AUSTIN ANSWERED: Why is the Travis/Williamson county line so crooked?

12:00 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017 Local
Parts of Williamson, Travis, Bastrop and Hays counties shown in 1920. Note the crooked county divide betwen Williamson and Travis. Contributed by Texas General Land Office

A very observant reader asked our Austin Answered project: “If you examine a map of the Travis-Williamson county line, it’s so crooked it looks almost like a river. How did the line come to be?”

Although the Travis-Williamson county line is crooked, it does not follow a waterway.

Its shape, however, is related to watersheds: It traces the high divide between the Brazos and Colorado river basins. Streams to the north, such as the San Gabriel, Leon and Lampasas rivers, flow generally east to the Little River and eventually into the Brazos. Creeks to the south of the divide — Cow, Big Sandy, Bull, Shoal, Waller, Boggy, Tannehill, Little Walnut, Walnut — flow southeast into the Colorado.

It’s not easy to perceive this divide in the flatter, more populated parts of the counties. But if you head out on rugged RM 1431, then up RM 1174 to the headwaters of the South Fork San Gabriel River near Oatmeal and Bertram, you see why this political barrier makes some physical sense.

Travis County didn’t always look this way. Spanish and Mexican land grants split up the land often geometically before Stephen F. Austin carved out his “Little Colony,” which ran along the north side of the Colorado River from Bastrop to about Shoal Creek. Although lovers of certain sites, such as Laguna Gloria, claim that Austin planned to live there, archivists have found no evidence of that in his papers at the Briscoe Center for American History.

Much of the area was once part of Bastrop and Milam counties. The Republic of Texas Congress approved the establishment of a vast new Travis County in 1840. Maps at the Texas General Land Office confirm that Travis once included land now in Callahan, Coleman, Comal, Gillespie, Hays, Burnet, Brown, Lampasas, Eastland, Runnels and Taylor counties.

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