DeWitt County is on the Gulf Coast Plain in southeastern Texas about forty-five miles inland from Copano Bay. It is bounded by Victoria, Goliad, Karnes, Gonzales, and Lavaca counties. Cuero, the county's largest town, serves as the county seat. The center point is at 29°05' north latitude and 97°23' west longitude. Although the present county was part of DeWitt's colony and settlement dates to colonization in 1825, the county officially has two dates of origin. The first, DeWitt County (Judicial), was formed on February 2, 1842, but was declared unconstitutional along with other judicial counties later that autumn. The present DeWitt County was formed from Goliad, Gonzales, and Victoria counties in 1846 and named for empresario Green DeWitt. It comprises 910 square miles, most of which is nearly level to sloping; the areas of greatest elevation are mostly in the northwest. The elevation ranges from about 150 feet above sea level in the east corner to more than 540 feet above sea level in the southwest. The eastern corner and an area along the Gonzales county line falls in the Post Oak Savannah belt, characterized by tall grasses and, along streams, oak, elm, and pecan trees. Most of the county is part of the South Texas Plains, surfaced primarily by dark calcareous clays and sandy and clay loams that support tall grasses, small trees, shrubs, and crops. The climate is humid-subtropical. The temperature ranges from an average high of 96° F in July to an average low of 44° in January; records of 2° and 110° were recorded in 1949 and 1954 respectively. The average length of the frost-free season is 270 days, from early March to late November. The annual precipitation averages 33.37 inches, commonly in the form of thundershowers. Most of the county is drained by the Guadalupe River and its tributaries, which include the various branches of Coleto Creek, and also Sandies, Salt, Smith, McCoy, Irish, Cuero, and Clear creeks. Small areas in the northern part of the county are drained by the Lavaca River, and a small area in the southern part by the San Antonio River. Typical mammals in the county include white-tail deer, bobcats, coyotes, opossums, squirrels, foxes, armadillos, skunks, bats, cottontail rabbits, raccoons, badgers, and the Plains pocket gopher, as well as numerous reptile, fish, and bird species.
Archeological digs within the present boundaries of DeWitt County show that human habitation dates from the Paleo-Indian period. The Guadalupe River was being a focal point of life for thousands of years. Later, Coahuiltecan-speaking tribes, most likely Aranamas and Tamiques, settled in the area, which was also visited frequently by Karankawas and Tonkawas and later by Apaches and Comanches, whose equestrian skills made them formidable raiders. The first European visitors to the area were probably the survivors of the Narváez expedition of 1528, most notably Cabeza de Vaca. Additional European visitation involved Spanish attempts to find the French explorer René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle. Spanish missions were later established within thirty-five miles of the present county boundaries, and the area was traveled via the La Bahía Road, but there is no evidence of Spanish settlement. Indeed, the territory remained largely unexplored until the period of Anglo-American colonization.
The development of DeWitt's colony brought the first White settlement to the county. In April 1825 empresario Green DeWitt was authorized by the Mexican government to settle 400 families between the Guadalupe and Lavaca rivers. These pioneers began landing at the mouth of the Lavaca, which became the site of the Old Station settlement. Of the 179 people who took up the 199 DeWitt colony grants, 39 were located in what is now DeWitt County, almost all on farms along the Guadalupe River. In 1826 the Arthur Burns family established the first home in the county on Irish Creek near present Cuero. Irish Creek Settlement (see VERHELLE, TEXAS) became one of the two principal areas of growth, the other being Upper Cuero Creek Settlement, which was founded in 1827. Colonists who held grants now in the county include Byrd Lockhart, José Antonio Valdez, George W. Davis, Valentine Bennet, Churchill Fulshear, Joseph D. Clements, John James Tumlinson, and Green DeWitt. With Charles Lockhart, Clements also served in the government of the Mexican municipality that encompassed the area after 1832 (see MEXICAN GOVERNMENT OF TEXAS). These settlers enjoyed relative peace. A treaty with the Karankawas was negotiated in 1827, Tonkawa raids were only occasional, and boundary disputes with nearby De León's colony to the south were settled without bloodshed. The only towns in the area were Gonzales to the north, Guadalupe Victoria to the south, and Bexar, the seat of government, to the northwest. Between 1826 and 1831 the area was settled by people primarily from Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, and other Southern states. At the onset of the Texas Revolution, these colonists pledged loyalty to Mexico until late 1835, and although no important battle occurred in the future county, many area colonists, most notably Daniel Boone Friar, Thomas R. Miller, David Murphree, John York, Bennet, Clements, and Davis were involved in the battle of Gonzales, the siege of Bexar, the battle of the Alamo, the Goliad Massacre, and the battle of San Jacinto.
