About Bee County

BEE COUNTY. Bee County (Q-14) is in the Rio Grande plain of south central Texas, fifty miles northwest of Corpus Christi and 146 miles southeast of Austin. It is bordered on the north by Karnes and Goliad counties, on the east by Refugio County, on the south by San Patricio County, and on the west by Live Oak County. Beeville is the county's largest town and seat of government. The center point of the county is 28°25' north latitude and 97°45' west longitude. Several important thoroughfares cross the county, including U.S. highways 59 and 181 and State highways 202 and 359. The county's transportation needs are also served by the Southern Pacific Railroad. An airport built in 1966 serves Beeville and the surrounding region.

Bee County covers 866 square miles that slope gently to the coast. The elevation ranges from 200 to 300 feet. Geologically northern Bee County is in the Rio Grande embayment; the Lissie and Beaumont formations extend into the southern part of the county to form a broad, flat, and fertile plain. Blanco, Medio, and Aransas creeks and their tributaries, which flow in a southeasterly direction, drain the county. The southwest corner of the county has cracking clayey soils or loamy surfaces with cracking clayey subsoils. The northern two-thirds of the county has dark, alkaline soils, with loamy surface layers and cracking clayey subsoils, while the remainder of the county has light-colored acidic soils, with loamy surface layers and cracking clayey subsoils. Between 41 percent and 50 percent of the land in the county is considered prime farmland.

Most of the area is in the South Texas Plains vegetation region, characterized by open grasslands and scattered shrubs and cacti. Buffalo, antelopes, deer, bears, panthers, and wolves once roamed the region; early records indicate that the area also supported wildcats, coyotes, and jackrabbits. Many small mammals are currently found in the county, including foxes, squirrels, opossums, mice, rats, gophers, skunks, moles, and bats.

The climate is subtropical and humid, with mild winters and warm summers. Temperatures range in January from an average low of 42° F to an average high of 65°, and in July from 73° to 96°. The average annual rainfall is thirty inches. There is no snowfall. The growing season averages 275 days per year, with the last freeze in late February and the first freeze in early December. Hurricanes are likely to occur during the late summer.

Bee County has been the site of human habitation for several thousand years. Artifacts recovered in the region suggest that the earliest human inhabitants arrived around 6,000 to 10,000 years ago and camped along the creek valleys. At the time of the first contact with Europeans, various Karankawa bands inhabited the eastern part of the future county, while Lipan Apaches and Borrados roamed the northwest and southwest sections. The Skidi Pawnees left arrowheads in Sulphur Creek near the site of present Pawnee.

The first Spanish grant in the area was made to Carlos Martínez in 1789 for his services in the king's army at La Bahía and his father's deed of killing an Apache chief at San Antonio de Béxar Presidio. The first permanent settlers, Jeremiah O'Tool, his sons Martin and Michael, and James O'Reilly, sailed from Ireland in 1826. Women and children arrived in 1829 and helped to established the community of Corrigan, named for Ellen O'Tool Corrigan's husband. In 1828 William and Patrick Quinn settled in the Power and Hewetson colony at Papalote Creek, and in 1834 settlers from Tipperary, Ireland, landed at Copano Bay and went to the headwaters of the Aransas River (near the site of present Beeville), in the McMullen-McGloin colony. Other early residents included Martín De León, who established a ranch east of the Aransas in 1805, and the Castillo, Santos, and Moya families, who received Mexican land grants in the area in the early 1830s.

Eleven Bee County landowners, including Timothy Hart, William Quinn, James O'Conner, and James and William St. John, were among the signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence. During the Texas Revolution many of the settlers fled to New Orleans, but most returned, and in the 1840s and 1850s a small but steady stream of settlers moved to the area. Most took up ranching, which was ideally suited for the broad open expanses of grasslands.

Bee County was established shortly after the settlement of the Cart War, which originated ten miles east of the site of Beeville. The county, named for Barnard E. Bee, Sr., was formed from San Patricio, Goliad, Refugio, Live Oak, and Karnes counties on December 8, 1857, and officially organized on January 25, 1858, when the first officers were elected. Beeville, the first county seat, was on Medio Creek, near Medio Hill, where the first post office had been established in 1857. In 1860 Maryville became county seat; this community was later designated Beeville-on-the-Poesta to distinguish it from the former county seat.

