Titus County is located in northeastern Texas, one county removed from the state's northern boundary and two counties removed from the state's eastern boundary. Mount Pleasant, the county seat and the county's largest town, is located sixty miles southwest of Texarkana and 105 miles northeast of Dallas. The center of the county lies at approximately 33°14' north latitude and 94°57' west longitude. Two major highways, U.S. Highway 67 and U.S. Highway 30, cross the county from east to west. U.S. Highway 271 crosses the county from north to south. The county is also crossed by two railroads, the Union Pacific and the Texas Utilities. Titus County comprises 412 square miles of the East Texas timberlands, an area that is heavily forested with a great variety of softwoods and hardwoods, especially pine, cypress, and oak. The terrain ranges from nearly level to rolling; most of the county is gently undulating to rolling. Elevation ranges from 250 to 450 feet above mean sea level. Temperatures range from an average high of 95° F in July to an average low of 35° in January. Rainfall averages nearly forty-six inches per year, and the growing season extends for an average of 233 days. The northern half of the county drains into the Sulphur River, and the southern half drains into Big Cypress Creek. The surface soils are predominantly light colored and loamy, and the subsoils are reddish and clayey. Between 21 and 30 percent of the land is considered prime farmland. Mineral resources include ceramic clay, lignite coal, industrial sand, oil, and gas.
The area that makes up Titus County has been the site of human habitation for several thousand years, although perhaps not continuously. Archaic Period (ca. 5000 B.C.-A.D. 500) artifacts have been recovered. During historic times, the earliest occupants of the county were the Caddo Indians, an agricultural people with a highly developed culture. During the 1820s and 1830s White settlements elsewhere in Texas prompted other Indians, such as Creeks, Choctaws, and Cherokees, to settle in the area. In the 1840s White settlers gradually displaced the Indians. Earliest European exploration of the area that would become Titus County cannot be conclusively determined. If one of the northernmost of the numerous conflicting route interpretations of the Moscoso expedition in 1542 is correct, then that group passed through or very near Titus County. It could be, however, that the first European contact with the area did not occur until after the founding of Le Poste des Cadodaquious in what is now Bowie County by the French in 1719. Although the French occupied the fort for more than fifty years, little is known about their activities. It seems probable, however, that they did explore as far to the southwest as Titus County. The earliest Anglo settler in what is now Titus County is said to have been Kendall Lewis, who moved into the county in 1835 with his wife, probably a Creek Indian. Lewis's land grant, patented in February 1842, is said to have been the first land surveyed in the county. The family settled on Swauano Creek and remained in the county until problems with Indians caused the Lewises to leave the state in 1846. During the early 1840s settlement of the area proceeded rapidly, and in 1846 the First Legislature of the state of Texas established Titus County, which included all of the territory of present-day Morris and Franklin counties. The county was named for Andrew Jackson Titus, an early Red River County settler. Mount Pleasant was established as the county seat.
By the time of the state census of 1847 the population of Titus County had reached 2,440. Most White settlers in the county had come from other southern states, and they brought with them southern customs and institutions, including slavery. The number of Blacks held as enslaved people in the county grew faster than the number of Whites throughout the antebellum period. Thus, the proportion of the population held as slaves more than doubled between 1847 and 1860, increasing from less than 12 percent (280 of 2,440) to more than 25 percent (2,439 of 9,648). Throughout this period Titus County was overwhelmingly rural, with an economy based on agriculture. Corn was the most important food crop and cotton the most important cash crop. In 1850 the county's 269 farms produced 66,000 bushels of corn and 292 bales of cotton. County farmers also reported 6,838 cattle, 1,014 sheep, and 12,315 hogs that year. Between 1850 and 1860, while the population of the county grew to just over 2½ times the 1850 total, the number of improved acres in the county grew to more than 4½ times the 1850 total; the corn crop, at 326,385 bushels, was almost five times as large; and the 5,129-bale cotton crop was more than seventeen times as large. Livestock remained an important, although secondary, part of the county's agricultural economy, as the county's farmers reported 5,278 milk cows, 13,183 other cattle, 7,147 sheep, and 22,075 hogs.
In the election of 1860 an overwhelming majority of Titus County voters supported the states' rights candidate, John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky. When the election was held for delegates to the Secession Convention, however, one of the men elected from Titus County was Joshua F. Johnson, one of only eight delegates who opposed secession. Vigorous in his opposition, Johnson signed the "Address to the People of Texas" which urged Texans to reject the secession amendment and may have campaigned against the ordinance in the Titus County area. Despite the efforts of Johnson and a few other unionists, Titus County voters approved secession by a vote of 411 to 285. With the outbreak of the Civil War, support for the Confederacy in the county was nearly unanimous. Some local historians have claimed that 1,500 Titus County men served either in Confederate or state units during the war.
