LOPEÑO, TEXAS. Lopeño is on U.S. Highway 83 in southeastern Zapata County. It replaced old Lopeño and four other small farming and ranching communities-San Pedro, San José, Santa Fé and El Tigre-the residents of which were descendants of the settlers brought north in 1749 by Col. José de Escandón. When Falcon Dam (see INTERNATIONAL FALCON RESERVOIR) was built in the early 1950s, the lake covered the old Lopeño site. The United States government had offered to move six communities to Zapata, which had pure water, sewage disposal, and new schools. But the community residents asked the government to build them separate communities near their farms and ranches. The government refused, so two men donated areas nearby on the new U.S. Highway 83 for the new Lopeño. The water suddenly rose after four days of rain starting on August 23, 1953, and on August 28 the 450 families of Lopeño and Falcon were hurriedly evacuated in a pouring rain. By the day's end, only the church steeple, a few windmills, and the tops of a few houses showed above the muddy reservoir. Residents of the inundated communities left behind furniture, clothing, toys, even pets. Some walked rather than accept rides from the hated commission that had built the dam and driven them from their 200-year-old settlements.
Lopeño is named for Antonio López, husband of Doña Ysabel María Sánchez, to whom a 6,366-acre land grant, named Señor San José, was given by the king of Spain on July 16, 1767. During the early 1800s a parcel of this grant passed to the Ramírez family, founders of Falcon. In 1821 Benito Ramírez constructed a combination home, fort, and chapel, known later as Fort Lopeño, which stood until covered by the waters of Falcon Lake. It was built at the Lopeño crossing of the Rio Grande. There was also a famous shrine in front of his El Tigre Ranch well, where local residents drew water, and worshipped before the Señor San José Church was built in Lopeño. The shrine, dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupeqv, was artistically cut from limestone, with beautifully carved hands and feet, delicate features, and a chaplet encircling the crown. Company K, Fifth United States Infantry regiment, maintained Camp Lopeño there for twelve days ending May 10, 1856, before returning to Ringgold Barracks, Rio Grande City, during the Cortina War (see JUAN NEPOMUCENO CORTINA). Serafín Benavides established a store at Lopeño in the early 1900s, the only supply point in the area at the time. Andrés Serna carried the mail by horseback from Zapata to Lopeño from 1900 until his death in 1908; he had a keen mind, but could not read. Before starting his route, he would have the names and destinations read to him, and would sort them in order, never making a mistake in his delivery. From 1908 to 1909 the post office name was Lopeña, but it was changed to Lopeño in 1909.
Nearby fossil outcroppings known as the Lopeño Structure proved to have oil and gas deposits. On April 30, 1934, the first producing well in the Lopeño gas field was brought in; many wells followed and were still producing in the early 1990s. A gas line was installed to carry the gas to Monterrey, Neuvo León. In 1936 a country school with one teacher was established in Lopeño, which at that time also had a Catholic church, a Protestant chapel, and an evangelical Christian mission. During World War II one soldier from Lopeño, Juan Manuel Zepeda, was killed in service. When the original Lopeño was about to be moved, the International Boundary and Water Commission wanted all the displaced communities to move their cemeteries to a single location at U.S. 83 and Farm Road 496, but the residents insisted on separate cemeteries. They mapped out their graveyards and identified 1,501 of the 1,753 burial sites; Lopeño had 207 burials, thirty-eight of which remained unidentified. The new community and cemetery are located on a 6,525-acre tract of land first granted in 1767 to María Josepha Guerra. The new town in the early 1990s had a reported 500 residents, three stores, a post office, a fire station, a civic center, and a Catholic church. By 2000 the population dropped to 140 with three businesses.
Patsy Jeanne Byfield, Falcon Dam and the Lost Towns of Zapata (Austin: Texas Memorial Museum, 1971). Jean Y. Fish, Zapata County Roots Revisited (Edinburg, Texas: New Santander Press, 1990). Virgil N. Lott and Mercurio Martinez, The Kingdom of Zapata (San Antonio: Naylor, 1953). Kathleen E. and Clifton R. St. Clair, eds., Little Towns of Texas (Jacksonville, Texas: Jayroe Graphic Arts, 1982).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Dick D. Heller, Jr., "LOPENO, TX," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hll59), accessed April 16, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.