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MAVERICK COUNTY

MAVERICK COUNTY. Maverick County (N-12) is in the northwestern section of the Rio Grande plain region in southwest Texas. The Rio Grande forms Maverick County's western and international border with Mexico; the county is bordered on the north by Kinney County, on the east by Zavala County, and on the south by Webb County. The county is triangular in shape and contains 1,287 square miles, or 824,960 acres. Eagle Pass, the county seat and most populous community, is in southwestern Maverick County on the Southern Pacific Railroad, immediately east of the Rio Grande opposite Piedras Negras, Mexico. By 1971 three major highways converged at Eagle Pass: U.S. Highway 277 North followed the Rio Grande to Del Rio and connected with transcontinental U.S. Highway 90; Highway 277 East connected with Carrizo Springs and Laredo, and U.S. Highway 57 joined U.S. Highway 81 at Moore in Frio County, establishing Eagle Pass as the closest international border town to San Antonio. Eagle Pass is also the gateway to Mexico's Central Super Highway 57, which runs from Piedras Negras to Mexico City. Eagle Pass is 425 miles southeast of El Paso, 200 miles southwest of Austin, and 275 miles northwest of Brownsville. Other communities in the county include Quemado, Normandy, and El Indio. The county center lies fourteen miles southeast of Eagle Pass near 28°38' north latitude and 100°18' west longitude. Elevations range from 540 feet in the southern part to 960 feet in the northern part. The topography is level, particularly in the north central part of the county; otherwise the county exhibits slightly undulating terrain. The soils are gray to black, cracking and clayey with high shrink-swell potential. In some areas they are light colored and loamy with limestone bedrock. Native grasses are short to mid height. Less than 1 percent of the land is considered prime farmland. The terrain along the Rio Grande is characterized by rough hills overlooking a mile-wide stretch of irrigated farmland. The Rio Grande drains the western half of the county and the Nueces River the eastern half. The principal source of water for domestic and agricultural use is the Rio Grande; irrigation water is channeled through conduits of the Maverick County Irrigation Canal system for agricultural production. Water wells tap the Carrizo Springs aquifer along the county's eastern edge; a few wells are located within gravel beds along the Rio Grande. Scattered mesquite, some live oak, cat's claw, huajilla, cenizo, and prickly pear are the predominate flora. Wildlife in the 1980s not subject to hunting regulation included javelina, squirrel, bobcat, and coyote; those subject to hunting regulation included white-tail deer, quail, muskrat, beaver, opossum, ring-tailed cat, badger, fox, weasel, raccoon, skunk, civet cat, turkey, sandhill crane, duck, coot, geese, woodcock, jacksnipe, teal duck, rail, gallinule, and mourning and white-wing dove. The Rio Grande mountain lion, once common in the county, has been the victim of indiscriminate hunting and is an extremely rare visitor today. The climate in Maverick County has been described as subtropical steppe. Temperatures in the summer are consistently high (a record high of 115° F has occurred on several dates) but are mitigated by low humidity and a steady southeasterly breeze. Winter temperatures are mild and dry, dropping to freezing an average of one out of every four days from December 3 through February 21; farmers can expect an average growing season of 285 days annually. Total annual precipitation, the greatest quantity of which occurs during thunderstorms, can vary greatly (6.01 inches in 1956 and 44.36 inches in 1900) and averaged 19.52 inches annually from 1939–68.

Prior to the era of contact with European explorers and settlers, the county was periodically inhabited by bands of Coahuiltecan Indians and in earlier times by hunter gatherers, whose discarded metates, manos, and projectile points have been uncovered at former watering holes and springs throughout the county. The much-traveled Camino Real (Old San Antonio Road) crosses the Rio Grande in southern Maverick County, a part of Texas traversed by more early Spanish explorers and settlers than any other section of the state. Fernando de Azcué made a punitive expedition pursuing Indians into the county in 1665. In 1675 the Bosque-Larios expedition entered the county near the site of present Quemado. It is believed that the first Mass ever celebrated on what is presently Texas soil was held by Franciscan members of the Bosque-Larios expedition on May 15, 1675, at a place they called San Isidro. In 1688 Alonso De León followed the Camino Real across the area of the county en route to La Salle's Texas Expedition. Expeditions under Domingo Terán de los Ríos in 1691, Martín de Alarcón in 1718, the Marqués de San Miguel de Aguayo in 1720, and Pedro de Rivera y Villalón in 1727 crossed the area. Local tradition suggests that a French trading post was established near Frenchman Springs northeast of the site of Quemado in the 1720s; this post may have been connected with the expedition of Domingo Ramón and Louis Juchereau de St. Denis to the area around 1714–17. The Canary Islanders got their first impression of their new country in the area of present Maverick County in 1730. In 1766 Diego Ortiz Parrilla set off across the area on his way to the Texas Gulf Coast. Samuel A. Maverick, a captive of Mexican troops on his way to Perote Prison, and Cherokee Indian leader Sequoyah, en route to San Fernando de las Rosas, crossed the Rio Grande in Maverick County in the early 1800s.

