Guadalupe County is ninety miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico in south central Texas and is bounded by Comal, Hays, Caldwell, Gonzales, Wilson, and Bexar counties. Cibolo Creek forms the border between Guadalupe and Bexar counties, and the San Marcos River separates Guadalupe and Caldwell counties. Seguin, the county seat and largest town, is on Interstate Highway 10 and U.S. Highway 90, twenty-five miles southwest of Austin and eighteen miles northeast of San Antonio. The county's center lies near Seguin at approximately 29°35' north latitude and 97°57' west longitude. The county covers 713 square miles of flat to rolling terrain with local depressions and escarpments, and its elevation ranges from 450 to 800 feet above sea level. The northwestern section, near the border with Comal and Hays counties, is part of the Blackland Prairie; the rest of the county lies in the Upper Coastal Plain. Soil types vary from dark, calcareous clay in the northwest to fine, sandy loam in the southeast. Vegetation consists primarily of mesquite, scrub brush, and grasses in drier areas of the county, while water-tolerant hardwoods and conifers flourish near creeks. The area has a mild subtropical climate, with temperatures ranging from an average high of 96° in July and an average low of 42° in January. The annual rainfall in the county averages 33 inches, and the growing season averages 275 days.
The central Texas region, including Guadalupe County, has supported human habitation for several thousand years. Archaeologists believe some of the artifacts found in the area to be from the Archaic Period (ca. 5000 B.C. to 500 A.D.); other pieces are more recent, dating from 1200 to 1500. Indian tribes in the area included the Karankawas, Tonkawas, Comanches, and Lipan Apaches. Hostilities with Indians who camped along the Guadalupe River in the mid-1830s caused many of the early settlers to retreat from their land to Gonzales until more protection could be provided. After the Texas Revolution, the Tonkawas and the Lipan Apaches were friendly toward settlers and often traded with them, but the threat of raids by the Comanches remained until the 1843 council at Bird's Fort. After the Mexican War in 1848, federal troops established a line of forts extending from Fort Worth to Eagle Pass, effectively moving the frontier and the Indians well to the northwest of Guadalupe County. The last Indian raid into the area was made by the Kickapoos in 1855. The Spanish were probably the first Europeans to explore central Texas. Some sources suggest that Álvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca came through this part of central Texas in 1534, but others indicate that his route was farther south. Guadalupe County takes its name from the Guadalupe River, which Alonso de Leon named in 1689 in honor of the Lady of Guadalupe depicted on his standard. The Spanish government made one of the first land grants in the Guadalupe County area to José de la Baume in 1806 for land in the Capote Hills. He had to confirm his claim with the new government after Mexico won its independence from Spain and did not receive clear title until 1832. Between 1827 and 1835 twenty-two families came to the area as part of DeWitt's colony, and fourteen received grants directly from the Mexican government. Most of the settlers during this early period came from the southern United States. Many had land in the eastern part of the region along what came to be called Nash, Darst, and Mill creeks. These early settlers scarcely had time to form even the beginnings of communities before the combination of Indian raids and the Runaway Scrape forced them to retreat to Gonzales.
After the Texas Revolution the new government sent volunteer troops to protect people in remote areas. Those settlers who had left because of the Indians and the Mexican army returned, and others joined them. Much of the land given to Texas veterans for their service during the revolution was located in what became Guadalupe County. A company of Texas Rangers commanded by Capt. John Coffee Hays set up camp at Walnut Springs near the Guadalupe River. In 1838 a group of former Texas Rangers and other settlers founded the community of Walnut Springs on the northeast bank of the Guadalupe; its name was changed to Seguin in 1839 to honor Juan N. Seguin. The presence of troops encouraged many incoming families to stay near Seguin until the area became more secure. As a result, Seguin developed earlier and more rapidly than other communities in the future county and became the region's center of social and economic life. It was the natural choice for county seat when Guadalupe County was formed. The Republic of Texas organized Guadalupe County as a judicial county in 1842, but discontinued it later that year when the Texas Supreme Court declared judicial counties to be unconstitutional. In March 1846, after the annexation of Texas to the United States, the legislature established the present county from parts of Bexar and Gonzales counties. Guadalupe County had an area of 862 square miles in 1846 but lost land in 1858 and 1874, when Blanco and Wilson counties were organized.
