El Rancho in South Texas: Continuity and Change From 1750 Page: X
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The fact that el rancho has survived as a social
institution fir close to ten centuries indicates its
adaptability to changing social, political, and cultural
circumstances. While Mexican Americans continue to
own much of the land along the Rio Grande, most
of the land toward the Nueces River now belongs to
Anglos. Nevertheless, as in the past, the vast majority
of the vaqueros and cowboys working on these ranches
are of Mexican ancestry. Many come from families
which have worked in the region for generations.
The Spanish language continues to be an important
means of communication, as most Anglos working on
ranches-including the ranch foremen and owners--
speak Spanish with their vaqueros.
Those of us who have lived for some time in the
American Southwest and West have come to appreciate
the effect which Mexican Americans and their ancestors
have had on our culture. Major contributions to the
foodways, music, celebrations, architecture, and place-
names found throughout the region are readily recog-
nizable. After all, what would the region be without
enchiladas, tacos, and tortillas? Without "Las Mania-
nitas" and "La Cucaracha," and, more recently, mariachi
and conjunto music? Without such public and private
celebrations as las posadas and the quinceanera? Without
the adobe architecture which so clearly marks life in
West Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and other western
But this cultural contribution is as great or greater in
a number of additional areas, perhaps one of the most
significant being the social institution called el rancho-
the ranch-and its culture. Not only was the ranch the
primary social unit used to settle the West and South-
west, but its culture provides the genesis of America's
greatest mythic hero, the cowboy. While some have
recognized this major contribution to American cul-
ture as Spanish and Mexican, others have assumed it to
be Anglo American in origin. J. Frank Dobie gives us
a clear perspective on the issue, noting that )years be-
fore the first English colony was established in North
America, a single rancher in the Mexican province of
Jalisco was "branding 30,000 calves a year," and that
in Durango and southern Chihuahua there were indi-
vidual herds "numbering in the tens of thousands"
(1941). As a matter of fact, records show that in I578,
Francisco de Ibarra, who had ranches in the border-
lands of Zacatecas and Durango, owned about 130o,ooo
head of cattle, and in the year 1586 branded 33,000
calves. Several ranchers of this era branded over 30,000
calves every year, not counting those which ran wild
(Dary 1981). Rio de la Loza, one of these ranchers,
branded some 42,000 calves a year (Brand 1961).
There is no doubt that Anglos of the old South
(particularly the Carolinas) had begun developing sys-
tems of livestock raising and management based on the
earlier British system, but when they came into contact
with ranching in Texas in the early 18oos, they adopted
the system of land and cattle management which the
Spaniards and later the Mexicans had developed over
several centuries. Anglo contributions to the ranching
industry, including the introduction of new breeds of
cattle and such new technologies as barbed wire, drill-
ing equipment, and windmills, came after the Civil
War. Anglos played a major role in transforming ranch-
ing from a traditional way of life to a profit-making,
market-oriented industry, beginning with the cattle
drives to northern markets. Railroads eliminated long
cattle drives, but the stockyards and packing plants
would continue to the present. Anglos also played the
major role in the spread of the private cattle ranch from
South Texas into the greater Southwest.
The ranch and its culture provide perhaps the best
example of a successful confluence of Spanish and
Anglo cultures in any modern social organization. Of
the three social institutions introduced by the Span-
ish-the mission, the presidio, and the ranch only the
ranch continues. And long after the political, financial,
and social influence of Spain ended in this part of the
world, the ranch has remained a viable, productive and
significant part of our culture-both economically and
culturally-particularly in South Texas.
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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/m1/12/?q=el%20rancho: accessed April 24, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting UNT Press.