Nacogdoches County (nak-uh-DO-chis), in the center of the pine belt of East Texas , is bounded on the west and south by the Angelina River and on the east by Attoyac Bayou. It borders on five counties, Shelby and San Augustine on the east, Angelina on the south and west, Cherokee on the west, and Rusk on the north. The county seat and largest town is Nacogdoches, which is 140 miles northeast of Houston and fifty-eight miles southeast of Tyler. Two major highways serve the county, U.S. Highway 59, which traverses the center of the county from the south through Nacogdoches to the northeastern corner, and U.S. Highway 259, which extends from Nacogdoches north toward Longview. Transportation needs are also served by the Southern Pacific Railroad, which follows a roughly crescent-shaped route from the northwestern corner through Nacogdoches and then parallels U.S. 59 to the south. Nacogdoches County comprises 939 square miles of the East Texas timberlands, an area heavily forested with a great variety of softwoods and hardwoods, especially pine, cypress, and oak. The terrain varies from undulating to rolling with elevation ranging from 150 to 600 feet above mean sea level. The contour is generally broken, a wooded area with plateaus and valleys. The soil varies from gray sandy loams to very deep, reddish clayey subsoils. Between 21 and 30 percent of the land in the county is considered prime farmland. A fertile redland belt from four to six miles wide extends across the county from east to west. Most of the county is drained by the Angelina River, but one-third of the eastern portion is drained by Attoyac Bayou. The climate is moist and mild with temperatures that range from an average high of 94° F in July to an average low of 36° in January and an average annual rainfall of forty-five inches. The growing season extends for an annual average of 245 days. Crops include hay and other feeds, vegetables, and fruits. Beef and dairy cattle, poultry, and hogs are raised. The chief natural resource is pine, and lumbering is among the main industries. The first commercial oilfield in the state was located in the county, and shallow wells continue to have small production.
Nacogdoches County is located in an area that has been the site of human habitation for several thousand years. Archeological artifacts, which date from the Archaic Period (ca. 5000 B.C.-A.D. 500), have been recovered from the area around Sam Rayburn Reservoir to the south. During historic times the area was occupied by the Hasinai Indians of the Caddo confederacy, an agricultural people with a highly developed culture. Flat-topped earthen temple and burial mounds built by the Caddos dot the countryside (see CADDOAN MOUNDS STATE HISTORIC SITE). Four major Hasinai tribes lived in the region that became Nacogdoches County. The Hasinai tribe occupied the area that is the western portion of the county along the Angelina River; the Nacogdoche Indians lived near the site of the present city of Nacogdoches; the Nasonis were in the area of the northern part of the county; and the Nacao Indians lived in what is the northeastern corner. During the 1820s and 1830s Caddo Indians from Louisiana and displaced Cherokees joined the remnants of the four tribes. A few years later many of the Hasinais moved to the region west of the Brazos River, and in 1859 the remaining native peoples moved to Indian Territory. The last Indian settlement in the county, located near Old Jacob's Chapel, was abandoned in 1840.
