Matagorda County

By: Diana J. Kleiner

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: May 28, 2021

Matagorda County is in the Coastal Prairie region of Texas, bounded on the north by Wharton County, on the east by Brazoria County and the Gulf of Mexico, on the west by Calhoun and Jackson counties, and on the south by the Gulf of Mexico and Tres Palacios, Matagorda, and East Matagorda bays. The center of the county lies at 28°54' north latitude and 95°59' west longitude; Bay City, the county's seat of government and largest city, is four miles north of the center of the county at the convergence of State highways 35 and 60, fifty air miles southwest of Houston. The name Matagorda, Spanish for "thick brush," was derived from the canebrakes that formerly lined the shore. Crossed by the once highly flood-prone Colorado River, which bisects it from north to south, the county extends across 1,612 square miles of mostly open prairie. With the exception of a slight undulation in the north, most of the county is level, with elevations ranging from sea level to seventy feet. Part of Matagorda Peninsula, a narrow barrier island formed less than 5,000 years ago, runs northeast and southwest for sixty-five miles from the mouth of Caney Creek in the eastern part of the county to Pass Cavallo on the west. The peninsula protects Matagorda Bay and is cut in half by the Colorado River channel twenty-four miles from the pass. Major watercourses in the county include Caney, Peach, Peyton's, Turtle, Cash's, and Big and Little Boggy creeks, the Trespalacios and Colorado rivers, Live Oak and Linville bayous, and Little Robbins Slough. Along the rivers the soils are brownish to reddish, cracking and clayey to loamy, and along the coast soils are sandy. In the rest of the county light-colored, shallow loam covers clayey subsoils; some areas, particularly in the coastal marshes, have gray to black, cracking, clayey soils. Temperatures in the county vary from an average low of 44° F in January to an average high of 92° F in July. The growing season averages 295 days per year. Live oak, post oak, pin oak, pecan, ash cottonwood, elm, red cedar, and mulberry grow in the county's forests; mesquite and prickly pear have invaded the Bay Prairie in patches where the land has been overgrazed. The area harbors a variety of wildlife, including bobcats, coyotes, otters, white-tailed deer, and numerous smaller mammals, as well as oysters, shrimp, fish, snakes, and waterfowl. A number of protected wildlife habitats, including Big Boggy National Wildlife Refuge, the Mad Island Wildlife Management Area, the Runnels Family Mad Island Marsh, and the Nature Conservance, are located in the county. The Colorado Barge Canal, completed in 1959, extends fifteen miles along the Colorado River from the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway to a turning basin below Bay City and links the county to deep water at Freeport and Galveston. In the early 20th century, the county was served by the Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroads.

Archeological research has revealed a pattern of relatively dense occupation near inland water sources in the upper Texas coastal region, and projectile points from the early Paleo-Indian period (10,000–6,000 B.C.) have been found thinly scattered along the Texas coastal plain. By the time of European exploration in the early 1500s, the central section of the Texas coast, including Matagorda County, was home to several linguistically related subgroups of the hunter-gatherer Karankawa Indians. By the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the shifting of tribal territories further north forced other tribes, notably the Tonkawa Indians of Central Texas, toward the coast and into Karankawa territory. Alonso Álvarez de Pineda mapped the Texas coastline in 1519, but the first recorded European expedition into the Texas interior was conducted by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, who sometime after 1528 probably passed through what later became Matagorda County. Guido de Lavazares landed at Matagorda Bay in 1558, surveyed the northern Gulf Coast, and claimed the area for King Charles V. In 1690 Manuel José de Cárdenas y Magaña mapped Matagorda Bay as part of the Llanos-Cárdenas expedition, and the Alarcón expedition passed through what is now Matagorda County between 1718 and 1719. As early as 1820 plans were made to establish a port at the site of the future town of Matagorda, but none developed, since silt deposited in the bay by the Colorado River made a port impractical at that time. Settlement by Anglo-Americans began in 1822, when the schooner Only Son landed immigrants for Stephen F. Austin's colony at the mouth of the Colorado. Some of the first White residents of what is now Matagorda County were soldiers sent to protect the new settlers from the Karankawa Indians. Austin gave grants in the area to fifty-two families, principally from New York, and in 1827 received permission to settle 300 more within thirty leagues of the coast in areas where settlement had previously been forbidden by the Mexican government. The town of Matagorda, at the mouth of the Colorado River, was founded in 1829 after Austin had convinced the Mexican government that a military post was needed to protect incoming settlers. The town quickly flourished, and settlement proceeded inward from the coast, initially along Caney Creek. A custom house established at Matagorda in 1831 was maintained until the Texas Revolution. Steamers and sailing vessels approached within six miles of the town on Matagorda Bay; other county transportation was also largely by water. The municipality of Matagorda, which comprised the southeast corner of the original Austin grants, was established in 1834 while the area remained under Mexican control.