Early communities in Guadalupe County had little formal structure. They began as river crossings, mills, churches, or schools that served widely scattered populations. Because of its nearness to Gonzales, the Sycamore community between Nash and Darst creeks was one of the first rural areas to be settled. German immigrants settled in northern and western parts of the county in the mid-1840s as a result of the colonization efforts by Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels at New Braunfels. Schumannsville and Clear Springs were established primarily by Germans. By the late 1840s and early 1850s, other settlers had established themselves along York, Mill, Elm, and Santa Clara creeks. The population of the county grew rapidly. The 1850 census reported a total of 1,171 White residents; by 1860 that number had risen to 3,689. Many who immigrated from other southern states brought slaves. The slave population rose from 335 in 1850 to 1,748 in 1860. Most of the slaveholders were small farmers. Of the 202 slaveholders in the county, 20 percent owned only one slave, 28 percent owned two to four, 23 percent owned five to nine, and 27 percent owned between ten and forty. Only three slaveowners had more than forty slaves. For those families who did not live in Seguin proper, the primary occupations were stock raising and farming. The 1860 census reported 395 farms in the county. The amount of improved acreage increased dramatically between 1850 and 1860, rising from 4,433 to 42,115. There were significant increases in harvests and livestock as well. Cotton production rose from 182 bales in 1850 to 3,424 bales in 1860 and corn from 80,330 bushels to 376,425. The number of cattle increased from nearly 11,000 head to over 67,000, horses from just over 1,200 to nearly 13,000, hogs from 4,400 to 18,500, and sheep from 2,100 to nearly 7,600. Wool production rose from 4,281 pounds to 43,672 pounds. On maps of the county, Seguin resembled the center of a bicycle wheel, with roads leading out in all directions like spokes. It was a major market place as well as a shipping point for the rest of the county. When a stage line began operating between New Braunfels and Gonzales in 1847, Seguin was a popular stop. Several Guadalupe County residents found the shipping business to be a profitable venture, although some became involved in the Cart War in 1854 and 1855. Stock raisers in the county began organizing cattle drives to California and New Orleans in the 1850s. As a whole, the county did very well economically before the Civil War. Between 1850 and 1860 the value of area farms and livestock increased nearly 600 percent.
The people who settled the county placed great value on education. Residents of Seguin worked to establish Guadalupe College in 1848 and organized the Guadalupe High School Association in 1849. When the association had financial difficulties in the 1850s, the women of the area held a craft sale and supper to raise money, and the men held a fair. Often churches in Seguin ran private schools, such as the Montgomery Institute. The Lutheran Church operated Seguin's public schools in the 1880s and established Texas Lutheran College at Seguin in 1912. Nearly every community in Guadalupe County either had its own school or was near a community that did. Schools such as Live Oak, Elm Creek, Tiemann, Cibolo Valley, and Geronimo provided the basic educational structure of the county until the district system was established in 1901. The Methodists supposedly established the first church in the county at Seguin in 1841. Services were held at the county courthouse until the church building was completed in 1849. By 1853 Seguin had Baptist, Presbyterian, and Episcopal congregations, in addition to Methodist. The Lutheran Church was organized in 1869. Catholics in the area occasionally received sacraments from a visiting bishop, but more frequently traveled to San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio. Most communities in outlying areas had a small church of some sort that doubled as a schoolhouse and served as the center of social life for those people who could not go all the way to Seguin. When cars came into general use, many of the small churches closed, and their congregations began attending services in Seguin.
Guadalupe County was staunchly Democratic before the Civil War. When the Seguin Mercury, the county's first newspaper, began publication in 1853, residents took great interest in state and national affairs. There was enough difference of opinion to encourage the publication of a second newspaper, the Seguin Journal, in 1856. The 1857 gubernatorial campaign provided lively copy; the Journal supported Sam Houston and French Smith for governor and lieutenant governor, and the Mercury supported the states' rights candidates Hardin R. Runnels and Francis R. Lubbock. The Mercury changed its name to the Southern Confederacy in February 1861, and the Journal became the Union Democrat. Support for the Confederacy proved to be the majority opinion, however. John Ireland and William P. Hardeman, two secessionists, represented the county at the Secession Convention held in Austin on January 28, 1861, and voters in Guadalupe County approved the secession ordinance by a 314 to 22 margin. In the spring of 1861 Nathaniel Benton organized the first Guadalupe County company to fight for the Confederacy. The men trained at Camp Clark before going to Virginia as Company D of the Fourth Regiment of Texas Volunteers of Hood's Texas Brigade. Benton, who was unable go to Virginia with Company D, later organized a volunteer cavalry company, which became Company B of the Thirty-second Texas Cavalry Regiment under Peter Cavanaugh Woods. In the fall of 1861 John Ireland recruited a group that became Company K of the Eighth Texas Regiment, which served along the Texas coast and in Louisiana. The Guadalupe Rebels, an independent military company that was organized in July 1861, trained at Camp Beauregard near the site of present McQueeney, but later dispersed to merge with other troops. A group known as the Guadalupe Rangers, a volunteer cavalry company organized in September 1861 by John Preston White, became part of the Twenty-fifth Brigade of the Texas Militia. During the war one of the major shipping routes to Mexico crossed the Guadalupe River near Seguin, giving Guadalupe County access to markets in spite of the Union blockade of Confederate ports, but manufactured goods, sugar, coffee, medicines, and cash remained in short supply. Because most men of military age had enlisted in the Confederate Army by the end of 1861, women, children, old men, and slaves were left to keep up family farms. Many acres lay idle for lack of enough people to work them.