The earliest record of Anglo settlement in the area of Maverick County occurred in the spring of 1834, when Dr. John Charles Beales and his Dolores colonists crossed the Rio Grande near the site of present Eagle Pass and reported seeing an American hunter, his wife, and children, and a family of five Shawnee Indian beaver trappers. Although direct trade with Texas was forbidden by the Mexican government following the Texas Revolution Mexican villages near the Rio Grande continued an underground trade with San Antonio by using the Pacuache Crossing (see SAN ANTONIO CROSSING) of the Rio Grande and a smuggler's trail immediately north of the Camino Real. This trail was used by Mexican general Adrián Woll en route to San Antonio in 1842. In the spring of 1848 Capt. John A. Veatch, in command of a company of Texas Mounted Volunteer militia, set up a camp and observation post on the Rio Grande near Paso de los Adjuntos, a ford at the junction of the Rio Escondido and the Rio Grande. Veatch referred to this location as Eagle Pass, although the original Paso del Águila (Pass of the Eagle) was located west of the Veatch site several miles upriver on the Río Escondido. On March 27, 1849, Capt. Sidney Burbank established Fort Duncan, previously known as Camp Eagle Pass, on a site two miles north of the ford at Adjuntos Pass. A steady stream of emigrants bound for the gold fields of California made their way to the fort in caravans bearing such names as the Natchez California Company, the Defiance Gold Hunters, and the Mississippi Mining and Trading Company. Henry Matson, a member of one of the California convoys, borrowed a soldier's tent and with two kegs of liquor opened the first saloon in the area at the growing settlement by the fort locally called California Camp. San Antonio merchant James Campbell established a trading post at Eagle Pass and was soon joined by William Leslie Cazneau, who moved to the border to speculate in lands. Cazneau and San Antonio banker John Twohig, who owned much of the land in future Maverick County along the Rio Grande and who at one time leased the property of Fort Duncan to the federal government, laid out a plan of Eagle Pass in 1850. That same year a Mexican garrison was established on the opposite bank from Fort Duncan, and the village of Piedras Negras was founded.

Ranching activity on land that would become Maverick County began on the twenty-five-league Spanish grant of San Juan Bautista resident Antonio Rivas as early as 1765. Around 1850 Cazneau started ranching on land that had previously been the upper portion of the Rivas grant. Cazneau was joined at his ranch in the spring of 1850 by his wife, author Cora Montgomery (see CAZNEAU, JANE). Friedrich Wilhelm Carl Groos was among the first to establish a commercial business in Eagle Pass, when he secured a contract to haul supplies for the army at Fort Duncan. Groos was able to convince seventy Mexican families to settle near the fort and engage in the freighting business. The majority of these families emigrated from the Mexican river villages and missions of San Juan Bautista, San José, Santo Domingo, San Nicolás, La Navaja, and San Isidro. Such names as Rodríguez, San Miguel, Cárdenas, Peña, and Paniagua, early settlers of Eagle Pass, trace their roots to these Mexican villages. Refugio and Rita Alderete de San Miguel, who had been induced by Groos to emigrate to the Eagle Pass area in 1851, used the profits of their freighting business to establish a cattle ranch on Elm Creek in 1853. The San Miguel ranch ushered in large-scale ranching in the county with the capture and branding of thousands of cattle, sheep, and horses. The ranch house, with its outside stairway and stone tower, was a noted landmark along the military road between Fort Duncan at Eagle Pass and Fort Clark at Brackettville. Discharged soldiers of Fort Duncan and stranded emigrants on the California gold trail were among the first to engage in ranching and commercial trade in the area of Maverick County. Two of them, Jesse Sumpter and William Stone, began ranching operations in the area in the late 1850s.