In antebellum Texas the Bee County economy was based almost exclusively on cattle ranching. By 1860 cattle in the county numbered 33,376. Some families grew small crops of corn and other grains, but farming remained on the subsistence level until well after the Civil War. Because of the emphasis on ranching, on the eve of the war only seventy-nine slaves lived in the county, out of a total population of 910, most of whom were evidently cowherds and drovers. During the war cattle were driven to the Mississippi and to Mexico. The cowmen organized home guards at Papalote and Beeville under captains William P. Miller and Allen Carter Jones,qqv and some Bee County men served with Confederate forces elsewhere. Although the local economy experienced a marked downturn as a result of the conflict, Bee County as a whole was spared the worst effects of the war. By the early 1870s its fortunes began to recover.

The most important economic event in the early postwar period was the great cattle boom. Many postwar cattle drives to the north followed the Chisholm Trail until about 1877, when that route was replaced by the Dodge or Western Trail. During the 1870s and early 1880s many Bee County ranchers drove their cattle to the Rockport-Fulton area, where a large number of hide and tallow plants had sprung up. In 1880 the census counted 25,030 cattle in the county, and in 1890 the total was more than 32,000. During the decade of the 1870s sheep ranching also enjoyed a brief heyday. Between 1870 and 1880 the number of sheep in the county grew from 1,860 to 61,130, and a for a time it appeared that sheep might supplant cattle as the county's most important export. But during the 1880s the sheep declined sharply; by 1910 fewer than 1,000 sheep were kept on Bee County ranches.

The 1880s saw the beginnings of large-scale agriculture, with corn and oats as the principal crops. In 1870 the county had only twenty-five farms; by 1890 it had 264; and by 1900 the farms numbered 628. In 1895 a state Agricultural Experimental Station was opened near Beeville, which assisted local farmers in selecting appropriate crops and introducing modern farming methods. Corn, flax, peanuts, fruits, vegetables, and onions became the principal products.

The railroads contributed to the rise of the farming economy. The San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway was completed from San Antonio to Pettus and Beeville in 1886. The following year the railroad extended south to Skidmore and Papalote. In 1888 the Gulf, Western Texas and Pacific Railway was built from Victoria to Beeville. The railroads not only opened up new markets outside the county, but also brought large numbers of new settlers. Between 1870 and 1890 the population of the county nearly quadrupled, from 1,082 to 3,720. Over the course of the next twenty years it almost quadrupled again, reaching 12,090 in 1910. Many of the new settlers were recent immigrants, drawn to the area by its mild climate and abundant land. By 1910 nearly a quarter of the county's population was foreign born, with new residents from Mexico (1,381) and Germany (188) forming the largest contingents. The growth in population encouraged dramatic growth in agriculture. Between 1900 and 1920 the number of farms in Bee County increased from 628 to 1,497, and agricultural receipts grew nearly fivefold. Cotton, which had been introduced during the 1890s, became a leading crop, and by 1930 the county was producing some 15,000 bales annually.

Despite the impressive growth of farming, livestock raising continued to play a central role in the county's economy. The number of ranches and cattle continued to increase steadily after the turn of the century. Commercial-scale poultry raising was introduced during the early 1900s. By 1930 county farms raised 73,236 chickens, and turkeys and geese were also being raised in significant numbers (see POULTRY PRODUCTION). Horse ranching also played an important role in the economy during the first three decades of the century. In 1920 there were more than 5,000 horses on Bee County's ranches, and buyers came from all over South Texas to attend horse auctions in Beeville.

The growing population and expanded farming activity combined to drive up land prices, and during the early 1920s large-scale tenant farming was introduced. By 1930 more than half (1,182) of the county's 1,731 farms were operated by tenants, who came from all strata of society, though, in contrast to tenants in some other areas of the state, the majority were white. Most were recent arrivals unable to buy land. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, many fell victim to falling prices for agricultural products and to the reluctance of banks to extend credit. By 1940 fewer than half (629) of the tenants who had farmed a decade before were still on the land.

