In 1904 Louis Dolch, in partnership with a rancher named Dobrowolski, cleared 400 acres of brush south of Eagle Pass and began to irrigate crops of onions and figs with water pumped from the Rio Grande. Without irrigation, truck farming was not possible in this arid climate, which had an annual rainfall of twenty-five inches or less. Though small-scale irrigation projects had begun in the area as early as 1901, the success of this larger project proved the region could be excellent farmland if adequate water was made available. Soon the company of Goldfrank and Frank opened the Indio Ranch for settlement; the land was irrigated and planted in alfalfa and cotton. There were eight irrigated farms in the county by 1909, totaling some 1,166 acres.
By 1885 Scottish-born rancher Patrick W. Thomson had come up with a project to build a huge gravity-flow irrigation network that would draw water from the Rio Grande. He formed the Eagle Pass Irrigation Co. and hired government engineer F. B. Maltby to survey the site and estimate the costs of the project. In 1889 Thomson began work; he completed three miles of canal before the project was stalled by lack of funds. Subsequently Thomson tried to raise money by forming a company of English investors known as The South-West Texas Water Supply and Land Co., Ltd. He acquired permits from the Mexican and United States governments and asked an expert, Robert Wallace of the University of Edinburgh, to analyze the soils of Maverick County and the feasibility of the project. Professor Wallace's report was favorable; however, Thomson's financial negotiations were thwarted by the outbreak of the Boer War and the subsequent economic panic. Until he died (1910), Thomson continued to seek support for the irrigation project. The project was not revived, however, until 1926.
In that year Capt. W. A. Fitch, then nearly seventy, started promoting Patrick Thomson's canal project. Fitch, who had moved to Eagle Pass from San Antonio in 1882, also drafted the efforts of his son, Maverick county judge W. O. Fitch. Their work and that of other local leaders led to the organization of the Maverick County Water Control and Improvement District No. 1. More than $4,000,000 in bonds were floated to finance the irrigation project. Judge Don Alfonso Bliss was asked to help get the permit that would allow sufficient water to be drawn from the Rio Grande to irrigate as much as 60,000 acres. The engineer was W. L. Rockwell. In April 1932 a large gravity-irrigation canal went into operation, bringing Quemado Valley land under extensive cultivation for the first time. The canal drew water from a Rio Grande intake forty miles from Eagle Pass. By March 1938 the canal serviced areas as far away as El Indio, south of Eagle Pass. A total of 34,500 acres in the area had been brought under gravity irrigation by the 1940s; by then an additional 6,500 acres could be irrigated by pumping water from the canal. By the early 1970s the main canal was 108 miles long and fed more than 200 miles of lateral canals. At that time the main canal was the largest of its type in the state. Maverick County farmers could produce three crops a year on land irrigated by the canal.
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Eagle Pass Daily Guide, March 31, 1932. Ben E. Pingenot, Historical Highlights of Eagle Pass and Maverick County (Eagle Pass, Texas: Eagle Pass Chamber of Commerce, 1971). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Ben E. Pingenot,
“Maverick County Irrigation Canal,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed July 07, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
November 1, 1995