The earliest Europeans to reach the area that would become Nacogdoches County were probably in a Spanish expedition led by Luis de Moscoso Alvarado, who traversed East Texas in 1542. The Spanish, however, largely ignored Texas until the French under René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, established a colony on the coast in 1685. Spanish authorities dispatched an expedition to the region in 1689 under Alonso De León, the governor of Coahuila, which found the French settlement in ruins. After their return to Coahuila in 1690, De León and Father Damián Massanet, a Franciscan priest who had accompanied the expedition, petitioned the viceroy, the Count of Galve, and recommended establishing missions among the Hasinai Indians. Massanet accompanied the expedition of Alonso De León to the region in 1690, founding a mission on San Pedro Creek northwest of the site of present Weches in Houston County. A year later Domingo Terán de los Ríos explored East Texas, traveling as far north as the Red River and probably crossing the northwestern corner of Nacogdoches County. But efforts to found a permanent mission in the Nacogdoches area did not come until twenty-five years later, when Domingo Ramón led an expedition to the region. When the Spanish under Ramón arrived in 1716, they found in what is now Nacogdoches County several villages of the Caddo Indians and a large village of the Bidais. In the midst of these tribes Ramón built Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de los Hainai Mission near the mouth of Mill Creek on the Angelina River, San José de los Nazonis on Dill Creek in northwestern Nacogdoches County, and Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de los Nacogdoches (named for the Nacogdoche Indians) on the site of present Nacogdoches. For their protection he established a presidio, Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de los Tejas, fifteen miles west of Nacogdoches. The Spanish abandoned the area temporarily in 1718 but returned in 1720. After the cession of Louisiana to Spain in 1763, the settlers in the area were ordered to move back to the San Antonio or the Rio Grande communities, but led by Antonio Gil Ibarvo they petitioned to return to their former homes. In 1774 they were permitted to return as far as the Trinity River, where they founded the settlement of Bucareli in present-day Madison County. In 1779 Bucareli was abandoned, and Ibarvo rebuilt the town of Nacogdoches. The same year Ibarvo probably began construction of a stone house and trading post now known as the Old Stone Fort. Ibarvo also began making informal land grants to the early settlers. Most of the grants were in the area of present Nacogdoches County, but others were in the area that became Cherokee, Sabine, and San Augustine counties. In 1792 Juan Antonio Cortez, a military official, was sent to regularize the land grants, but only a few formal land grants were issued. As a result, most of the grants in the area remained imperfect, a situation that fostered controversy when Anglo-Americans began arriving in the region in the 1820s and 1830s.
The new settlement of Nacogdoches, situated on the traces of an east-west Hasinai Indian trail, which after 1714 became a part of the Old San Antonio Road, quickly developed into a trading and smuggling center with French-controlled Louisiana. In 1791 Ibarvo himself was accused of smuggling contraband goods into Nacogdoches and trading with the Indians horses stolen from the Spanish. He was eventually cleared of the charges but was banished from Nacogdoches. Despite its relative isolation, the settlement of Nacogdoches grew, and in the fall of 1788 Pedro Vial reported that the town had some eighty or ninety houses and a population of 250, the majority of whom were Spanish and French. A small but significant population of squatters, Indian traders, and smugglers lived in the outlying areas. Because of the heavily-wooded countryside and its distance from other Spanish settlements, the Nacogdoches colony found it difficult to attract Spanish settlers who preferred land more easily adaptable to ranching. The main attractions remained its relative freedom from Spanish authorities and the potential of profits to be made from smuggling. Although the town had appointed officials, it was unique among Spanish colonial towns of northern Mexico, for it was never formally designated as a pueblo or presidio. By 1800 Nacogdoches, with 660 inhabitants, was the second-largest settlement in the province of Texas. In addition to its Spanish-speaking population, the town also had a large foreign contingent, mostly French traders from Louisiana. As early as the 1780s Anglo-Americans from the Deep South began moving into the town and surrounding region. Among the earliest American settlers were William Barr and Peter Samuel Davenport, who along with two other Americans, Luther Smith and Edward Murphy, formed the House of Barr and Davenport trading company in 1798. Barr and Davenport, headquartered at Ibarvo's stone house, obtained an exemption from Spanish officials to trade with Louisiana, thus virtually guaranteeing them a monopoly of trade in the region. Also among the early Anglo immigrants was Philip Nolan, who began trading in the interior of Texas as early as 1791. In 1801 Nolan illegally entered Texas and established a fort near present Nolan Creek; after he was killed by Spanish soldiers sent to arrest him, papers were discovered implicating him in a plot to seize the region from Spain.
