Bastrop County History
Since the beginning and throughout their history, the city and county of Bastrop have thrived by standing out. Take a side trip through Bastrop’s past, and find out how our unique history has continued to be such an important part of who we are today.
With its rich and varied vegetation, plentiful wildlife and easy access to water, the Lost Pines area around Bastrop was attractive to nomadic hunters and gatherers. Archaeological evidence of the Tonkawa tribe and earlier inhabitants has been found throughout the region, and during construction of the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa, site surveyors discovered a well-preserved prehistoric campsite. The stone tools, hearths and mussel shells found date back as far as 2,100 years ago and are on display at the Resort’s Cardinal Point Interpretive Center.
Although it had long been a home to the Tonkawa and other native tribes, Bastrop County wasn’t mapped or written into history until 1691, when Spanish explorers Dom Domingo Terán de Los Ríos and Father Manzanet traveled the Colorado River and recorded Shipp’s Lake, just east of Smithville, in their journals.
Once the Lost Pines Region made its way onto maps, it became attractive for settlers, and shortly thereafter, it became a crucial touch point for the history of Texas in its colonization, growth and fight for freedom.
THE PATH TO INDEPENDENCE
The dominant and unexpected presence of the Lost Pines was one of many frontier barriers on the path to the west. Though the thick forest was a worthy adversary, in 1795 Native American tribes and Spanish explorers forged a network of trails called El Camino Real de los Tejas through the Lost Pines to connect Mexico and Louisiana. El Camino Real became a route of commerce, exploration and information that transformed the land around it, and it was later traveled by European explorers and heroes of the Texas Revolution, including Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie. The route still exists and can be walked today.
While this portion of Texas was originally controlled and colonized by Mexico, it wasn’t long before it was growing beyond those boundaries. Stephen F. Austin, the “father of Texas,” found such pride here that when the Mexican government granted the region four leagues of land, Austin claimed two more. The area was named Bastrop after the Dutch businessman Felipe Enrique Neri (also known as the Baron de Bastrop), who negotiated with the Mexicans to help facilitate Austin’s colonization plans.
When it came time for Bastrop to join the fight for Texas’ independence in 1835, not only did our citizens join in, they led the charge. The first man to fire a shot, the first soldier lost in the fight and three signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence were all sons of Bastrop. Bastrop’s citizens were also instrumental in the battle of the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto, where General Santa Anna’s Mexican army was defeated. On March 17, 1836, the Mina Municipality (Bastrop County’s original name) became an official part of the state of Texas, and on December 18, 1837, the town of Bastrop was born.
Find out more about Bastrop history at the Bastrop County Historical Society Museum.
Take a trip along the Texas Independence Trail to go back in time to the Texas Revolution.
THE MODERN ERA
Around the same time that the town of Mina was coming into its own as the seat of the newly formed Bastrop County, a nearby settlement called Waterloo was also being established. In 1839, Stephen F. Austin, who was crucial in the shaping of Bastrop, instead chose Waterloo (now known as Austin) as the official capital of the Republic of Texas. While the choice to place the capital elsewhere was a blow to the pride of Bastrop, that choice helped the town stay true to its roots as it continued to thrive in the thick of the Lost Pines and the genuine heart of Texas.
Since then, Bastrop has preserved its authenticity, history and charm to become “The Most Historic Small Town in Texas” and has over 100 landmarks in the National Register of Historic Places. The Lost Pines Region includes Elgin, Rockne, Smithville and dozens of other small towns in between that create a sense of escape that still feels close, no matter where you call home. All it takes is a quick detour off the highway and into Bastrop and the Lost Pines to share in the stories, people and places that continue to shape us.
Find historic courthouses, cemeteries, military sites and over 100 Texas Historical Markers in Bastrop County at the Texas Historic Sites Atlas.