Stephen F. Austin State University

Rusk County

Rusk County is located in the heart of the Piney Woods. The county seat is Henderson. Caddo Indians inhabited the area until European-Anglo settlers came to the area in 1829, and settlement began in 1834 with migration coming from other southern states. The Texas government established Rusk County in 1843 in honor of President Sam Houston's Secretary of War Thomas Jefferson Rusk. William B. Ochiltree founded Henderson in honor of his friend James Pinckney Henderson.

Farming became the predominant occupation in the 1840s. The county remained agricultural with the farming of cotton, corn, sugarcane, and wheat. The 1860s were a tough decade for Rush County due to low precipitation and high temperatures. Rusk County seceded from the Union.

Rusk County remained mainly agricultural from the 1880s through 1920s. The discovery of oil in the 1910s created one of the most profitable oil fields in the country, which helped the county through the Great Depression. Once agricultural, Rusk County transformed into a manufacturing area based on the needs of oil procurement. Tragedy struck the county in 1937 with the New London school explosion, which led to increased regulations in engineering and the oil industry. Rusk County's population began to decline after World War II as people sought employment elsewhere. From the 1950s to the present, the county has depended onrich profits from oil, along with logging and farming.

Museum/Historic Site


City/State/Federal Agency

Text: Handbook of Texas Online, Texas State Historical Association.

To learn more about Rusk County's history check out our Local Voices' writer Justin Robinson's column "Gathered Seeds of Gardening Lore" on our Local Voices page.