During the Mexican War of Independence Nacogdoches was also the target of a filibustering expedition led by Augustus W. Magee and José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara. Accompanied by a force of Mexican revolutionaries and Anglos from Louisiana, the Gutiérrez-Magee expedition seized control of Nacogdoches on August 12, 1812, and marched to the interior. But in August of the following year a royalist force led by Joaquín de Arredondo crushed the revolt. Nacogdoches became the scene of a bloody purge, during which royal authority was reestablished through execution and confiscation. Most of the residents of the town and surrounding countryside fled across the Sabine River into Louisiana, and by 1818 the area was virtually deserted. When American James Long led a filibustering expedition to the area in 1819 he found Nacogdoches largely abandoned. After the Long expedition was quelled in October 1821, most of the American settlers were again driven out of Texas, and once again Nacogdoches was left virtually abandoned. In 1820 W. F. Dewes, an American traveler, described the settlement as a desolate place with a population of only 100. When Mexico obtained its independence from Spain in 1821 Coahuila and Texas were joined as one state, and Nacogdoches was included in the Department of Bexar. The Municipality of Nacogdoches was given jurisdiction over the region between the Neches and Sabine rivers. In 1831 Nacogdoches became a political department, and in 1834 a third department, Brazos, was added. The Department of Nacogdoches covered most of present East Texas, extending from Anahuac and the Trinity River in the south and west, to the Red River in the north, and east to Louisiana. In July 1821, when Stephen F. Austin passed through the town, he described it as a ruin of a village, consisting of a church, the stone house, and six other dwellings. But within a few years the town's fortunes began to revive. Located on one of the principal routes of immigration from the United States, Nacogdoches developed into a leading entry way for Anglo immigrants, earning the title "Gateway to Texas."
Following the passage of the Mexican Colonization Law of 1825 by the state of Coahuila and Texas, two empresario grants were given in the area surrounding Nacogdoches, one to Frost Thorn, a former associate of the trading company of Barr and Davenport, and the other to Haden Edwards , a native of Virginia. Edwards's challenge of the validity of many of the previous Spanish and Mexican land titles alienated many of the older settlers of the region. In 1826, in an effort to assert their claims, Edwards's brother, Benjamin W. Edwards, and some thirty followers rode into Nacogdoches, seized the Old Stone Fort, and declared the independence of Texas. The revolt, which became known as the Fredonian Rebellion, was quickly suppressed by Mexican militia, and the Edwards brothers and the others were forced to flee. The incident, however, did little to stem the tide of Anglo-Americans flooding into the area. By 1828 when Manuel de Mier y Terán visited the settlement, he reported that it had 600 men and 100 women, many of them recent Anglo immigrants. Among the main concerns of the Mexican government officials was the illegal entry of foreigners. But José de las Piedras, the military official charged with enforcing the law, found that he could do little more than ensuring that illegal immigrants not enter Nacogdoches itself. Growing dissatisfaction with the immigration laws and the problem of securing land titles spawned another revolt of the Mexican and Anglo-American populace of the region, culminating in the victory of the antigovernment forces in the battle of Nacogdoches in 1832. Piedras and the other Mexican officials were forced to withdraw. Two Mexican alcaldes were subsequently elected, José Ignacio Ibarvo and Vital Flores, but after that time the ayuntamiento was dominated by Anglos, and Mexican government authority in the region ended for all practical purposes. Immigrants from the United States continued to pour in to East Texas during the 1830s, many of them passing through Nacogdoches on their way to the Burnet, Zavala, or Vehlein grants further south. A sizable number also settled in the town or surrounding area. From January 2, 1835, to December 14, 1835, 822 certificates of immigration were issued at Nacogdoches. Also among the stream of immigrants were Choctaws, Creeks, Seminoles, and other Indians, who had been driven out of the Old South.
As the clouds of revolution gathered in 1835, Henry Rueg, political chief of the Department of Nacogdoches, called a meeting at which Frost Thorn, Thomas J. Rusk, and others were appointed to form the Nacogdoches Committee of Vigilance and Safety. The committee organized a militia and collected arms and provisions for the revolution. During the winter of 1835–36 hundreds of volunteers poured through the area on their way south to fight for independence. During the Runaway Scrape in 1836 the area was virtually abandoned once again, but with the defeat of Antonio López de Santa Anna at the battle of San Jacinto the residents of Nacogdoches and the surrounding region returned en masse. Immediately after the Texas Revolution the municipalities within the Nacogdoches Department, Liberty, Jefferson, Jasper, Sabine, San Augustine, and Shelby, were established as counties of the Republic of Texas. The remaining area east of the Trinity River was designated Nacogdoches County on March 17, 1836. In April 1846 the county was further subdivided into what would eventually become all or part of twenty other counties: Anderson, Angelina, Camp, Cherokee, Dallas, Delta, Gregg, Henderson, Hopkins, Houston, Hunt, Kaufman, Raines, Rockwall, Rusk, Smith, Trinity, Upshur, Van Zandt, and Wood.
