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Kopperl History

Written by: Ruth Crawford, Travis Bryant, and Ron Carlisle

Kopperl was not established until 1881; however so much important history surrounded the area that this article will begin with events that led up to the establishment of the town itself.

Early History

          Without archeological or geological expertise here, common observation leads to the fact that the area along the Brazos River was once under an ocean.  Just pick up a rock and find evidence of ancient sea life.  Limestone and sandstone mixed with quartz make up the subsurface.  There is documentation of early man, however.  When Lake Whitney was proposed, a team of Army Corps of Engineer archeologists made a survey for signs of prehistoric and historic items for preservation.  So many places of interest were found that the Smithsonian was called to do further documentation.  A long list of sites and artifacts were made; a copy of this list can be found in the Bosque Collection.  Tools and weapons, pictographs, and an ancient burial site, like the Horn Shelter near Smith Bend, were discovered. These areas were preserved by concrete and water-tight tunnels.  The Bosque Museum in Clifton has a great collection relating to the Horn Shelter.

          Early native American tribes were Keechi, Ionis, Apache, and Tonkawas.  Comanche moved in around the early 1800s, and Anadaca Caddo were moved from East Texas by Rangers to Jose Maria Village near Fort Graham in 1834.  These tribes raided each other on a regular basis.  Kimball Bend was known as Keechi Village as there was a tribe living there.  The village was permanent; however, they followed the food on hunting expeditions.  Buffalo, black bear, elk, antelope, turkey and hogs were prolific.

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The Horn Shelter - Painting by Frank Weir, see

          The Spanish were the first non-indians documented to have set foot on Texas soil in 1528 and at least partially occupied Texas for nearly three centuries.  Mexico declared its independence from Spain in 1821, and if you are a Texan, you probably know that the Republic of Texas declared its independence from Mexico on March 2, 1836.  Although there was occupation in Texas for over three centuries by this time, there had been relatively little activity in Kopperl and the surrounding areas.  You can see this represented on the map below where Spanish Colonization never spread to the upper Brazos.

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          In 1801 Philip Nolan led a party of men from Louisiana, supposedly to search for wild horses, into the area around Blum and Kopperl.  In March they fought with Spanish troops near the mouth of the Nolan and Brazos Rivers, where Nolan was killed and buried.  This makes Nolan the first documented Anglo in the area.  Click here to read more on Philip Nolan.

Philip Nolan Miniature 2.JPG

          The Brazos River was the core site of several early colonies negotiated by Stephen F Austin from Spain.  A major legal battle was fought in 1833 between Austin and Dr. Sterling Robertson for ownership of what was known as “the upper (Brazos) colony”, and later known as the Robertson Colony or Nashville Colony.  Colonists were from Nashville, Tennessee, and like most pioneers they were looking for land, and lots of it, and opportunity.  Robertson eventually won the legal right from Mexico to own the colony, which stretched from present day Williamson County to Young County and east to the Trinity, then west to the Leon.

          Each colonist was awarded a league, which is 4,428 acres.  Widows with children got an extra labor or 177 acres.  These land grants had to be surveyed, which fell to early Rangers.  The first Ranger troop was formed in Robertson Colony.  These men were sent with James Chase, George Green and George Erath, qualified surveyors, up the Brazos to mark Mexican grants, issued in 1834-1835.  Bosque County has 10 original Mexican grants, most located from the dam up to Steele Creek. 

          The colonists were awarded these grants by lottery.  If you were fortunate, you got a grant within a few miles of the other settlers. However, some won land 200 miles upriver in the wild wilderness.   Most never laid eyes on their property.  This opened the door for land agents.  Galveston was an unofficial capital for colonists. Land agents were hovering, waiting to pounce on folks to unburden them from their frontier properties, then sell at a profit to someone just getting off the boat.  If you study these early deeds you will find most transactions were done the same day.  In fact, Algernon P. Thompson was awarded the survey where Kopperl is located.  He finalized his deed and sold it to Jacob De Cordova almost immediately in 1847.  It was a plus for colonists who first needed cash and secondly knew they might never settle in these isolated and faraway places.

