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BROOKS COUNTY

BROOKS COUNTY. Brooks County (R-14) is in the Rio Grande Plain region south of Corpus Christi on U. S. Highway 281. It is bounded on the north by Duval and Jim Wells counties, on the east by Kleberg and Kenedy counties, on the south by Hidalgo and Starr counties, and on the west by Jim Hogg County. The center of the county lies at approximately 27°03' north latitude and 98°14' west longitude. Falfurrias, the county's largest town and county seat, is in northeastern Brooks County at the junction of U.S. Highway 281, State highway 285, and Farm roads 2191 and 1418. Other communities include Encino, Flowella, and Rachal.

Brooks County comprises 942 square miles of brushy mesquite land. The elevation ranges from 100 to 400 feet. The nearly level to undulating soils are poorly drained, dark and loamy or sandy; isolated dunes are found. In the northeast corner of the county the soils are light-colored and loamy at the surface and clayey beneath. The vegetation, typical of the South Texas Plains, includes live oaks, mesquite, brush, weeds, cacti, and grasses.

In the early 1990s, 95 percent of the land was devoted to farming and ranching; 3 percent was under cultivation and 2 percent irrigated. Only 1 to 10 percent of the land is considered prime farmland. Mineral resources include caliche, gypsum, salt domes, oil, and gas. Gas production from gas wells totaled 90,434,098 thousand cubic feet in 1982; 520,482 barrels of condensate, 739,581 barrels of crude oil, and 2,392,340 thousand cubic feet of casinghead gas were also produced. Temperatures in Brooks County range from 44° F to 69° in January and from to 73° to 97° in July. The average annual temperature is 73°. The average annual rainfall is twenty-five inches, and the growing season averages 310 days.

Artifacts dating from the Paleo-Indian period (9,200 b.c. to 6,000 b.c.) suggest that human beings have lived in the Brooks County area for approximately 11,000 years. During the historical era the Indians of the region belonged to the Coahuiltecan linguistic group.

In the sixteenth century the Spanish made various explorations of the area; however, because of its distance from the coast, the lack of a major river, and wide stretches of deep sand that made travel difficult, the area remained unsettled. Although land grants in the Trans-Nueces region were made as early as 1767, it was not until the 1800s that an effort was made to introduce colonists into the territory that became Brooks County. About twenty-five land grants were made in the Brooks County area by the Spanish and Mexican governments. The earliest, the San Salvador del Tule grant, was given to Juan José Ballí on November 8, 1797. Other important early grants included El Encino en el Poso, made to Luciano Chapa around 1827, and El Paisano, made to Ramón de la Garza around the same time. But because of its isolation most of the families receiving grants settled along the Rio Grande rather than in the Brooks County area and only sporadically brought their cattle to the region.

Between the Texas Revolution and the end of the Mexican War, Brooks County lay in the disputed territory between the Rio Grande and the Nueces River. During these conflicts many of the original grantees fled to Mexico, and much of the area was occupied only by wandering vaqueros. Gradually, with the cessation of hostilities, some families returned, but frequent droughts and lack of transportation discouraged permanent settlement.

After Texas independence the area was made part of San Patricio County. In 1846 San Patricio County was divided to form Nueces County, which in 1848 was divided to form Cameron, Webb, and Starr counties; from the latter two counties Brooks County was later formed.

The number of Anglo settlers in the region was initially very small, but began to increase after the Civil War. Initially, the advent of these settlers did not alter the region's economic or social character. Most of the newcomers were ranchers, and many of them married into the most prominent families and adopted the existing social code. As a result, the Brooks County area remained largely Hispanic in character, and many of the original Hispanic rancheros were able to hold on to all of their land and to dominate the local political scene into the early 1890s. The situation began to change with the arrival of Edward C. Lasater, who moved to the area in the early 1890s and quickly emerged as the dominant figure in the county. In 1895 Lasater set up headquarters a few miles south of the present site of Falfurrias at the north entrance to the lower Rio Grande valley and gradually accumulated more than 350,000 acres in the area, including much of what became Brooks County. The same year he purchased 7,000 cows from the Kenedy Pasture Company and soon built up his herd to one of the state's leading cattle breeders.

With the extension of the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway from Alice to his ranch in 1904, Lasater founded the town of Falfurrias and subdivided a large portion of his ranchland for sale to farmers. Lured by prospects of abundant land, numerous settlers arrived to farm around Falfurrias. Within the span of a few years the character of economy changed markedly, from large-scale ranching to a mixture of farming and ranching, and Anglos increasingly dominated local politics.

During the latter half of the nineteenth century, the area that was to become Brooks County was part of Starr County. However, Lasater, a Republican, had a number of run-ins with Starr County's political boss, Manuel Guerra, who sought to maintain his control of the area. In 1911, after several years of effort, Lasater, with the help of State Representative John Abijah Brooks, succeeded in having Brooks County separated from Starr County, with Falfurrias as the county seat. The initial plans were to name the new county Falfurrias County, but in the end it was decided to name it Brooks in honor of John Brooks, who worked diligently for its formation. Upon organization of the county Amado de la Garza was elected sheriff and tax collector, Brooks was elected county judge, E. R. Rachal tax assessor, Rufino García, Sr., county and district clerk, and Lázaro López county treasurer. Ironically, in the early 1910s, a different faction of ranchers in western Brooks County lobbied to have its own county formed to break free of Lasater's influence. As a result, in 1913 Jim Hogg County was carved out of 990 square miles of Brooks County, and Brooks County assumed its present dimensions.

