the county's inhabitants born in Germany (4,039) actually outnumbered those who had been born in Mexico (3,561).

The construction of the railroads also stimulated the establishment or greatly spurred the growth of numerous new communities, particularly along their route, including Macdona, Von Ormy, Cassin, Atascosa, Thelma, Beckman, Luxello, Converse, and Kirby. But despite the growth of the new communities, in 1890 the overwhelming majority of the county's inhabitants, 37,673 of 49,266, lived in San Antonio.

The 1880s also saw many new industries. By 1887 San Antonio listed among its businesses three bookbinderies, four breweries, three carriage factories, four ice factories, three tanneries, one wool-scouring plant, and an iron foundry. Between 1880 and 1890 employees in manufactures in the county grew from 362 to 2,518. After the turn of the century the manufacturing sector continued to show impressive growth. By 1920 the county had 328 factories employing 6,860 persons.

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the agricultural economy, too, grew markedly. Between 1880 and 1920 the number of farms grew from 1,136 to 3,205, and the amount of land in farming increased from less than 400,000 acres to more than 800,000. Soon after World War I, a colony of Belgian immigrants began truck farming on a large scale just south and west of the city. The principal crops during the early years of this century included corn, milo, hegari, cane, oats, vegetables, and fruits. Prior to World War II Bexar County also remained a significant source of beef cattle, and poultry raising and dairying took an increasingly important place in the county's economy. By the late 1940s more than half of the county's agricultural receipts came from livestock and livestock products. In addition, large amounts of wool and mohair were shipped to the Midwest and to New England for manufacture. Oil was first discovered in the county in 1889, and since World War II has represented a significant part of the area's economy. In 1990 county wells produced 550,793 barrels. Total production up to January 1, 1991, amounted to 32,548,292 barrels.

Another important spur to the county's economy was tourism. By the turn of the century, Bexar County and San Antonio began to attract increasing numbers of tourists, drawn by the Alamo, the missions, and the area's mild winter climate. A spa and hotel opened in the 1890s at Hot Sulphur Wells, just south of the city, drew guests from as far away as the Midwest and the East Coast. And for a short time just after 1900 San Antonio vied with Hollywood as a center for the infant movie industry.

Beginning in the second half of the nineteenth century San Antonio also developed as an important military center. The San Antonio Arsenal was opened in 1858, and in 1878 the city deeded ninety acres to the federal government for what eventually became Fort Sam Houston. During World War I Kelly and Brooks fields (which later became Kelly Air Force Base and Brooks Air Force Base) were established to train pilots, and Camp Bullis and Camp Travis were opened. At the end of the war, a part of Kelly Field became Duncan Field , and in 1931 Randolph Field was established as a primary flight training base. During World War II Duncan Field was reintegrated with Kelly, and Camp Normoyle, a motor base, was added.

Between 1910 and 1930 cotton, which had previously been grown only on small quantities, became one of the county's most important cash crops. The 1880 census reported that only 1,543 bales of cotton had been produced in the county that year; by 1906 the number had grown to 19,499; and in 1926 the figure reached 27,505. During the same period the amount of land given to cotton production grew steadily, and by the mid-1920s nearly a third of the improved farmland was used for cotton culture.

The same period also saw a steady rise in the number of tenant farmers in the county. Before 1880 fewer than 10 percent of the farmers were tenants; in 1910 some 40 percent of the farms were worked by tenants; and by 1930 more than half, 1,580 of 3,205 farms, were operated by nonowners. The majority of the leaseholders were Anglos, but much of the labor was performed by persons of Mexican descent, who were poorly paid and frequently lived in poverty.

During the 1920s Bexar County experienced the beginnings of agricultural mechanization. Tractors and other machines appeared in the county in increasing numbers, and by the eve of World War II, Bexar County farms were among the most mechanized in the state. The onset of the Great Depression, falling agricultural prices, and the arrival of the boll weevil brought hardships for many of the farmers of Bexar County. Many were forced to leave the land and move to the city or to turn to other occupations. Cotton production, which peaked in the mid-1920s, fell dramatically during the 1930s and 1940s. Farmers who remained in the area began to devote more of their resources to truck farming and to growing feed for livestock.

Despite the area's relatively diversified economy, the depression hit Bexar County hard. By the mid-1930s many people were out of work and very glad of the New Deal programs that gave them work paving streets and building bridges, sewers, and parks. Among the largest projects of the period were the renovation of La Villita and the San Antonio missions, and the construction of the Paseo del Rio along the San Antonio River in the center of the city.