In 1929 oil and gas were discovered at Pettus, and revenues and jobs from the oilfields helped to offset some of the affects of the depression. But the economy did not begin to recover until World War II, when several military installations were opened in and around Beeville. Despite the downturn in the county's economy, the population continued to grow steadily. In 1940 it was 16,481, up nearly 1,000 since 1930, and in 1950 it reached 18,110.

In 1954 the first United States Navy all-jet base opened at Naval Auxiliary Air Station (now Chase Naval Air Stationqv) in Beeville; the base continues to contribute a significant part of the county's payroll. Several small industries–most of them relating to agribusiness–have opened in Beeville and Pettus in the late twentieth century, but the mainstay of the economy remained farming and ranching. In 1982, 93 percent of the land in the county was in farms and ranches, 17 percent of the farmland was under cultivation, and 5 percent was irrigated. Bee County ranked 139th among the 254 Texas counties in agricultural receipts, with 63 percent coming from livestock and livestock products, primarily from cattle. Principal crops included grain sorghums, corn, and wheat. Cotton culture, which declined sharply during the depression, had made a comeback and become a leading cash crop.

Oil and gas extraction form the other mainstay of the local economy. In the early 1990s oil production averaged some 800,000 barrels annually; between 1930 and 1991 crude production was 99,091,271 barrels. A number of petroleum industries and oilfield-service firms are located in Pettus.

The total number of businesses in the county in the early 1980s was 491. In 1980, 8 percent of laborers were self-employed, 21 percent were employed in professional or related services, 4 percent in manufacturing, 20 percent in wholesale and retail trade, and 19 percent in agriculture, forestry, fishing, and mining; 13 percent worked in other counties, and 1,507 retired workers lived in Bee County. Nonfarm earnings in 1981 totaled $206,200,000.

The first schools in the county were opened in 1858. Two of the earliest were located in Papalote and Beeville. In the early 1990s Bee County had four school districts with eight elementary, two middle, and four high schools. The average daily attendance in 1981–82 was 4,884, with expenditures per pupil of $2,299. Forty-two percent of the 307 high school graduates planned to attend college. In 1983, 39 percent of the school graduates were white, 59 percent Hispanic, 2 percent black, and 0.7 percent Asian. Bee County College (est. 1965), a vocational and academic two-year college under local and state control, is located in Beeville. In 1992 the enrollment was 2,250.

Politically, Bee County has been staunchly Democratic; although Republican presidential candidates won majorities in most late-twentieth-century elections, Democratic officials continued to maintain a virtual monopoly on countywide offices. In the mid-1980s Bee County had forty-five organized churches, with a estimated combined membership of 15,748. The largest denominations were Catholic, Southern Baptist, and United Methodist. The county population was 23,775 in 1960, 22,737 in 1970, 26,030 in 1980, and 25,135 in 1990. In the 1970s and 1980s came a marked influx of new Hispanic residents. In the early 1990s the county ranked forty-ninth among all United States counties in the percentage of persons of Hispanic origin, and persons of Hispanic descent (46 percent) form the largest ancestry group, followed by English (16 percent) and German (16 percent). In 1990 only 2.7 percent of the population was African American; Asians (.09 percent) and American Indians (0.4 percent) were the other leading minority groups. Rural Bee County grew in population by 24 percent between 1970 and 1980. The age groups with the largest increases were those between twenty-five and twenty-nine and from birth to five years. The jobless rate in the early 1990s was around 6.5 percent. Hunting leases and camping draw numbers of tourists to the area. Among the leading attractions are the Beeville Art Gallery and Museum, the annual Western Week held in October, the Diez y Seis de Septiembre (one of the fiestas patriasqv) and nearby Choke Canyon State Park and Lake Corpus Christi.qqv

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Grace Bauer, Bee County Centennial, 1858–1958 (Bee County Centennial, 1958). Grace Bauer (Lillian Grace Schoppe), The History of Bee County, Texas (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1939). Camp Ezell, Historical Story of Bee County, Texas (Beeville: Beeville Publishing, 1973). Mrs. I. C. Madray, A History of Bee County (Beeville, Texas: Bee-Picayune, 1939). Robert J. Marshall, An Administrative Survey and Proposed Plan of Reorganization for the Public Schools of Bee County, Texas (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1939). Joseph Gustav Rountree, History of Bee County, Texas (Beeville?, Texas, 1960).

