Copperas Cove’s identity is deeper and older than its current affiliation with Fort Hood as a “military town.”
After Coryell County was formed in 1854, the Chisholm Trail passed about 30 miles east of present-day Copperas Cove, according to “Copperas Cove; City of Five Hills,” a book covering the city’s history compiled by Jerry K. Smith and Patrick D. McLaughlin.
Ranching and farming were the livelihood of many residents in “the Five Hills area” for more than 100 years, according to the book. It was due to a rancher’s campground, according to historian Frank Simmons, that the city earned its name.
“When stock raising was the only industry in Central Texas, the sheltered basin that was the original ‘Cove’ in Copperas Cove was the spring roundup ground for a large territory,” Smith and McLaughlin’s book reads. “Located southwest of the present center of town, the Cove also contained a large spring of ‘copperas’ (mineral-laden) water flowing out of a cave on the hillside. This was the campground for cattle herders.”
The name “Coperas Cove,” without the additional “p,” was submitted in the late 1870s, according to information from the Handbook of Texas Online. The Coperas Cove post office was established in 1879.
In the 1880s, Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway built tracks across the southern corner of the county, according to Handbook of Texas information. Coperas Cove residents moved their community to take advantage of the rail service.
“In 1895, you could take the Red Express, the night passenger train out of Copperas Cove, all the way south to Galveston or North to St. Louis,” Smith and McLaughlin’s book reads.
By the mid 1890s, the city’s population had risen to 300. Ranching was still important, but farmers were focusing more farming resources, and the railway presence was also a hub of activity in the city until passenger service was halted and the resident freight clerk’s position was terminated.
Cotton cultivation became the community’s mainstay with the production and use of barbed wire, according to Smith and McLaughlin’s research. By 1900, about a third of Coryell County was used for cotton farming.
The extra “p” was added to the city’s name in 1901, according to the Handbook of Texas. At that time, a number of businesses were opening in the city, including an opera house. By 1913, the population had grown to around 600 people, and hit 650 in 1929.
However, the Great Depression struck the city like it did the rest of the country.
Cotton was still the economy’s mainstay, but hundreds of residents left the city to search for work. By 1940, the population was half its 1920 high of 640.
But the country getting involved with World War II brought a special boom to the city. The United States War Department decided to build an anti-tank force capable of opposing German Panzer divisions in Europe, and Camp Hood was established in 1942.
“Central Texas was considered favorable for training units with armored and tracked vehicles because it contained a combination of open and rough terrain, was relatively lightly populated and, at the same time, offered access to rail lines and a modern highway net,” according to Smith and McLaughlin’s research.
After Camp Hood was established, local merchants saw the jump in business that came with trains full of soldiers and their families.
C.R. Clements, a banker in Killeen, visited banks in other areas near military installations to find out what his staff should prepare for.
“We were told to provide as much room as possible in our building and to increase the number of our tellers’ windows... we should hire plenty of competent help and ... buy sufficient machines and equipment to take care of increased business,” he said. “We were also warned... we could expect losses from forgeries, hot checks, etc.”
However, the banks Clements visited were near much smaller institutions, so the bankers couldn’t “tell us even half of what we were in for.”
Surveys in 1950, the year Camp Hood became a permanent installation and was renamed Fort Hood, predicted the city’s population to grow by 1,000 by 1960.
However, that figure was reached in the early part of the 1950s, according to Smith and McLaughlin’s research. The estimate for the 1970 population of the city was 2,500, but there were 10,181 “Covites” in the area by that year.
Smith and McLaughlin also note Cove for having “extremely good” military-civilian relations, “probably due in large part to the efforts of local churches, business people and chambers of commerce... far better in fact than is often the case around military installations.”