The first land grants were laid out in porciónes, long thin strips of land beginning at the river and stretching inland (on both sides of the Rio Grande). This odd configuration assured water for each landowner. Ranchers moving into the arid brush country beyond the porciónes needed and received very large land grants to support their cattle.
They built ranch headquarters where there was a steady supply of water, usually from springs; water was also collected at ground level and stored in cisterns. Ranchers provided water for their herds in one of two ways: by an earthen dam (presa) constructed across an arroyo to create a small lake or by a hand-dug well (noria con buque).
To build a presa, workers collected earth from the front of the dam and carried it in rawhide containers to the top, where they emptied the containers. Draft animals walking back and forth packed the earth down to make the dam. A spillway made of sillares (caliche blocks) completed the project. This type of dam and reservoir was built at El Randado in Jim Hogg County during the 1830s. More common was the noria con buque. Laborers dug the well with tools made by blacksmiths. The noria, which could be either circular or rectangular, was lined with hand-quarried sillares. Two walls were built up on either side to support a mesquite log placed horizontally above the well. A long rope was placed over the log, with one end tied to a rawhide bucket and the other to an ox or mule. The draft animal pulled on the rope to raise the bucket and reversed to lower it. Often a large holding tank, made of sillares and covered with lime plaster, was built adjacent to the well.