In events leading up to the Texas Revolution, according to some sources, members of the district of Mina at the Convention of 1832 were actually people from the Matagorda area rather than what became Bastrop County. The District of Matagorda was represented at the Convention of 1833, and Matagordans took an active part in both the councils and subsequent fighting. A local Committee of Public Safety drew up a formal pledge to protect the citizens of Goliad, and troops were sent to aid James W. Fannin. After the war, in 1836, Matagorda County was organized as one of the first twenty-three counties by the Republic of Texas; Matagorda was designated as the county seat. The area's culture reflected the southern backgrounds of many of its inhabitants. Baptist education began at Matagorda around 1829, an Episcopal congregation was established in the area in 1838, and the area's first Methodist congregation was established in 1839. The county's first newspaper, the Tribune, appeared in 1837. A keel boat was reported on the Colorado in 1838, and a ferry known as Cayce's (later called Elliotts) was established in 1849 west of Bay City. As Texas's second major seaport and a port of entry for Texas immigrants from 1840 to 1865, Matagorda rapidly developed transportation and industry. The town had a gristmill in 1859, and the largest sugar mill in the state was built there sometime before 1860. By 1850 there were 2,124 people living in the county, including 913 Whites, 1,208 enslaved people, and 3 free Blacks. According to the agricultural census, almost 59,000 acres were in farms in the county that year, including 8,500 acres considered "improved." More than 103,000 bushes of corn, 1,394 thousand-pound hogsheads of sugar, 1,613 bales of cotton, and 60 pounds of rice were produced in the county that year. While cash crops already constituted an important part of the local economy, livestock also played a significant role: almost 32,000 cattle, and more than 2,100 sheep, were also reported in the county that year. The production of cotton rapidly expanded in the county during the 1850s. On the east side of the Colorado, alluvial soils made up of stream deposits provided bottomlands hospitable to plantations, while west of the Colorado the land was used almost exclusively by stockraisers and small farmers. Between 1850 and 1855 a number of slaves were brought into the county, largely by slaveholders from Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia, to work on large plantations in the bottomlands of the Colorado River and Caney Creek. The region between Matagorda and Brazoria, forty miles away, came to be known as "Old Caney" and was noted for its production of cotton and sugar. Meanwhile, as the profitable plantation economy encouraged planters to bring more Black enslaved people into the area, the county's minority White population took various steps to ensure their control. Citizens established a curfew for slaves and free persons of color as early as 1850, and in 1852 Elder Noah Hill was employed to serve as a missionary to slaves in the county. The need to protect their control over their slaves was also used by White citizens in 1856 to justify expelling the county's entire Mexican population. As one newspaper item contended, the Mexicans in the county were known to "hang around the plantations, taking the likeliest negro girls for wives....they often steal horses, and these girls, too, and endeavor to run them to Mexico. We should rather have anticipated an appeal to Lynch law, than the mild course which has been adopted." By 1858 roughly 30 percent of the improved acreage in the county was used to raise cotton, 6 percent was devoted to sugar, and 20 percent to corn; sea-island cotton was grown on Matagorda Peninsula during this period. In the late 1850s major towns in the county included Matagorda, with 1,200 residents, and Tres Palacios (also known simply as Palacios), which was located west of the Colorado on a high point of land between Matagorda and Tres Palacios bays.