          After the Republic was formed, colonies were disbanded and divided into districts.  Bosque Territory was part of the Milam District, stretching from Milam County to Possum Kingdom, west of the Brazos to just west of the Leon.  In 1838 Sam Houston sent Ranger units to survey the vast area of land that the Republic now owned, and to take a census of the native population.  George Erath came through the Milam District; Jack Hays led his unit west.

          The Santa Fe Trail was a trade route established between the United States and Mexico going west from St. Louis to Santa Fe, Mexico.  In 1841 Republic President Mirabeau B.  Lamar planned an expedition to join the trade route as Texas needed a market for its goods and needed cash.  Possibly another reason was to secure the western borders from Mexican intrusion.  The route started at present day Round Rock to the Brazos near Waco, then followed the Brazos up to near Wichita Falls then westward across the Panhandle to Santa Fe. Wagons loaded with goods and a special unit of Rangers headed north to uncharted territory.   Think about this, today if you got in your car in Round Rock, taking good roads in the straightest path and plenty of opportunity for supplies and rest stops, Google says it would take you 10 hours and 55 minutes to reach Santa Fe. Pack mules, extra horses, 21 ox-drawn wagons, 5 infantry companies and 1 artillery company made up of special Rangers, commissioners and other members of the party made the total of 321 people.  With no Google maps and Interstate highways had not quite been funded yet; these folks were in for a very bumpy ride over uncharted territory.  They followed the western bank of the Brazos to Waco Village, crossed the Bosque near Valley Mills and back to the Brazos.  There are several journals and written histories of this expedition which can be found online and are worth the read.  The expedition travelled through modern day Lakeside Village, through Kopperl, and camped for crossed the river at Kimball before continuing north.  They spoke fondly of the territory, mentioning the Three Sisters, the abundance of springs and abandoned Indian dwellings plus the variety of wildlife.  In the Kendall Account he stated:

The location upon which we were encamped being in the edge of the timber, with rich prairie directly in front of us, was one of the finest we had yet met on our route. The valley of the Brazos at this place abounded with every species of timber known in Texas; grapes, plums, and other fruit were found in profusion; honey could be obtained in almost every hollow tree; trout and other fish were plentiful in the small creeks in the neighborhood and the woods and prairies about us not only afforded excellent grazing for our cattle and horses, but teemed with every species of game: elk, deer, bears, wild turkeys, and at the proper season, buffalo and mustang.

          The native population and the new settlers had several areas of contention, many leading to conflicts.  About 1844 Sam Houston entered a treaty that moved tribes north of a “no settlement” line, beginning at the Torrey Trading Company just south of Waco on the Brazos and stretching west.  When the Republic became part of the United States this treaty was not recognized by the U.S., and a series of forts were built north of Austin, including Fort Gates and Fort Graham, which was built in 1848.  The protection of the forts allowed north-ward expansion. 

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Map of Santa Fe Expedition Found in Kendall's Narrative Of The Texan Santa Fe Expedition



          Albert Barton, along with wife Elizabeth and two small children, her mother and brother, moved in 1850 to the mouth of Steele Creek across from Fort Graham.  Albert Barton built a ferry in 1851 and raised corn to sell to the fort.  The ferry was capsized by one of the notorious Brazos “rises” (sudden and violent rush of water) and Albert and 3 others were drowned.  Elizabeth stayed and continued to sell corn to the fort.  In 1853 she married the dashing Sam Barnes, Texas Ranger and Indian tracker for the 2nd Dragoons stationed at Fort Graham.  She was the first settler in Bosque County and is buried in Kopperl Cemetery.

