El Rancho in South Texas: Continuity and Change From 1750 Page: 25
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class and the laborer class. When the Spaniards brought
the ranch to Mexico, there were not enough Span-
iards of the lower social classes to work the cattle, so
landowners used Indian, mestizo, mulatto, and Negro
vaqueros (Darv 1981).
Encomiendas, Spanish land grants in Indian territory,
had been the earliest form of ranching in Mexico.
Because of the growing opposition by the Catholic
Church and the Crown, however, these declined in
power by I55o, to be replaced by the estancia, similar to
the seigneural ranching of Spain. Estancias de vacas were
privately-owned livestock ranches acquired by govern-
ment grant, and they soon became the most prevalent
type of ranch in Mexico, as ranching pushed farther
and farther north (Dary 1981).
The ranching hacienda replaced the estancia begin-
ning in the early I6oo00s, well after the vaquero had be-
come a common figure in Mexican cattleraising. By this
time, although much of the land was still owned by
wealthy Spaniards-government officials, miners, mer-
chants, and individual clergymen-and by the Catho-
lic Church, the Spanish Empire was experiencing a
time of depression. As the Crown's power declined
in Mexico, the wealthy landowners began taking on
the responsibilities once shouldered by Spain's repre-
sentatives. To make money, the Spanish government
began to sell to the wealthy landowners full title to
the land they occupied, making it possible to define
the specific boundaries of their property. Eventually,
as Dary writes, "The hacendado ruled everyone within
the boundaries of his hacienda. He was a lord and
chief agent of local government. He created a world
to his own liking" (1981). Fish, writing of the Dolores
hacienda of Visquez de Borrego, stated that "the orga-
nization of the hacienda was along military lines and
was highly authoritarian. The social structure closely
resembled a feudal estate . . ." (1991).
Such was the hacienda which found its way to South
Texas and persisted until well after the end of the
Establishment Period. There were two distinct social
classes, the patrdn (landowning class)-some, but not
all, of which were hacetndados-and the pedn (work-
ing class), which consisted of vaqueros and laborers.
Based on her interviews with ranch people born before
850o, Jovita Gonzalez (1930) described the social struc-
ture on South Texas ranches. She emphasizes that the
patrdn was considered advisor and counselor, as well
as judge and jury, for the peones. But he also protected
them in times of danger. He or his chosen mayordou
supervised the various kinds of work on the ranch,
from planting crops or building dams to caring for the
The pedn and his family lived in a small one-room
jacal with a thatched roof and a dirt floor. The walls
were made of whatever materials were readily available,
but were always supported by four corner posts, forked
at the top and buried solidly in the ground. The ridge-
pole of the thatched roof was also supported by tall
posts embedded in the ground and forked at the top.
The one room served as both living room and bed-
room. The kitchen, separate from the jacal, often con-
sisted of a small enclosure or a ramada (arbor) made
of grass or corn stalks, with a small space nearby as a
dining area. Usually an olla (earthen pot) hung from
one of the rafters of the ramada, covered with canvas
or cloth soaked in water and serving as the water cooler
for the home (Graham 1991c).
The furniture was usually homemade. The bed might
be four posts embedded in the dirt floor with a frame
and boards covered with a grass mattress. Other fur-
niture might include a few chairs and a table, with
a mirror hanging on the plastered, whitewashed in-
terior wall. Every home, regardless of how humble,
had an altarcito, a small altar which boasted a statue or
picture of the Virgin de Guadalupe or another saint,
surrounded by paper flowers or candles. Some altars
were larger and more complex, with more statues,
paintings and decorations. Around this place of honor,
the mother taught her children the various Catholic
prayers and rites.
The pedn laborer did whatever work was necessary
around the hacienda-planting and harvesting, herding
goats, digging wells, building dams and houses. He
was not permitted to own any property, but often kept
a goat, pig, or a few chickens in the enclosure around
his house. His wife might plant a few rows of corn
The Ranch 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/m1/37/?q=el%20rancho: accessed June 23, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting UNT Press.