Coke County, created by the Texas Legislature March 13, 1889, is located in West Central Texas. It was originally part of Bexar County, whose County Seat was San Antonio. When Tom Green County was created from Bexar in 1874, it included that area. The first county seat of Tom Green was Ben Ficklin, which was destroyed by flood in August 1882, at which time San Angelo became the county seat. Coke County was named for Richard Coke, political statesman and a very prominent early Governor of the state. The ruins of Fort Chadbourne, located in the northeast corner of Coke County, was established in October 1852 to protect the western frontier. The population of the area later designated Coke County at that time consisted mostly soldiers, their families and employees of the Butterfield Stage Line. Researchers found that most of the people left with the outbreak of the Civil War except the militia or soldiers under the command of the State of Texas. The fort was abandoned in March 1861, occupied for the second time from May 1868 through December 1869 at which time it was officially closed. The first settlers were ranchers who grazed cattle on the open range, often running off buffalo already grazing there. During the 1870's and 1880's, ranch headquarters began to be established and a great buffalo hunt in 1887 eliminated that problem. A barbed wire fence war ensued as a result of ranchers trying to homestead the open range.
Coke County was organized on April 23, 1889, with Hayrick as its first County Seat. Due to an insufficient water supply, two prominent ranchers who owned land on both sides of the Colorado River offered free lots to residents of the county seat if they would relocate further south. Much strife ensued - the courthouse at Hayrick burned - few records were salvaged. An election was held and in 1891 a new townsite was created on the north bank of the Colorado River. It was named for Robert E. Lee, Confederate General, who once visited in the County. The county officials rented a small house which had been moved and took what records could be salvaged from the courthouse fire. This house burned and another house was rented until a new courthouse could be built. Records were copied from Tom Green County and a new County Seat was established. The 1964 anniversary edition of The Robert Lee Observer reported the first flag was flown at the courthouse in Robert Lee in 1894. It was hand made by Mrs. Arthur Haley and it took her three full days to complete the flag. She remembered making a total of three flags for the county.
In 1889 when Coke County was created, there were four or five schools in operation. By the 1920's some 29-30 rural schools existed. Some of the first schools were Oso (later called Bronte), Sand Springs, Sanco and Hayrick. The first school started in Robert Lee in 1891. The earliest newspaper known was The Coke County Rustler published at Hayrick, Texas, April 4, 1891. The May issue carried a dateline at Robert Lee. The name was later changed to Robert Lee Observer. A newspaper was published at Bronte called The Democrat but the name was later changed to The Bronte Enterprise. Today the Coke County newspaper is known as The Observer/Enterprise with offices in both Robert Lee and Bronte. Banks and hotels were established in the 1890s, along with livery stables and mercantile establishments. By the turn of the century, there were Baptist, Methodist and other denomination churches , as well as many community nondenominational meeting places. A funeral parlor was known to be in existence prior to 1906. A railroad, connecting Bronte and Fort Chadbourne with San Angelo and Abilene, was completed in 1907.
Coke County is composed of 908 square miles located in West Central Texas. The majority of land is prairie with some mountains and the major industry has been agriculture. The main source of water is the Colorado River. Ranching and farming were the main source of revenue for the county until oil fields were discovered in 1946 and the county flourished from additional tax revenues. Conservation of water being a major concern, Lake Spence was built on the Colorado River just west of Robert Lee and became a new recreation area for the county as well as a major source of water.