The end of the Civil War brought sweeping changes in the county's economic foundations. Though the end of slavery brought freedom for Blacks, to White slaveholders it was a serious loss of capital. The 1859 tax roll had included 1,923 slaves valued at $1,142,850. This represented 47 percent of the county's entire tax base. This economic loss, the widespread belief that free Blacks would not work, and the uncertain status of the South in the nation, led to a loss of confidence that caused property values to plummet in the immediate postwar era. Although the future did not look quite so dim in 1870, the effects were still apparent on the census taken that year. The number of improved acres in the county had risen by more than 15 percent, but the value of the county's farms had fallen by nearly 22 percent since the 1860 census.
Reconstruction was difficult. Many of the county's White citizens were discouraged and bitter. In 1867 a chaotic economic situation was made worse by the almost total failure of the cotton crop and a partial failure of the corn crop. Moreover, two companies of the Sixth United States Cavalry, under the command of Maj. Samuel Henry Starr, were stationed in Titus County in May of that year. As troop commander in an area not covered by the Freedmen's Bureau, Starr automatically became an agent of the bureau. In his November 1867 report he recommended that the freedmen be moved to save them "from slaughter." In March 1868 Starr and his men were ordered to Fort Richardson in Jack County, but military intervention in the affairs of Titus County had not ended. In November 1867 Gen. Joseph J. Reynolds had removed the county judge from office as an "impediment to Reconstruction" and replaced him with a military appointee. Over the course of the next three years two other positions, that of the sheriff and a commissioner, were filled by military appointment. For a few months at the end of the period of military reconstruction the sheriff's office was filled first by a sergeant and then by a corporal in the United States Army. The control over the affairs of the county exercised by the military was galling to the White majority, although it did provide some protection for freedmen. It soon became obvious, however, that the commitment of the federal government to protecting Blacks was limited, and the county returned to Democratic control at the first election after the passage of the Constitution of 1869. Following Reconstruction, Titus County remained solidly Democratic except for a brief period in the 1890s, when the People's party provided a strong challenge by carrying the county for local and state offices in 1892 and 1894.
The Tyler Tap Railroad crossed the county in 1878. The East Line and Red River had built across the southeast corner in 1876. In 1913 an independent line, the Paris and Mount Pleasant, was completed.
For more than seventy years after the Civil War, Titus County remained predominantly rural, with an economy based on agricultural products. The county's dependence on agriculture was even more pronounced following the demarcation of Franklin and Morris counties in 1875, a move that reduced the county to its present size and boundaries. In 1870 Titus County had a population of 11,339 and twenty manufacturing establishments that employed ninety-seven workers. Some manufacturing establishments were located near the rich iron ore deposits in the area that would become Morris County. The 1880 census, the first census following the split, enrolled a population of 5,959, or just over half the 1870 total. The fifteen manufacturing establishments recorded that year employed only thirty-three individuals, or a little over one-third the 1870 total.
Within the almost exclusively agricultural economy of the county, cotton and corn were the principal products. From the end of the Civil War through the Great Depression of the 1930s, every census recorded that from just under two-thirds to more than 90 percent of the land in the county planted in crops was planted in corn and cotton. Cotton and corn remained the principal crops in the county until the 1950s, when Titus County farmers generally abandoned staple crops for an agriculture heavily based on livestock and livestock products. The county's heavy reliance on cotton as a cash crop did not bring prosperity for most of the county's farmers. By 1900, 49 percent of the county's farmers were tenants, and the vast majority of those farmed on shares. Each census recorded a high percentage of tenants until 1930, when sixty-one percent of the county's farmers fell into that category. Farm tenancy rates fell, however, as staple crop agriculture was abandoned. By 1950 only a quarter of the county's farmers were tenants, and by 1969 the number had fallen to less than 7 percent.
The area’s farmers suffered during the 1920s, even before the onset of the Great Depression. The value of the county's farms dropped from almost $12.8 million in 1920 to a little over $5.5 million in 1930. The depression brought more difficult times, but most residents of the county were already living in poverty. One local historian has estimated that Titus County farmers had an average gross income of $781 a year, and that half of all the farmers in the county had less than $400 a year net income in 1929, a year that was fairly normal for the 1920s. Although in the 1930s New Deal programs helped to ameliorate the worst effects of the depression, local developments seemed to hold the promise of a fuller recovery. Construction of a milk-processing plant had begun in Mount Pleasant in the summer of 1929, and the completion of the plant provided owners of dairy cattle a market. Many of the county's farmers could afford few if any dairy cows, but more prosperous farmers could, and the number of milk cows in the county rose from 4,800 in 1930 to 6,740 in 1940. Nevertheless, the county lost about 15 percent of its farms between 1930 and 1940. Although the population as a whole had risen, the number of farms in the county had dropped from 2,487 to 2,146.
