Ruins in Zapata County, twelve miles north of San Ygnacio, mark the site of a ranch settlement that was part of the plan of the Spanish colonial government to settle a region between the Nueces River in the north and Tampico in the south. In 1750 the Hacienda de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores was founded by a grant of land from the crown of Spain to José Vázquez Borrego, a wealthy rancher from Coahuila, who had previously extended his livestock operation to the north bank of the Rio Grande. This settlement, at the junction of Dolores Creek and the Rio Grande, is considered to be the first Spanish colonial venture on the north bank of the Rio Grande. This Dolores, however, is not to be confused with a mining community of the same name north of Laredo in Webb County, nor with a village called Nueva Dolores located just two miles up river from the ruins in question. The name Hacienda Dolores dates to 1757, when the settlement was so labeled by José Tienda de Cuervo on his inspection tour of the newly founded settlements that were part of the colonizing program of José de Escandón. However, given the fact that Dolores was the headquarters for an outpost ranching operation and that the owner, Vázquez Borrego, lived at his Hacienda de San Juan del Álamo in Coahuila, it might more properly be called Rancho Dolores.
Sometime before 1750 Vásquez Borrego moved some of his servants and livestock to the north bank of the Rio Grande from the Hacienda del Álamo. Yet he wanted to incorporate this new ranching operation into the project of José de Escandón to settle the area and form a colony known as Nuevo Santander. He addressed a letter to Escandón in which he told of having settled on about twenty leagues of land roughly between the sites of present-day Laredo and Zapata. On August 22, 1750, Escandón, in the name of the king of Spain, granted Vázquez Borrego fifty sitios for small stock and gave him the title of captain of the Dolores community. It was part of Escandón's plan to populate the area between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande, and he saw Dolores as strategic. He wanted Dolores to become a stop on a new route to the presidios at Bexar, La Bahía, and Los Adaes. Thus he commissioned Vázquez Borrego to operate a boat at Dolores to ferry passengers across the Rio Grande. This also facilitated the passage of Indians to the mission at nearby Revilla (now Guerrero, Tamaulipas), on the Salado River near its juncture with the Rio Grande.
For a short time Dolores was the key crossing-place on the Rio Grande for travelers, soldiers, and priests from the interior of New Spain to San Antonio and other points in the province of Texas. With the founding of Laredo in 1755, however, another route from Monterrey and Saltillo was increasingly used, and the route through Dolores was eventually abandoned. This contributed to the demise of the settlement. The ruins at Dolores testify to the beginning of ranching north of the Rio Grande. A second grant to Vázquez Borrego in 1753 brought his official land area to 209,119 acres. Yet, in 1767, land was granted to the original settlers of Revilla and Laredo. The grants were for villas, each of which was to comprise an area of six leagues in all directions from the town square. This meant that land owned by Vázquez Borrego was given to other persons. In compensation, he was given land to the east.
In 1792 the land known as the José Vázquez Borrego grant was divided among his heirs. In 1813 Indians repeatedly attacked the ranch headquarters at Dolores, forcing the occupant, José María Margil de Vidaurri, to build a stone tower for defense. The Indians persisted, and the site was abandoned in the ensuing years. The land was the site of two other settlements, Corralitos and San Ygnacio, the latter of which still exists, while the former ceased being listed on maps of Texas after the turn of the twentieth century.
Confusion exists as to the nature of the Dolores site. A highway marker placed by the Texas Centennial Commission has led some to believe there was a mission at Dolores. However, the record shows that the ranch headquarters was only visited by the priest from nearby Revilla. The importance of Dolores remains that of a pioneering ranch operation that opened part of South Texas to the ranching industry.
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Carlos E. Castañeda, Our Catholic Heritage in Texas (7 vols., Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1936–58; rpt., New York: Arno Press, 1976). Estado General de las Fundaciones Hechas por D. José de Escandón en la Colonia del Nuevo Santander, Costa del Seno Mexicano (2 vols., Publicaciones del Archivo General de la Nación 14 and 15 (Mexico City: Talleres Gráficos de la Nación México, 1930). Lawrence Francis Hill, José de Escandón and the Founding of Nuevo Santander (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1926). Florence J. Scott, Historical Heritage of the Lower Rio Grande (San Antonio: Naylor, 1937; rev. ed., Waco: Texian, 1966; rpt., Rio Grande City, Texas: La Retama Press, 1970). Jerry Don Thompson, Sabers on the Rio Grande (Austin: Presidial, 1974).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
“Nuestra Señora de los Dolores Hacienda,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed June 26, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
Most Recent Revision Date:
August 11, 2020
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