Between 1900 and 1940 the economy of Brooks County was predominantly based on ranching. In 1906 E. R. Rachal planted the first citrus trees, marking the introduction of the citrus industry into Brooks County. Freezes, droughts, and other pests, however, kept the industry from growing, and citrus fruit has remained of minor importance. Farming also failed to take hold. Despite Lasater's attempts to introduce commercial farming at the turn of the century, the emphasis remained on livestock raising, principally of cattle, and the small amount of farming was geared toward growing cattle feed. But rather than beef cattle, many ranchers focused on dairying, particularly of Jersey cows, which produced milk with a high fat content; already by the 1920s the high quality of Falfurrias butter and other dairy products was widely recognized.

The period 1920 to 1930 saw a marked increase in agriculture in the county. In 1920 there were 394 farms in Brooks County; by 1930 the number had grown to 513, and the number of cattle had reached nearly 40,000. During the Great Depression of the 1930s most of the area's farmers suffered hard times, but because of their reliance on meat, milk, butter, and other livestock products they fared somewhat better than farmers in other areas of the state who raised cotton and similar crops. Oil, discovered in the county in 1935, helped some cash-poor farmers to settle longstanding debts and survive the depression years, but not until the early 1940s did the economy began to recover fully.

The agricultural scene changed little between 1940 and 1970. The principal industry remained cattle raising, with the main emphasis on breeding and dairying. Although farming occupied 796,388 acres in 1959, only 8,321 acres was used for crops, mostly cattle feed. Cotton farming was introduced on a small scale during the 1950s, and in the 1960s commercial truck farming began to grow in importance. Subsequently, truck farming became one of the leading generators of revenue. In the early 1990s Brooks County was among the leading producers of watermelons and honeydew melons in the state, and it was a major source of fresh market vegetables. The main emphasis in the early 1990s, however, remained on cattle raising; at that time fully 80 percent of agricultural receipts came from cattle and cattle products.

The population of Brooks County grew rapidly during its early years, from 4,560 in 1920 to 9,195 in 1950, before declining slightly to 8,005 in 1970. In 1980 the population again showed modest growth, reaching 8,428, but nearly half of the residents (4,164) were retirees. Between 1970 and 1980 the rural population grew by nearly 41 percent, largely as a result of a growing influx of retired persons attracted by the warm climate. Many Mexican Americans were also moving to the area, and in 1980 Brooks County ranked seventh among all United States counties in percentage of residents of Hispanic origin. In 1990 the population was 8,204.

Like many other South Texas counties, Brooks County has remained staunchly Democratic over the years. From the county's inception through 1992 the majority of county residents voted Democratic in every presidential election, and Democrats continued to exercise a virtual stranglehold on local offices. In the 1982 primary 100 percent of those who went to the polls voted Democratic, with a total of 3,314 votes cast.

The first school in the county opened in 1912. In 1982 the county had one school district with three elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school. Sixty-nine percent of the 109 high school graduates planned to attend college. In 1982–83, 8 percent of the students were Anglo and 92 percent were Hispanic. The county had two doctors, two dentists, a hospital with facilities for thirty-one, ambulance service, a mental-health clinic, and a nursing home with a capacity for 100 residents. The county also had two weekly newspapers, Falfurrias Facts and Paisano Press. In the early 1980s Brooks County had seventeen churches with an estimated combined membership of 6,694; the largest denominations were Catholics, Southern Baptists, and United Methodists.

Recreation facilities in the county include the Heritage Museum of Falfurrias and four municipal parks with a total of sixty-six acres. The Texas Tropical Trail runs through Brooks County. Hunting opportunities abound. Special events in Brooks County include the Fiesta Ranchera in May, the Watermelon Roundup and Mexican Village Celebration, both in June, and the Fourth of July Rodeo.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

James Lewellyn Allhands, Gringo Builders (Joplin, Missouri, Dallas, Texas, 1931). Evan Anders, Boss Rule in South Texas: The Progressive Era (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1982). Lloyd Dyer, The History of Brooks County (M.A. thesis, Texas A&I College, 1938). Falfurrias Facts, June 15, 1934. Jovita González, Social Life in Cameron, Starr, and Zapata Counties (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1930). Thomas Hester, Digging into South Texas Prehistory: A Guide for Amateur Archaeologists (San Antonio: Corona Press, 1980). Dale Lasater, Falfurrias: Ed C. Lasater and the Development of South Texas (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1985). David Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836–1986 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987). Marker Files, Texas Historical Commission, Austin. John R. Wunder, At Home on the Range: Essays on the History of Western Social and Domestic Life (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1985).

Alicia A. Garza

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Alicia A. Garza, "BROOKS COUNTY," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hcb16), accessed October 23, 2014. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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