During World War II, Bexar County's already large military presence grew even more, as the area's bases became an important center for the training of army air corps cadets under the auspices of the San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center. At the height of the war, more than 21,000 civilian war workers were employed at Kelly Field alone. After the war, the presence of so many military personnel continued to bring changes to the county. Thousands of returning veterans enrolled in local colleges and universities, and many others, attracted by the area during their service years, moved to the city. San Antonio also developed into a major retirement center for military families, drawn by the relatively low cost of living and the access to the two large area military medical centers, Wilford Hall and Brooke Army Medical Center. Since the end of the Second World War, the economy of the area has continued to depended heavily on a large federal payroll from the various military bases and research facilities, and from the large number of retired military residents.

During the twentieth century Bexar County developed into a major educational center. The earliest mention of a school in the county occurred in 1789 when José de la Mata asked the cabildo or town council to grant official standing to his private school. There were several private or free schools in the late Spanish and Mexican period, usually meeting in private homes. By 1828 there was also a school for Anglo-American children in San Antonio called McClure's School. During the revolution most of these schools closed, but by the early 1850s two private schools were in operation, one for boys and one for girls, run by the Brothers of Mary (Marianists) and the Ursuline Sisters respectively. In the late 1850s and 1860s several additional schools were opened, including the German-English School, St. Mary's Hall, and a Freedmen's Bureau school for the children of newly liberated slaves. Several public elementary schools followed, and in 1879 the first public high school was founded. Since then a number of institutions of higher learning have opened, including Incarnate Word College, chartered in 1881; Our Lady of the Lake University, founded as a two-year college in 1912; St. Mary's University, which started as a junior college in 1924; Trinity University, which moved to its present site in San Antonio in 1952; and the University of Texas at San Antonio, which was established in 1969. The county is also served by two community colleges, San Antonio College, which opened in 1925; and St. Philip's College, which became a junior college in 1927. In the early 1980s Bexar County had fifteen community school districts with 184 elementary, 55 middle schools, 35 high schools, and 19 special-education schools. Fifty-five percent of the 12,382 high school graduates planned to attend college. In 1982–83, 35 percent of the school graduates were White, 58 percent Hispanic, 7 percent Black, 0.9 percent Asian, and 0.1 percent American Indian.

Politically, from the time of the annexationqv of Texas to the Union until the 1950s, Bexar County was staunchly in the Democratic camp. The voters of Bexar County favored the Democratic candidate in virtually every presidential election through 1948; the only exceptions occurred in 1920, when Republican Warren G. Harding carried the county, and in 1928, when Herbert Hoover did. After 1952, when Republican Dwight Eisenhower carried the area over Democrat Adlai Stevenson, Bexar County began to trend more Republican. Though the Democrats won majorities there in 1960, 1964 and 1968, the Republicans took the county in 1972, 1980, 1984 and 1988. Democrat Bill Clinton won pluralities of the county’s voters in 1992 and 1996, at least partly because independent candidate Ross Perot attracted many voters in the area during that election. George W. Bush carried the county by comfortable margins in 2000 and 2004.

The number of businesses in Bexar County in the early 1980s was 18,747. In 1980, 6 percent of the labor force were self-employed, 21 percent were employed in professional or related services, 11 percent in manufacturing, 24 percent in wholesale and retail trade, 10 percent in public administration, and 2 percent in other counties; 60,392 retired workers lived in the county. Leading industries included oil and gas extraction, brewing of beer, general and heavy construction, soft-drink canning and bottling, commercial printing, bookbinding, lumber milling, iron and steel milling, and the manufacture of men's and women's clothing, household furniture, curtains and draperies, cardboard boxes, pharmaceuticals, shoes, ready-mix concrete, construction machinery, aircraft and aircraft parts, and electronic components. Nonfarm earnings in 1981 totaled $9,609,598,000.

In 1982, 66 percent of the land in the county was in farms and ranches, with 27 percent of the farmland under cultivation and 14 percent irrigated. Bexar County ranked fifty-third among counties in the state in agricultural receipts, with 61 percent coming from livestock and livestock products. Principal crops included oats, sorghum, hay, corn, wheat, pecans, and vegetables; primary livestock products included cattle, milk, sheep, wool, and hogs.