In June 1837 the city of Nacogdoches was officially incorporated with an aldermanic government. Proposals were made to designate Nacogdoches the official capital of the new republic. The House favored Nacogdoches, but the Senate wanted San Jacinto. After some deliberation Houston was chosen as a compromise site in December 1836. In 1838 Nacogdoches was again the site of unrest. In the summer of that year Vicente Córdova, a former alcalde and primary judge of Nacogdoches, led a revolt of dissatisfied Mexicans and Indians against the republic. Córdova's plot was discovered before he could act, and the Córdova Rebellion was quelled by a force commanded by Thomas J. Rusk. Córdova managed to escape to Mexico, but a number of other rebels, including José Antonio Menchaca , were put on trial in San Augustine. Menchaca was found guilty but was eventually pardoned by President Mirabeau B. Lamar, and the other cases were dismissed. During the years of the republic Nacogdoches once again prospered. Although smuggling remained a mainstay of the economy, toward the end of the republican period a new economy based on cotton began developing in the Nacogdoches region. New immigrants from the United States continued to move into the area, many of them accompanied by their slaves. By 1840 the county reported 197 slave owners. Most owned only one or two slaves, but six owned more than twenty. John M. Durst, with thirty-nine slaves, was the largest slaveholder, William B. Burditt, with thirty-three, the second largest. The first statewide census made the following year showed the county to have a population of 4,172, of whom 1,228 were slaves and twenty-eight were free Blacks. Four towns in the county had post offices: Nacogdoches, Douglass, Melrose, and Flournoy's. During the antebellum period, however, Nacogdoches County remained rural and agricultural, with most residents living on farms. Nacogdoches was the largest town, with a population of 400, of whom 103 were slaves. A small Mexican population remained, but most had now become largely assimilated, and the town of Nacogdoches lost most of its colonial character. Among the signs of growing prosperity was the erection of a two-story brick county courthouse in Nacogdoches in 1854. In the prerevolutionary period, the only church building in the county was the Catholic church in Nacogdoches, but during the late 1830s and 1840s Protestant congregations were formed there and in the outlying communities. Itinerant preachers also traveled through the county, conducting services and holding revivals. The earliest schools were established after the revolution, and by the late 1840s several private schools were in operation. In February 1845 Nacogdoches University, probably the first nonsectarian institution of higher learning in Texas, was chartered. A brick building was erected in 1858, and the school operated except for brief periods until 1895.
Several stage lines began service to Nacogdoches in the 1850s. Until the late 1840s the Old San Antonio Road remained the principal transportation route through the county. But in 1847 Robert S. Patton brought his steamboat Angelina up the Angelina River as far north as Pattonia in the southeastern corner of the county at the mouth of Dorr Creek. By 1849 the boat was making regular trips hauling cotton and other produce downstream to Sabine Pass and returning with provisions, clothing, and other manufactured goods. In the 1850s flatboat navigation extended as far north as Linn Flat, twenty miles upstream from Pattonia. During the antebellum period the population of Nacogdoches County continued to grow as more and more families arrived. Between 1835 and 1860 at least 388 families moved to the area. The overwhelming majority of these immigrants—some 70 percent—came from the Old South, with the largest number coming from Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Census figures from the late antebellum period also show a rapid growth of the slave population. In 1850 the county had a population of 3,758; 1,404, or 27 percent, were slaves. By 1860 the total population had increased to 5,930, with slaves numbering 2,359, or 28.4 percent of the population. Despite its relatively large slave population, the economy of the county remained largely based on subsistence farming. In 1858, 38,221 acres were under cultivation. Of these, 20,038 were planted in corn, while only 11,823 acres were devoted to cotton. The remaining land included 1,589 acres in wheat, fourteen acres in sugar, and 5,200 acres in various other crops, mostly vegetables. Although most families raised a few cows or pigs, stock farming formed only a modest part of the economy. In 1860 a total of 11,633 cattle worth $86,541 were reported. Small farms rather than large plantations were also the rule. The census of 1860 revealed that only seventeen men in the county owned real estate valued at $25,000 or more. Although three men held more than 100 slaves in 1860, including John J. Hayter, the largest slaveholder with 140 slaves, the majority of slaveholders had fewer than ten slaves, most only one or two.
