Alpine was officially founded in 1882, though cattlemen had been pitching tents alongside their herds there since the late 1870s. Located on a broad plateau between the Davis Mountains to the north and the Chisos Mountains to the south, the rich volcanic soils and strong water lent themselves to farming and ranching. It was initially called Osborne after the railroad section, but the best spring along the line belonged to the Murphy brothers. The railroad entered into an agreement with them to call the settlement Murphyville in exchange for control of the springs. The Murphys registered a town plat with Presidio County in 1883. By 1888, the townspeople petitioned to change the name to Alpine; when this change was affected, there were a dozen houses and a handful of businesses (including no less than three saloons) dotting the foothills of the Davis Mountains. When Brewster County was created in 1887, Alpine was made the county seat.
Sul Ross State Normal College was founded in Alpine in 1921. Around this time, paved roads came to the region and Alpine swelled. Sul Ross, originally a teachers’ college, was named for Lawrence Sullivan Ross, a Confederate States Army general during the Civil War. Ross was the 19th governor of Texas whose family founded the town of Waco. He became the president of the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas, now Texas A&M, and is credited with saving the school from closure. After his death, the Texas State Legislature dedicated Sul Ross Normal College in his honor.
As a major shipping point for cattle, products from the mines at Terlingua and other valuable products like candelilla wax and mohair, Alpine became the center of activity for much of the region. The town’s population grew to 3,000 by 1927, and it was incorporated in 1929.
The mining boom in Terlingua prompted the construction of the Holland Hotel in 1928 by local rancher J.R. Holland. Designed by Henry Trost, it retains its original frontier splendor. Trost, an acclaimed El Paso architect, designed a trail of hotels throughout West Texas, in Marathon, Alpine, Marfa and Van Horn.
From its humble beginnings as a cluster of tents to its current status as the center of activity in the Big Bend region, much of Alpine history has been preserved rather than written over. The Museum of the Big Bend at Sul Ross State University provides insight into the prehistoric past and glimpses of the future, passing through all of Alpine’s eras in between. As a major entry point to Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park, much of Alpine’s economy is supported by the tourist industry, though as the county seat the economy is diversified by government, law enforcement and the University. As of the 2020 census the population is 5,905, roughly the same as it was in the 1970s.