Travis County was created out of Bastrop County by the Republic of Texas in 1840, the year after the village of Waterloo was chosen for the Republic's capital and renamed Austin, and just months after the city of Austin was incorporated. The county was named after William Barrett Travis, commander of the Alamo siege. Travis County lands were later carved up to help create all or parts of Burnet, Brown, Comal, Gillespie, Hays, Lampasas, Blanco, Mills, Callahan, Coleman, Eastland, Hamilton, Runnels, and Taylor counties. Travis County was left with a total area of 1,105 square miles.
The earliest inhabitants of this area were Native American Indians; the Tonkawa and Comanche tribes were the most prevalent when Anglo-American settlement began. Several Spanish expeditions passed through in the 17th and 18th centuries and located temporary missions near present-day Barton Springs. The area was the western edge of Stephen F. Austin's "Little Colony" headquartered in Mina (later Bastrop). In the 160 years since the founding of Travis County, residents have congregated into more than 80 communities.
The Balcones Escarpment divides the county into two distinct geographical regions--Lampasas Cut Plain and Black Prairie--resulting in strikingly dissimilar topography, climate, flora, and fauna. The city of Austin was located at the junction of these two regions. The grassy plains of the eastern part of the county, suitable for agriculture, were the first areas to be homesteaded. The earliest communities were also in the east--Hornsby, Webberville, Montopolis, and Waterloo/Austin. The limestone hills of western Travis County were used primarily as hideaways until the 1870s,
when the first settlements developed along the Colorado River.
In Texas, counties are legal subdivisions of the state and conduct governmental affairs for the State as well as for local concerns. The Commissioners Court is the governing body for the county. In Travis County, the first election of county officers was held on February 21, 1840. According to minutes of the new Travis County Commissioners Court, among the first items discussed was the building of a road from Austin to Bastrop, a critical
need in developing the frontier.
The Austin History Center is fortunate to house a rich selection of materials that document Travis County. As the official Regional Historical Resource Repository for archival Travis County records under agreement with the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, our collection includes tax rolls, city lot registers, inquests, civil and criminal dockets for Justices of the Peace, and mark and brand books.