First Great Cattle Ranch in Texas
By Henry Wolff Jr.
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
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
The archaeological designation for the Tonkawa Bank site is 41VT10
and Mission Valley is 41VT11.
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
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.