In politics, Nacogdoches County before the Civil War was staunchly Democratic. The Democratic party polled over 70 percent of the vote in the presidential elections of 1848, 1852, and 1856. Only the Whig party, which received 24 percent of the votes cast in 1848 and 21 percent in 1852, attracted a sizable number of the remaining voters. During the pivotal election of 1860 Democrat John C. Breckinridge attracted 67 percent of the votes, but a large minority, some 33 percent, cast their votes for Consitutional Union party candidate John Bell. The county's White inhabitants overwhelmingly supported the secession movement during the winter of 1860–61. When the Secession Ordinance was submitted for popular approval in February 1861, county voters approved the measure 411 to 94. In contrast to many other East Texas counties, however, Nacogdoches County also had a significant number who opposed secession, possibly due to the large number of small farmers, who were less likely to support the measure than plantation owners, as well as the comparatively large Mexican population. County residents nevertheless strongly supported the Confederate war effort. One source estimated that as many as 2,000 men from the county served in either state or Confederate army units. County residents also supplied money and provisions. One of the eight war-time ironworks in Texas was located in Nacogdoches County, but its production was never very large. After the war Nacogdoches County was occupied by Union forces from the Fifth Military District. Although the county escaped the destruction that devastated other parts of the South, the war years were difficult for local citizens. They were forced to deal with the lack of markets and wild fluctuations in Confederate currency, as well as concern for those on the battlefield. The end of the war meant wrenching changes in the economy. The postwar era brought freedom for the county's African Americans. Although most of them remained in the county, many Black families left the farms owned by their former masters, seeking better working conditions. For the vast majority, changing locations seems to have brought little improvement. Most ended up working the land on shares, receiving one-third of the crop for their labors.
For many of Nacogdoches County's Whites, the end of slavery meant serious economic loss. In 1859 slaves constituted slightly more than half of all taxable property in the county. This loss, coupled with the widespread belief that Blacks would not work, and unresolved questions concerning the status of the South in the nation, led to a loss of confidence that caused property values to plummet. In 1859 Nacogdoches County taxable property excluding slaves had been evaluated at $1,365,128. In 1866 the evaluation of all taxable property in the county had fallen to about half of that total. Although incidents of violence occurred during Reconstruction, Nacogdoches County was spared much the lawlessness that plagued other East Texas counties in the wake of the Civil War. The Ku Klux Klan was active in the late 1860s but seems to have largely died out by the early 1870s. By the mid-1870s the county had begun to recover from the effects of the war, and the population began growing once again. Nacogdoches, with a population of 500, remained the largest town in the county, but many of the smaller towns, Chireno, Douglass, Melrose, Martin City (now Martinsville), showed significant population increases. In 1870 the population of the county was 9,614; by 1880 it was 11,590. The economy also began to show signs of recovery. The principal crops remained corn and cotton, but now greater emphasis was placed on exporting cotton. In 1880 the county had fifty-four cotton gins, and 6,000 bales were processed. Other significant crops included oats, rye, barley, wheat, and a wide variety of vegetables. Livestock remained a small but important part of the economy; in 1879 farmers raised 16,916 cattle valued at $76,445 and 25,660 hogs valued at $27,395. The total value of the assessed land in the county was $1,128,464, nearly what it had been just prior to the outbreak of the war.
