Tilden is an unincorporated community in and the county seat of McMullen County, Texas, United States.
Tilden lies at the intersection of State Highways 16 and 72 in the north central part of the county. It is located roughly an hour south of San Antonio.
Tilden was one of the first two settlements in McMullen County when it was founded in 1858 at the mouth of Leoncita Creek on the Frio River. The settlement, then known as Rio Frio, had eight to ten crude dwellings that housed about thirty people by the fall of that year. Soon afterward the townspeople built a road connecting their settlement to the old San Antonio-Laredo road, which lay to the west. In the early 1860s the town grew slowly. In 1862 Levi J. Edwards built its first general store, and shortly after he added a saloon. About that time, too, the town built its first school. The settlement acted as a home-guard post for the Twenty-ninth Brigade of the Texas Confederate Militia during the Civil War. During the early 1860s Rio Frio became known as Dog Town. One explanation of this name holds that drunken cowboys on a shooting spree left about fifteen dead dogs on the street. The other popular explanation is that many ranchers used dogs to work their cattle. By 1870 Dog Town had a population of 190, and in 1871 the community was granted a post office.
In 1871 John C. Ross, the district clerk of Live Oak County, established the first county court in Dogtown and Dogtown's name was changed to Colfax. The court met for about five months and was disbanded, because the people in the county refused to use it. Until 1876 all legal affairs were conducted in Oakville through the Live Oak County Courts. All records prior to this time are found in Live Oak County and some in Atascosa County. In 1873 a petition was signed by 153 citizens requesting that the county be organized, but it wasn't until 1877 that the county became officially organized. Once organized, Colfax was formally surveyed and the town's name was changed to Tilden and chosen as the county seat. The town was named after the 1876 Democratic presidential candidate Samuel J. Tilden, then governor of New York, who arrived in town on the stagecoach during his campaign trail to speak to the local citizens. Mr. Tilden never became president, but lost the presidency to Rutherford B. Hayes.
By 1876 it had four general stores, one grocery store, two saloons, a drugstore, and a hotel. In 1879 a ferry across the Frio was established at Tilden, and about 1,880 stagecoaches traveling the San Antonio-Laredo road began to make regular stops there. In 1878 the town's first church was built and was shared by Methodists and Baptists. Soon afterward, a Catholic church was also constructed, and in 1881 Tilden became the home of McMullen College. John Van Epps Covey taught there for a while. During the late 1880s and early 1890s camp meetings were also held at Tilden. In 1884 the settlement was described as a "post village" with about 250 residents, but it had the two churches, the college, a blacksmith, a cabinetmaker, two druggists, and the Tilden Ledger, a weekly newspaper. By 1890 the town had grown to 600 residents.
In 1896 Tilden's population was 450, and in 1900 it was 506. In 1897 McMullen College was formally dissolved. By 1933 the town had a population of 250 and four businesses. In 1939, possibly because of new oil production in the county, 500 people and fifteen businesses were reported. The population remained stable at 500 during most of the 1940s. In 1947 the town had ten businesses. In 1949 it had 380 people and ten businesses. In 1952 Tilden had three cafes, four service stations, two garages, four grocery stores, a drugstore, a barbershop, a lumberyard, and three churches. The 2000 census puts the population at 600.
Boot Hill Cemetery
Tilden is also the home of Boot Hill Cemetery. Boot Hill Cemetery, one of the only two authentic cemeteries of its kind in the southwest, was named Boothill because so many of those who were interred there died violently, "with their boots on." Many of the early graves were those of people killed in accidents, murdered, died of cholera during the cholera epidemic in 1869, but some were known to have died of natural causes. The cemetery was established sometime after then known Frio Rio came into existence in 1858. The cemetery is located behind the bank 1/2 a block north of the courthouse plaza on highway 72 and 1/2 block east of State Highway 16 (right across from the new Sheriff's office). In 1877 Boot Hill Cemetery was abandoned in favor of the present Hill Top Cemetery. Boot Hill Cemetery was neglected for more than half a century. During this time the "old timers passed away, the markers deteriorated, fell down, became lost and more and more of the Boothill lore and history went with them. In 1955 when the Cenizo Garden Club was organized they began at once to clean up and restore the cemetery. They cleaned the plots, cleared out the brush, and located as many graves as possible. The grounds were enclosed by a low border of native stone and the Boothill Cemetery Sign with a large boot made of masonry mounted on a huge slab of a petrified palm stump was added to the cemetery grounds. They were also instrumental in obtaining a Historical Marker, which stands at the entrance of the cemetery.
Tilden is served by the McMullen County Independent School District