By 1860 there were 3,454 people, including 2,107 slaves, living in Matagorda County. Almost 159,000 acres in the county was in farms, and 21,000 acres were reported to be improved. That year the county's plantations and farms produced 8,454 bales of cotton, 507 hogsheads of cane sugar, and 144,000 bushels of corn. John Duncan, one of the county's many wealthy planters, owned real property valued at $150,000 and personal property valued at $128,000, as well as seventy-five slaves and 3,000 cattle. Another planter, James B. Hawkins, had real property valued at $100,000 and personal property valued at $60,750, along with his 101 slaves. While cash crops, especially cotton, had helped to provide this prosperity, cattle remained an important part of the economy in 1860. Almost 38,000 cattle were reported in the county that year, and a cattle company formed in 1849 continued to engage in a lively commerce that had grown between Matagorda Bay, New Orleans, Mobile, and other Gulf points; this trade lasted until the Civil War.

Although the county's voters supported John Bell (the relatively moderate candidate of the Constitutional Union Party) in the presidential election of 1860, the county overwhelmingly supported secession from the union (136 to 8) in a special election held in February 1861. Several Confederate camps, posts, and garrisons were established in the area, and the county shared others with nearby Brazoria County. Capt. E. S. Rugeley's C.S.A. Company was garrisoned at Fort Matagorda, and in 1862 twenty-two soldiers died crossing the bay to skirmish with Union gunboats offshore. In 1863 Confederate soldiers stationed at Matagorda drove cattle off the peninsula, a popular winter pasture, to keep them from being captured by Union troops. DeCrow's Battery was on the southwestern tip of Matagorda Peninsula to guard the east channel to Matagorda Bay. Maj. Gen. John B. Magruder's orders for fortifications at the mouth of Caney Creek to stop invasion by federal forces resulted in 1864 in the construction of an earthen fort called Fort Caney. The fort was made up of four east bank garrisons-forts Ashbel Smith, Hawkins, Rugeley, and Sandcliff-which were later bombarded. Union troops preparing to build a fort in 1864 were repelled by fifty-seven local volunteers. The Confederate gunboat, the John H. Carr, was anchored at Matagorda, along with the Lizzie Lake, a stern wheeler, and a transport called the Luck Guinn. No Union troops entered the county during the war, but the Union's blockade of the Texas coast restricted foreign cotton trade, crippled the commerce of the port at Matagorda, and severely damaged the local economy.

Land values and the county's tax base declined after the Civil War and the subsequent emancipation of the slaves. Taxable wealth in the county declined from $2,727,256 (of which $1,095,400 represented the value of slaves) in 1860, to only $1,028,815 by 1866. Farm acreage in the county declined by 30 percent between 1860 and 1870, and the area's cotton-growers, undercut during the war by the Union blockade, never really recovered during this period; in 1870 only 1,590 bales were produced in Matagorda County. There were 3,377 people living in the area that year, a population slightly smaller than before the Civil War began. Almost two-thirds (2,120) of the county's residents were Black; twelve Mexicans and three American Indians were also reported in the area that year. Though many of the county's wealthy planters had left the area, others remained and engaged in the cattle trade. The agricultural census reported over 93,000 cattle in the county in 1870, along with about 8,500 sheep. The Stabler Patent Beef Packing Plant, which began canning beef in 1866, and a hide and tallow factory established near the coast before 1870 are evidence of the importance of the county's beef industry during this period.

