The native inhabitants of this area were members of the Caddo Indian nation. This nation inhabited the area for thousands of years before Hispanics, Anglos, and Africans settled in this area. The first recorded arrival of non-native persons was a group of Spanish explorers who arrived in the area in 1543. Spanish soldiers passed through the area of Marshall in 1679.
Texas declared its independence in 1836. In 1893, Harrison County was created out of Shelby County. Marshall was founded in 1841, and became the county seat of Harrison County in 1842. By 1850, Marshall was the fourth largest city in Texas. Marshall played a major role in the Civil War providing munitions and manufactured goods for the Confederacy. Marshall became the Capitol of the Confederacy west of the Mississippi River after the fall of Vicksburg. Marshall also served as the site of the Confederate Government in exile for the State of Missouri from 1863 to 1865. In 1871, Jay Gould established the Texas and Pacific railroad in the area and located its shops in Marshall. From that time until the decline of the railroad industry after World War II, the Texas and Pacific railroad was the largest employer in Marshall and Harrison County. Marshall was the largest city in the East Texas until the discovery of oil and gas in East Texas in the early 1930’s. Longview’s proximity to the oil and gas fields allowed it to become the center of the trade for this booming industry. Longview’s population almost tripled from 5,036 to 13,758 between 1930 and 1940 while Marshall’s population increased by only about 15 percent from 16,203 to 18,410 during the same time. Longview’s population had surpassed Marshall’s by 1950.
Higher education has always played a prominent role in Marshall. In 1842 an all-male institution was established, and in 1844 Sam Houston chartered Marshall University. By the early 1900’s, these two institutions were discontinued. In 1872, the Northern Methodist Freedman’s Aid Society established Wiley University, a college for African Americans. Taking advantage of the opportunity at the time to expand educational opportunities for African Americans, the Northern Baptist Home Missionary Society founded Bishop College in 1882. It remained in Marshall until 1962, when it moved to Dallas. In 1912, the College of Marshall, a private junior college, was chartered. In 1944, it became a four-year institution and was renamed East Texas Baptist College. It became East Texas Baptist University in 1984. Panola College, a two-year junior college based in Carthage, maintains a permanent campus in Marshall. Texas State Technical College established a campus in Marshall in 1992.