Cross Plains was established as a post office in 1877. It was originally known as Turkey Creek and Schleicher. It was probably named for the crossings of stagecoaches and military roads before the Civil War. A historic marker in Treadaway Park notes where Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant camped with their troops along Turkey Creek. East and West Caddo Peaks, visible from Texas 36 five miles west of town, were used as landmarks by Native Americans, soldiers and survey crews.
The city is the site of the original home of Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan The Barbarian. Howard lived and wrote in this house from 1919 until his death in 1936. Project Pride purchased the home in 1989 to preserve it as a memorial. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Tours are available by appointment only: 254/725-6562.
A large collection of first-edition books and original manuscripts written by Howard can be found at the Cross Plains Public Library.