Museum Home Page
The History of Galveston County
Long before Anglo settlers inhabited Galveston County, two man groups of
Native Americans lived in the region. The Akokisa and the Karankawa
lived off the abundance of wild plants, fish, and small mammals.
Archeological evidence of their existence includes campsites, shell
middens (trash piles of discarded bone, shells, etc.), burial grounds,
arrow/spear points, and pottery. Coastal Indian groups were sometimes
raided by conflicting interior groups like the Apache, Comanche, and
||When European explorers entered the area disease and fighting further
reduced the already declining population. Juan de Grijalva, is credited
with discovering Galveston Island in 1519, although scholars debate if
he actually landed at Galveston Island, or another place. Cabeza de
Vaca’s explorations of the area provide the first documentation of what
most scholars believe was Galveston Island and Galveston County. De Vaca
was on the Narvaez expedition in 1528 when he was shipwrecked on what
most scholars believe was Galveston Island. His notes name the island
the “Isle of Misfortune” and “Isle of Snakes.” De Vaca’s group was
rescued by Karankawas who took them to a village where they were given
food and shelter. Eventually, de Vaca moved on, and it was not until
1685 that another French explorer, Sieur de La Salle, visited the area.
And, in 1783 José Antonio de Evia a Spanish navigator, surveyed the area
and named the bay Galvezton for Viceroy Bernardo de Gálvez who supported
the United States in the Revolutionary War.
Despite all the visitors, pirates were the first to make a permanent
home here. Mexicans invited pirate Louis d’Aury to settle on Galveston
because they would have a more legitimate claim to the land if settlers
were living there. However, Aury was forced out, and pirate Jean Lafitte
took over. In 1817, Lafitte established a village called Campeche on the
east end of Galveston Island. He ran a successful operation trading
slaves and other goods. Due to troubles with the U.S. government,
Laffite burned his village and left in 1821.
While under Mexico rule, settlement of the area proceeded slowly. Lead
by Stephen F. Austin, American colonists began settling the area under
the Mexican Empresario system of land grants. On the Mainland, early
settlers built farms close to creeks and bayous and raised beef and
produce. Surplus was transported by boat to Galveston for sale.
Eventually, railroads became a major mode of transportation which
allowed the county to further develop its economy of agriculture,
ranching, and tourism. By 1911, the Interurban rail line began running
between Houston and Galveston with several stops throughout the county.
The non-stop, express ride from Houston to Galveston took about an hour.
Throughout the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s the petrochemical industry and
NASA’s presence transformed this rural area.