Tourism, now the number one nongovernmental provider of jobs in Bexar County, has played an increasingly important role in the county's economy. The construction of two large theme parks, Sea World of Antonio and Fiesta Texas, combined with the areas other attractions, including the annual Fiesta San Antonio, the Texas Folklife Festival, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, the zoo, and the many museums, have made San Antonio and the surrounding area a prime tourist destination.

The area has also developed into a major regional medical center in the past few decades. Facilities include the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, the South Texas Medical Center, Santa Rosa Hospital (see CATHOLIC HEALTH CARE), Wilford Hall Medical Center, and Brooke Army Medical Center.

During the second half of the twentieth century the population of Bexar County grew rapidly. According to the 1940 census the county had a population of 333,176; in 1960 it had reached 687,151; in 1980 it was 988,800; and in 1990 for the first time it topped the one million mark. As in previous times, the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants lived in the city of San Antonio, the tenth largest city in the United States; of the 1,185,394 residents in the county in 1990, 935,933 lived in the city, and many of the remainder lived in the surrounding suburbs. As of 2014, the population of the county is 1,855,866, with 1,393,875 living in San Antonio. Other large communities include Alamo Heights (7,750), Universal City (19,540), Converse (20,739), Terrell Hills (5,199), Castle Hills (4,332), and Balcones Heights (2,996). Persons of Hispanic descent made up the largest group, 59.1 percent; 29.5 percent were Anglo, 8.2 percent were African American, and 2.8 percent were Asian.

During the 1980s and 1990s, as a result of attempts to diversify the area's economy, San Antonio and Bexar County became the site of a number of electronics and biotechnology companies. The increasing volume of trade with Mexico and Central America also promised to help bolster the economy. Environmental matters—the preservation of the Edwards Aquifer, the source of San Antonio's water supply, as well as preservation of other fragile features of the western hills—were among the area's most prominent concerns.

In the early twenty-first century the primary components of the area’s economy included federal offices and military bases, tourism, a developing high-tech industrial park, and higher education (there were 14 colleges operating in the county in 2005). In 2002 Bexar County had 2,385 farms and ranches covering 441,206 acres, 54 percent of which were devoted to pasture, 35 percent to crops, and 7 percent to woodlands. That year farmers and ranchers in the area earned $80,717,000; crop sales accounted for $59,304,000 of the total. Nursery crops, hay, beef cattle, corn, grain sorghum, small grains, peanuts, and vegetables were the chief agricultural products.

San Antonio is home to a number of popular tourist attractions, including the Alamo, the Riverwalk, Sea World, and the San Antonio Zoo. See also SPANISH TEXAS, MEXICAN TEXAS, RANCHING, RANCHING IN SPANISH TEXAS.

Frederick Charles Chabot, With the Makers of San Antonio (Yanaguana Society Publications 4, San Antonio, 1937). Jesús F. de la Teja and John Wheat, "Bexar: Profile of a Tejano Community, 1820–1833," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 89 (July 1985). Leah Carter Johnston, San Antonio: St. Anthony's Town (San Antonio: Librarians Council, 1947). Gerald E. Poyo and Gilberto M. Hinojosa, eds., Tejano Origins in Eighteenth-Century San Antonio (San Antonio: Institute of Texan Cultures, 1991). Charles W. Ramsdell, San Antonio: A Historical and Pictorial Guide (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1959). San Antonio Bicentennial Heritage Committee, San Antonio in the Eighteenth Century (1976). Marker Files, Texas Historical Commission, Austin. WPA Federal Writers' Project, San Antonio: An Authoritative Guide to the City and Its Environs (San Antonio: Clegg, 1938).

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Christopher Long, “Bexar County,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 21, 2022,

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September 30, 2020

Bexar County
Currently Exists
Place Type
Altitude Range
400 ft – 1896 ft
Civilian Labor Counts
People Year
946,146 2019
Land Area
Area (mi2) Year
1,239.8 2019
Total Area Values
Area (mi2) Year
1,256.1 2019
Per Capita Income
USD ($) Year
46,058 2019
Property Values
USD ($) Year
176,433,907,189 2019
Rainfall (inches) Year
32.3 2019
Retail Sales
USD ($) Year
32,439,000,379 2019
Temperature Ranges
Min (°F) Max (°F) Year
40.7 94.6 2019
Unemployment Percentage Year
8.8 2019
USD ($) Year
12,185,316,341 2019
Population Counts
People Year
2,003,554 2019