Lagarto is on Farm roads 534 and 3162 eighteen miles southeast of George West in extreme southeast Live Oak County. The name, Mexican Spanish for "alligator," reflects the fact that numerous alligators were once found along the nearby creek. The community was also called Roughtown, but lost the name after saloons were banned. A Mexican pueblo existed at the site in 1835 but disappeared when ranchers moved into the area. In 1856 the town was laid out on Lagarto Creek by John W. Ramey, a manufacturer of saddle trees. Lagarto grew from a settlement of thatched-grass huts around 1858 to a town of 500 in 1866, when James Rather opened a store. The first college in the county, Lagarto College, opened here in 1884. A post office, established in 1874 and named Lagarta, was discontinued in 1940. Lagarto was on the road from San Antonio, Victoria, and Goliad to Brownsville and by 1875 was a prosperous trading center where Mexicans came to trade livestock. In 1885 the town had two churches, two hotels, a steam cotton gin and gristmill, a school, three general stores, a hotel, the Lagarto News, and a population of 350. Local farmers shipped cotton and wool. In 1906 Lagarto had two schools, two teachers, and an enrollment of twenty-nine. Rough behavior of gamblers and outlaws eventually led to a vigilance committee, the banning of saloons, and prohibition of liquor within a two-mile radius. Lagarto began a decline when the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway bypassed the town to the east in 1888. Around 1890 the college closed. The population was 150 in 1890, 200 in 1892, and 75 in 1914. By 1936 Lagarto had 100 residents, two schools, a church, a business, and scattered dwellings. Local White and Hispanic schools were annexed to the George West Independent School District in 1949. The damming of Lake Corpus Christi in 1959 revived the community, but the population remained at eighty from 1974 to 1990. The population grew to 735 in 2000.
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