Tarrant County

By: W. Kellon Hightower

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: March 10, 2021

Tarrant County is in north central Texas. The geographic center of the county lies at 32°45' north latitude and 97°17' west longitude, three miles east and slightly south of downtown Fort Worth, the county seat. Tarrant County consists of 898 square miles of gently sloping to level terrain with elevation ranging from 420 feet in the southeast to 960 feet in the northwest. The Trinity River is the major watercourse and flows from the northwest to the southeast across the county, with the Clear Fork and the West Fork draining the western half and other smaller tributaries draining the eastern half. Major lakes in the county include Arlington, Benbrook, Eagle Mountain, Grapevine, and Worth. Four natural regions are found from east to west: the Blackland Prairie in the southeast is a rolling grassland with rich clayey and loamy soil, the Eastern Cross Timbers is made up of deep loamy soil that supports blackjack oak and post oak, the Grand Prairie has shallow, clayey soil and alternating layers of limestone and marl, and the Western Cross Timbers has very shallow to deep loamy and clayey soils that support shinnery oak and post oak. Hardwoods such as American elm, pecan, and box elder are found throughout most of the county along rivers and creeks. Exposed rock formations in the area are almost exclusively of the Cretaceous period. Mineral resources are sand, gravel, stone, and natural gas. Temperatures range from an average low of 35° F in January to an average high of 96° in July. Rainfall averages a little more than thirty-two inches per year, and the growing season extends for 230 days.

Little is known of the Indians who inhabited the area of present-day Tarrant County before the coming of European explorers in the sixteenth century. Groups thought to have been in the area were the Tonkawas and the Hasinai Caddos. By the late 1700s the Comanches, Kiowas, and Wichitas had also moved into the region. When White settlers came they clashed with the native population. The battle of Village Creek occurred in 1841. A seventy-man force, led by Gen. Edward H. Tarrant, seized and destroyed three Indian villages. Although this expedition and others like it cleared permanent Indian settlements from the area, trouble with the Comanches and Kiowas continued into the 1870s. In August 1841 General Tarrant ordered a military outpost built near Village Creek. The post, named Fort Bird after Capt. Jonathan Bird, was abandoned in less than a year because of a threatened Comanche attack. The spot was reoccupied later and in 1843 was the site of a treaty negotiation dividing the area between the Anglo settlers and the Indians. After the treaty was signed immigrants from Tennessee, Virginia, and Kentucky settled in the region. They found abundant water and good farmland. The Texas Congress encouraged settlement by offering large grants to companies such as the Peters Land Company, which eventually obtained the land that would become Tarrant County. In 1845 a group from Missouri settled to the south of the present northern Tarrant County line, and another group founded Birdville on the banks of Big Fossil Creek. Settlement began in the vicinity of present day Azle in 1846. In the late 1840s Middleton Tate Johnson founded Johnson's Station thirteen miles southeast of the site of the present Tarrant County Courthouse. These settlements pushed the frontier westward, and the need for a military post was recognized. In 1849 Bvt. Maj. Ripley Arnold chose a site at the confluence of the Clear Fork and West Fork of the Trinity River. He named the post Camp Worth in honor of Gen. William Jenkins Worth, who had won fame in the Mexican War, and the camp was officially named Fort Worth. The Texas legislature recognized the importance of the area. On December 20, 1849, the county was founded and named after Tarrant, who had been instrumental in driving out the Indians. It was formally organized in August 1850, when the first elections were held.

During the decade of the 1850s the population of Tarrant County rose dramatically. The 1850 census showed 599 Whites and sixty-five slaves. By 1860 the number of Whites had grown to 5,170, and the number of slaves had increased to 850. Even though Fort Worth was abandoned as a military outpost in 1853, the settlers who had made their homes near the fort remained. Old fort buildings were turned into a hotel, a general store, and a doctor's office. In the western part of the county White Settlement was formed by people from Tennessee. In the southeast settlers of predominantly Scotch-Irish background founded Gipson. The fastest growing area was in the northeast, near Grapevine Prairie. When Tarrant County was organized, Birdville was designated the county seat. That decision was soon questioned by influential citizens of Fort Worth such as Middleton Tate Johnson, who lobbied vigorously to have Fort Worth made the county seat. These efforts resulted in a special election in 1856 in which Fort Worth won by a narrow margin. The election and the tactics employed by both towns caused much ill will. Several acts of violence followed the election, and the results were declared invalid. When another election was scheduled for April 1860, Fort Worth aided its cause by promising to build a permanent courthouse. The election results showed Fort Worth the clear winner, and the issue was finally settled. The 1860s brought the effects of Civil War and Reconstruction to Tarrant County. That decade was the only one in which the county population declined, from 6,020 to 5,788. The number of slaves in the county was relatively small, and opinions concerning secession were varied. Many of the county's settlers had spent some time in free states before arriving in Texas. The vote on secession favored disunion, but only by a margin of twenty-seven out of a total of 800 ballots. Tensions in the divided community led to the lynching of two suspected abolitionists, William H. Crawford and Anthony Bewley, in Fort Worth. With the advent of war came economic decline and shortages. The price of flour rose to fifteen dollars for 100 pounds, and calico was four dollars per yard. Other scarce items were coffee, sugar, and salt. Construction on the proposed courthouse came to a halt. During Reconstruction the county government elected in 1866 was removed in 1867, and men whom the federal government considered loyal to the United States were appointed. A federal military force occupied Fort Worth under this government, which functioned until 1869, when new elections were held.

