spirit inn of mission valley

First Great Cattle Ranch in Texas
By Henry Wolff Jr.

On the west bank of the Guadalupe River, in present Victoria County nine miles northwest of Victoria, Spanish missionaries and their Native American converts began raising cattle from 1726 to 1749 in a way that would establish Nuestra Senora del Espiritu Santo de Zuniga Mission as the first great cattle ranch in Texas.

It was from these original Spanish cattle that the huge herds of Texas longhorns would later develop and run wild on the Texas coastal prairies, giving present Victoria County claim to being the cradle of the Texas cattle industry.

While Texas, no doubt, would have become a ranching state without the longhorns or Mission Espiritu Santo, it is apparent that a great deal of the development of the indigenous cattle that became such a part of our Texas history and folklore can be attributed to this one mission that took a particular interest in cattle raising.

The longhorn developed from the Spanish mission cattle on the prairie lands and river bottoms of the Texas Coastal Plains and was already there in great numbers from the Sabine to the Rio Grande rivers when Stephen F. Austin and his "Old 300" colonists arrived in the early 1820s.

Mission Espiritu Santo was first located east of the Garcitas Creek in present Jackson County, the creek that divides Jackson and Victoria counties, and subsequently was moved to the Guadalupe River in the present Victoria-Mission Valley area before finally being located at Goliad in 1749.

Recent studies by historical researcher Kay Hindes indicate that the missionaries first moved the mission from Garcitas Creek to the Guadalupe River in what in now Victoria around 1725, on a bluff in the city's present Riverside Park that is known today as Tonkawa Bank. After finding they had more Indians than the small mission could accommodate, they built the larger upriver mission and probably operated both together after 1726.

The archaeological designation for the Tonkawa Bank site is 41VT10 and Mission Valley is 41VT11.


The lands of this mission would stretch between the San Antonio and Guadalupe rivers from the coast to near San Antonio.

It is claimed that Espiritu Santo had 40,000 head of cattle, branded and unbranded, by 1770 at Goliad, while the neighboring Mission Rosario on the west side of the San Antonio River had 10,000 branded and 20,000 unbranded.

In his book, "Los Mestenos, Spanish Ranching in Texas, 1721-1821," Austin artist-historian Jack Jackson notes that Mission Espiritu Santo, after moving to Goliad (La Bahia) in 1849, "still maintained vaquero huts and ranching operations on the Guadalupe at 'Rancho Viejo' with the result that its cattle roamed the entire stretch of land between the Guadalupe and San Antonio rivers.

Jackson points out that several historians have established the downriver missions of Espiritu Santo and Rosario -- the latter established at Goliad in 1754 -- as owning the largest ranches "in both land and herds" in the 18th Century.

"Exactly how large these mission herds were, however, is mostly a matter of guess work," he states. "Even the scant statistics left us by the various mission inspectors leave much to be desired, because they generally reflect branding tallies made under trying conditions." The missions had to deal with both a shortage of help and Indian hostilities.

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Spirit Inn of Mission Valley ~ History
3377 Lower Mission Valley Road ~ Victoria, Texas 77905