The battle of Plum Creek in 1848 marked the last of the Comanche raids into Central Texas. Slowly, settlers began to feel safe, and the area grew in population, with settlers using the San Marcos and Blanco Rivers to power cotton gins or grist mills. A group of former Texas Rangers joined settler William Moon on the site of what became San Marcos. In 1851, W. Lindsey, Edward Burleson and Eli T. Merriman took possession of 640 acres of the Veramendi land grant and laid out the present town of San Marcos for settlement.
Until the American Civil War, people in this area were mostly rural subsistence farmers. At about the time of the Civil War, the population in Hays County was a little over a thousand people, one third of them Black slaves. Cattle ranching was the main economic activity, with corn being a chief food crop, along with a small commercial crop of cotton.
The Civil War emancipated Texas' slaves. Another group, the Indians-Kiowa, Comanche and Apache, were completely driven out of Texas after the Civil War. Later, the area found additional importance as a stop on the Chisolm Trail when Texas ranchers drove cattle north to market. Hays County ranchers took advantage of the trail to send much of their own cattle to Abilene, Kansas, and to the railhead that connected to the rest of the country. During the 1880s and 1890s the cattle industry changed, smaller ranches giving way to larger ones, and cotton farming rose in importance.