County was established by the Texas legislature on April 11,
1846, shortly after Texas abandoned its dream of being a
Republic and joined the United States.
Early pioneers settled along the Trinity River and its
tributaries and on the edge of the frontier as it moved
Settlers were scarce, however, until the Republic of Texas
approved an impresario grant in 1841 with the Texas
Emigration and Land Company based in Louisville, Kentucky.
W.S. Peters led the group of twenty investors, and the grant
became known as the Peters Colony. The contracts eventually
covered all of Northeast Texas. The colony's land office was
established near Hebron in the southeast corner of
present-day Denton County.
After Texas joined the union, promises of U.S. Army
protection from marauding Indians prompted a new wave of
The new county, carved out of Fannin County, was named for
John B. Denton, a pioneer preacher and lawyer who had
been killed in an Indian fight in 1841.
chose a county seat along Pecan Creek and named it
Pinckneyville lasted only two years. Water shortages forced
the fledgling community to move, first in February 1848 to a
new site they named Alton a few miles south and again in
late 1848 to another site near Hickory Creek. The Hickory
Creek location also was named Old Alton and it
remained the seat of Denton County government for about ten
By 1856, the little settlement of Old Alton was
thriving. Old Alton boasted several homes, a
blacksmith shop, three stores, a saloon, hotel and bar, two
doctors, several lawyers, and a cemetery, and was
headquarters for the Denton County Land District.
By 1857, however, Denton County was ready to move the county
seat again. County residents wanted a county seat more
central to the settlements in Pilot Point in the north and
Lewisville in the south. Old Alton residents voted to move
again. This time they called the new county seat Denton.
Lots for the original Township of Denton were
auctioned on January 10, 1857.
The first courthouse in Denton was a two-story frame
structure on the north side of the downtown square. The
building burned in 1875, destroying most of the county
records. A brick courthouse was then built in the center of
the square, a two-story building with a tall central tower.
Lightning damaged that building and it was condemned and
demolished in 1894. Construction of the present
Courthouse-on-the-Square began in 1895. The cornerstone was
laid in 1896, and the courthouse was dedicated in 1897.
For a decade, Denton County was on the northeast Texas
frontier. Cattle and horses ranged on the unfenced prairies.
Residents were engaged in ranching and subsistence farming.
John S. Chisum, who became the most famous cattleman
in the West, operated his first ranch in Denton County.
In 1860, Denton County population was 4,780. In the 1870s,
population grew to 18,143. Subsistence farming gave way to
cotton farming in the blackland and wheat farming on the
prairies. Railroads came through to boost the economy more.
From 1890 to 1920, Denton County ranked either first or
second in wheat production in Texas.
Denton County covers 911 square miles in north central
Texas. The Eastern Cross Timbers juts through the central
part of the county. Blackland prairie covers its western
half and a slice along its eastern edge.
population grew from 47,432 in 1960 to 143,126 in 1980.
Many new rural
residents owned small spreads. The horse farms began
replacing cattle ranches in the 1970s. Large horse
ranches were scattered through the county; in 1983 horses
brought in $17,207,400, a significantly larger income than
that from any other agricultural product.
many older residents returned much of Denton County's rich
cropland to pasture.
By the year 2000, the northern area of the county was a
center for horse ranches and a balanced farming region
producing wheat, cotton, beef and dairy cattle.
In 2005 the
Denton County horse industry is big business generating $53
million annually to the local economy and is home to
approximately 25,100 head of horses, and shows no signs of
slowing down. The spin-off from this industry supports
truck/trailer sales, forage production, tack/equipment, barn
construction, feed sales, land purchases and employment in
Denton County has an extremely diverse horse industry that
includes basically every type of horse, from backyard
recreation to ropers, cutters, dressage, reining, halter,
racing, polo and breeding horses, involving virtually every
The county is one of the top ten in the state for horse
population and industry generated income.