          Jacob De Cordova was born in Jamaica in 1808.  His father was a coffee merchant and newspaper printer.  After the death of his mother, he was sent to England to be raised by his aunt.  He became a trader in New Orleans and made many trips to Texas, eventually immigrating in 1839.  His photograph was hung in every Odd Fellow Lodge in Texas because he installed early members in the first IOOF lodge formed outside the United States.  He became a successful land agent often referred to as the “man who sold Texas.”  De Cordova was agent for New Yorker Richard Kimball, buying up over 14,000 acres along the Brazos in Bosque Territory.  He travelled as far as Europe touting the marvels of Texas.  In England, he impressed many future immigrants by painting a picture of commerce, industry, and the navigational quality of the Brazos River.  The Universal Emigration and Colonization Company was created with the famous Native American artist George Catlin at its head.  The company and Catlin focused on promoting immigration to a promising colony along the Brazos.  The site of the new colony was eventually selected in October of 1851 by Sir Edward Belcher who was the director of the English company.  The company purchased 27,000 acres of land from Richard Kimball including modern day Kopperl.  The land stretched 30 miles up the Brazos to Spring Creek.  In September of 1850 the first batch of 117 Settlers departed Liverpool in route to the new lands.  When the settlers arrived from the arduous journey across the Atlantic in November, they discovered they must trek northward almost 300 miles over prairies, limestone cliffs, and rivers, not to mention it was late November in one of the worst winters on record.  When they finally arrived at the new colony which sat just below Soloman's Nose (Where the current railroad bridge crosses the Brazos) there was no shelter, no food, no supplies-just wide-open wilderness.  The new colony was named Kent.  Many of the immigrants were business and professional people, without the survival skills needed for this wilderness.  Other families were already on their way from England, with no way to warn them. They scraped by for a year before giving up; those who could afford the passage returned to England.  The rest moved to more settled locations.  When the colony failed the land reverted back to Cordova and Kimball.  More detailed information on Kent is to be written and can be found by clicking here.

          Settlers began moving into Bosque Territory and by 1854 the citizens petitioned for a county.  State Legislature approved the petition and formed Bosque County on February 4, 1854.  After the failure of Kent, Richard Kimball, Jr. an attorney, was sent by his father to establish another settlement along the Brazos.  De Cordova surveyed and platted a settlement called Kimball Village.  Kimball grew quickly, one of the earliest successful communities in the new county.  Richard Kimball made a plantation, with interesting ideas.  Slaves were assigned “families” and each family was given a house, a garden and a poodle to keep rabbits out of the garden.  Each house had a differently colored door; if you were assigned to the green door, that was your family, and you didn’t “visit” the red door unless under strict social occasions.
By 1860 Kimball was a booming place.  Cotton, wheat and corn were doing well; there was a post office and several merchants, a newspaper, a ferry, a doctor and 6 saloons.  The Masons built the first public building that served as a church, school, meeting place, polling place and Masonic Lodge.  There still were no barges bringing trade on the river, but the famous Chisholm Trail decided to cross the Brazos at Kimball.  Many thousands of cattle were driven across the Brazos during the heyday of the cattle trail at Kimball Village.  A local man built a holding pin near the river.  When the gate was opened the lead cow would go into the water first.  If she became spooked or the water was too deep, the cowboys would dunk her head under for a few minutes and when she came up and saw the bank, she took off for dry land with the rest of the herd in tow.  Many of the youth would wait on the waters edge and ride the swimming cattle across the river for fun.  The herds were so large the school children would put their ears to the ground and could tell how close the herds were.  Kimball had a cemetery, which was moved out of the flood plain when Lake Whitney was built.  The oldest grave is James McDonald, 1868.  Kimball flourished until the railroad bypassed it. Jacob and Rebecca De Cordova, who donated land and supported the village, were moved from Kimball Cemetery in 1938 and buried in the State Cemetery in Austin.  After the War Between the States, De Cordova had designed and started construction of a steam powered cotton gin, but he died before the plans were put in place.  After the railroad came through, Richard Kimball, a successful attorney, moved his family and law practice to Meridian.