In northwest Titus County oil was discovered in February 1936 in what became the Talco oilfield. Shortly after the initial wells were drilled geologists estimated that the field contained approximately 160,000,000 barrels of oil, or a fifteen to twenty year supply at contemporary production levels. But the geologists had assumed that the field consisted of one large pool of oil, when in fact it contained several smaller pools. In 1985 the field was still in production and had yielded a total of more than 266,000,000 barrels. Two other fields, the Trix-Liz and the Prewitt Ranch, were also in production in 1985. The initial discovery turned Talco into an oil boom town and made a few dozen farmers wealthy men. But the overall impact of the discovery is more difficult to measure. Most citizens in the Talco area abandoned farming completely, and the population of the county, which had fallen from 18,128 in 1920 to 16,003 in 1930, rose to 19,228 in 1940. Three oil refineries were constructed in the county, and the number of residents employed in manufacturing jumped from 120 in 1930 to 260 in 1937. Additionally, 291 individuals were involved in the production of crude petroleum. Still, farming remained the chief employment in the county. Although some of the farmers who left their lands during the depression may have gone to work in the oil business, and most farmers were not greatly affected by the oil discoveries.
The increase in manufacturing caused by the discovery of oil began a trend that continued in wartime. By 1947 the number involved in manufacturing had risen to 368, and every subsequent census until the 1980s registered a further increase in manufacturing workers. By 1982 the number had risen to 1,473. As other sectors of the county's economy became increasingly important, they provided jobs which drew people from the county's farms. At the same time, the basis of the county's agricultural economy was gradually shifting from staple crop agriculture to livestock. From 1940 to 1982, the number of farms in the county fell from 2,146 to 778, while the average farm size increased from less than eighty-eight acres to 245. In 1960 the milk processing plant in Mount Pleasant closed, and in 1982, although there were 1,196 dairy cattle in the county, the most important agricultural products were beef and poultry, particularly broilers. The opportunities in the county's towns and in the changing agricultural economy were important, but other areas of the state and nation seemed to many to offer better opportunities. For thirty years after 1940, each census recorded a gradual decline in population. By 1970 the county's population had fallen to 16,702, a decline of a little over 13 percent since 1940.
As the county's economic foundations were shifting, other changes were occurring in the lives of Titus County residents. The automobile had replaced the horse as the predominant form of travel within the county. In 1932 there were just 1,996 vehicles registered in the county. By 1980 there were more than 20,000. In 1932 only one federal highway, U.S. Highway 67, crossed the county, and it was the only highway that was completely paved throughout the county. By the 1980s the county was crossed by several highways, state and federal, one of which, Interstate 30, was a four-lane, divided highway.
Because the jobs in the larger towns offered better economic opportunities, rural families moved to the towns. In 1920 just over a quarter of the county's population lived in the two largest towns, Mount Pleasant, with a population of 4,099, and Winfield, with a population of 629. By 1960 more than half of the county's population lived in the two largest towns, Mount Pleasant (8,450) and Talco (1,250). The better jobs in the county required a better education. In 1950 fewer than a quarter of the county's residents age twenty-five or over had graduated from high school. In 1980 just over half the county's residents age twenty-five or older had a high school diploma. The county, however, lagged behind the state average of 62.6 percent by almost ten percentage points. Still, the county had begun to grow again; the 1980 census recorded a population of 21,442, an increase of more than 28 percent since 1970. Oil, natural gas, and timber remained important to the local economy. Almost 2,045,000 barrels of oil and 22,349,000 cubic feet of casinghead gas were produced in the county in 1982, and 789,314 cubic feet of pine and hardwood timber was harvested in 1981. By 1990 the county's population had risen to 24,009.
Democratic presidential candidates carried the county in every election through 1968. The area’s sympathies began to change in 1972, however, when Republican Richard Nixon carried the county. Though Democratic presidential candidates won majorities in the county in 1976, 1980, and 1988, Nixon’s win in 1972 and Ronald Reagan’s in 1984 marked the beginnings of a shift away from the area’s traditional leanings. Democrat Bill Clinton only won pluralities in the county in 1992 and 1996, and Republican George W. Bush won solid majorities in the county in the 2000 and 2004 elections.
In 2014 the census counted 32,506 people living in Titus County. About 47.5 percent were Anglo, 40.9 percent were Hispanic, and 10.3 percent were African American. Almost 65 percent of residents age twenty-five and older had four years of high school, and more than 13 percent had college degrees. In the early twenty-first century agribusiness, lignite mining, and trailer manufacturing were important elements of the area’s economy. In 2002 the county had 776 farms and ranches covering 178,303 acres, 41 percent of which were devoted to pasture, 39 percent to crops, and 17 percent to woodlands. In that year Titus County farmers and ranchers earned $56,389,000, with livestock sales accounting for $55,518,000 of that total. Poultry and cattle were the chief agricultural products; crops grown in the area included hay, watermelons, grain sorghum, and corn. More than 615,000 cubic feet of pinewood and 1,769,000 cubic feet of hardwood were harvested in the county in 2003. More than 507,000 barrels of oil were produced there in 2004; by the end of that year 211,214,411 barrels of oil had been taken from county lands since 1936. Mount Pleasant (population, 16,150) is the county’s seat of government and only sizeable town; other communities include Cookville (105), Miller’s Cove (154), Talco (523), and Winfield (535). Mount Pleasant hosts Wranglerfest in October.