The 1840s were a particularly eventful decade. In 1846 Judge James McCulloch Baker was appointed by Governor James Pinckney Henderson to establish the temporary county government. In 1846–47 the county seat was Daniel Boone Friar's store at the junction of the La Bahía Road and the Gonzales-Victoria road. A courthouse was constructed at Cameron, but in the next four years the county had four new seats of government, each change being the result of an election, a recount of votes, an appeal, or a Supreme Court decision. On November 28, 1850, the county court met at Clinton near Chisholm's Ferry, and Clinton remained the center of county government until Cuero became county seat in 1876. The first post office was established at Friar's store in 1846 and named Cuero; it was one of the earliest United States post offices in Texas. Concrete and Price's Creek were also principal areas of settlement. In 1850 residents of the county numbered 1,716, of which 1,148 were White and 568 were Black enslaved people; there were no free Blacks reported. The population was significantly increased with the German immigrations of the 1840s and 1850s. By 1857 nearly half of the county's population were Germans. The main areas of early German settlement were Meyersville, Yorktown, Arneckeville, and Lateiner (later Five Mile). The census of 1860 recorded 5,108 people living in DeWitt County, of which 3,465 were White and 1,643 were slaves; again, no free Blacks were reported. The male-to-female ratio of the population was about even.
In the antebellum years, grazing stock was the primary business; agriculture and industry were postwar developments. Nevertheless, a significant corn, cotton, and tobacco economy developed, assisted with slave labor. The 5,493 acres of improved farmland recorded in the 1850 census, valued at $173,233, jumped to 34,134 acres valued at $1.5 million before the Civil War. These figures hint at the increasing prosperity underway in Southeast Texas in the decade preceding the war, and some idea of its details can be gleaned from the increased production of principal farm crops and stock raising. While only 66,545 bushels of Indian corn and 547 bales of cotton were recorded in 1850, production increased to 167,652 bushels and 5,280 bales in 1860. The sweet potato crop also showed great gain, from 1,050 bushels to 11,306 bushels, primarily because the new German farmers preferred the sweet potato to the Irish potato (which, by comparison, was too small a crop to record in 1850 and amounted to only 2,604 bushels harvested in 1860). Entrepreneurial activity in the decade preceding the war accounted for an astounding rise in the tobacco crop, which was too small to record in 1850, but ten years later amounted to 1,400 pounds, ranking DeWitt County as twelfth in the state. In livestock raising, however, which was and remains the county's primary industry, the increasing prosperity was most notable. The total value of all livestock in 1850 was $160,055. It included 4,836 milk cows, 12,246 beef cattle, 872 working oxen, 2,443 horses, 192 mules, and 391 sheep. By 1860 the total value had jumped to $721,826, a figure that shows the county's early prominence in the cattle industry. The number of milk cows increased to 10,567, again a reflection of the German immigrations, while the number of cattle leaped to 47,085, ranking the county as sixteenth in the state. Indeed, the Chisholm Trail, a major cattle trail, originated near the site of present Cuero at a place called Cardwell's Flat. The first drive to northern markets on the Chisholm Trail occurred on April 1, 1866, and by the year's end 260,000 cattle had been driven up this route. The dramatic rise in crop cultivation is echoed in the growing number of animals used for transportation, trucking, and plowing: working oxen increased to 2,447, and mules and horses to 956 and 5,702 respectively. Pioneers in the county's wool industry were pleased that the 10,847 sheep recorded in 1860 produced 22,936 pounds of wool.