          Green Powell bought land near the mouth of Mesquite Creek to the other side of Powelldale Mountains in 1854.  He built a rock house with no windows that served as protection against Indian attacks.  His creativity allowed him to build an elaborate grist mill which served people for many miles.  There was also a cotton gin.  A post office opened in 1873 and closed in 1881.  The post office served as a store, church and school.  Ed Nichols rode his horse to attend this school for many years.  This school consolidated with Kopperl soon after the railroad was completed.  A ferry was started and was a great service for people wanting to trade at Fort Graham.  Thomas Hunt bought the mill in later years.  Mr. Hunt had an interesting history in Texas.  He was a special ranger who accompanied the Santa Fe Expedition in 1841.  The expedition ironically came through the very area on which Mr. Hunt settled later.  He was captured outside of Santa Fe by the Mexican Army and marched all the way to Mexico City.  Those that survived the march were held in dungeons for three years until the United States intervened with Mexican authorities, and the prisoners shipped back to Galveston.  Powelldale is located off CR 1270.  The mountains are known as the Powelldale Mountains, or sometimes the Three Sisters.  The cemetery at Powelldale was moved to Kimball Cemetery when the land was flooded by Lake Whitney.  The earliest grave for Powelldale was Sheba Speer, 1871. 

          Gilbert Greer bought a large tract of land in the A. P. Thompson survey in 1856. This tract followed Plowman Creek and most of present day Kopperl.  They opened up a beautiful and peaceful area near the creek for neighbors to picnic, known as Greer Park.  Greer Park lasted many decades and was commonly visited by tourists from all around the country.  The train would stop while in route to Blum from the Kopperl depot and let visitors out to spend the day at the park.  The park was located near where the old railroad bridge crossed Plowman Creek.

          Fort Graham was closed in 1854.  The U. S. Army deemed the threat of Indian problems was controlled enough in the area, they moved forts further north and west.  They forgot to tell the Comanche.  By 1858 the Army had officially moved all native tribes across the Red River. They forgot to tell the Comanche, again.  

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An Artists Depiction of Fort Graham

          From 1850 to 1858, Comanche raided the area from Bosque up to Jack County, over to Palo Pinto County and south to Coryell County.  These raids were mainly taking livestock and looting.  Warriors resented “things” that white folks kept.  They would dress in women’s clothing they had taken in raids.  Cotton ticked mattresses were always taken outside and ripped apart then burned.  In 1859 murmurings of trouble between north and south caused the U. S. Army to pull out of Texas.  Texas Rangers stepped up to keep the frontier protected. Camps were dotted along north and west boundaries.  When the War Between the States began in 1861, many men volunteered for the Frontier Militia, which patrolled county boundaries.  Comanche were becoming more frequent and violent in their raids.  Jayhawkers were bringing guns and other goods, encouraging the Comanche to raid as much as they could.  Most of the younger men were off fighting in the south so the Rangers and local militias were at a disadvantage, but they held their own.  In 1864 a party of Rangers and militia began tracking Comanche south, closely following present day Hwy 16, then westward to Irion County.  What followed is known as the Battle of Dove Creek, where the Rangers and militia were caught by surprise and outnumbered 2 to 1 by Comanche and Kickapoo.  The time after the War Between the States was difficult.  Cash was nonexistent, farms were neglected, law and order was under carpetbaggers, and outlaws found shelter in the county. Hangings were not uncommon.  Belle Starr hid out in the eastern part of the county.  Sam Bass and gang frequented Kimball.  Ed Nichols tells that he sold his mother’s biscuits to Sam for a silver dollar.  The event that saved Kimball and most of the county was the cattle drives which began in 1868 and continued for about 10 years.

1880 - 1920


          Throughout the 1870s, Houston and Galveston were intensely competing for business within the Texas Interior, but Galveston had a major problem:   The only link Galveston had to the Texas Railroad Network was through Houston, and unfair restrictions were being placed on Galveston traffic.  To resolve this issue, Galveston decided to build their own railroad that would completely bypass Houston.  The Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railroad was chartered in 1873 and began construction in 1875 with intentions of connecting Galveston to the interior of Texas.  For more specific history about the development and history of the  G.C. & S.F. Railroad click here.  In 1880, the Railroad began planning a branch line that would connect Fort Worth to Temple, crossing the Brazos River in Northeastern Bosque County.  By July of 1880 the Railroad had already decided to cross the Brazos two miles south of Kimball.  The railroad considered crossing the river at Kimball which was a well-established town at the time serving as a popular cattle crossing along the Chisholm Trail, but the town did not want the railroad to interfere with the cattle industry income so they opposed the railroad.  There is another story that the Railroad opted for a narrower crossing of the Brazos and a more direct route to Blum.

