The Humble Beginnings of the Legendary Cattle Ranches

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One of the most recognizable elements of the old west was the plight of the rancher. Although wild cattle had drifted northward from ranchos in central Mexico since the 1500s, cattle ranching in South Texas began in 1749, when José de Escandón, the governor of Nuevo Leon, brought 3,000 settlers and 146 soldiers to settle the area bordering the Rio Bravo. This area, the northernmost stretch of the province of Nuevo Santander, had not been inhabited by the Spanish, although expeditions had travelled across portions of it on several occasions.

These early ranchos on the Rio Grande were established at a price. Among many other hardships, the settlers had to forge a new life on the frontier under constant threat of attack by hostile Indians. In spite of this, ranching on the border was a success, with some of Texas’ most treasured traditions emerging from that early Spanish heritage.