Though cotton production in the area began to revive after 1870, Matagorda County's economy and population grew slowly until last years of the nineteenth century. From 1875 to 1880 financial difficulties plagued the county government, which was forced to resort to script to finance its activities. There were few towns and little commerce in the area at that time, and the rich farm lands along Caney Creek held the majority of the population; progress awaited the development of improved roads. Steamships of the Morgan Lines maintained a station at Palacios in the 1880s, but the once-thriving port of Matagorda declined, losing its competition with Lavaca and Indianola as a port. About 3,400 acres in the county were planted in cotton in 1880, and 4,307 acres were devoted to the fiber by 1890. Meanwhile, the number of cattle in the area declined significantly: fewer than 20,000 cattle were reported in the county in 1880 and 27,000 in 1890. That year there were 3,985 people living in the county, including 2,524 Blacks; post offices had been established at Culver, Elliott, Hardeman, Matagorda, Plader, and Tres Placios. One-fourth of the county's 378 farms were operated by tenants.

The county's agricultural economy developed more rapidly during the 1890s, as people from the north-central and central western states moved into the area to take up farming. Bay City was founded in 1894, and because of its location near the center of the county it replaced Matagorda as the county seat. The influx of new immigrants increased land values but discouraged ranching, though the county's herds were improved with Hereford and Durham cattle strains. Cotton acreage in the county almost tripled during the 1890s, and by 1900 12,000 acres in the county were planted in the fiber. That year there were 448 farms and ranches in the county, and the population had increased to 6,097.

Matagorda County's social and political life in the late nineteenth century was marked by racial tension and conflict. The Ku Klux Klan, an organization dedicated to restricting the social and political activities of the newly freed slaves, was active in the area during Reconstruction. Nevertheless at least some area Blacks remained active in local politics, and the county consistently supported the Republican tickets in presidential elections between 1872 and 1896. One of the most violent episodes in the county's history occurred in 1887, when the Black community known as the Vann Settlement, or the King Vann African Settlement, was attack by armed White vigilantes from Matagorda, Wharton, Brazoria, and Fort Bend counties. According to one local history, the incident convinced the area's Black population "that they had best remain in the background and leave the government of the county to the Whites." A White Man's Union Association was formed in the county by 1894. Though a majority of the county's voters supported Republican William McKinley in 1896, the number of Republican ballots in the county dropped off dramatically in elections held over the next twenty years. McKinley had won 561 votes in 1896, for example, but Theodore Roosevelt was able to win only ninety Republican ballots in the county in 1904. The area's Democrats had apparently reestablished their control by driving Blacks from the political process.

In the late nineteenth century the county's economy had been based on corn, cattle, and cotton, but after 1899, when the Matagorda County Rice and Irrigation Company was founded, canal building and the production of rice helped to diversify and invigorate the local economy. Rice plantations grew up along the railroad for fifteen miles above Bay City, which by 1912 was one of the leading rice markets in the state. At first, water dammed up by a raft of debris blocking the mouth of the Colorado River was used to irrigate the rice fields. By 1916 there were eleven irrigation plants, capable of irrigating 286,000 acres in the county, and 235 miles of canals had been built. Farmers turned increasingly to rice production after the boll weevil attacked the central Gulf Coast area in the early 1900s; in 1910, 34 percent of the county's improved acreage was in rice, while less 1 percent was planted in cotton and corn. Sorghum, sudan grass, sugar cane, sweet and Irish potatoes, peanuts, and feed crops were also grown in the area that year, and 27,400 cattle and 46,236 poultry were reported. Though cotton cultivation rebounded in the county during the 1910s, rice acreage continued to expand. By 1920, 38,000 acres in the county were planted in rice, and more than 46,000 acres were planted in cotton. By 1925, 60,000 acres in the county were planted in rice. Much of the agricultural growth of the previous two decades was reversed during the late 1920s, however. In 1930 only 7,452 acres in the county were planted in rice and only 24,000 acres were planted in cotton, a drop of almost 50 percent since 1920. The number of farms and ranches in the county grew to 1,116 by 1910, to 1,616 by 1920, and to 1,673 by 1930. Increasing numbers of the area's farmers did not own their own land, however. Tenants operated 37 percent of the farms in Matagorda County in 1910, 40 percent by 1920, and 60 percent by 1930.