          In April and May of 1881, the Greer and Frazier families sold a right-of-way to the railroad allowing it to travel through their farms along the Brazos River valley.  Also in May of 1881, the railroad purchased land from the Greer Family (W.R. Greer, G.D. Greer) which was surveyed into lots and named Kopperl, in honor of Moritz Kopperl who was the president of the Gulf, Colorado, and Santa Fe Railroad.  The town of Kopperl was Born, just 36 years after Texas became a state and only 16 years after the Civil War.  There were initial plans to build shops along Plowman Creek so the Steam Trains could stop and fill with water, but it was found that Plowman Creek did not supply enough water and the water of the Brazos was too salty.

Gulf Colorado and Santa Fe Railroad Engi
Early Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe Railroad Engine 
Moritz Kopperl

          The first Kopperl Post Office was founded on September 5, 1881.  The postmaster was D. A. Giesler who was replaced sometime before 1896 by Rice Maxey.  It is thought that the first Post Office was the home that sits just east of the Current Methodist Church.  More information regarding the Kopperl Post Office can be found by clicking here.

          On July 1, 1882, Moritz Kopperl donated $500 to build the first Kopperl School building.  This was the first public building erected in Kopperl and also served as a Church on Sundays.  While not the original building, the Kopperl School is still serving the community to this day.  To read the extensive Kopperl School history click here.

          The Kimball Masonic Lodge #292 which was established in 1867 was moved to Kopperl in 1883.  This is one sign of the decline of Kimball and the growth of Kopperl.  By the 1880s the cattle crossings at Kimball had started to slow down causing many to move closer to the railway.  In 1903 the Masonic Lodge as trustee of the Kopperl Baptist Church purchased lots 8 and 9, block 30. On this lot they built a two story building. of which the upper story was used for a lodge meeting room and the lower story for the Baptist Church.  This building is pictured below.

Early Baptist Church and Masonic Lodge.J
Kopperl Masonic Lodge and Baptist Church - Built in 1903

Early Business in Kopperl


          The first business men in Kopperl were Rice Maxey, Porter, Greer & Co. and Burt & Son, all of whom opened general stores in the fall of 1881.  At that time the train depot was just a Box Car which was replaced soon after by the Railroad Depot that can still be seen today.

          A man named William Carlton kept the first hotel in Kopperl.  A ten room hotel was also built by Mrs. Sarah Frances and Moore Caruthers in the 1880s.  It not only served as a hotel, but also hosted the towns social functions.  The Frances hotel burned about 1910, but was rebuilt and leased to the Bradshaws.  In 1918, the S.A. Caruthers family moved into it and began running it as a hotel again.

          In the early 1880s there were multiple general stores that moved from Kimball to Kopperl including the Greers.  Numerous general stores opened in Kopperl including those owned by: Irvin De Cordova, B. Johnson, G.R. Jackson, and M.S. Greer.  Some of these are pictured below.  All of the photos below were contributed by Ron Carlisle of Kopperl.



          By 1920, Cecil De Cordova, Walter Day, Ike Johnson, and George Lain were in business.  By 1939 there were numerous businesses in Kopperl including:   Floyd Hill Grocery Store, Day Crocery Store, Boggs Pharmacy, Day Service Station, Mrs. Dysart Beauty Shop, Graves Feed Mill, W.L. Johnson Drug Store, Buckle Alsup Grocery Store, Davis and Scruggs Insurance, Cole Brothers Garage, W.L. Archer Magnolia Service Station, and others.  At this time the town was busy and the farming community although poor from the depression was thriving within their own community.

          On the weekends all of the farmers would come into town to do their grocery shopping and at the end of the day there was a drawing for all sorts of things.  The whole community would wait around for the drawings to see if they had won anything.  All sorts of prizes were given including in one instance a pig which was released on main street for the winner to run down and catch.  It was also a common occurrence for a boxing ring to be set up in the center of town so the young men could box their hearts out for all of the young ladies to watch.

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