In 1861, with the election of Abraham Lincoln and the outbreak of secession among the Southern states, DeWitt County joined the majority of organized Texas counties in voting to leave the Union. Several military units were raised in the county: Josiah Taylor's DeWitt Guerella [sic] Company, H. G. Wood's Shilo Home Guards, A. J. Scarborough's Davis Guards, Robert Kleberg's Coleto Guards, Charles Eckhardt's York Town Hulan Reserve Companie, William R. Friend's DeWitt Rifles, and M. G. Jacobs's Concrete Home Guards. Although citizens of Clinton protested the use of the county courthouse for military and hospital purposes, DeWitt County was not a center of conflict. Nevertheless, the ferries and roads were much used for shipping commerce, clothes, and supplies to the Confederate forces, since DeWitt county lay on the important route from Indianola to San Antonio. During Reconstruction, the county was placed in the Fifth Military District and was occupied by the Fourth Corps, based at Victoria. From April 1866 until December 1868 a subassistant commissioner of the Freedmen's Bureau served at Clinton. The notorious Sutton-Taylor Feud, the most bloody and longest in Texas history, originated in Clinton in December 1868 and ended in December 1875, and is traditionally attributed to the bad feelings generated during this period.
War and Reconstruction altered the county's wealth and economic base. The 1870 census showed the population had increased to 6,443, of which 4,686 were White and 1,757 were Black. Germans made up almost 86 percent of the total foreign nativity. But the amount of land under cultivation had dropped to 22,884 acres, total farm value had plummeted from $1.5 million to $478,823, and the value of all livestock had fallen to $369,621. This depression is most notable in the decrease in the cotton harvest, which amounted to only 541 bales, a figure lower than that of twenty years earlier, and tobacco, which was not recorded at all. The corn crop was reduced to 107,896 bushels, the number of milk cows was only 5,547, working oxen, 1,555, and mules, 761; the census failed to record the total number of cattle, which no doubt also fell substantially. Not all the news was bad, however, during Reconstruction. By 1870 stockmen managed to increase the number of sheep to 17,232, which contributed 21,275 pounds of wool, slightly less than reported in the prewar census. The sweet potato harvest increased to 13,583 bushels (Irish potatoes were up to 4,402), and the numbers of hogs, swine, and horses remained relatively constant. For the first time the census recorded manufacturing in the county: thirty-nine establishments employing sixty-eight people, paying $5,651 in wages, and producing $93,850 worth of products.
Reconstruction also contributed to important transportation improvements in the county. The railroad from Victoria to Indianola was destroyed in 1863, but was rebuilt by the federal government in 1866. This line, the Gulf, Western Texas and Pacific, the first railroad to enter DeWitt County, was extended to San Antonio. It was responsible for the establishment of three towns: Cuero, which became the county seat in 1876, Thomaston, and Burns Station (present Verhelle). A second line, the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway, was extended through Cuero, Yorktown, and Nordheim to San Antonio in 1887–88, and led to the development of Yoakum and Edgar. In 1907 the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway also built through the county and connected Cuero to Stockdale through Lindenau. These three lines operated separately until January 1925, when they came under the control of the Southern Pacific lines and operated as the Texas and New Orleans Railroad. Passenger service continued until November 1950.
