Why Does Texas Have So Many Counties?

When you think of counties, most states in the country average 62, and Texas, on the other hand, has 254 counties. Alaska is the largest state in the country, and it only has 29 counties. The closest state in comparison is Georgia with 159. 

So, what’s the deal with Texas? We can better understand the origins and other cool facts related to Texas counties by delving into history. 

Aside from Alaska, Texas is the state with the largest territory in the United States. Although it could make sense that’s the main reason for their many counties, there’s more than meets the eye.

Texas Counties Map
Texas Counties Map

Why Does Texas Have So Many Counties?

The most simplistic answer is related to the size of Texas. Since the state is massive, the second largest in the country, the founders of the “Lone Star” state opted to have the local governments remain small. 

Around 1845, when Texas became a state, Texans felt by and large that they should live close to those local governments that controlled the roads, schools, jails, and courthouses.

During this time, counties had to be small for this to happen. The residents needed to be able to go to and fro the courthouses via horse to conduct business. As a farmer, it was unlikely that you could get away from your work for more than 24 hours to reach the county seat. 

The idea that you should live in an area where you can easily reach officials that control essential aspects of your life, is a good foundation. It makes it easier for inhabitants to have access to government resources. 

Now, let’s backtrack to get a more extended version of how this all came together.

Boundaries

It turns out that the boundaries of the existing municipalities as new counties were not well defined. Following the establishment of the Republic of Texas after the revolution against Mexico, Texas formed a new government, and they reached the decision to clearly delineate the sections. 

The boundaries of those counties would go on to be surveyed for multiple years to determine if the way they were getting divided was truly beneficial to Texans. 

According to the Texas Constitution of 1836, it was outlined that the republic would be separated into counties based on need. Therefore any new future county to be created by the Texas Congress would require one hundred free males to petition, and the area had to consist of 900 square miles minimum.

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Texas State Formation

After Texas became a state in 1845, Legislators amended the rules. The new Texas Constitution stated that existing counties couldn’t be reduced to less than 900 square miles unless it had the consent of a two-thirds majority of the legislature.

The legislature could persist in creating counties without the residents’ permission to inhabit the area in question.

Some counties are no longer in existence either because they are renamed, discontinued, or merged with a neighboring county. Many of these counties were created and concluded within the 19th century. Interestingly, since 1900 county borders have changed very little.

State Expansion

The counties also increased as the state and population continued to expand over the years. Early on, counties in Texas were known as municipios, according to the name given during Spanish rule. 

From 1821-1834, the Mexican governing body divided Texas into three administrative parties: Brazos, Nacogdoches, and Bexar. In 1832, the legislature passed, which gave the power to create municipalities in the state with elected officials and local government seats. 

12 Municipalities

There were only 12 municipalities in 1835, including Washington, Viesca, San Augustine, Nacogdoches, Mina, Matagorda, Liberty, Harrisburg, Gonzales, Columbia, Bevil, and Austin. 

Every municipality has a governing body, mayor, chief magistrate, and judge that provides structure and rules for education, health, roads, and more for the inhabitants.

23 Municipalities 

There were eventually 23 municipalities in Texas by 1836, when the state gained its independence from Mexico. Those 23 municipalities were the first official counties in Texas. 

67 Counties

They were large counties that soon got divided into smaller entities, and as settlers began migrating west, Texas gained 14 more counties in less than a decade. Once the state became a member of the United States of America, the number of counties rose to 67. 

152 Counties

Over time, Texas sold some of its lands to the U.S. for the 1850 Compromise, which added nine more counties, and the total by the end of 1860 was 152 in Texas. 

At the end of the 19th century, as the population grew in Texas, the larger counties in the state’s western area began to split into smaller units.

The rationale was that it would be better to increase the number of counties to keep them small and accessible. In 1931, Texas’ last addition, Loving County, was formed.

Usa Counties Map Color Coded
USA Counties Map Color Coded

Interesting Facts About Texas Counties

Below are some intriguing facts concerning Texas counties:

  • There are 42 counties with Spanish, French, or Indian names.
  • Texas is big on patriotism, and 12 counties have names that pay reverence to American patriots.
  •  Early colonizers to the country are the inspiration for ten county names.
  • There are 96 counties named after men who died in the Texas war for independence from Mexico, served as statesmen in the Republic of Texas, or signed the declaration of independence from Mexico.
  • Men that were on the frontier, and other pioneers has inspired the names for 23 counties.
  • American politicians involved with the annex of Texas has received the honor for naming 11 counties.
  • There are ten counties named for Texas leaders after Texas officially became a state.
  • For soldiers and notable members of the Confederacy in times of the Civil War, there are 36 counties named in their honor. 
  • There are nine counties named for geographic features, two battles, and one military fort.
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FAQ

Here are some of the most common questions regarding Texas counties.

What is the oldest county in Texas?

Established in 1837, Houston County was the first ever Texas county.

Why do Southern states have so many counties?

Primarily because of the area they cover, they need more counties. Also, the western and northern regions of America were not as densely populated.

Counties in Texas

In short, primarily because of its historical foundations, Texas, with nearly 30 million people living there, has 254 counties. Based on the belief that every resident should live in close proximity to their local courthouse, the state has managed to keep the county size small. 

By Texas covering almost 270,000 sq miles, it’s no surprise that there are so many counties by far than any other state.