2017 Christmas Tree Forest Event!!!

posted Sep 23, 2017, 7:40 AM by Bee County Historical Society   [ updated Oct 17, 2017, 11:27 AM ]

Gearing up for the 2017 Christmas Tree Forest Event!!!! If you are interested in having a Christmas Tree at the 2017Forest event at the Historic McClanahan House Museum, download the form, fill it out and mail it to us. No food ornaments please. Santa Claus will be visiting on Sunday 12/03/17 from 2pm to 4pm. Hope to see your tree there!!

Historic Bee County Courthouse Jets & the Old WWI Cannon

posted Mar 22, 2017, 3:58 PM by Bee County Historical Society   [ updated Mar 23, 2017, 5:50 PM ]

We are constantly being asked about the Jet at the Courthouse, why it is there "now" and when it was placed there. Well, for everyone's info, there were three Jets at the Courthouse Square.

The first Jet, the F9F-2 Aircraft, was placed at the Courthouse Square in July 1957, this was the first training jet at NAS Chasefield.

The second Jet, the AF-9J “Cougar” was place at the Courthouse Square in June 1963 for NAS Chasefield’s 20th Anniversary in Bee County. It replaced the F9F-2 Aircraft.

The third Jet, the A4 Skyhawk “Scooter” replaced the AF-9J "Cougar" in April 1971. The A4 Skyhawk, was then being used for air training at the Naval Air Station at Chasefield.

Thank you to former Chasefield Naval retiree, Steve Shanker, for giving us the info on the differences on the last 2 Jets!!

The Base was decommissioned 1993 and was later replaced with the current Garza East and West State Prisons. The old AF-9J Cougar was placed at the Kolher Park on W. Flournoy, until it finally had to be removed due to deterioration.

In 2009, the current "Scooter", was given a "makeover" by volunteers from Sikorsky Aircraft Maintenance and Coastal Bend College students from the college aviation maintenance course who cleaned, repaired, and painted the jet with Sikorsky providing all of the supplies.

The Naval Base Chasefield was in Bee County from 1943 until it was decommissioned in 1993.

NOTE: Before World War II, a World War I cannon was at this same location. Many people always wondered what happened to it. We placed the information about the cannon on our Facebook page and a “friend” of one of the groups gave us the following info: “According to the historical marker application, the World War I canon was “donated to the World War II scrap metal drive”, thank you Michael Ray Hesseltine for helping us solve the "mystery" on the cannon!!!

***Dates found in Bee Picayune Archives from June 1957 and April 1971, stored at the Joe Barnhart Bee County Library.

W. Lee O'Daniel for Governor of Texas 1938 on the Court House Lawn, Beeville, TX

 Photo taken in the early 1950s

 Name of photographer who took the photo of the "Cougar"
 Photo of "Scooter" taken 2016

 Photo of "Scooter" taken 2017; Watermark embed was not updated



2016 Christmas Tree Forest Winners!!!

posted Dec 20, 2016, 7:21 AM by Bee County Historical Society

The 2016 Christmas Tree Forest at the Historic McClanahan House Museum proved a tremendous success. Twenty beautiful trees graced the museum for this year’s event and the public was able to vote on their favorite tree. The following trees won by popular vote:

Adult Division:

1st Place Coastal Bend College Spanish Club
2nd Place Historic Park Hotel and Antique Shoppe and Collectibles
3rd Place Native American Council of Beeville

Children’s Division

1st Place First Baptist Church School
2nd Place St Philip’s Episcopal Church School – Kinder to 3rd Grade
3rd Place Hampton Moreno Dugat – Kinder to College

The museum was able to collect $443.60 in “tree votes” which will help offset costs of electrical usage and keep the museum operating for folks to visit. We are open the first Sunday of every month from 2pm to 4pm. The public was very generous in their donations for the votes on their favorite trees and their non-perishable food donations to the local Beeville Vineyard Food Bank as you can see from the collection of canned goods. A win-win for all concerned. Thank you, Beeville, and surrounding communities!!!