In the 1870s Tarrant County experienced periods of prosperity and economic depression. During that decade two major factors played a part: cattle and railroads. Cattle were being driven through the county on the way north, and this provided opportunities for area merchants. The trail drivers needed supplies and entertainment, and Tarrant County was willing and able to provide both. Because it was the terminus of the drives the county also needed a railroad connection to ship its beef directly to available markets. The Texas and Pacific Railway designated Fort Worth as its eastern terminus for the route to San Diego, California, in the early 1870s, with the proposed track to Fort Worth to be finished by 1874. The news of the coming railroad caused a boom in the city and the county. Although delayed several years by the Panic of 1873, the railroad arrived in 1876. Other lines moved into the county during later years, including the Missouri-Kansas-Texas, the Santa Fe, the Fort Worth and New Orleans, the St. Louis Southwestern, and the Fort Worth and Rio Grande. For many towns in the county, the coming of the railroad meant growth. Places such as Hayterville (later renamed Arlington), Athol (later renamed Keller), and Mansfield prospered. Other communities such as Azle and Colleyville continued to grow without the railroad. By 1881 Euless had a new cotton gin, and nearby Bedford had become the second largest community in the county. The years between 1890 and 1917 found Tarrant County in transition. The era of the long cattle drives ended, and with development of innovations such as the windmill more farmers moved into the area. Between 1890 and 1900 almost 1,000 new farms were reported in the county. The number of farms remained around 3,500 until the 1950s; the principal crops were cotton, corn, and wheat. The population of the county rose from 41,142 in 1890 to 152,800 in 1920.

The spirit of reform evident in the county after 1900 was exemplified by such projects as the impoundment of Lake Worth in 1911 to provide better fire-fighting capabilities in Fort Worth. Medical facilities and services became more readily available; several hospitals were built in the county during that period. By 1903 packing houses in Niles City owned by Swift and Armour were doing a strong business. In 1909 the daily slaughter count was 5,000 hogs and 3,000 cattle. Also, by 1920 oil refineries had been built in the county to handle oil being pumped in other parts of the state. Several oil corporation headquarters were located in the county as well. When America entered World War I in 1917 the war effort brought more growth to Tarrant County. In Arlington Heights the army established a training camp named Camp Bowie in honor of James Bowie. The camp was responsible for training 100,000 men during the war. The Army Air Corps operated three airfields in the county: Hicks, nine miles north of Fort Worth; Benbrook, nine miles west of Fort Worth; and Barron, near Everman. After the war aviation remained important to the county, and in 1927 Meacham Field officially began operation. In the 1920s there were more than 250 commercial establishments in Tarrant County. Large quantities of bread and bakery products were produced. Printing and publishing also flourished. There were 3,300 farms in the county, valued at $40 million. During the decade the population of the county grew by 45,000. However, the stock market collapse of 1929 put a damper on the county's growing prosperity. The Great Depression affected Tarrant County as it did all areas of the nation, but it was not until late 1932 that the full impact was felt. Until that time a spurt of construction kept employment relatively high; the rate of unemployment was 2.3 percent in 1930. Activity slumped, however, and by November 1932 county road funds were exhausted, and "Hoovervilles" had appeared in Benbrook. When the New Deal began, Tarrant County was eager to participate. By 1941 the federal government had spent $15 million locally. Even so, in 1940 there were 15,848 people, more than 16 percent of the workforce, either doing public emergency work or seeking employment.

