El Rancho in South Texas: Continuity and Change From 1750 Page: IX
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This book, El Rancho in South Texas: Continuity and
Change from 17so, is based on the first major exhibit to
examine the private cattle ranch in South Texas, held
in 1994 in the John E. Conner Museum in Kingsville,
Texas. Ranching has been the basis for civilization and
culture in the region for well over a century and a half.
It was a way of life for the majority of people living
there, and its importance continues today, not only
with famous spreads like the King Ranch but with the
hundreds of smaller ones on which many communities
in South Texas continue to rely for their identity and
survival. Many towns, large and small, actually began
as ranch headquarters.
While many early ranches relied upon sheep as their
main source of income well into the twentieth century,
the exhibit and this book focus on the cattle ranch,
which has become dominant in the region. Ironically,
although such scholars as Walter Prescott Webb have
recognized South Texas as the cradle of the cattle
industry, there has been little scholarly effort focused
on the ranch and its culture in this region, other than
histories of specific ranches. The exhibit and the book
are designed to examine the ranching culture and to
place it in its historical context.
By 1750, when the private cattle ranch arrived in
South Texas, it had been evolving in Spain and Mexico
for over seven centuries. The first Spanish settlers ar-
rived with a culture which permitted them to suc-
cessfully settle this arid land and make it productive.
They brought with them their architecture, which had
its roots in Spain and among Indian populations in
Mexico; the social structure of the hacienda, with its
two distinct social classes; the knowledge of how to
tend cattle most effectively and how to find and pro-
duce enough water to raise large herds of cattle in this
arid region. It also included the gender-defined work
roles, the clothing and equipment, and the foodways
and medical knowledge of the vaqueros and other early
Many of the published studies of the South Texas
region are incomplete, given the fact that much of the
information about the first century of its history re-
mains in archives in Mexico. Hopefully, South Texas
ranching will one day have a study like Jack Jackson's
Los Merteos focused on it.
The best records currently available for South Texas
are those associated with its Anglo ranches and ranch-
ing history. These first Anglos adopted the Spanish/
Mexican institution, including the knowledge, equip-
ment, and skills for raising and managing large herds of
cattle. When they came into the region, they brought
their Anglo laws governing land ownership, their busi-
ness skills and contacts for developing a strong market
economy, and new technologies which would eventu-
ally transform the ranch into its modern form. They
also brought their own architectural styles and social
customs, adapting them to the circumstances they
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Graham, Joe S. El Rancho in South Texas: Continuity and Change From 1750, book, 1994; Denton, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc28328/m1/11/?q=el%20rancho: accessed May 20, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting UNT Press.