The largest impediment to prosperity remained the lack of adequate transportation. Most of the county's roads were impassable in times of bad weather, and the cost of hauling freight overland was prohibitive. Riverboats on the Angelina provided an inexpensive alternative, but they often could not reach the county in times of drought. The arrival of the Houston, East and West Texas Railway in 1882 changed the situation dramatically. With the coming of the railroad, Nacogdoches once again emerged as an important trading center. Competition from the railroad also brought the end of the riverboat traffic on the Angelina and the decline of towns like Pattonia that had depended on the boats. The railroad also changed the face of the county in other ways: a host of new towns—Sacul, Cushing, Trawick, and Redfield—grew up along the line. When the Texas and New Orleans and Angelina and Neches River railroads were built around the turn of the century, other new towns sprang into life, including Garrison and Appleby. The construction of the railroads also spurred the development of the lumber industry, which emerged at the end of the nineteenth century as one of Nacogdoches County's most important industries. The economic boom brought on by the railroads also contributed to rapid population growth. By 1900 the population of the county reached 24,663, more than double what it had been only twenty years before. The economy remained primarily agricultural, but the greater access to outside markets initiated a trend away from subsistence farming and toward a greater reliance on cash crops, particularly cotton. By the 1920s farmers were producing an average of 25,000 bales of cotton per year, with a peak of 37,430 bales in 1928. The other principal crop remained corn, which over the same period accounted for slightly less than half of all land under cultivation. Sorghum and hay were also grown in small amounts. The 1930s and 1940s brought further improvements to the transportation network. By 1940 most of the major roads were paved, and U.S. Highway 59 and State highways 21, 26, and 204 had been constructed, giving farmers easier and better access to markets. More efficient access to markets and the gradual expansion of the county's cotton crop, however, did not bring prosperity for most of the farmers. While the number of farms increased from 3,678 in 1900 to 5,000 in 1935, a large percentage of farmers were sharecroppers. In 1900 less than half of the farms in the county were worked by tenants. By 1935 tenants represented nearly two-thirds of all farmers in the county, working 2,935 of the 5,000 farms (see FARM TENANCY).
The onset of the Great Depression, falling cotton prices, and the arrival of the boll weevil brought new hardships for farmers. Many were forced to leave the land and move to the cities. The total number of farms in the county fell from a high of 5,000 in the mid-1930s to 2,743 in 1950. Cotton production also fell markedly during the same period, and by 1950 Nacogdoches County farmers produced only 2,472 bales, less than a tenth of the peak years of the 1920s. With the decline of cotton, livestock raising gradually replaced other forms of the farming as the mainstay of the agricultural economy. By the 1970s 90 percent of the county's agricultural receipts came from the raising of livestock, mainly cattle and poultry, and the county was among the leading Texas counties in income from broilers, poultry, dairying, and total livestock. In 1968 Nacogdoches County ranked third in egg production with nearly 9.6 million dozen, fifth in sales from livestock and products with an income of $26,158,000, and fourteenth in number of dairy cows. In the early 1970s agricultural income averaged $30,500,000 annually. The amount of land under cultivation also decreased as many areas were gradually reforested. During the 1930s Angelina National Forest was established in the southern portion of the county, and by 1968 the county was 67 percent forested. The large tracts of forest supported a small lumber industry with two mills. Pine and hardwood production in 1981 totaled 14,867,416 cubic feet, the overwhelming majority of which was pine production.
Oil, which played such an important role in other East Texas counties, has been a small but significant part of the Nacogdoches County economy. As early as the 1790s several surface pools of oil were noted at Oil Springs fifteen miles southeast of Nacogdoches. The oil was collected and used as a lubricant and for medicinal purposes. In 1859 Lyne T. Barret acquired a lease near Oil Springs and started work on a test well, but the outbreak of the Civil War forced him to postpone his plans. In 1865 he acquired a new lease, and on September 12, 1866, he brought in the first producing oil well in Texas. Barret used an auger, fastened to a pipe and rotated by a cogwheel driven by a steam engine—the basic principle of rotary drilling, which has been used ever since. In 1867 Amory Q. Starr and Peyton F. Edwards brought in a well at Oil Springs. Other wells were also drilled, and Nacogdoches became the site of Texas's first commercial oilfield and the first pipeline and attempts to refine crude. Several thousand barrels were extracted during this period. The discovery of the massive East Texas oilfield in the 1930s focused the attention of oilmen elsewhere, but oil drilling efforts have continued in Nacogdoches County. In 1939 production was a modest 804 barrels, but in 1989 87,308 barrels were produced. Total production in the county to January 1991 was 2,845,929 barrels.