Although the end of the war was welcome, many people had no desire have their local government "reconstructed." Residents of Guadalupe County chose John Ireland as delegate to the state constitutional convention that met in Austin on February 7, 1866, and elected Nathaniel Benton chief justice in July 1866. Although these men received amnesty and were acceptable officeholders according to the presidential reconstruction plan, they and most of the other new county officials were removed from their offices in November 1867. In spite of threatened violence and bitter feelings on the part of residents, however, Guadalupe saw little of the bitter strife that many other counties experienced during this period. A Freedmen's Bureau office opened in Seguin in 1866 and supervised work contracts between former slaves and area farmers until 1868. Some Blacks stayed in Seguin; others became sharecroppers or tenant farmers; still others settled in the southeastern part of the county. The communities of Capote and Sweet Home were established by former slaves. As a percentage of the total population, the number of Blacks in the county steadily declined, falling from a high of 34 percent in 1870 to 6 percent in 1980. In real numbers the Black population, which numbered 2,534 in 1870, peaked at 5,681 in 1910 and fell to 3,155 by 1980.
The county voted Democratic in presidential elections from the end of Reconstruction until 1892. By the turn of the century, bitter feelings had receded, perhaps tempered by those people who had arrived after the Civil War. In 1896 the county voted Republican, preferring William McKinley to William Jennings Bryan, and contrary to the usual voting trends in the state. Democratic presidential candidates carried the county only five times between 1896 and 1992: Woodrow Wilson in 1912, Al Smith in 1928, Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 and 1936, and Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.
Guadalupe County suffered a severe economic decline immediately following the Civil War and throughout the Reconstruction period. In 1866 residents experienced a 69 percent loss in taxable property. About 35 percent of the lost property was in slaves; the rest came from declines in total farm acreage, farm value, and livestock value, each of which had fallen nearly 50 percent by the time of the 1870 census. The county received a much-needed economic boost in the mid-1870s when construction of the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway began. The railroad reached Seguin in 1876 and was completed to San Antonio in 1877, giving residents of Guadalupe County easier access to markets. The towns of Kingsbury, Marion, McQueeney, Cibolo, and Schertz grew up along the railroad. Area farmers could sell livestock for good prices without the risks involved in extended cattle drives. Many farmers imported fencing supplies and heavy ginning machinery. Cotton became a major crop after the county recovered from the Civil War and Reconstruction. In 1880 farmers planted over 16,000 acres in cotton, 12 percent of the county's improved acreage; by 1900 cotton covered more than 100,000 acres, 59 percent of the improved land. Production peaked in 1900 at 38,960 bales. As farmers continued to devote more land to cotton, the soil became depleted, resulting in fewer bales per acre. By 1930 118,300 acres yielded only 8,266 bales. The low yields, combined with the onset of the Great Depression, encouraged farmers to plant more corn or to devote more of their resources to livestock. The poultry industry, which had been growing steadily since the 1880s, took a sizable jump, from 171,000 in 1920 to 268,000 in 1930. Tenant farming and sharecropping, which had accounted for the operation of 25 percent of the county's farms in 1880, increased steadily, peaking at 64 percent in 1930. The depression forced some people, many of them tenants, to leave the county; farms lost nearly 50 percent of their value between 1930 and 1940. The population of the county fell by nearly 10 percent during this period. The tenant system declined as the economy improved in the 1940s. By 1950 only about a quarter of the farms were run by tenants; that figure had declined to 6 percent by 1982.
Between 1870 and 1910 the number of immigrants coming to Guadalupe County rose dramatically. People arrived from Russia, Poland, England, Wales, Ireland, France, Austria, and Switzerland. The greatest increase, however, was in arrivals from Mexico. In 1870 there were 130 native Mexicans, less than 2 percent of the county's total population; by 1910 there were 2,863, representing 11½ percent of the population. Some of the new immigrants were able to buy land of their own. Others worked on cotton farms as laborers, sharecroppers, or tenants, partially filling the gap in the work force caused by the abolition of slavery. The German-Americans were the dominant influence in the shaping of the county's cultural identity. By the 1880s more than 40 percent of the population was of German descent. The immigration rate from 1870 to 1900 was such that native Germans consistently represented about 10 percent of the population. As World War I began in Europe in 1914, many German-Americans in the county were sympathetic to the German cause. When the United States entered the war three years later, the atmosphere became very emotionally charged. Things German were often viewed with suspicion and tended to be suppressed. The end of the war soothed strained relationships as well as relieving the worries of soldiers' families.