The community that grew up around Fort Duncan acquired the county's first post office in 1851. Eagle Pass's regional isolation was significantly altered with the establishment of a stage line from San Antonio in 1851. During the decade before the Civil War, the area was a haven for outlaws, slave hunters, and other disreputable people. Frederick Law Olmsted visited Eagle Pass in 1854 and noted the many slave hunters and runaway slaves residing in Piedras Negras, as well as the many saloons and gambling houses, which catered to Fort Duncan's soldiers and other unsavory characters. In 1855 an international incident was brought about by James H. Callahan, whose pursuit of Indian raiders into Mexico ended in the looting and torching of Piedras Negras, Mexico, after an encounter with Mexican forces at La Marama on the Río Escondido.

Maverick County was carved from Kinney County and named for Samuel A. Maverick in 1856. The estimated population of the county in 1860 was 726. The vote of Eagle Pass against secession from the Union was an overwhelming eighty to three. Fort Duncan was occupied by Confederate troops during the Civil War. Eagle Pass was chosen as a trade depot for the Military Board of Texas. Near the end of the war Eagle Pass was the only port of entry open for the export of the Confederacy's cotton. Friedrich Groos, who had a flourishing mercantile and freighting business at Eagle Pass when the war began, had switched to trading cotton and running a cotton yard by 1863. So much cotton was passing through Eagle Pass by 1864 that cotton bales were lined from the river to the edge of town. A cotton press was installed at Piedras Negras to handle the enormous quantities coming across the Rio Grande. At the close of the war Gen. Joseph Orville Shelby (see SHELBY EXPEDITION) bivouacked 500 Confederate soldiers of the Trans-Mississippi Army in the Eagle Pass area. On July 4, 1865, when crossing the Rio Grande on the way to Mexico to offer his troops' service to Maximillian, Shelby stopped in the middle of the river to bury the last Confederate flag to fly over his troops. According to his adjutant, he wrapped the flag around the plume of his hat, weighted it with a stone from the river bank, and lowered it into the river.

The abandonment of Fort Duncan during the Civil War enabled the Indian population to gain control of the region; both American and Mexican inhabitants suffered tremendous loss of life and property. Following the war Black Seminole Scouts were organized at Fort Duncan to aid in the control of the Indians. The last Indian raid in the county occurred in 1877; the site of the gruesome mutilation of three traders, eight miles northeast of Eagle Pass, was for many years afterwards known as Deadman's Hill. Saloons, gambling houses, and smuggling operations proliferated in and around Eagle Pass during Reconstruction. The infamous J. King Fisher and his followers dominated the town, the county, and the courts throughout this period. Maverick County judge William Stone moved his family to San Miguel for safety. Upon Stone's death on January 23, 1880, he owned 100,000 acres of land, 30,000 head of sheep, extensive real and personal property, and was considered one of the wealthiest men in the county. After the Civil War Eagle Pass continued as a garrison town and focal point for trade with Mexico and as a center for stock raising and ranching. The main line of the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway was extended west from San Antonio around 1880, after which a 34.64-mile branch line was constructed by the Rio Grande and Pecos Railway south to Eagle Pass from Spofford in 1882. This rail line connected with the Mexican Railway in Piedras Negras and greatly enhanced the region's international trade potential.

Although the county was established in 1856 it was not until September 4, 1871, that it was officially organized. New ranches were established by Mike Wipff, Frank Lehmann, Patrick Thomson, and John Towns following the organization of the county. Telegraph communication reached Eagle Pass in November of 1875 with the completion of a military line between Fort Clark and Fort Duncan. The historic Maverick County Courthouse was completed by pioneer builder William Hausser on April 4, 1885, at a cost of $20,489. The courthouse, site of the celebrated Dick Duncan murder trial in 1889, exhibits a modified Gothic architecture with high windows and an overall Spanish fortress appearance. This unique structure was declared a Texas historic landmark in September 1971. The population of the county was 1,951 in 1870 and 2,967 in 1880. In 1870 thirty-nine farms in Maverick County averaged three acres in size. By 1880 thirty farms and ranches averaged 9,418 acres; only two of the farms were over 1,000 acres, indicating that the majority of farm acreage was concentrated in one or two very large ranches. The concentration of farm and ranch lands in a few hands ended by 1890; of the ninety farms in Maverick County that year twenty-three were over 1,000 acres. By 1900 there were ninety-one farms and ranches, with twenty-three over 1,000 acres, and the average farm size reached a historic high of 36,743 acres. Ranchers raised sheep (111,240 in 1880 and 149,310 in 1890) and cattle (37,058 in 1890 and 40,083 in 1900). During the decade following the turn of the century the number of livestock plummeted; cattle numbers dropped from 40,083 in 1900 to 13,866 by 1910, and sheep fell from 149,310 to 14,070 in 1900. Cattle numbers remained low throughout the first half of the twentieth century before reaching its highest number of the century with 31,568 in 1959. In 1971, 750,000 acres in the county were devoted to ranching, and from 15,000 to 20,000 cattle were shipped each year.

