El Rancho in South Texas: Continuity and Change From 1750 Page: 24
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region of South Texas had one or more of these. This
watering system consisted of a large hand-dug well
lined with large caliche blocks (sillares) or, if the ranch
was within fifteen or so miles from the Rio Grande,
with sandstone. Considerable knowledge and skill were
required to determine where to dig the well, since the
water table in this area can be fifteen hundred feet or
deeper. Dug by hand with tools made by blacksmiths,
some of these norias were round and others were rect-
angular (Graham 1992).
Once the well was dug and an ample supply of water
discovered, the remainder of the watering system was
constructed. Although there were a variety of norias con
buque in the region, they generally consisted of a wall
three to five feet high around the well with a heavy
superstructure on two opposite sides. Near the top
of this superstructure a large mesquite log was placed
horizontally some ten or twelve feet above ground
level. A large bucket, often of rawhide, would be at-
tached to the end of a strong rope placed over the
horizontal log and attached to a mule or ox, which
would hoist the bucket full of water to the surface.
The water was sometimes poured into large tanks made
of the same caliche blocks plastered with lime mortar.
The noria con buque at San Isidro had two large tanks,
which held a total of about 6500 gallons of water,
attached to a distinctively Spanish Colonial watering
trough just over ioo feet long (Graham 1992).
The watering troughs of this period were commonly
built with a back about five or six feet tall and the
front about eighteen inches off the ground, preventing
cattle from climbing into or over the trough. When a
herd of cattle was brought in for water, the openings
to the reservoirs were unplugged and water filled the
trough. Once this herd was watered, the tanks were
refilled for the next herd. Such norias con buque made
ranching possible in much of the otherwise worthless
Another, less-common, strategy for producing
enough water for large herds of cattle was to build a
presa (damna) across a dry arroyo, resulting in an ade-
quate reservoir of water. One of the oldest such dams
was built in the I830s on El Randado, a ranch in the
southern part of present-day Jim Hogg County. Don
Hip61ito Garcia and his laborers built the dam, using
equipment common in Mexico, the mecapal and the
guaripa. The mecapal was a rawhide container carried
on a man's back with a strap across his forehead, and
the guaripa was a larger container carried by four men
or skidded along the ground between two horses. In
these containers, the laborers would haul dirt from the
front of the dam and deposit it on the top. Cattle
or oxen would be driven frequently over the freshly
deposited dirt to pack it down. The dam, designed
with a spillway of caliche blocks (sillares), usually cre-
ated a reservoir of some five surface acres of water
about twelve feet deep. Most ranches also had hand-
dug water wells for personal consumption. The casas
mayores (main houses), were designed with a water-
collection system feeding into an underground cistern.
This water was also used in some of the households on
the ranch (Graham 1992).
Land Control Mechanisms
Corrals used for livestock were generally constructed
of mesquite and other brush. Called corrales de leia,
they were made of parallel mesquite posts separated by
a foot or more and embedded in the ground. These
parallel posts were placed in a line, from three to six
feet apart. Cut mesquite trunks and branches were laid
horizontally between these vertical posts to the desired
height, usually from six to eight feet (Graham 1992).
These corrales de leia were used throughout the
Establishment Period, and some are still in use today
for the same basic purposes: to care for sick animals, to
brand small numbers of animals (most were branded in
roundups on the open range), and to break and train
horses. The pens used for breaking horses were often
round and very high. The horses could not see through
the thick fences and therefore would not try to run
through them; and given the corral's height, horses did
not attempt to jump over them (Graham 1992).
The Social Order of Early Spanish Ranches
The ranch in Mexico reflected the social order of
the ranch in Spain, which consisted of the landowning
24 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/m1/36/?q=el%20rancho: accessed January 19, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting UNT Press.