PEÑITAS, TEXAS. Peñitas is off Farm Road 1427 ten miles northwest of McAllen in southwestern Hidalgo County. According to local tradition it was established by a splinter group of survivors of the Pánfilo de Narváez expedition of 1520, consisting of a Fray Zamora, five military officers, and their slaves. According to the story, Zamora's group was befriended by Calero Indians who lived beside the Rio Grande in dugout houses and thatched huts. An exchange in farming and cooking techniques resulted in an amicable relationship between the Spanish and the Caleros. After deciding to settle on the Rio Grande, Zamora and four others made a trip to Mexico to secure sanction and proper title to the land, the site of Peñitas. Not until 1749, however, did Spain make much effort to colonize the lower Rio Grande valley. The job fell to José de Escandón, who in 1749 founded Villa de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de Reynosa south of the river. The common grazing grounds for the new town lay across the river at Peñitas. Because Reynosa was in a low area prone to flooding, it was moved in July 1802 to a site on higher ground fourteen miles downstream. After 1850 the site of Peñitas had several well-populated ranches, including those of Rómulo Martínez and Jesús Chapa Cantú. The first-known school in the community dates to 1896, when it had fifteen students and one teacher. The Hidalgo and San Miguel extension (later called the Sam Fordyce Branch) of the St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico Railway reached the town in 1904. A school was established by the Sisters of Mercy at Peñitas in 1907, and a post office opened in 1909. The population was estimated at 100 in 1925. By 1948 the town had an estimated population of 100 and three businesses. The population peaked at 300 during the 1950s and then steadily decreased through the 1960s. By 1976 it was 150. By 1976 a colonia had formed in Peñitas that had 194 dwellings and an estimated population of 990. By 1986 its population had decreased to 923, and it had 205 dwellings. A second colonia by the name of Nuevo Peñitas was established by 1986, when it had a population of 225 and fifty dwellings. Peñitas was a stop on the Border Pacific Railroad as late as 1988. In 1992 the community had an estimated population of 1,077. Peñitas is Spanish for "small stones." The population was 1,167 in 2000.
T. R. Fehrenbach, Mario Lorenzo Sanchez, and Aura Nell Ranzau, A Shared Experience: The History, Architecture, and Historical Designations of the Lower Rio Grande Heritage Corridor (Austin: Los Caminos del Rio Heritage Project and the Texas Historical Commission, 1991). Emilia Schunior Ramirez, Ranch Life in Hidalgo County after 1850 (Edinburg, Texas: New Santander, 1971).