The railroad, however, was only the most recent transportation development in the county. The La Bahía Road, which dates to Spanish Texas, crossed DeWitt County from the northeast to the southwest. Wagon roads, however, developed only with increased travel resulting from Anglo-American settlement. Until the railroad opened from the coast to Victoria in 1861, all commerce was carried overland; thus freighting was also a profitable enterprise in the county and accounts for some of the increase in numbers of horses, mules, and working oxen. The Victoria-to-Gonzales road through the Price's Creek and Irish Creek settlements was in existence by 1841, and another road connected Indianola to San Antonio through Yorktown. About this time the county had three Guadalupe River crossings: Heard Ford near Sandies Creek, Cottingham Ford at Irish Creek, and Murphree Ford at Price's Creek. Richard Chisholm operated the first ferry in the county in 1838. The first road authorized by the DeWitt County commissioners was built in 1846 and connected Chisholm's Ferry to the La Bahía Road; a second project connected Hochheim with the Victoria-Gonzales road. Although Lip's Ferry was established at Hochheim in 1862, and Heard's Ferry south of Cuero in 1880, the first bridge appeared only in 1873, a wooden truss near Cuero. But by 1889 four iron bridges had been built near that town and another at Hochheim; the Thomaston iron bridge was erected in 1893.
The return to prosperity that Reconstruction initiated in some areas, coupled with the increasing wealth characteristic of Southeast Texas beginning in the late nineteenth century, is shown in the censuses of 1880, 1890, and 1900. The population steadily increased to 10,082 in 1880, 14,307 in 1890, and 21,311 in 1900. African Americans made up about 29 percent of the population throughout these years, and though Germans continued to dominate records of foreign nativity, they decreased to 54 percent by 1900 as Irish, English, Austrians, Poles, and especially Mexican Americans increasingly settled in the county. Much of this new settlement resulted from the efforts of the DeWitt County Real Estate Exchange, chartered in the spring of 1887 to encourage settlement and advertise lands for sale.
The number of farms also steadily increased during the last decades of the nineteenth century, from 1,181 in 1880 to 2,137 by 1900. Substantial crop production and stock raising contributed to the dramatic increase in farm value from $1.4 million to $6.8 million over the same period. The Indian corn, cotton, and sweet potato harvest regained pre-Civil War production records only by the 1890 census, which noted 460,270 bushels of corn, 13,101 bales of cotton, and 25,044 bushels of potatoes—all record amounts. Tobacco culture continued to decline, however, with the last recorded figure being only 170 pounds in 1890 (see CORN CULTURE, COTTON CULTURE). The most dramatic indication of DeWitt County's increasing wealth was in stock raising, in which the total livestock value rose from the post-Civil War depressed figure of $369,621 in 1870 to $1.6 million by 1900. Sheep raisers managed to produce 197,924 pounds of wool from 70,524 sheep in 1880, a reflection of a statewide trend to establish a sizable sheep-raising industry in Texas during these years. The national market, however, soon bottomed out. In 1900 only 18,210 pounds of wool was delivered, from 3,291 sheep. The cattle industry offers quite a different tale. The number of DeWitt County cattle increased to 49,678 in 1890 (ranking the county seventeenth in the state), and to 50,790 by 1900. The extension of the railroad into the county made the cattle drives up the Chisholm Trail unnecessary, as shipping points for northern markets grew up around Cuero, Thomaston, and Yorktown. Perhaps the best known was Julia Pens, near Thomaston at the Victoria county line, named for Julia Rose Anderson, daughter of the historian Victor Marion Rose, who once owned the land. By 1900 the number of milk cows rose to 9,808, as the county's newly developing dairy industry grew, hogs and swine rose to 17,483, and chickens and turkeys increased to 99,544 and 10,252 respectively, showing the first real growth in what would become the county's second most important livestock-raising enterprise (see CATTLE INDUSTRY, DAIRY INDUSTRY, POULTRY PRODUCTION).
