Alberca de Arriba Ranch

By: Manuel Guerra

Type: General Entry

Published: July 1, 1995

Updated: September 13, 2018

A scenic South Texas ranch, the Alberca de Arriba Ranch is located along the Bordas Escarpment ten miles south of Mirando City. The Alberca spring, one of the few flowing springs in Webb County, is located near the old ranch headquarters. The ranch was founded in 1830 by Valentín de las Fuentes and his wife Tomasa de la Peña on a bluff overlooking the Alberca spring. Fuentes died in 1833, but the following year, the Mexican government granted his widow title to the land she and her husband had settled, a grant comprising 22,142 acres. In 1836 Indians, probably fighting for their seasonal camping site by the spring, forced the widow, her workers and tenants to flee. Tomasa soon returned and reestablished the ranch operation. Indian raids continued; often many of the ranch structures were burned, but Tomasa tenaciously had them rebuilt. Notwithstanding the Indian attacks and the constant threat posed by the stern surroundings, the ranch became a self-sustaining community. The Alberca spring provided the basis for existence in this harsh, remote environment. Cattle and horses were raised and by 1857 large fields were placed under cultivation. The ranch became a crossroads of wagon trails going from Laredo to the lower Gulf coast and from the Rio Grande valley to points north. In a renowned Spanish encyclopedia published in 1907 the settlement is described as a "locality and sweet water well situated southeast of Laredo on the road...from that city to Santo Domingo." By 1859 there were some forty stone structures at the ranch. Tomasa de la Peña, a remarkable Hispanic frontier woman who spent her life developing and defending her ranching enterprise in one of the most desolate sections of South Texas, died around 1860.

The village was again abandoned during the Civil War when Confederate irregulars forced the inhabitants to flee. Tomasa's son and grandson, Sabas and Valentín, promptly volunteered in Edmund Jackson Davis's First Texas Cavalry, U.S.A., organized near Matamoros, Tamaulipas. At the end of the war, the family returned to the ranch but had to pursue almost half a century of litigation against the state of Texas to establish clear title. During this period, William von Rosenberg unsuccessfully tried to gain possession of the ranch by locating thirteen Confederate land scrips on the ranch. In 1907 the state Supreme Court finally established that the heirs of Valentín de las Fuentes and Tomasa de la Peña held a valid title to the ranch. In 1918 Antonio M. Bruni paid $82,198.11 for 12,749 acres of the original grant, including the old settlement, which he converted into his ranch headquarters. The ranch was the site of a famous gunfight between Texas Rangers and liquor smugglers from Guerrero, Tamaulipas, that occurred during Prohibition. Three tequileros were ambushed and shot dead by the rangers and buried on the spot. A corrido, Los Tequileros, which depicted the smugglers as tragic heroes, soon became popular along both sides of the Texas-Mexican border (see CORRIDOS). The southern section of the historic Aviator's oilfield, discovered in Webb County in 1922, is located at the ranch.

Of some forty houses that originally existed in the nineteenth century settlement, only three remain-a schoolhouse, a chapel that doubled as a commissary, and the large main house, all made from hand-hewed caliche block. The extant structures are fine examples of nineteenth-century South Texas ranch architecture. The main ranchhouse shows the transition from the fortress-like, windowless structure with narrow troneras (gunports) that was necessary for defense to the more refined, spacious style that could be built once the region became pacified. Ruins of the workers' quarters indicate they were built of stone, as contrasted with the mesquite jacal that was the typical housing provided in most other ranches of South Texas at the time.

Gunnar Brune, Springs of Texas, Vol. 1 (Fort Worth: Branch-Smith, 1981). Enciclopedia Universal Illustrada Europeo-Americana. 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). William E. Galloway et al., Atlas of Major Texas Oil Reservoirs (Austin: University of Texas Bureau of Economic Geology, 1983). Joe S. Graham, El Rancho in South Texas: Continuity and Change from 1750 (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 1994). Guide to Spanish and Mexican Land Grants in South Texas (Austin: Texas General Land Office, 1988). Américo Paredes, A Texas-Mexican Cancionero: Folksongs of the Lower Border (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1976).

  • Ranching and Cowboys
  • Ranches Established Before 1835

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

Manuel Guerra, “Alberca de Arriba Ranch,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 22, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

July 1, 1995
September 13, 2018