In 1901 and 1902 entrepreneurs siphoned water from the Rio Grande to irrigate experimental crops on onions, figs, alfalfa, and cotton. By 1909 the number of irrigated farms in the county had risen to eight and encompassed 1,166 acres. Practically all the agricultural efforts were confined to the Rio Grande valley; the land outside of that valley was owned around 1900 by three or four parties, one title including two-thirds of the grazing land in the entire county. In 1910 the total area of the county was 800,640 acres, of which 194,981 acres was farmland and only 3,346 acres was improved. The number of farms or ranches in 1900 was twenty-six and in 1910 forty-nine. The main crops were onions and cotton, grown along the river valley. In 1910 Maverick County had 5,151 residents, 3,000 of whom were of Mexican descent. In 1914 the principal resources and commercial activities were centered at Eagle Pass, where three-fourths of the county's population was located. In 1904 Louis Dolch, in partnership with a rancher named Dobrowolski, cleared 400 acres of brush south of Eagle Pass and irrigated crops of onions and figs with water pumped from the Rio Grande. Although small-scale irrigation projects had begun as early as 1901, the success of this larger effort demonstrated the farming potential once adequate water was made available. The next year the firm of Goldfrank and Frank opened the Indio Ranch for settlement and irrigation and planted alfalfa and cotton. By 1909 there were eight irrigated farms covering 1,166 acres. Patrick W. Thomson, a Scottish-born Maverick County rancher, had conceived the idea of deploying water from the Rio Grande through a huge gravity-flow irrigation system as early as 1885. The Maverick County Canal system, operational by April 1932 and the largest gravity-irrigation system in the state at that time, spurred a substantial increase in farming activity in the Quemado Valley in the north and in the farming district surrounding the community of El Indio in the south. The population of the county experienced its greatest percentage jump during the 1930s (65 percent) since the 1860s. The number of farms increased from fifty-two in 1930 to 272 by 1940, recording a historic high of 344 fully owned farms in 1935. The amount of cropland harvested rose from 2,735 acres in 1930 to 12,319 in 1940, as farmers grew greater amounts of corn, cotton, and hay and introduced cultivation of spinach, pecans, and tomatoes. In the 1940s as many as 34,500 acres were under gravity irrigation. By the 1980s 40,000 acres of Rio Grande bottom cropland was irrigated.

