Lampasas County covers an area of 714 square miles near the center of Texas. The county's center point is at 31°15' north latitude and 98°14' west longitude, seventy-five miles northwest of Austin. The major part of Lampasas County lies within the Grand Prairies region in an area formed during the Cretaceous period and is characterized by high rolling prairie with steep slopes and limestone benches that give a stairstep appearance to the landscape, and by some areas of flat to rolling prairie and steeply to moderately sloping hills, particularly along the county's eastern and western edges. The northwestern corner lies on the edge of the Cross Timbers region in an area formed during the Pennsylvania era; the southwestern corner is on the edge of the Llano basin in an area formed during the Ordovician era and is characterized by somewhat rougher and more dissected terrain. Soils consist chiefly of shallow and sometimes stony clays and loams over a limestone base, with darker, richer soils in the lowland areas along the riverbeds. The primary natural resources are derived from the limestone and sandstone formations underlying these areas and include sand, gravel, crushed stone, and lime, with some coal, lignite, and clay in the western portion of the county. Most of the county displays an assortment of scrub brush, grasses, and open stands of live oak, mesquite, and juniper, with some cacti growing in the west. Oak, elm, pecan, and willow trees also grow along the streams, particularly in the west along the Colorado River, and cedars can be found in some areas. The county's abundant wildlife includes white-tail deer, game birds, and a variety of furbearing mammals; Lampasas County is a popular hunting and trapping area. Coyotes, which had been hunted nearly to extinction by 1915, became common again by 1965, especially in the western and northern sections, and caused much damage to livestock through the 1980s. The majority of Lampasas County is drained by the Lampasas River, which runs north to south in the eastern portion of the county. The remainder of the county is drained by the Colorado River, which forms the county's western border. There are a number of spring-fed creeks throughout the county. Four reservoirs are located near the town of Lampasas in the southwestern corner of the county, as well as various mineral springs along Sulphur and Burleson creeks. Lampasas County water is usually hard and somewhat mineralized. The county also overlies the Trinity Group aquifer, with some sections overlying the Ellenburger-San Saba, Hickory Sandstone, and Marble Falls Limestone aquifers. Rainfall averages approximately thirty inches a year, temperatures range from an average high of 96° F in July to an average low of 30° in January, and the growing season lasts approximately 225 days.
For centuries various Indians hunted in the area, attracted by the large herds of buffalo, the plentiful streams, and the various mineral springs on Burleson and Sulphur creeks, which were noted for their healing properties. In 1721 the Aguayo expedition supposedly passed through the county on its way to East Texas, and in 1735 a missionary expedition from San Antonio is said to have discovered mineral springs in the future county on the way home from an inspection trip. The region was later part of what came to be known as Robertson's colony; although no known settlements were established there, the colony brought a number of families near the area when it was settled in the 1830s.
Settlers were drawn to the area after Moses Hughes and his invalid wife, Hannah (Berry), moved near the site of what is now Lampasas in November 1853, seeking to take advantage of the medicinal springs. Another early settler was John Burleson, who had received 1,280 acres, including the site of the future town of Lampasas, for his services during the Texas Revolution. In July 1855 his daughter Elizabeth and her husband, George W. Scott, laid out the town of Burleson in what was then Coryell County. At this time the town consisted of about 500 to 600 people, most of them living in tents and wagons. Other communities established in the 1850s include Adamsville, Gholson, Kempner, and McAnelly's Bend (now Bend, in San Saba County).
On February 1, 1856, in response to a petition signed by 135 Lampasas County citizens, the Sixth Texas Legislature formed Lampasas County, named after the Lampasas River, from parts of Travis, Bell, and Coryell counties. Burleson, renamed Lampasas, was made the county seat, and the new county was organized on March 10, 1856. Two years later the northeastern corner of Lampasas County became part of Hamilton County. In 1873 an act of the legislature extended the southern boundary of Lampasas County thirty miles into Burnet County, but the next year the boundary was returned to its previous position. In 1887 the new Mills County received northern and northwestern sections of Lampasas County. Subsequently, the county boundaries remained unchanged. Because the young county had no resources to build a courthouse, county records were kept in a small frame building for a number of years, and there were frequent turnovers in the county offices due to the small salaries offered.
