El Rancho in South Texas: Continuity and Change From 1750 Page: 16
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Anglo America, the ranching frontier was to Hispanic
Two major factors led to the movement of ranching
culture farther and farther north. First, rich silver de-
posits were discovered, beginning in Zacatecas in 1546.
The resulting mining communities provided a ready
market for beef products including tallow to make
candles for the mines, and leather to make clothing,
bags, saddles, and other objects-adding a stimulus for
the ranchers who were already pushing north to take
advantage of the second factor, the wide expanses of
excellent grazing lands (Morrisey 1949).
As they moved north, many ranchers were given
large land grants on which to graze their herds. Others
simply took control of large areas of land inhabited
by nomadic and often warlike Indians, who would
cause major problems for not only the ranchers but the
settlements and supply trains coming into the region.
In response, the Spanish government established pre-
sidios in the region to protect the settlements and patrol
Dary provides an excellent summary of the north-
ward expansion of the cattle industry in Mexico. He
writes that the beginning of the seventeenth century
was a time of depression in New Spain, and the
Spanish Empire itself was in a stage of decline and
decay. The mining boom of the previous century had
collapsed, and the encomienda had failed, partly in con-
sequence of the decline in the native population. Land
became the principal source of income for the Span-
ish crown. Wealthy Spaniards-government officials,
encomenderos, miners, and merchants-who already
owned or claimed much of the land in New Spain, be-
came more powerful by acquiring more and more land.
As the Spanish Empire continued to suffer economi-
cally, these wealthy landowners and cattle barons began
to take on responsibilities once carried by the Crown.
Until the seventeenth century, grazing rights were
held in common, and one rancher couldn't legally
keep his neighbors' cattle off his land. This policy
changed when the Crown, in order to raise needed
capital, offered to sell wealthy ranchers and other land-
owners full title to the land they already occupied.
Ranchers who had seized land earlier without official
sanction paid a "settlement tax" to become owners of
the land and began to define the boundaries of their
ranches under the hacienda system. Originally, the term
hacienda was not limited to a cattle ranch, but rather
any income-producing enterprise. There were lumber-
ing haciendas, farming haciendas, mining haciendas, and
even sheep-raising haciendas-as well as combinations
Slowly, ranching haciendas began to replace the gov-
ernment as focal points of social, economic, and politi-
cal life. As the hacendados (ranch owners) became more
powerful, the system took a step backward toward the
feudal system of Europe, since the hacendados basi-
cally ruled over everyone within the boundaries of the
hacienda. The largest Mexican hacienda were on the
northern frontier, particularly in the regions of Chi-
huahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Le6n and Durango, where
land was too poor to cultivate but was well suited
for grazing, even though it required many acres per
head of cattle. The numbers of cattle began to increase
again, probably because the trade in hides and tallow
had significantly declined. Hacendados attempted to cut
expenses by lowering wages for the vaqueros and en-
forcing a system of credit at the hacienda store, through
which many vaqueros became "bonded" servants to the
hacienda. Some vaqueros were even born into a life of
debt incurred by their fathers, and many went through
life never seeing their wages, which were simply cred-
ited to their store accounts.
On the larger haciendas, the landowning families
lived in large houses of stone or other materials. De-
signed to protect the owner and his family from Indian
attacks, many of these houses had thick walls, high
ceilings, observation towers, parapets, battlements, and
narrow windows. They often had a church building
near the house, and some had their own vicars. The
vaqueros and other laborers, while at the hacienda head-
quarters, lived in very different structures. The single
men shared bunkhouse quarters, and the married ones
lived with their families in small huts surrounding the
16 El Rancho 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/m1/28/?q=el%20rancho: accessed August 24, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting UNT Press.