Friday, December 23, 2016

Agriculture tells the history of the Rio Grande Valley

WESLACO — As the 1800s rolled into the 1900s, agriculture in the Lower Rio Grande Valley was in the midst of a major makeover, according to local historians and agricultural experts. It was changing from a livestock economy to one of irrigated farming that would eventually fuel unprecedented growth in South Texas, said Dr. Luís Ribera, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agricultural economist in College Station. “The height of the Spanish colonial livestock economy in the Valley lasted roughly from 1770 to 1900,” Ribera said. “It was too dry to grow crops in large quantities, so the economy was based on selling standing cattle and cattle by-products to Mexico.” Ranches sprouted and flourished in the mid-1700s because of Jose de Escandón, a Spaniard sent to the area by Spanish authorities in Mexico City. He and his followers, the Valley’s pioneers, mapped and settled the fertile region on both sides of the Rio Grande, then known as Seno Mexicano, said Karen Fort, a local historian and co-author of "Images of America: Hidalgo County, Texas." “Escandón succeeded in his task far beyond expectations in this rugged country and renamed it Nuevo Santander after his native Santander Province in Spain,” she said. “Six thousand Spaniards answered the call to settle the land here, and within five years, Escandón had established 24 villages, 15 missions and 20 ranches, complete with almost 90,000 head of cattle.” That laid the foundation for the settlement of the Lower Rio Grande Valley and the ranching empire that would dominate the land for the next 150 years, Fort said.

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