In or about the year 1746, Don Jose de Escandon, Count of Sierra Gorda, was commissioned by the Viceroy of New Spain to command the exploration and settlement of a large land area known then as Nuevo Santander. Zapata County was a small part of this province. Escandon was a wise choice because he was a distinguished businessman, astute military leader and successful colonizer. Escandon requested a fellow explorer to accompany him on this project of exploring and settling this vast area. Captain Miguel de la Garza Falcon was Escandon's choice. Falcon personally explored the northern bank of the Rio Grande, from present day Eagle Pass to the mouth of the Rio Grande River.
In order to attract settlers to this area, porciones, or tracts of land were granted to men and their families to settle and form colonies. Within set periods of time, grantees were required to occupy, make improvements, mark boundaries, stock the lands and establish homes. Vacating lands were grounds for canceling grants.
The Coahuiltecan Indians were inhabitants of this area during the 17th and 18th Century but became extinct by the year 1840. The people that came from Mexico to settle this area called the Indians "Corrizos" because there was a lot of cane growing here and in the Spanish language, cane is called corrizos. Many of the porciones were surveyed to provide the settlers with river frontage. The family names to which these porciones were granted often echo the names by which they are owned today. .Zapata County towns developed from ranches. If a ranch prospered, it soon took the appearance of a town. Thus developed the villages of Escobas, Ramireno, Lopeno, Falcon, Bustamante and San Ygnacio.
The townsite of Zapata is the largest in population in the county and is the county seat. The County of Zapata is located on the porcionie allotted to Colonel Jose Antonio Zapata. Antonio Zapata was a native of Guerrero, Mexico, a village located just across the Rio Grande River. The county and the town carry his name because he was a highly respected individual, rancher, a well-known Indian fighter and an honorable military soldier who gave his life for the cause of personal liberties. During the short time he lived he pursued an ill-fated attempt to establish the Republic of the Rio Grande.
Texas proudly relates its history of having been under six flags: France, Spain, Mexico, The Republic of Texas, The Confederacy and The United States. Zapata County and the surrounding area can add a seventh flag to their history (that of The Republic of the Rio Grande). Until 1821, the area of present day Zapata County was part of the Spanish province of Nuevo Santander. From 1821 to 1836, this area was a part of the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. From 1836 to 1848 this area was claimed by both Mexico and Texas, and from March 1840 until November 6, 1840, Zapata County was part of the Repuiblic of the Rio Grande.
The Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo signed in 1848 settled the boundary of Texas and Mexico. The land North of the Rio Grande River became part of the U.S:and all land south of the river remained as part of Mexico. The land now known as Zapata County was, for about 100 years, directly under the control of Spain and almost all of this land was granted to individuals and families by the Crown for Spain. Many of the original grants were made before a United States of America or a Texas or a Mexico even existed. Provisions in the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo guaranteed that all grants and land ownership were to be honored by the new United States.
From 1851 -1853, MiIitary posts were temporarily maintained in the area to combat border disturbances and Indian attacks. However, Indian incursions continued into the later part of the 19th Century. The County of Zapata was created in 1858 when the Texas Governor Peter Hanborough Bell signed the bill creating the county.
The Civil War period again brought unrest to the area when Juan Nepomuceno Cortina seized the opportunity to instigate hostilities between the wealthy landowners and the poor laborers. Confederate troops from Ft. McIntosh in Laredo marched to the area and soon quelled the disturburances. In 1913, due to the Mexican Revolution, the population of the town of Zapata increased by about 500 people. The people of Old Guerrero fled across the river to Zapata to seek safety from the horrors of war. Many of these people already owned property on the American side of the river and life was not much different than it had been in Guerrero. Federal Troops again came to the area during 1915-1916 during a period of intense banditry along the river. This strife stemmed from the overthrow of the Mexican President Diaz followed by years of turmoil in Mexico during its revolution.
By the 1930's petroleum had been discovered in the county and oil and gas activity began. Another improvement occurred in 1935 when Highway 83 was completed from Brownsville to Laredo. This connected Zapata to markets in both the south and the North for the first time. As a result agriculture became important to the County. Within a period of about 10 years, Zapata County developed about 12,000 acres under cultivation with irrigation from the Rio Grande River. The cattle, goat and sheep industries prospered as it was now no longer necessary to drive cattle by land to shipping points. With the new Highway, cattle could be shipped to San Antonio by truck with little or no loss of lives or weight of the animals.
Two other significant accomplishments of the 1930's included establishment of a water system in the town of Zapata and the construction of an international bridge across the Rio Grande River connecting Old Zapata with Old Guerrero Mexico. The economy of the County continued to improve and in the early 1940's, Highway 83 was paved. What is now Highway 16 connecting Zapata to Hebbronville and points east was also constructed in the 40's.
In October of 1953, the Falcon Dam was completed and dedicated by President Eisenhower and President Cortines. This necessitated the relocation of many residents to new town sites. These included the communities of Ramireno, Lopeno, Zapata, Guerrero and Falcon. One such community featured a beautiful church which still stands today. When the water was up, this church or part of it was submerged and we caught many a good bass off this church and the surrounding rocks. The word is that efforts are underway to restore this church now that water levels have receded. There is no longer any way to reach this by water but it was once considered a must see by anyone coming to fish Falcon.
Shortly following completion of the Dam, back-to-back hurricanes brought enough rain to fill the lake.
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