Refugio County, Texas, lying on the Southwest Texas coast, was first visited by Cabeza de Vaca in 1528. The region was inhabited by Karankawa Indians, a nomadic, cannibalistic tribe. The Spanish established the first port in Texas at El Copano and a mission in 1795 to minister to the Indians thus establishing a claim to the Texas coast.
Today, stately restored homes and ranches befitting Texas oilmen and cattlemen are at every turn in Refugio County. Refugio has the elegance of the Old South with its mansions built well over a century ago and ranches that began as Mexican land grants.
Mexican colonization laws initially restricted Anglo-American immigration in the area of what is now Refugio county. Anglo-American immigration did start in 1828 when empresarios, James Power and James Hewetson, received a contract from Mexico to settle three hundred Irish colonists in Refugio County. The legacy of these early settlers can be seen today in county residents with surnames such as Power, O'Brien, O'Conner, Rooke, & Shay.
One of the most significant events in the history of Refugio was the discovery of oil in the 1920's. According to county lore, oil was first encountered during the digging of a water well near St. Mary's in 1879; however, serious exploration did not begin until the 1920's. Almost overnight the discovery of oil transformed the sleepy little town of Refugio into an economic dynamo while attracting fortune seekers and workers from far and wide
By the mid 1940's eleven distinct oil fields had been discovered in Refugio county. Until the present, the oil and gas industry remain as the biggest source of employment and income for the county's residents. Agriculture production is also quite significant. Products include beef, corn, cotton and grain sorghums.
Modern Refugio county's largest town is still the city Refugio, and its most prominent landmark is Our Lady of Refuge Catholic Church which occupies the original site of the the old Nuestra Senora del Refugio mission. This unusual, historic church is the first site to greet visitors as they enter Refugio from the south and has grown to be the iconic symbol of Refugio.
Refugio county residents are quite proud of their schools. The three school districts in the county: (Refugio ISD, Woodsboro ISD, and Austwell-Tivoli ISD) are all noted for their academic excellence and outstanding sports teams. Achievements include state level academic, track, and football teams.
As evidence of the community's commitment to education, all three school districts have recently completed new construction as shown below.... for a closer look at modern Refugio, see the county video.