During the 1850s and 1860s settlers in Lampasas County suffered from Comanche raids and outlawry. The Lampasas Guards were organized in Lampasas on July 1, 1859, to ward off Indian attacks, but aside from this and an occasional Texas Ranger passing through, there was little law and order until well after the Civil War. As White hunters began to kill off the buffalo for profit and sport, the Indians began to resent encroachment on their hunting grounds and increased their raids on the settlements. Herds were still plentiful through the 1860s, but had largely disappeared by 1875. The county was also full of mustangs, and wild-horse catching, breaking, and training became an important activity. One of the first important businesses in the county was Hughes' Mill, one of the first permanent buildings in the county, built by Moses Hughes on Sulphur Creek in the mid-1850s. Each summer people were drawn to Lampasas to bathe in the mineral springs, and it became a tented city with hundreds of people camped nearby. The Swenson and Swisher Saltworks was established on Salt Creek in 1858; these mines furnished salt to the Confederate Army during the Civil War. In 1860 Lampasas County had a population of 1,028 people, about 15 percent of whom were slaves. The county supported secession 85 to 75 in the election on February 23, 1861. With many of the men gone during the war and no federal troops on the frontier, Indian raids became especially severe during the 1860s. At the end of the war more than half the Black population left the county. County officers were appointed by the provisional governor, and in 1870 federal troops were quartered in Lampasas. During Reconstruction the county was overrun with Indians, bandits, and carpetbagger land sharks. The Horrell-Higgins feud occurred during the mid-1870s.
With the passing of the buffalo and the growth of the cattle market following the war, Lampasas County became a center of the cattle industry. During the 1870s, it was on the direct route of many of the major cattle trails to Kansas, Colorado, and other states. The number of nondairy cattle increased from 8,434 to 19,973 between 1860 and 1870, while the numbers of almost all other types of livestock declined. Lampasas and Senterfitt were also on a stage and mail route running east to west through the county. In 1875, the first Farmers' Alliance in the nation was organized in Lampasas in reaction against the cattle rustling and illegal land dealings prevalent in the county. Methodist circuit-riding clergymen provided the first regular church services in the county beginning in 1866, and in 1869 a school building was erected on Sulphur Creek, founded by county subscription. On December 24, 1871, the frame courthouse burned, and with it many of the county records. A flood on September 27, 1873, ruined most of the rest of them. After that, until 1883, few records were kept except for those of land and business transactions, and the county offices were scattered all over Lampasas.
In the spring of 1882 the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway extended its line west from Belton to Lampasas and ended the cattle-trailing era in the county. Tourists took advantage of reduced rail fares to visit the mineral springs at Lampasas, and the Park Hotel and the Hannah Springs Bath and Opera House were built in 1882. In 1883 a new courthouse and jail were completed. The county's first bank, the First National Bank of Lampasas, was established on October 19, 1884. Its cashier, Frank L. Malone, helped organize the Texas Bankers Association, which was chartered in June 1885 by thirty-one Texas bankers who met at the Park Hotel. A number of newspapers were started during this period, including the Dispatch, published from 1870 to 1895 by Melton and Barron. By 1885 the railroad continued building northwest, and the railroad boom subsided.
By this time the state had sold most of the land in the county to individuals and corporations, and the open ranges had ceased to exist. Ranching became more scientific as ranchers abandoned longhorn cattle for blooded breeds, particularly Hereford cattle. Agriculture in the county grew remarkably during this period, the number of farms increasing from ninety in 1870 to 771 in 1890. As the number of cattle steadily increased-to a high of 43,974 in 1900-other livestock became important as the county diversified. William Mark Wittenburg brought some of the first sheep to the county, and soon sheep ranching became a prominent part of the economy, with numbers of sheep increasing from 8,814 in 1880 to 44,569 in 1890. Hogs, fed on the abundant pecans growing throughout the county, numbered 8,633 in 1900 (see SWINE RAISING). Poultry production also increased; chickens and turkeys numbered 10,752 in 1880 and 44,302 in 1890. Crop farming, secondary to stock raising, was concentrated on cereals, small grains, grain sorghums, cotton, pecans, and some potatoes and fruits, particularly peaches and melons.
By the end of the 1880s most of the towns in the county had been established, and a good number of communities had built schools and churches. Centenary College, organized, supported, and managed by the Methodist Church, was established in Lampasas in 1884 and continued until 1897, when the Park Hotel, in which it was then housed, burned. Lampasas County was settled primarily by Americans from Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, and other parts of the South, with only a small percentage of foreign settlers. From 1870 to 1880 the county population increased by 4,077, but only sixty-six of them, or around 1.6 percent, were immigrants. Most of these were from England, Scotland, Ireland, and Germany. According to the census, immigration to the county reached its peak between 1910 and 1920, the highest percentage of new arrivals coming from Mexico.
Low wheat prices during the fall and winter of 1884–85 sparked a revival of interest in an organization patterned after the Farmers' Alliance. A political party called the Nonpartisans, formed by disgruntled farmers, nominated candidates for county office in 1886, and People's (Populist) party candidates received strong support in the 1892 election. Aside from this period, Lampasas County was chiefly a conservative Democratic county through the 1950s.