Christmas Tree Forest 2016

posted Dec 12, 2016, 7:18 PM by Bee County Historical Society   [ updated Dec 12, 2016, 7:37 PM ]

December 12, 2016......We haven't had a chance to post here, but our Forest Event is fabulous this year. We have 20 beautiful trees at the house and the exterior is decorated beautifully. The outside lights are visible from 5:30pm until 9pm, so don't forget to drive by for a look see!!! We only have 2 more tour days left: Friday, 12/16/16 and Saturday 12/17/16 from 1pm to 4pm. Don't miss it, come by and visit soon. We are also having the public choose a favorite tree. If you have access to Facebook, follow the link to see the trees at the house. NOTE: If you are a group, school or organization who would like to see the display at other times this week, call us for scheduling at least 2 days before. Hoping to see you there. Remember, admission fee is one non-perishable food item for distribution to the local Beeville Vineyard Food Pantry.

Shirley O’Neil Wyatt 361-343-3119
Clair McMullen 361-362-9834
Sylvia Garcia-Smith 361-362-7062


Christmas Tree Forest Open House times 2016

posted Nov 28, 2016, 8:41 AM by Bee County Historical Society

Sixth Annual Christmas Tree Forest

posted Oct 14, 2016, 1:57 PM by Bee County Historical Society

Attached is the form needed to be part of this annual event. Hope you can share your Christmas Tree at the Historic McClanahan House Museum!!!

10/31/16 ** Halloween at the Historic McClanahan House Museum!!

posted Oct 14, 2016, 1:52 PM by Bee County Historical Society   [ updated Oct 14, 2016, 2:02 PM ]

Bring the kids for candy and spooks!!! Hope to see you there!!

October 27, 2016 *** Haunted Hay Ride

posted Oct 14, 2016, 1:40 PM by Bee County Historical Society   [ updated Oct 25, 2016, 12:45 PM ]

Come out and enjoy a Haunted Hay Ride, sponsored by the GHOST Hounds of South Texas

2016 Historic McClanahan House Museum Brochures

posted Aug 9, 2016, 2:17 PM by Bee County Historical Society

Membership Donation Drive 2016-2017

posted Jun 3, 2016, 9:12 AM by Bee County Historical Society

We've been busy, planning our 2017 Living History Event for next year, nothing solid yet, but we are working on it. “Hoping” to get the Texas Vaqueros involved this next year, that would be awesome!!!!

Summer is almost upon us and we are kicking off our annual Membership Donation Drive. Membership goes from June 2016 to May 2017.

We have submitted for grants to help insulate, upgrade electrical, reroute plumbing (actually forgot to add that, but hoping we get enough funds to do this) and install central air and heat. We have meetings most of the year, but hold off in July and August due to the extreme heat. The small window unit just can’t cool the house down enough. We haven’t had an event this year other than our annual yard sale which proved to be a success, but the Fall is proving to be a very busy time. The Ghost Hounds of South Texas are going to sponsor a “Haunted Hay Ride” taking folks through the city at known haunted locations. Should be fun. We will also have folks giving out candy on Halloween, we had about 40 kids come by in 2015. Then, of course, our annual Christmas Tree Forest will be happening again!!!!

If anyone would like to help us put on some kind of benefit to help off set some of the costs that will be needed, please get with us. Out last meeting until September will be June 20, 2016 at the Historic McClanahan House at 5:30pm, we will go over some of the particulars of the upcoming events.

We will be “renting” the house to businesses for meetings if anyone is interested, or you know anyone interested in using the downstairs part of the house let us know. Donations will be accepted for meetings. Must schedule a docent to be in attendance.

Drive by the house, we had it decorated for Memorial Day and will add to it for the Fourth of July!!! There are flowers growing in pots that make the museum look good. Folks can sit on the porch and enjoy the day. But hope the mosquitos don’t fly off with you. 
REMEMBER: Bee County is YOUR History, be part of it, be involved!!!!!

Here is the Membership Donation Drive info, please send us your donation or membership update, you will also get something in the mail. We are a 501c3 Charitable Organization, so keep a receipt for your records. If you need one, please let us know and we will send you one!!!!!

Bee County Historical Society Inc
Membership Donation Drive

June 2016 – June 2017

Members - $20.00
Benefactor - $50.00
Sponsor - $100.00

We welcome you to help preserve the history and artifacts of our county.

Send us your e-mail address for up to date Historical Events

Mail to
P.O. Box 142
Beeville, Texas 78104-0142

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