From the time of Reconstruction until the 1970s the county remained solidly Democratic. Dwight D. Eisenhower won by a small margin in the election of 1956, but Republicans otherwise failed to receive a majority of votes until the election of 1972, when Richard Nixon defeated George McGovern 8,757 to 3,656. Republican presidential candidates subsequently won most of the votes in the county in virtually every election from 1976 through 2004. The only exception was in 1992, when Republican George H. W. Bush won only a plurality of the county's votes. In 2004 his son, George W. Bush, took the county by a margin of almost two to one.
The population of Nacogdoches County grew steadily during the first four decades of the twentieth century, reaching 35,392 in 1940. After World War II the population began a long slow decline, as numerous residents left to take advantage of opportunities elsewhere. By 1960 the county's population had declined to 28,046. During the 1960s and 1970s, however, the number of people in the county began to grow again: there were 36,362 living in the county by 1970, and 46,786 by 1980. About 17 percent of the population then was African American, a slight decline from the late antebellum period. The largest ancestry groups were English (30 percent) and Irish (19 percent).
During the early 1980s the county had nine school districts, with twelve elementary, one middle, and eight high schools and one special-education school. The average daily attendance in 1980–81 was 6,872. The economic base of the county in the 1980s was still agricultural. In 1982, 43 percent of the land was in farms and ranches, with 15 percent of the land under cultivation. Nacogdoches County ranked twelfth in the state in agricultural receipts, with 98 percent from livestock and livestock products. The total number of businesses in the early 1980s was 897. The largest employer in the county was Stephen F. Austin State University, founded in 1923, which employed 1,000 people. In 1980, 10 percent of the labor force was self-employed, 24 percent in professional or related services, 22 percent in manufacturing, 22 percent in wholesale or retail trade, 7 percent in agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and mining, and 13 percent employed in other counties. Leading industries included oil and gas extraction, road construction, agribusiness, poultry and egg processing, soft drink bottling and canning, and sawmills. Among the largest companies were Texas Farm Products, J. M. Clipper, and East Texas Canners.
In the last decades of the twentieth century Nacogdoches County's economy continued to grow and develop. The census counted 54,793 people living in the county in 1990, 59,203 by 2000, and 65,301 by 2014. About 60.4 percent were Anglos, 18.4 percent were African Americans, and 18.5 percent were Hispanic. Almost 74 percent of residents age twenty-five and older had completed four years of high school, and almost 23 percent had college degrees. In the early twenty-first century agribusiness, timber, Steven F. Austin State University, tourism, and manufacturing were the central elements of the area's economy. In 2002 the county had 1,290 farms and ranches covering 273,880 acres, 41 percent of which were devoted to pasture, 31 percent to crops, and 25 percent to woodlands. In that year farmers and ranchers in the area earned $197,972,000; livestock sales accounted for $195,545,000 of the total. Poultry, dairy, and beef cattle were the chief agricultural products. Almost 23,437,000 cubic feet of pinewood and almost 4,111,000 cubic feet of hardwood were harvested in the county in 2003. More than 180,000 barrels of oil and 45,005,119 cubic feet of gas-well gas were produced in the county in 2004; by the end of that year 3,816,412 barrels of oil had been taken from county lands since 1931. Nacogdoches (population, 33,103), the county seat, is the area's only sizable city. Other communities include Garrison (880), Cushing (606), Appleby (482), Chireno (382), Martinsville (350), Sacul (150), and Woden (400). Large numbers of visitors come to Nacogdoches County to see the Old Stone Fort and other historic sites. The Sam Rayburn Reservoir, completed in 1965, and Angelina National Forest also attracted sizable numbers of tourists.