Railroad construction in Matagorda County during the early twentieth century had helped to encourage development by tying the area to national markets and encouraging immigration. From 1900 to 1902 the New York, Texas and Mexican Railway extended its line from Wharton into northeastern Matagorda County, serving Pledger, Podo, Ashwood, Sugar Valley, Grovedale, and Van Vleck on its way to Bay City; it then built west to Cortes, Markham, and Midfield. After Jonathan Edwards Pierce and others donated land, the railroad angled south through Blessing and Pheasant Switch on its way to Palacios on the coast. The railroad later became part of the Southern Pacific. An extension of this line, known as the Hawkinsville Tap, passed from Van Vleck southeast to Rugeley, Cedar Lane, and Gainesmore, reaching Hawkinsville by 1903 and remaining in service until 1932. Meanwhile the Cane Belt Railroad had entered the county from Eagle Lake in 1901, passing through Bay City and stimulating the growth of Wadsworth as it moved south to its terminus at Matagorda on the coast. This line shipped sulphur from Gulf Hill, six miles east of Matagorda, from 1919 until the 1920s, when deposits were depleted and both shipping and the community at Matagorda began to decline. Around 1905 the Saint Louis, Brownsville and Mexico Railway extended its tracks west from Bay City through Buckeye and Blessing and east through Allenhurst and Hasima on its way to Houston. It also constructed a spur from Buckeye to the Tres Palacios Rice and Irrigation Company, to Tres Palacios, and to Collegeport. While the town of Matagorda was the only major town in the county in 1890, by 1913 the railroads had helped to establish or expand many towns and villages, including Bay City, Palacios, Blessing, Collegeport, Markham, Midfield, Wadsworth, Van Vleck, Pledger, and Sargent. Bay City, located at the junction point of all three railroad lines, flourished after 1900. Buckeye was on the St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico, and Hasima was in the eastern part of the county on the Matagorda-Brazoria line. Gainesmore was on Caney Creek with navigable deep water, and Hawkinsville was in the southeastern part of the county. The economic development of the county was also encouraged by other improvements in the area's transportation network. Around 1902 the Elliott Ferry was replaced by a bridge, and by 1916 the county had 500 miles of roads, half built since 1914. A major improvement in water transportation came with the removal of the massive log jam or raft that extended from the mouth of the Colorado River forty-six miles upstream, trapping sediments and preventing the Colorado from building a delta. Floods on the river occurred in 1913 and 1922, as logs accumulated, alternating with dry years that damaged area rice crops. Efforts to remove the raft had begun as early as 1836, but it was finally blasted to cut a navigation channel in 1929. A large flood that year removed remaining debris.

The discovery of oil and sulphur in the county also helped to diversify the local economy during this period. Oilmen struck gas at Big Hill in 1901, and by 1913 there were producing oilfields at Markham, Clemville, and Big Hill. The Texas Gulf Sulphur Company began mining sulphur in 1919 and founded a company town at Gulf. Meanwhile, manufacturing played only a limited role in the area's economy; in 1920, for example, the twenty-seven manufacturing establishments in Matagorda County employed fewer than 1,000 workers. In 1926 the Texas National Guard established Camp Palacios (later renamed Camp Hulen for its first commanding general) as a summer training site. Between 1900 and 1920 the population of Matagorda County more than doubled, as land speculators helped to attract immigrants to the area. There were 13,589 people living in the area by 1910 and 16,589 by 1920. The area's population continued to grow during the 1920s, and by 1930, 17,678 people lived in the county. Immigration into the area during the early twentieth century fundamentally altered the county's racial composition. More than two-thirds of the county's residents had been Black, but by 1930 Blacks constituted under 26 percent of the area's residents. A significant increase in the Hispanic population had also occurred by 1930; that year 1,993 residents of Mexican descent were reported in the county.

