CL Browning Ranch

Before European settlement, the area that is now Blanco County was populated by a succession of nomadic native tribes: first the Tonkawa, then the Apache, and finally the formidable Comanche. For much of the 1700s, Comanchería, the vast territory ruled by the Comanche, was virtually impenetrable to outsiders. All of Texas at that time was claimed by Spain, which as early as 1820 invited Anglo-Americans to settle here in an effort to push back the Comanche. After gaining its independence from Spain in 1821, Mexico assumed control of the region. Anglo-American colonists chafed under Mexican rule and formed the Republic of Texas in 1836. Following a decade of conflict with Mexico, Texas was annexed by the United States in 1845. The Mexican War in 1846-48 secured the U.S. claim to the territory.

The Texas Hill Country, which had been colonized by German immigrants in the 1830s, was populated relatively slowly by Anglo-Americans following Texas’s independence from Mexico. Overland travel beyond the coastal areas was difficult, and railroads, which drove the development of the West in the nineteenth century, did not reach central Texas until after the Civil War. To encourage settlement, the U.S. government offered land grants, as had earlier Mexican and Texan governors. Entrepreneurial land agents, as well as organizations such as the German Immigration Society, promoted the agricultural potential of central Texas to farmers of the American South, primarily in Tennessee and Alabama. "G.T.T." signs soon sprouted along the roadsides beside the overworked fields and shanty farmhouses in these states, announcing that their owners had gone to Texas.

LBJ turns on an electric light. (LBJ library photo by Austin Statesman).
Blanco County towns began to be founded by Anglo-Americans in 1854. Blanco was the first to be established that year, followed by Round Mountain (1854), Twin Sisters (1856), Johnson City (1878), and Hye (1886). Although these towns have grown, the majority of county residents still live on farms and ranches that drive the local economy. Cotton, cattle, sheep, goats, corn, and wheat have all been grown here with varying degrees of success, due to unreliable rains, thin topsoil, and devastating erosion.

Until the late 1930s, farm and ranch life continued with few alterations in Blanco and surrounding counties. Electricity and the labor-saving devices that ran on it were unavailable. This changed with the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 and the efforts of a young Texas congressman, Lyndon Baines Johnson, who grew up in Blanco County. Johnson fought to make loans for electrification available in sparsely populated regions such as the Hill Country. The first electric light was turned on here in 1938, and by the mid-1960s nearly every farm had electrical power.

In the years of economic prosperity following World War II, increasing numbers of business and professional people began to acquire ranches from longtime Hill Country residents. Today the county remains rural, with working farms and ranches as well as tourist destinations that include the Lyndon Baines Johnson Boyhood Home and Ranch, the Blanco State Recreation Area, and Pedernales Falls State Park. As Austin and San Antonio continue to grow, land in Blanco County and other Hill Country counties is being used for recreational purposes and less for traditional ranching. However many of the newer land owners continue to cultivate fields and orchards and run cattle in order to take advantage of the government’s offer of an agricultural tax rate on land used for such purposes.

For more information about the Texas Hill Country, select from the links below:

The Handbook of Texas Online, a searchable encyclopedia of Texas culture, history, and geography.

Texas Monthly’s Web site, a visitor’s guide to the Hill Country.

National Park Service’s web site on the LBJ Ranch and its natural environment.

Texas Almanac contains information about cattle ranching in Texas.

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