In 1903 a second railroad, a branch of the Houston and Texas Central, was built from Burnet to Lampasas; it was abandoned in 1951. A small freight branch of the Santa Fe also ran west from Lampasas to Brady and Eden for a short time; it was built chiefly in response to the growing wool and mohair industry. By 1900 sheep outnumbered cattle; in 1910 the agricultural census counted 19,395 cattle and 60,372 sheep. Around 1915 ranchers began importing registered sheep, mostly Delairs, into the county. The growth in the number of sheep continued through the 1930s, reaching a peak of 137,998 in 1940. Henry Jones brought the first registered goats to the county around 1900, and by 1930 their numbers had grown to 33,027. D. G. Moore began growing pecan trees in orchards around 1917, setting a trend resulting in increased pecan production throughout the 1950s (see PECAN INDUSTRY, and STATE TREE).
Manufacturers in the county have averaged only about ten establishments at any given time; most of these have been food-processing businesses and warehousing operations for wool, mohair, and other agricultural products. During the early 1900s, a number of test wells for oil and gas were drilled in the county, the first being the Abney well in Lampasas, opened in 1901. Although some oil and gas were found, groundwater usually prevented commercial production. The one exception was the Tiger Lily, drilled near Lometa in 1938; although initially profitable, this well was later ruined by overacidizing. The 1920s and 1930s saw substantial growth in the county's utilities. Early electricity plants were owned by individuals, but in the 1920s the Texas Power and Light Company came to Lampasas and Lometa. The Lower Colorado River Authority was established in the 1930s to serve the rural population, and electricity had spread throughout the county by the 1940s. The Southwestern Bell and Lampasas Rural telephone companies began serving the county during this period, and in 1949 Lone Star Gas established services in the county. Problems with flooding on Sulphur Creek occurred frequently over the years, and in July 1938 the Colorado River flooded the southwestern part of the county, causing much damage to roads and bridges.
The county weathered the Great Depression fairly well; business waned slightly, but no bank or business failures occurred. Overgrazing and overplanting became a concern in the 1930s, prompting an interest in soil management, and the Hill Country Soil Conservation District, a federal service, established a program of soil and water conservation. A trend toward mechanization began on the farms, and the population started to shift from the rural areas to the towns. By the 1930s Lampasas County was connected to the rest of the state by a network of federal and state highways and ranch roads. In 1935 the county's first hospital, the Rollins-Brook Hospital, opened near Lampasas; a clinic was added in 1937.
The establishment of nearby Camp Hood (now Fort Hood) during World War II increased business as military personnel enlarged the consumer market, and the fort soon became a permanent part of the area's economy. Hancock Park in Lampasas was temporarily turned over to the troops as a recreational area. After the war a housing shortage caused growth in the already strong construction industry throughout the late 1940s. Although the number of manufacturing establishments did not increase, the number of people employed in them did. The 1940 census reported five manufacturers with forty-one employees; in 1950 eight manufacturers employed 147. Fifteen factories employed 1,000 workers in 1982.
Livestock continued to be the main agricultural industry in the county, especially as the production of cotton and orchard products began to decline in the mid-1950s. In 1945 and 1959 auction barns were established in Lometa and Lampasas, and they continued doing business in the mid-1990s. Increased use of synthetic fibers, beginning in the 1960s, caused a decline in the mohair and wool industries. In 1954 the Hill Country Soil and Water Conservation District, along with the governments of Lampasas and Burnet counties, began planning a flood-prevention program on Sulphur Creek. Work on construction of dams on the creek was accelerated after the creek flooded again in 1957, and the dams did much to eliminate flooding.
The Lampasas County economy grew steadily over the years; the county has generally been considered prosperous, chiefly due to its diversity. The top industry continues to be agribusiness, followed by construction and the manufacture of food products and plastics. Nearby military installations continue to be important in the economy. In 1980 the population of approximately 12,005 was 91 percent White, 1 percent Black, and 8 percent from other ethnic groups, including Korean and Vietnamese. Of the total population, approximately 11 percent were of Hispanic origin. The median age was thirty-three in 1980. In 2014 the county population was 20,156. Of those, 73.6 percent were Anglo, 4 percent African American, and 18.7 percent Hispanic. The traditionally Democratic county voted for Dwight D. Eisenhower for president in 1952, and supported Republicans for national office in 1956, 1972, and from 1980 through 1992; Lampasas County still usually votes Democratic in state and local elections. In the mid-1980s the county had 693 miles of roads and was served by two municipal airports, at Lampasas and Lometa, by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, by several freight-trucking companies, by intercity bus service, and by one taxi service. Two school districts, in Lampasas and Lometa, served the county with six schools, and the county had two newspapers, several radio stations, cable television service, and a public library in Lampasas. Tourists continued to be attracted to the area by the nearby lakes and reservoirs, municipal parks, stock shows, and historical festivals. Lampasas County is a mecca for deer hunters.