Cotton cultivation in Matagorda County continued to decline during the Great Depression of the 1930s. By 1940 only 17,000 acres in the area were devoted to the fiber. Rice cultivation in the area revived somewhat, however, so that by 1940, 16,000 areas were planted in that crop. Cropland harvested in the county increased 20 percent during the 1930s, rising from 50,000 acres in 1929 to 62,000 acres in 1940. Meanwhile, the area's petroleum industry continued to grow; Edgar B. Davis, for example, developed oil resources at Buckeye. Almost 1,929,000 barrels of crude were produced in the county in 1938. The county's topography also changed during this period. By 1936 the Colorado River had built a delta across Matagorda Bay to Matagorda Peninsula, cutting the bay into its present eastern and western sections. That same year a channel was dredged through the new delta from the Gulf of Mexico to the town of Matagorda; thereafter, Matagorda was no longer on the coast. In spite of the depression, the county's population continued to grow during the 1930s, and by 1940 there were 20,066 people living in the area. In 1940 a channel was dredged from the Gulf Intracoastal Canal for a deep-water port at Palacios. In 1940 Camp Hulen was taken over by the federal government as an Anti-Aircraft Replacement Training Center; after the beginning of World War II Palacios Army Air Base was established, and part of Matagorda Peninsula became a bombing range. German prisoners of war were housed in the county during the war at installations in Palacios and Bay City; about 400 Germans were interned in the Bay City camp. Some of the prisoners were leased to local rice farmers for field work, while others toiled as cotton choppers, painters, and carpenters. Oil production in the county began to increase significantly during World War II, and as it generally continued to grow for more than twenty years after, the industry became a mainstay of the local economy. Almost 4,563,000 barrels of crude were produced in the county in 1944, more than 6,912,000 barrels in 1948, almost 5,701,000 barrels in 1956, and more than 7,013,000 barrels in 1965. Though oil remained an important component of the local economy during the 1970s and 1980s, production fell off significantly. About 4,780,000 barrels were produced in the county in 1974, 3,323,000 barrels in 1978, and 2,903,000 barrels in 1982; fewer than 1,605,000 barrels were produced in the county in 1990.

Partly because of farm consolidations and mechanization the number of farms in the county steadily declined in the decades after World War II, dropping to 1,329 by 1960, to 902 by 1970, and to 703 by 1980. Nevertheless the area's population grew during this period, rising to 21,559 by 1950, to 25,744 by 1960, to 27,913 by 1970, and to 37,828 by 1980. Much of this growth can be attributed to the area's petroleum resources and to new industries, which began to move to the area in the 1960s. In 1956 the Colorado River Industrial Development Association was organized to encourage economic development of counties along the Colorado. In the 1960s a Celanese Corporation plant was established at Bay City for access to raw materials and the Intracoastal Waterway. Plants owned by Conoco and E. I. DePont de Nemours Company (Occidental Chemical after 1987) followed, along with a Marathon Oil Company gasoline refinery and several plants producing natural gas and other gases. Meanwhile, the area's agricultural sector remained important to the local economy. By the 1970s the county was a leading cattle-producing area, and significant amounts of cotton, grain sorghums, soy beans, and corn were grown there; the area was the third largest rice producer in the state after Wharton and Jefferson counties. The demographic profile of the community continued to evolve. By 1982 the population was 20 percent Hispanic, 14 percent Black, 20 percent of English descent, and 16 percent of German or Irish descent. Many people still engaged in farming, but 10 percent were employed in the construction industry, and more than half the population resided in either Bay City or Palacios. A total of 782 businesses operated in the county in 1982, and 12 percent of the labor force was employed in manufacturing. The fishing industry and fine recreational facilities for hunting also helped to diversify the economy. Meanwhile, most of the area's railroad trackage was no longer used. Though most of the spurs had been abandoned by the 1980s, the Missouri-Pacific's main customer was the Celanese Corporation in southwest Bay City. The Palacios branch of the Texas and New Orleans Railroad was last used in the 1970s when it shipped supplies for the construction of South Texas Nuclear Project, a twin-reactor plant managed by Houston Lighting and Power Company. The STNP began operations at Bay City in 1988 and supplied electricity to Houston, San Antonio, Austin, and Corpus Christi. In the early 1990s the fear of leaks in the nuclear plant led to its closure for several months. In the 1990s the Houston-Galveston Area Council provided regional planning to guide unified development in the county and nearby areas.