This trend intensified in the early twentieth century, as the population of the county rose from 23,501 in 1910 to 27,941 in 1920. The population decreased slightly to 27,441 ten years later; Black residents, who declined from 20.2 percent of the total population in 1910 to 16 percent in 1930, account for the change. Germans continued to make up the greatest percentage of foreign-born residents, although substantial numbers of Mexicans, Czechs, Poles, Austrians, English, and Syrians (see LEBANESE-SYRIANS) moved to the county. Although more than 75 percent of the population was rural in 1930, manufacturing increasingly became important in the county's economy. The ninety-four establishments recorded in 1900 fell to twenty-six by 1930, but the number of employees rose over the same period from 391 to 433, and wages grew from $198,944 to $310,942, while the total value of manufactured products increased from $681,808 to $3.5 million. Businesses included cotton gins, cottonseed oil mills (including Cuero Cotton Oil Manufacturing Company, one of the county's oldest large industries), Guadalupe Valley Cotton Mills (a cotton textile factory), Cuero Cotton Compress, a hydroelectric plant, railroad maintenance shops, Crescent Valley Creamery, and Texas Tanning and Manufacturing (Tex-Tan) of Yoakum. Tex-Tan, the county's largest industry in 1944, employed 700 leather workers and sold products to forty-eight states.
Nevertheless, agribusiness remained the county's primary industry. The number of farms steadily grew from 1,181 in 1880 to 3,548 in 1930, the year the census recorded that 88 percent of the county land was in farms, with 200,432 acres devoted to crops. Farm value reached a peak of $27.6 million in 1920, but decreased slightly to $20.3 million ten years later. Cotton, corn, and sweet potatoes continued to be the most economically important crops, while cattle and poultry remained the crucial livestock. By 1930, when the total value of all county livestock was $4.7 million, the number of cattle of all ages reached 58,933, making DeWitt County the ninth largest cattle-raising county in the state. The Cuero Livestock Commission Company, sellers of livestock from all over the county, state, and other states, was organized in 1940 and within ten years set several national price records. By 1950 DeWitt County ranked fourth in the state when it recorded 75,132 cattle. The construction of good roads and highways and the rise of the trucking industry combined to make the shipping of these cattle to market via railroad unnecessary. Rail traffic declined rail traffic, and the various shipping pens that had been operating since the late nineteenth century closed.
Growth in the county's turkey industry was even more spectacular. Only Gonzales County recorded more turkeys in 1930, when DeWitt County counted 107,255 birds and the Turkey Trot, held in Cuero since 1912, enjoyed record attendance and unprecedented international fame. Indeed, an estimated 40,000 people saw Governor James Allred and other state and federal officials lead the parade and celebrations in Cuero, the "Turkey Capitol of the World." By 1940 DeWitt County surpassed Gonzales County and became first in the state in numbers of turkeys raised; the 167,824 birds were almost 5 percent of the total state figure. Though in earlier years turkey flocks roamed expansive ranges, the industry by this time used scientific feeding programs and enclosed rangeland. Bigger species of birds were raised, such as the Beltsville white, Thompson broad white, and baby beef bronze, which could grow to thirty-five pounds. Nevertheless, by 1949 the broiler industry and the accompanying chicken-feed industry surpassed turkeys as the second largest source of livestock income. DeWitt County showed more continuous growth in poultry production than any other Texas county from 1945 to 1950. One of the leading new firms was Cudahy Packing Company, which distributed poultry, eggs, milk, and cream worldwide.
This increasing prosperity notwithstanding, DeWitt County also suffered during the Great Depression. In the decade from 1930 to 1940 the total farm value plummeted by almost half, from $20.3 million to $10.5 million, and although the numbers of cattle, chickens, turkeys, and other livestock increased, the total value of livestock decreased from $3.5 million to $2.5 million. This problem was echoed in manufacturing as well. The number of establishments increased from twenty-six to thirty, the number of employees from 433 to 636, the wages from $310,942 to $395,632 (representing an actual decrease of $96 per person in individual income), but the value of products manufactured decreased from $3.5 million to $2.9 million. Furthermore, retail sales, which rose phenomenally from $2.95 million to $9.1 million between 1920 and 1930, fell to $3.9 million in 1933. A trend to recovery was evident by 1940, when $6.4 million in retail sales was recorded.