The Guadalupe River was developed in the late 1920s and early 1930s as a source of hydroelectric power. A series of privately owned dams channelled water through generating plants, providing electricity for the surrounding area. Lakes Dunlap and McQueeney, as well as several smaller lakes, were formed by the dams and have become popular recreational sites. Oil was discovered by H. H. Weinert in eastern Guadalupe County in the early 1920s (in the Darst Creek oilfield), and although the new industry in no way rivalled agriculture in its importance to the county's economy, it did provide some diversity. The Luling, Dunlap, Darst, and La Vernia fields were still active in the 1980s. In 1982 wells in the county produced 1,693,730 barrels of crude oil and 976,823 cubic feet of gas. Although no war supply contracts or facility projects were assigned to Guadalupe County in the 1940s, the area did take part in the economic prosperity generated by World War II. Manufacturing establishments in the county more than doubled the number of their employees between 1940 and 1947. The per capita wage doubled as well. The county's proximity to San Antonio encouraged many residents to commute. In agriculture, emphasis continued to shift from cotton to grains and livestock as a part of the war effort.
In the 1980s as much as 80 percent of the land in Guadalupe County was used for farming and ranching. Among the primary crops were sorghum, hay, oats, wheat, and corn; watermelon and peaches were also popular, and the county's pecan production was sixth in the state. Over 70 percent of the county's agricultural receipts in 1982 came from livestock and livestock products, mainly cattle, hogs, poultry, and milk. Although agriculture continued to be a important aspect of the economy, farm receipts represented only 12 percent of the county's annual income in 1985. Professional and related services, manufacturing, and wholesale and retail trade involved nearly 60 percent of the work force in 1982. Mineral resources, including ceramic clay, industrial sand, oil, gas, and lignite coal, gave residents the opportunity to diversify their interests. In recent years many people have moved to Guadalupe County from San Antonio, choosing to live in Guadalupe County and work in Bexar. In 1982 46 percent of the work force was employed outside the county. Between 1960 and 1980 the population of Guadalupe County rose nearly 40 percent, from 29,017 to 46,708; in 1990 the population was 64,873.
The voters of Guadalupe County supported the Democratic candidates in most elections before the Civil War, but in 1860 John Bell of the Constitutional Union Party carried the area. In 1872, the first year after Reconstruction that Texas voters could participate in a national election, Democrat Horace Greeley won most of the area’s votes, and the Democrats took the county in every election from 1876 through 1892. In 1896, however, the area’s political loyalties began to shift, and the Republicans won most of the presidential votes there in virtually every election through 1924. The only exception occurred in 1912, when many local Republicans voted for the third-party Progressive ticket headed by Theodore Roosevelt and Democrat Woodrow Wilson was able to win a plurality of the county’s ballots. Democrat Al Smith took Guadalupe County in 1928, and Franklin Roosevelt carried the area in 1932 and 1936; but in 1940 local voters shifted again to support Republican Thomas Dewey. Thereafter, the Republican candidates for president won most of the county’s votes in virtually every election from 1944 through 2004. The only exception occurred in 1964, when native-son Democrat Lyndon Johnson carried the area.
The U.S. census counted 147,250 people living in Guadalupe County in 2014. About 52.8 percent were Anglo, 36.6 percent were Hispanic, and 7.7 percent African American. Of residents age twenty-five and older, 78 percent had completed high school and 19 percent had college degrees. In the early twenty-first century agriculture, tourism, and various manufacturing concerns were important elements of the local economy; many county residents commuted to San Antonio to work. In 2002 the county had 2,442 farms and ranches covering 384,824 acres, 48 percent of which were devoted to crops, 41 percent to crops, and 8 percent to woodlands. That year farmers and ranchers in the area earned $37,205,000; crop sales accounted for $20,831,000 of the total. Nursery crops, cattle, hogs, hay, corn, sorghum, pecans, and wheat were the chief agricultural products. More than 1,013,000 barrels of oil were produced in the county in 2004; by the end of that year 203,553,119 barrels of petroleum had been taken from county lands since 1922, when oil was discovered in the area.
Seguin (population, 25,757) is the county’s seat of government and the home of Texas Lutheran University. Other communities include Schertz (35,510, partly in Bexar and Comal counties), Redwood (4,471), Cibolo (23,656), McQueeney (2,588), Marion (1,072), Kingsbury (823), Santa Clara (743), and New Berlin (514). Local attractions include Lake McQueeney, touted as the "water ski capital of Texas" and numerous historic homes and buildings.