The voters of Matagorda County supported the Democratic candidates in virtually every presidential election between 1900 and 1948; the only exception occurred in 1928, when Republican Herbert Hoover carried the county. The county's loyalties began to shift in the early 1950s, however, and the Republican candidates received most of the county's votes in all but three of the presidential elections between 1948 and 1988. The only Democratic candidates to win in the county during this period were Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, Hubert Humphrey in 1968, and Jimmy Carter in 1976. In 1992 a plurality of the county's voters supported Republican George Bush over Democrat Bill Clinton and Ross Perot, the independent candidate, and in 1996 Bob Dole also won a plurality. George W. Bush took the county with sizable majorities in 2000 and 2004..

In 1990 there were 36,928 people living in Matagorda County, slightly fewer than in 1980. In 2014, the U.S. Census counted 36,519 people in the county; about 46.2 percent were Anglo, 40 percent Hispanic, and 11.4 percent African American. Of residents twenty-five and older, 70 percent had graduated from high school and 13 percent had college degrees. In the early twenty-first century agriculture, petrochemicals and the nuclear power plant were important elements of the local economy. In 2002 the county had 991 farms and ranches covering 619,142 acres, 54 percent of which were devoted to pasture and 41 percent to crops. That year farmers and ranchers in the area earned $115,730,000; crop sales accounted for $87,346,000 of the total. Cattle, cotton, rice, sorghum, and soybeans were the chief agricultural products.

Almost half of the county's residents live in Bay City (population, 17,342), the county seat and a center of petrochemical production in the area. Other communities include Palacios (4,574), Markham (1,082), and Van Vleck (1,912). Major tourist attractions include fishing and water sports, birding, and an October rice festival. The Texas Independence Trail runs through Matagorda County, and an annual cattle drive across the Colorado River to summer pastures on Matagorda Peninsula, which began in 1919 still drew tourists in 1994. Palacios celebrates the Texas Fishermen’s Seafood Festival in November. Bay City hosts the Matagorda County Fair, in March, and Market Days on the Square on the third Saturday of every month.

D. E. E Braman, Braman's Information about Texas (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1858). Comer Clay, "The Colorado River Raft," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 52 (April 1949). Keith Guthrie, Texas' Forgotten Ports (Austin: Eakin Press, 1988). Lorraine Bruce Jeter, Matagorda: Early History (Baltimore: Gateway, 1974). Paul D. Lack, "Slavery and Vigilantism in Austin, Texas, 1840–1860," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 85 (July 1981). John Columbus Marr, History of Matagorda County (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1928). Matagorda County Historical Commission, Historic Matagorda County (3 vols., 1986–88). Reba W. Palm, Slavery in Microcosm: Matagorda County, Texas (M.A. thesis, Texas A&I University, 1971). James L. Rock and W. I. Smith, Southern and Western Texas Guide for 1878 (St. Louis: Granger, 1878). Junann J. Stieghorst, Bay City and Matagorda County (Austin: Pemberton, 1965).

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Diana J. Kleiner, “Matagorda County,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 10, 2022,

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May 28, 2021

Matagorda County
Currently Exists
Place Type
Altitude Range
0 ft – 70 ft
Civilian Labor Counts
People Year
16,628 2019
Land Area
Area (mi2) Year
1,100.3 2019
Total Area Values
Area (mi2) Year
1,612.5 2019
Per Capita Income
USD ($) Year
40,596 2019
Property Values
USD ($) Year
7,512,749,439 2019
Rainfall (inches) Year
48.9 2019
Retail Sales
USD ($) Year
379,541,405 2019
Temperature Ranges
Min (°F) Max (°F) Year
45.4 91.5 2019
Unemployment Percentage Year
11.5 2019
USD ($) Year
159,271,963 2019
Population Counts
People Year
36,643 2019