World War II ended the doldrums. A fighter pilot flight school was established at Cuero Municipal Airport in 1941 and designated Cuero Field. Some idea of the postwar prosperity characterizing the county's economy is shown in crop and retail sales statistics for 1946. In that first postwar year the county was one of the state's largest tomato producers, shipped one-fifth of the state's total turkey crop, reaped great profits from egg sales and dairying, and saw an increase in retail sales to $9.1 million. By 1948 DeWitt County was third among Texas counties in horse raising. Retail sales reached $11.3 million that year and $20.8 million in 1953. The postwar era also brought significant changes in education.
Education was not a priority in the county during the period of Anglo-American settlement; until 1840 the nearest school was located at Gonzales or Victoria. James Norman Smith established the first school in the county in 1840 at Upper Cuero Creek Settlement. Other tuition schools followed at Deer Creek, Meyersville, Irish Creek, and Price's Creek. A common-school system was organized in 1854 comprising thirteen districts; there were fifteen schools by 1862. During the Civil War years Viola Case's school was moved from Victoria to Clinton (see VICTORIA FEMALE ACADEMY), and Concrete College had a good reputation during its existence from 1856 to 1881. The county public school system, however, emerged only in the post-Civil War period, concurrent with the increasing population. Many new residents were the result of flight from Indianola after the hurricanes of 1875 and 1886. The rural school system was fully operating by the 1880s, and fourteen common districts were organized by 1884. Fifty-five public schools were noted in 1887, though by 1906 the figure was forty-five. At that time Yoakum had the only independent school district in the county. Cuero Independent School District was established in August 1911, Yorktown ISD in February 1921, and Nordheim ISD in October 1926. Most rural schools were closed in the 1940s and 1950s, when transportation improvements, requirements for specialized curricula, and decreasing rural population brought consolidation and decline.
Horse racing, music, and dancing have long been common entertainments in the county, the brass bands and singing organizations of the German communities being particularly prominent (see GERMAN MUSIC). The Masonic Lodge was established in the county at Cameron in 1850, and Yorktown and Concrete organized charters in 1853 and 1855. The first Protestant ministers to enter the county were Cumberland Presbyterians, who came in 1839 and established the county's first church at Upper Cuero Creek Settlement in 1841. Methodist circuit riders appeared after 1841 at Upper Cuero Creek, and German Methodists organized at Hochheim in 1864. Although during the colonial period settlers were required by the Mexican government to profess the Catholic faith, Catholicism was not much practiced until the rise of the German and Polish settlements in Yorktown and the Meyersville area in the 1840s and 1850s. Baptists first organized at Hebron in 1855 and at Concrete in 1865. Lutheranism was particularly strong in the county both before and after the Civil War because of the large number of German Lutherans who settled at Meyersville, Yorktown, Arneckeville, Sasseville (Nopal), Cuero, and later Nordheim and Westhoff. The first Episcopal service was held in Cuero in 1873. Thus, the German influence was a crucial factor in the religious, social, and cultural development of DeWitt County. Indeed, Rudolph Kleberg's Description of the Resources of DeWitt County, Texas, a popular booster guidebook to the county published in 1887, was directed specifically at Germans. Even as late as 1972, 52 percent of the county's population was of German heritage; Hispanics numbered 22 percent. The total population of the county, however, declined after 1920 before stabilizing in the 1970s. The number of people living in the area dropped from 27,971 in 1920 to 24,935 in 1940, 22,973 in 1950, and 18,660 in 1970. The population in 1980 was 18,903; in 1990 it was 18,840. The Black population fell from almost 19 percent to almost 14 percent between 1920 and 1960. Throughout most of the its history, however, the county has ranked as one of the highest in the state in percent of residents who are native Texans.
Despite the growth of its major towns and increasing industry, DeWitt County's economy remained agribusiness focused until after World War II. In 1930 more than 75 percent of the county's population was rural, and though this figure decreased to slightly over 55 percent by 1940, it was not until the 1950 census showed 34 percent of the population as rural that the county became predominantly urban. This rural-to-urban transition carried with it a number of changes. In 1930 more than 61 percent of the farms were operated by tenants; by 1950 only 32 percent were. Almost 22 percent of all farmers in 1940 reported income coming from off the farm, a presage of urbanization. In 1940 only 25 percent of the farms reported having a telephone and only 23 percent were lighted by electricity. By 1950, 43 percent had phones and 66 percent had electric lighting. County roads increasingly were hard-surfaced and graveled, so that rural areas became better connected with growing urban areas and markets. The decline of the rural school system and the concurrent rise of independent school districts and bussing were only a part of this change.
