Friday, August 12, 2016

A bit of Wilson County’s ranching history

Ranching, cattle and the cowboy way of life have long been important in the San Antonio River Valley. It has been so since the early mission era in the 1700s, when Spain owned Texas. Five Spanish missions were established along the San Antonio River. Native Americans, who lived near San Antonio, came to live in the missions. Each mission had longhorn cattle to provide meat and other products for people living in the missions. These cattle ranged between the missions and the farms of residents of San Fernando de Bexar. Farmers in the area planted crops and fenced the cropland in. Cattle broke down fences and destroyed crops. There was friction between the missions and the people of the town. The Spanish government furnished the missions with large land grants to ease problems the cattle had caused. The early 1700s saw Spanish Mission ranchos spread out along the San Antonio River and Cibolo Creek between San Antonio and La Bahia (Goliad). Longhorn cattle grazed on the tall, green grass on these ranchos. Robed Missionaries taught Native Americans to ride and work cattle from horseback.  Private ranchers of this era developed large ranches alongside the mission ranches and herds of cattle and horses roamed the land freely. This was the beginning of the grand ranching era in the area between the San Antonio River and Cibolo Creek. After the American Civil War, there was a shortage of meat in the northern and eastern states of the country. Texans had plenty of beef on the hoof, but little cash. The longhorn cattle, descendants of cattle that came to Texas with the missionaries and early explorers, still grazed the pasture lands in the San Antonio River Valley. Texas cattlemen saw good reason to turn cattle driving into a good business. Driving cattle from South Texas to the northern railheads turned out to be a very profitable business. In the San Antonio River Valley, the Dewees Brothers, J. T. Thornton, Ellington, William G. Butler, Mr. Camp, Presnell, and a few other men were ranchers who took a big role in the cattle enterprise. They assembled cattle in the San Antonio River Valley and contracted management of the cattle drives over land to markets at railheads in Kansas, Nebraska, and other areas. Some of the trail drivers of this era were Thad Rees, Billy Callaway, Vicente Carvajal, Juan Santos Coy, Hub Polley, Mr. Walker, and others. The cowboys were Mexican Americans, Anglo Americans and African Americans. Some were descendants of the early mission vaqueros...more

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