El Rancho in South Texas: Continuity and Change From 1750 Page: 52
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however, remained essentially the same even though
practiced on a smaller scale. Cattle were rounded up
in individual pastures and roped, tied, branded, and
marked in corrals made of creosoted posts and heavy
planks, a system which had its advantages. For one
thing, it required fewer cowboys, and for another, it
did not make the cattle wild like chasing them through
Mexican-American vaqueros continued to outnumber
Anglo cowboys on South Texas ranches, which is the
case even today. Many ranchers preferred the vaquero,
who tended to be married, stable, and often worked for
one ranch for a long period of time. Anglo cowboys,
often bachelors who moved frequently from place to
place, had been more important during the era of cattle
drives (Montejano 1987).
Vaqueros and cowboys continued working mostly
with cattle, especially during branding and marking
time, but those on smaller ranches also began to spend
time caring for windmills, as well as building and
repairing watering troughs and miles of barbed-wire
During the drought of 1916-1918, when the annual
rainfall in South Texas was less than eight inches per
year, it became necessary on some ranches to feed the
cattle daily, mostly with cottonseed cake. The prickly
pear cactus growing in the region became an important
source of cattle feed, but the thorns had to be removed
first. One man, with a kerosene torch made especially
for this purpose, could burn enough prickly pear each
day to feed about a hundred cattle. The larger ranchers
employed crews of these "pear burners," while smaller
ranchers relied on their vaqueros (Lea 1957).
New Materials, New Architecture
New means of transportation made available new
building materials which influenced the ranch archi-
tecture of South Texas. Cut lumber, cement, kiln-fired
bricks, factory-made doors and windows, and metal
roofing began to replace the local building materi-
als. Hardware and fasteners-latches, hinges, screen-
ing, nails and screws-replaced the handmade fixtures.
For the working-class, the jacal was slowly replaced
by the small board-and-batten house (casa de madera
parada) made of cut lumber shipped by rail into Cor-
pus Christi, Laredo, and Brownsville. Not everyone
could afford these structures, however, and many con-
tinued to live in jacales, particularly on the smaller
ranches along the Rio Grande.
Larger ranches began providing houses of lumber
for their vaqueros and workers. The King Ranch and
Kenedy's La Parra Ranch, for example, began building
houses of lumber as soon as it become readily available.
On the La Parra Ranch, the families of vaqueros and
other workers were provided with small, one-room,
board-and-batten dwellings of approximately the same
size as the earlier jacales. Often, two families lived in
the same structure, which consisted of two rooms di-
vided by a solid wall (Villarreal 1972).
New buildings would combine both the old and new
styles. Houses were often built one room wide and sev-
eral rooms long, with doors and windows placed to
take advantage of any breeze which might pass through
and cool the house. In the fall of 1886, John Armstrong
and Don Fermin completed the new ranch headquar-
ters for the Armstrong family. Made of wood, it con-
sisted of a main house, a dining room and kitchen
together, two small cottages, and a group ofjacaes. All
had thatched roofs of sacahuiste grass tied with yucca
fibers. Another new home for the family was built in
1892. Called the "Chicago Ranch," it had wide porches
front and back, and extensions at each end extending
back to form a patio enclosed on three sides. Each
room had an enclosed bathroom. Water for the house
was pumped into a tank by windmill (Smith 1986).
W. W. Jones's father, A. C. Jones, in 1904 built the
main house on the Alta Vista Ranch, using a board-
and-batten structure with a wide porch along the end.
The back and roofwere made of wooden shingles.
In I912, the main house on the King Ranch, built
in the 185os, burned down. Interestingly, the model for
the new main house was an impressive casa grade from
a hacienda in Mexico which Robert Klcbcrg had seen
in one of his visits there. It required two years and
52 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/m1/64/?q=el%20rancho: accessed March 29, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting UNT Press.