In the mid-1980s DeWitt County's economy was still primarily based on agribusiness, though there was a variety of other industry, such as wood, furniture, and leather-goods production, cotton weaving, and oil and gas production. About $43 million was generated in annual farm income, primarily from the county's traditional sources—beef cattle, dairy products, hogs, poultry, and such crops as sorghums, corn, oats, wheat, and pecans. Cotton was no longer planted. The county also retained its importance in the cattle industry. Though its tally of 110,000 cattle in 1982 was dwarfed by figures coming from those counties specializing in cattle feeding, DeWitt County ranked first among the neighboring Upper Coastal and Coastal Bend counties specializing in stock raising, a much more accurate measure of its significance in the regional industry. Many residents recognize at least the family names of the county's major pioneer ranchers, Jim Bell, Miles Bennet, William A. Blackwell, Robert E. Eckhardt, Caesar Eckhardt, Daniel Boone Friar, Alex Hamilton, Buck McCrabb, Henry Runge, John Milam Taylor, Joachim von Roeder, Vachel Weldon, John T. Wofford, and David Murphree.
Throughout most of its history DeWitt County has been a stronghold of the Democratic party, though significant Republican support grew during the 1872 presidential election, throughout the 1880s and until 1916, reflecting the national trend in politics. There was major support for the People's (Populist) party in 1892, but by 1896 county voters were about evenly divided between the Republican and Democratic loyalties. The first Republican majority occurred in the 1920 presidential election, a phenomenon almost repeated in 1928; but the Democrats regained the majority from 1932 to 1936, and overwhelmingly so in 1944. The Republican party gained support during the 1950s and reached a majority again in the 1960 election; this trend toward Republican loyalty for national candidates reemerged in 1968 and held through 2004. In elections for state office the county almost continuously supported Democratic candidates until the late twentieth century, though the Populists attracted considerable support from 1892 to 1900. By the mid-1990s, however, the county's voters strongly supported most Republican candidates for state offices, and this trend continued into the early twenty-first century.
In 2014 the census counted 20,684 people living in DeWitt County. About 56.1 percent were Anglo, 33.8 percent were Hispanic, and 9.6 percent were African American. Almost 68 percent of residents age twenty-five and older had four years of high school, and almost 12 percent had college degrees. In the early twenty-first century wood, furniture plants, a textile mill, and agribusiness were key elements of the area's economy. In 2002 the county had 1,786 farms and ranches covering 576,896 acres, 64 percent of which were devoted to pasture, 29 percent to crops, and 6 percent to woodlands. In that year local farmers and ranchers earned $29,523,000, with crop sales accounting for $27,237,000 of that total. Cattle, dairy, poultry, swine, corn, and sorghum were the chief agricultural products. More than 336,700 barrels of oil and 16,322,074 cubic feet of gas-well gas were produced in the county in 2004; by the end of that year 66,454,753 barrels of oil had been taken from county lands since 1930. Among the county's incorporated communities, Cuero (population, 7,017) remains the county seat and largest city; Yoakum (5,928, part of which is in Lavaca County), Yorktown (2,086), Westhoff (410), and Nordheim (311) continue to be the principal towns. Except for the last two, each publishes a weekly newspaper: the Cuero Record, the Yoakum Herald Times, and the Yorktown News View. Other communities include Meyersville (110), Hochheim (70), Arneckeville, Clinton, Concrete, Edgar, Garfield, Gruenau, Lindenau, Meyersville, Nopal, Pearl City, Petersville, Stratton, Terryville, Thomaston, Valley View, and Verhelle. Cuero hosts its Turkeyfest in October.