El Rancho in South Texas: Continuity and Change From 1750 Page: 9
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Although cattle could be found throughout Europe
and much of the rest of the civilized world during the
Middle Ages, the development of the ranch as a social
institution can be claimed by Spain. Bishko states that
"a genuine ranch cattle industry evolved in the Penin-
sula in the later eleventh and twelfth centuries, under
Alfonso VI and Alfonso VII of Le6n-Castile" (1952).
Its birthplace, he argues, was "that portion of the sub-
humid or arid interior tableland of the Meseta Central
lying between the middle course of the Duere River
and the massive sierras of Gata, Gredos and Guada-
rrama; or, more specifically, the tierras of Zamora and
Salamanca in Le6n, and those of Segovia and Avila in
southern Old Castile" (1952). During the later Middle
Ages, the Andalusian plains became the one region
of the Peninsula (and perhaps all of Europe) where
agriculture and the pastoral life were dominated by a
"thriving, highly organized cattle-ranching economy"
(1952). Many of the Spanish colonists who would settle
in the Canary Islands and the Indies came from this
One of the primary factors leading to the develop-
ment of ranching was the type of cattle which devel-
oped in the Andalusian plains. Because they were un-
suited for dairy or draft purposes, the owners and their
workers had to abandon the small cow pastures for
the open range, leading to the use of horses for herd-
ing and the development of a method for managing
cattle in such a system: long-distance grazing, periodic
roundups, branding, overland cattle drives-in short,
the invention of cattle ranching. The co-existence of
herded, branded cattle and wild, ownerless ones was a
common feature of peninsular cattle raising long before
it crossed the ocean to Espafiola, New Spain, Brazil,
and eventually to South Texas.
Before 1500oo A.D., when some herds in the Carib-
bean ran as many as 20,ooo head or more, the Spanish
cattle herds were relatively small. In I306, for example,
a nobleman-rancher, Don Juan Alfonso de Benavida,
owned herds of about 800 head. Some religious
orders which owned ranches had larger herds. Bishko
cites three Castilian nunneries with ranches: Santo
Domingo de Caleruega owned about I,ooo head of
cattle; Santo Domingo de Madrid boasted about i,5oo
head; and Santa Clara de Guadalajara owned about
1,ooo head (Bishko 1952).
Two basic types of ranching had developed in Spain
by 1500oo A.D. Seigneurial ranchers frequently held large
grazing grounds in unpopulated areas (Bishko 1952).
There is little record of restrictive legislation aimed at
governing seigneurial cattle ranching. Municipal ranch-
ing, on the other hand, was governed by the local town
government, which controlled the grazing land, and
by the stockman's guild, or mesta, which administered
the laws dealing with the livestock. The later medi-
eval ordinances of Castilian and Alentejan towns regu-
lated almost every aspect of cattle ranching: grazing
rights; compensation for crop damage; wages; brand-
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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/m1/21/?q=el%20rancho: accessed May 24, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting UNT Press.