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Indigenous peoples inhabited the area as early as 4500 BC. Later known tribes in the area include Tonkawa, Lipan Apache, and Comanche.

During the 1820s-1830s, Stephen F. Austin and Green DeWitt conducted surveying and Indian-fighting explorations. In 1849, the United States established Fort Croghan, and in 1848, the first settlers arrived in the county, Samuel Eli Holland, Logan Vandeveer, Peter Kerr, William Harrison Magill, Noah Smithwick, Captain Jesse B. Burnham, R. H. Hall, Adam Rankin "Stovepipe" Johnson, and Captain Christian Dorbandt. In 1851, 20 Mormon families under the leadership of Lyman Wight establish a colony at Hamilton Creek, later to be known as Morman Mill.

In 1852, the Fourth Texas Legislature created Burnet County from Bell, Travis, and Williamson Counties. The first post office was established at Hamilton in 1853.

During 1882–1903, railroad tracks connected Burnet, Granite Mountain, Marble Falls, and Lampasas. Lake Victor and Bertram became shipping-point communities. Other communities lost population as the railroad offered employment. During the Great Depression, county farmers suffered financially, but found work with government-sponsored public-works projects. The Lower Colorado River Authority employed hundreds of people for the construction of the Hamilton (Buchanan) Dam and Roy B. Inks Dam.