The coming of World War II put an end to the depression in Tarrant County. Many served in the armed forces or worked in factories devoted to war related industries. The county's economy was permanently aided by the growth of the aviation industry. Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation moved to Fort Worth and employed 35,000 workers by the end of the war. County population figures show an increase from 197,553 in 1930 to 361,253 in 1950. The decades of the 1950s and 1960s brought phenomenal growth to Tarrant County. By 1960 the population of the county had soared to 538,495, an increase of 67 percent, and in 1970 the census recorded 716,317 county inhabitants, an increase of 75 percent. There were several reasons for the rapid growth. One, already mentioned, was the aviation industry. From Consolidated Vultee came Convair by a merger in 1943. The name was changed again in later years to General Dynamics. That highly successful organization has employed hundreds of thousands throughout the years. Bell Helicopter moved to the county in the early 1950s and has also been a major employer. Other aviation companies also located in the county. The Strategic Air Command operated out of Carswell Air Force Base from the 1940s into the 1980s. The county transportation network was greatly improved during this period. The Dallas-Fort Worth Turnpike (later part of Interstate Highway 30) opened in 1957. In 1960 Fort Worth and Arlington were connected by Spur 303, and Interstate 30 West was functional by 1964. Business continued to be drawn to the county, which had 1,264 establishments in 1972. Manufacturing concerns employed 91,000 in 1970 and 100,000 in 1980. Finally, when the 1970s saw the completion of the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, Tarrant County was truly linked with the world at large. The 1980s witnessed more growth for Tarrant County. Fort Worth grew from 385,141 inhabitants in 1980 to 447,619 in 1990. In 1990 the largest county communities included Arlington (261,721), Hurst (33,574), Euless (38,149), North Richland Hills (45,895), and Bedford (43,762). The county had 1,170,103 residents in 1990. In the early 1990s the county economy was tremendously diverse, with more than 1,000 factories producing, among other things, aerospace products, mobile homes, foods, and plastics. The county also continued to have a strong agricultural base, producing cattle, hogs, chickens, eggs, and crops, including sorghums, small grains, cotton, and pecans. The Fort Worth-Dallas metropolitan area provided varied cultural and educational opportunities. In spite of its urban growth, Tarrant County still maintained the atmosphere of a frontier county. Opportunities abounded, and people were proud of the advantages that progress had brought, while admiring the people of the past and preserving a western spirit.

The voters of Tarrant County favored the Democratic candidate in virtually every presidential election from 1892 through 1948; the only exception occurred in 1928, when Republican Herbert Hoover took the county. After 1952, when Republican Dwight Eisenhower carried the county over Democrat Adlai Stevenson, the area began to trend Republican. Though Lyndon Johnson beat Republican Barry Goldwater among the county's voters in 1964, Republicans dominated the area during the late twentieth century and into the twenty-first, winning a majority of the county's voters in every presidential election from 1980 through 2004.

In 2014 the census counted 1,945,360 people living in Tarrant County. About 50.1 percent were Anglo, 27.6 percent were Hispanic, and 15.9 percent were African American; other minorities comprised almost 9 percent of the area's population. More than 81 percent of residents age twenty-five and older had completed four years of high school, and almost 27 percent had college degrees. In the early twenty-first century the area's many factories continued to turn out a wide variety of products, including airplanes, helicopters, mobile homes, electronics, and plastics, and the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport also generated considerable revenue. In 2002 the county had 1,227 farms and ranches covering 173,493 acres, 53 percent of which were devoted to pasture, 33 percent to crops, and 10 percent to woodlands. In that year Tarrant County farmers and ranchers earned $29,081,000, with livestock sales accounting for $7,352,000 of that total. Hay, beef, cattle, wheat, and horticulture were the chief agricultural products. Fort Worth (population, 798,382) continued to be the county's seat of government and largest city; other communities included Arlington (380,698), North Richland Hills (68,670), Bedford (49,084), Euless (53,355), Hurst (38,598), and Colleyville (25,256). The Amon Carter Museum, the ,Kimbell Art Museum the Fort Worth Zoo, Texas Rangers baseball games, and many other local attractions draw visitors to Tarrant County.

James H. Baker and Raymond E. Cage, The Indians in the History of Tarrant County (Fort Worth: Tarrant County Archeological Society, 1962?). Verana E. Berrong, History of Tarrant County: From Its Beginnings until 1875 (M.A. thesis, Texas Christian University, 1938). Janet L. Schmelzer, Where the West Begins: Fort Worth and Tarrant County (Northridge, California: Windsor, 1985).

  • Counties
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • North Texas

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

W. Kellon Hightower, “Tarrant County,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 10, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/tarrant-county.

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March 10, 2021

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects:

Tarrant County
Currently Exists
Place Type
Altitude Range
420 ft – 960 ft
Civilian Labor Counts
People Year
1,078,015 2019
Land Area
Area (mi2) Year
863.6 2019
Total Area Values
Area (mi2) Year
902.3 2019
Per Capita Income
USD ($) Year
51,239 2019
Property Values
USD ($) Year
210,610 2019
Rainfall (inches) Year
35.5 2019
Retail Sales
USD ($) Year
35,443,962,098 2019
Temperature Ranges
Min (°F) Max (°F) Year
32.4 95.5 2019
Unemployment Percentage Year
8.8 2019
USD ($) Year
13,931,152,221 2019
Population Counts
People Year
2,102,515 2019