George Bernard Erath, soldier, surveyor, and legislator, was born on January 1, 1813, in Vienna, Austria, and attended Vienna Polytechnic Institute, where he studied English and Spanish. He sailed for America after graduation and landed in New Orleans on July 8, 1832, then moved upriver to Cincinnati, where he established his home. On March 22, 1833, he moved to the Republic of Texas, where he became a surveyor in Tenoxtitlán, in Robertson's colony. In 1835 he joined John H. Moore's ranger company to deal with marauding Indians, and on March 1, 1836, he enlisted as a private in Capt. Jesse Billingsley's Company C of Col. Edward Burleson's First Regiment, Texan Volunteers, for service in the Texas Revolution. After fighting in the battle of San Jacinto he joined Capt. William H. Hill's ranger company and continued surveying. He platted the town of Caldwell in 1840. By 1841 he had become the captain of the Milam County minute company. In 1842 he participated in the botched Somervell and Mier expeditions but was on guard duty on the Rio Grande during the battle of Mier and thus escaped capture.
As a member of the House of Representatives of the Eighth and Ninth congresses of the republic, 1843–1845, Erath represented Milam County and was energetic and effective in his support of the annexation of Texas to the United States. After statehood, he was elected to the First Legislature. In 1846 he returned to surveying and laid out the towns of Waco and Stephenville. He was elected to the Senate of the Seventh Legislature in 1857 and subsequently reelected to the Eighth and Ninth. On January 20, 1858, Governor Hardin R. Runnels was authorized to recruit a force of 100 Texas Rangers under Capt. John S. Ford for the protection of the frontier. According to the Austin State Gazette, "To the untiring exertions of Senator Erath, whose sympathies were warmly interested in the measure, are they more indebted than to any one else for the passage of this much needed act." In 1861 Erath resigned from the Senate in order to serve on a committee of two chosen to arbitrate disagreements between the state and its reservation Indians.
At the outbreak of the Civil War Erath raised a company for Col. Joseph W. Speight's Fifteenth Texas Infantry regiment, but was discharged due to ill health and returned to his home at Waco. In 1864, however, Governor Pendleton Murrah appointed him to the command of a regiment in the Second Frontier District with the rank of major. This regiment, recruited in Brown and Coryell counties, was responsible for the defense of its home region. Erath returned to the Senate for the final time in 1874, to represent the Nineteenth District in the Fourteenth Legislature.
He married Lucinda Chambers of New York in December 1845. He died on May 13, 1891, and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery, Waco. Erath County is named in his honor. Erath dictated his memoirs to his daughter Lucy in 1886; they were first published in 1923 in the Southwestern Historical Quarterly and later that year in an edition of about 100 copies by the Texas State Historical Association; they were reprinted in Waco in 1956. They provide one of the most important sources on the Texas Revolution and on pioneer days in the 1830s and 1840s. Although Erath was "seventy-three years of age, in very poor health and blind" at the time he dictated his memoirs, his daughter maintained that his mental vigor "was the same as it had always been."