George B. Erath, a native of Vienna, Austria, came to America in 1832. He was an Indian fighter, surveyor, soldier at San Jacinto, Texas Ranger, Republic of Texas congressman, member of the Legislature of the State of Texas, and a major in the Confederate Army. In 1849, Erath surveyed the town of Waco, and in 1949, the Waco Tribune Herald, in its Centennial edition, said, “George B. Erath had more to do with the actual settling of Central Texas than any other person.”
Between sessions of the Congress of the Texas Republic, prior to 1846 when Texas became a state, Erath continued surveying. “On one of his surveying trips, he led the first party of white men ever to set foot in what is now Erath County.” Erath saw the possibilities in this valley land which Spanish and Mexican predecessors had named ‘el bosque, which means, “the forest”. Thus began the march of settlement up the Bosque River.
In May of 1854, the heirs of John Blair, who died in the Alamo, received a land patent which had been secured by John M. Stephen. On January 12, 1855, the heirs of John Blair made a warranty deed to John M. Stephen for the land which became the town of Stephenville.
According to the “Memoirs of George B. Erath”, written by his daughter, Lucy, “In the latter part of May, 1855, McLennan and I led a party of 30 pioneers into the territory now Erath County. John M. Stephen, who owned the land where Stephenville now stands, was among them. The settlers agreed to choose their homes there and in the country around about; so we laid off the town of Stephenville; finishing laying it off on the fourth of July. This settlement was then the farthest west of any on the water of the Brazos.” At this time, John M. Stephen, who had come from Burleson County, made an agreement that he would give land for the county courthouse and building lots for his fellow settlers and for several churches, if the town was named Stephenville and was designated the county seat. The State of Texas accepted this agreement, and in 1856, the County of Erath was organized with Stephenville as its county seat.
In 1858, the population of Stephenville was estimated as 766. There were two stores and a hotel, which was much needed to house buffalo hunters. The buffalo ranged within three miles to town and so did the Indians.
When the Civil War ended, war veterans returned to their homes to find desperate conditions. Conditions on this western edge of the frontier were hard, manufactured goods were scarce, and home grown and home made articles became a necessity. The Pony Express was the only communication link to the rest of the world. Overland freight to Erath County came by ox wagon from Houston, and transportation was by horseback, horse and buggy, or wagon, or by foot as John Tarleton would travel 30 years later.