Cistern is on State Highway 95 twelve miles northwest of Flatonia near the southwestern point of Fayette County. The community, first called Whiteside's Prairie and then Cockrill's Hill in honor of two early landowners, was settled during the 1850s on a hill overlooking fertile prairie land. Water wells in the area contained such high concentrations of minerals that residents were forced to build cisterns to trap rainwater for domestic use. By the time the post office was established in 1858, the community was known as Cistern.
The community life of this mixture of Anglo-American, German, and Czech residents centered around the Catholic and Lutheran churches, the school, the Harmony Club, and various fraternal organizations. In 1900 Cistern had a population of 150, a general merchandise store, a combination drugstore and saloon, a blacksmith shop and gin, and a physician. The post office closed in 1930. In 1950 the population was 150, and Cistern had two stores, two garages, and a consolidated high school employing five teachers. When the Muldoon oilfield was discovered between Cistern and Flatonia, wells began to dot the cotton fields. Cotton ceased to be a popular crop during the 1950s and 1960s, and landowners turned to ranching and the production of chickens. Many of the old fields were abandoned and reverted to pasture. Mail was delivered from Flatonia. During the 1980s the population dropped to seventy-five, and only three businesses remained in operation. The population was seventy-five in 1990 and again in 2000.