History of Johnson Co.
Like all other counties in Texas, Johnson County was created for the convenience of local settlers. When counties and county seats were few and far between, most of man's time was consumed by the long trips he had to take when he went to pay his taxes, vote, or attend court. There were no railroads at that time to cover the distance in a few hours. The journey took days and days of wearisome travel on horseback or in wagons.
The first settlements in the eastern part of the county were made in 1852, by D. Smith and W. Meadows on Chambers Creek; but as the first settlers in that region were mostly herdsmen and flock owners, no farm was opened until 1856. The first house erected west of Rock Creek was that of Judge McKinsey, being much pleased with the country while riding through it on horseback, be determined to locate a farm and settle thereon.
When brave Texans were fighting for their independence, the territory of Johnson county was composed in the Mexican municipality of Milam. After they had gained their independence in 1837, this municipality was changed to a county of the same name. In 1850, McLennan County, comprising also the territory of Johnson County, was cut off from Milam; and on February 4, 1854, Johnson County was cut off from McLennan County by an act of the legislature. The original area of Johnson County was 1,376 square miles, but in 1866 she lost 636 square miles (nearly half her territory) when Hood County was cut off the western side of the county, leaving as the present area about 740 square miles.
When the legislature created the county, it was named for Col. Middleton T. Johnson, a brave pioneer. When the Mexican War broke out in 1846 he raised a company of volunteers and served under Zachary Taylor. He was very popular among people who knew him. he was once spoken of in connection with the governorship, but his following was not sufficiently large to secure his nomination. He served a few years on the frontier, fighting Indians, and when the Civil war broke out and Texas seceeded, although he was not in favor of secession himself, he offered his services to the Confederates. President Davis promised him a brigade of Texans. Col. Johnson raised the troops but Davis failed to keep his promise and gave the command to someone else. After the war, Col. Johnson served again in the legislature and died a few years after. He was buried near his old home in Tarrant County. Although he was impulsive and had some faults, they were faults which endeared him to his companions. He was brave and generous - a man loved and respected by all who knew him.
At the same time and of creating and naming the county, the legislature designated the first Monday in April for the holding of an election for county officers, and stated that the election returns be sent to E.M. Heath. It also authorized William Balch, William Houston, S.D. Kennard, and the Rev. Odom to choose three places to be voted upon for a county seat. The county was not organized until August, and the first county officers who were elected were as follows: David Mitchell, Presiding Justice; C. Billingsley, W.O. Neal, A.D. Kennard, County Commissioners; J. Easterwood, County Clerk; and A.H. Onstott, Sheriff. To this list later in the year were added F.L. Kirtley, Assessor; J.H. Waddle, District Clerk; E.M. Heath, Justice of the Peace for Precinct No. 1; F.L. Kirtley for Precinct No. 2; and W.O. Menefee for Precinct No. 3. The first court was held in Alvarado at John Waddle's store.
At the first election, the committee on choosing a county seat reported four places to be voted upon. They were O'Neil's, Stephen's, Patten's, Tarrant's, and Robinson's. Neither recieved a majority. In August, 1855, Henderson's ran against O'Neil's, and the latter won by a vote of 161 to 59. It was istuated on the west bank of the Nolan and was named Wardville. But this did not remain the county seat long, for it was too far from the center of the county. A new election was ordered. Wardville ran in the race again, against Bailey's and Manley's, but neither won. At another election in 1856 Bailey's won out and the new county seat was named Buchanan for the President of the United States. This remained the county seat for ten years, but when Hood County was cut off in 1866, Buchanan was left too much to the west and at a new election, Camp Henderson won by a decided majority. The new town was called Cleburne in honor of one of the bravest generals of the Civil War - General Pat Cleburne, and it has been growing continuously ever since it was founded. The location of the county seat was hard to settle, but the final choice was a wise one as subsequent history has shown.
When the county seat was created, there was not a mile of railway in the state, though the first 32 miles were built that year. The first railroad through the county was built in 1881. It was the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe system. Today there are 132 miles of railway and six railroads in the county. There were no telegrapg lines then, no telephones nor any of the modern conveniences. The Indians made frequent raids and were very troublesome. The entire county was over-run with wild deer, buffalo, and prairie chickens. Indeed, wild game was plentiful and very often furnished food for the settlers and their families. Houses were few and far apart. When Mr. Menefee, the first justice of the peace in Precint No. 3, an old pioneer who is still living, carried the first election returns to Alvarado, there was only one house along the entire route. As late as 1870, people had to go in wagons all the way to Houston for lumber.
The popualtion of the county at that time was very scarce. As late as 1860 there were only 4,305 people, of whom 513 were negro slaves. Although Johnson County lost about one half her territory when Hood County was cut off in 1866, her population in 1870 was 4,639. In 1880 it was over 17,000; in 1890, over 22,000; and in 1890, nearly 34,000. In 1854, when the county was created, the population was only about 3.12 to the square mile and now there are about 50 to the square mile.
The Johnson County of the present day lies between the thirty- second and thirty-third parallels of latitude, and ninety-seventh and ninety-eighth meridians of longitude. Its average altitude is about 772 feet above sea level. Its average temperature is about 64.3 degrees Farenheit and its average rainfall per annum is about 34 inches.
The soil is very diversified, varying from a reddish clay in the west ans a fine deep sandy loam in the middle east to a black waxy land in the extreme east. It is suitable for nearly every product. The Cross Timbers, which cross the county siagonally from northeast to southwest is a strip from four to twelve miles wide, produce vegetables and fruits. Many truck farms are located there. Timber is the main product of the Cross Timbers, however, and many post-oak and black-jack trees exist there. Pecan, elm, oak, and hackberry grow profusely also, and cedar breaks are found on the southwestern part of the county. There has always been a good supply of water in the county, and the deep well water of Cleburne is famous all over the state. The Brazos River touches the southwestern border and the Nolan flows through the county.
The products of Johnson County are numerous. Wheat, oats, cotton, corn, and all kinds of sorghum are grown. Fruits of every kind thrive well, including berries, plums, and peaches. We see vegetables galor - cabbage, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, pepper, squash, cucumbers, beets, and lettuce.
This history is taken from "The History of Johnson County, Texas"; Johnson County History Book Committee 1985; pages 3-4.