Chances are that if you asked Tejanas and Tejanos the one thing about Texas history that is uniquely Tejano, their answer would be ranchos y vaqueros (ranches and cowboys).

Truly, their belief stands on solid ground.

By the same token, ask Anglo Saxon and northern European-descent Texans to name a symbol that represents the beginning of Texas ranching and most likely they’ll say the King Ranch. That’s because U.S. mainstream historians have deliberately developed and continue to shape that make-believe myth.

In truth, the Anglo-slanted storyline is fundamentally, historically flawed. Generally, it follows one of two unsound assumptions. (l) Anglos migrating to the west brought ranching know-how with them. Or, (2) wrongly claim that ranching developed after the U.S. Civil War. Frankly, nothing could be farther from the truth.

First, fifty years after the Spanish arrival in America, active cattle and horse ranches thrived in Central Mexico. As well, the cities of Saltillo, Querétaro, Monclova, and Monterrey began in the 1500s.Why is that important in Texas?

There’s two reasons. (l) Today’s Texas and southwest were part of the contiguous land mass encompassing Mexico’s Northern provinces. (2) It was from established population centers that our pioneer ancestors were gradually moving to Texas and points north and northeast.

Most importantly, readers must clearly understand that the lower Rio Grande was not the unfriendly political boundary it is today. Rather, it was a local river in Nuevo Santander (Tamaulipas), where our ancestral close-knit families lived on both sides (ambos lados).

Besides, our Native American ancestors were accustomed to crossing the Rio unhindered for thousands of years. Likewise, Spanish Mexican pioneers traversed the Rio freely. Journeys on the Camino Real were designed to explore, trade, and/or visit thriving family ranchos as far north as beyond today’s Austin and to the east, past the current Texas-Louisiana border.

Second, Marquis de Aguayo led the first cattle drive into Texas in 1721. Simultaneously, herds of cattle and horses introduced by Spanish Mexican pioneers as early as the 1690s substantially increased and freely roamed the state. Most folks today are surprised to learn that Spanish padres and their Native American parishioners nurtured those herds, becoming the first cowboys and cowgirls in Texas.

San Antonio, Los Adaes/Nacogdoches, La Bahia/Goliad, and Nuevo Santander’s Las Villas del Norte in the Lower Rio Grande began in the early 1700s. They were the first regions to be settled and contained dozens of self-sustaining ranchos in between.

With skills they brought from Central and Northern Mexico, Spanish Mexican settlers established the original ranchos and perfected the cowboy way of life in the state. This is why basic cowboy terminology is of Spanish origin, as is the world-renowned cowboy demeanor.

Though, after Anglo- and Northern European-descent people took over the state in 1848, they intentionally created a false narrative. Doing so, they set out to repackage the cattle and horse raising industries in their own image.

A prime example of heritage-pirating is the persona mainstream historians have built around Richard King, a riverboat captain who was born in New York City. Said another way, all he knew about ranching, he learned from Tejanos.

However, try as they did, they couldn’t make-over the vaquero (cowboy) character’s origins. All attempts have failed — from mythical movies, farfetched paperback novels, and an exclusive Anglo viewpoint in school curriculum. That’s why still today, cowboy attire & ranching traditional customs have Spanish Mexican Tejano roots.

Albeit, the newcomers eventually Anglicized Spanish words, such as: Ranch (Rancho); Cowboy/Buckaroo (Vaquero); Chaps (Chaparreras); Ten Gallon Hat (Sombrero Galoneado); Lasso (Lazo); Lariat (La Riata); Cinch (Cincho/cincha); Hackamore (Jaquima); and (Mustang (Mesteño). Some terms retained the same spelling but Anglos changed the pronunciation, for instance, Corral and Rodeo.

In the words of historian Herbert E. Bolton, “…from the Spanish, the Anglo cowboy inherited his trade, his outfit, his vocabulary, and his methods”. Not surprising, it’s an inheritance that conventional Manifest Destiny-driven Anglo-descent historians reject.

In my view, the movie industry is the worst offender of the false narrative that diminishes Texas ranching origins. Why? Because Mexican-descent people are depicted as servants, low skill laborers, bandits, or minor actors with few or no respectable qualities.

Similarly, conventional historians continue to project the idea that Richard King was the first mega-rancher. There’s no doubt that as a well-financed land speculator, he was able to buy land. Or, he heavy-handedly coerced Tejano rancheros into selling their properties, as their descendants today know very well.

In other words, all Mr. King brought was his money. Cattle raising and vaquero skills already existed in the working ranchos he acquired.

Incidentally, despite a popular illusion, the King Ranch is not one contiguous ranch. Rather, it’s comprised of several large parcels of land that are not connected. Have there been Tejano and Tejana mega-ranchers? The answer is yes.

  • • In the 1760s, the Blas Maria de la Garza Falcón family owned all the land from the Rio Grande to the Nueces River.
  • • Rosa Maria Hinojosa de Balli was one of the first South Texas ranchers. A consummate entrepreneur, her vast estate at the time of her death in 1803 was over one million acres of land in today’s Rio Grande Valley.
  • • Likewise, Captain José Vásquez Borrego, originally from Coahuila, once owned the land encompassing most of today’s Zapata and Webb Counties.

Sufficient to say that these individuals represent only a fraction of a much larger list of Tejano/Tejana ranchers, most of whom lost their properties after 1848. Interestingly, here’s an ironic twist to the story.

  • 1. Our Spanish Mexican pioneer ancestors were successful in inviting the first Anglo immigrants from the U.S. to move to Texas.
  • 2. Yet, once Anglos took over the state, our ancestors were unsuccessful in making their case that pre-1836 Texas is part of mainstream Texas history.
  • 3. The result? Mexican-descent Texans grow up being treated as foreigners in their own homeland.

Nevertheless, giant steps have been taken within the last few years to correct the record. The 2012 unveiling of the Tejano Monument in Austin is a reminder that Mexican-descent pioneers founded the province (state) of Texas.

If you are of Mexican heritage and haven’t visited the memorial yet, please do so and take your family. Hopefully, the trip will inspire you to share our rich pre-1836 Texas history with others. That’s important today more than ever.

Also in 2012, Texas state officials finally recognized that there’s more to the Álamo Plaza story than focusing only on the myth-based 1836 battle provoked by Anglo illegal immigrants seeking to reestablish slavery in Texas.

As well, the Tejano History Online website is another big step. Maybe one day, it will be merged with the state’s official Handbook of Texas History Online.

Additionally, embracing the Mexican American Studies (MAS) program by many schools and universities allows Mexican-descent students to learn about their ancestors. It’s a classroom benefit long denied to generations of their elders.

Obviously, we can’t change the past. However, we can certainly make a difference by preserving our Spanish Mexican heritage, especially the origins of Texas ranching. Bluntly, we have no other choice.

Lastly, the Tejano Monument in Austin, Tejano History Online, and the MAS curricula are encouraging milestones leading us to our final destination – a seamless history of this great place we call Texas. To that end, Mahatma Gandhi’s words light the torch that guides our path, “Truth is by nature self-evident.  As soon as you remove the cobwebs of ignorance that surrounds it, it shines clear”. 

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by historian José Antonio López. López is founder of the Tejano Learning Center, LLC, and, a website dedicated to Spanish Mexican people and events in U.S. history that are mostly overlooked in mainstream history books. The column appears in the Rio Grande Guardian with the permission of the author. López can be reached via email at: [email protected].

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column shows the Jesus Treviño-Blas Maria Uribe Rancho compound in San Ygnacio, Texas. The property is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is now owned by a non-profit foundation that owns multiple historic properties in San Ygnacio.

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