The air age dawned on Eagle Pass on March 3, 1911, when Lt. Benjamin D. Foulois and Phil Parmalee, a civilian, landed a Wright Type B Scout biplane on the Fort Duncan parade ground. This flight from Laredo to Eagle Pass was one of the highlights of early military aviation, and it set a new world's record for distance by covering 106 miles, nonstop, in two hours and ten minutes. In 1942 the Army Air Force built a single-engine advanced flying school twelve miles north of Eagle Pass. In addition to natural gas, which has been produced in the county for a number of years, oil exploration and development was seriously begun in the mid-1950s, resulting by 1970 in over 300 producing oil wells in the county. The three biggest producing fields of crude oil in 1984 were Fitzpatrick (drilled in 1969), Wipff (drilled in 1969), and Burr (drilled in 1970). In 1982 a total of 3,233,446,000 cubic feet of gas well gas, 16,544 barrels of condensate, 1,448, 838 barrels of crude oil, and 654,298,000 cubic feet of casinghead gas were produced in Maverick County. Industries located in the county in 1977 included a cotton gin and two cattle feedlots with capacities of 25,000 cattle at El Indio, one at Normandy, and another between Eagle Pass and El Indio. A spinach-packing shed was at the southern edge of Eagle Pass. A number of industries have located in the Eagle Pass–Maverick County area since 1977. These include the Eagle Pass Manufacturing Company (a division of Hicks-Ponder, Incorporated) and the Williamson-Dickie Manufacturing Company, both makers of work clothing; the Reynolds Mining Corporation fluorspar plant and the Tejas Barite plant; Alta-Verde Industries and Maverick Beef Producers, both large cattle feeding operations; and the Big River Catfish Farm. The coal industry of Maverick County deserves special mention. Coal, in commercial quantities, is located along a section of the Olmos Coal Formation immediately north of Eagle Pass. The presence of coal had been known for many hundreds of years before its commercial development and was called tetelezco by the Indians and piedras negras (black rocks) by the Spanish. John Charles Beales collected coal samples and made notes in journal of its proliferation in his journal in the spring of 1834. Mining in Maverick County began about the time of Fort Duncan's establishment in 1849; soldiers at the fort mined the ore, presumably for use in the making of gun powder. Utilization of the coal fueled early dreams of coal-fired steamboats plying their way up and down the Rio Grande. Mining operations developed by Dolch at Dolchburg and by the Olmos Coal, Coke, and Oil Company at Olmos were the largest coal producers in Texas around the turn of the century.

Frontier educational facilities were slow in coming to Maverick County residents. St. Joseph's Academy, a private school for girls, opened in 1883 and was perhaps the first school established in the county. In 1900 there were four rural community schools in the county: at Upson, Quemado, Coal Mines, and Towns. In 1950 only 5 percent of all adults in the county had completed a high school education; in 1960 the percentage had risen to 9 percent and by 1980 more substantially to 32.2 percent. In 1982 the county consisted of one school district with eight elementary schools, one middle school, one high school, and one special-education facility. Private schools that year consisted of three elementary schools and one high school with 554 students. The earliest record of Protestant Episcopal services in the county were those conducted by officers and chaplains at Fort Duncan. Aside from this and the sporadic efforts of an occasional circuit rider, the first quarter century of the county's existence saw little other Protestant religious activity. An Episcopal church was built in Eagle Pass in 1887; it was the first Protestant church in Eagle Pass and was preceded only by Our Lady of Refuge Catholic Church, established at Eagle Pass in 1852. In 1982 twenty-one churches had an estimated combined membership of 16,446, the largest of which was Catholic. The population of the county climbed slowly but steadily during the twentieth century from 4,066 in 1900 to 18,093 in 1970 and jumped rapidly to 31,938 in 1980. Much of the increase was a growing influx of residents from Mexico lured by jobs in Eagle Pass. Maverick County reportedly had the largest increase in its population (24 percent) during the period 1960–65 than any other United States county. In 1982 Maverick County ranked fourth among all counties in the United States in percentage of persons of Spanish origin. With a median age of twenty-two, the population was the youngest in Texas. The largest ancestry groups in the county were persons of Hispanic descent (90 percent), English descent (3 percent), and Irish descent (2 percent).

In 1982, 88 percent of all land in the county was considered farmland and ranches, but only 2 percent of the farmland was under cultivation, and most of that was irrigated. Primary crops were hay, oats, and wheat. The primary vegetable was spinach, and primary fruits and nuts were peaches and pecans; for production of the latter the county ranked fifth in the state. Eighty-nine percent of all agricultural receipts were from livestock and livestock products, which included cattle, milk, sheep, wool, angora goats, mohair, and hogs. The total number of businesses was 440, including gas and oil field services, tourism, agribusiness, and men's work clothing. The Maverick County Courthouse and Fort Duncan were on the National Register of Historic Places. Places of interest included the Fort Duncan Museum in Eagle Pass and the Eagle Pass Auxiliary Air Field in Quemado.

In the fifteen United States presidential elections between 1872 and 1928 Maverick County voters cast a majority vote for the Democratic candidate on seven occasions and the Republican nominee on eight occasions, including the last four elections prior to 1932. In 1932 they choose Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt over Herbert Hoover 847 to 166, beginning a succession of five decades of local victory for the Democratic nominee. In the elections between 1976 and 1992 the Democratic nominee garnered an average of 70 percent of vote. It is interesting to note that Maverick County joined an exclusive club of South Texas counties (Webb, Duval, Jim Hogg, Starr, and Zapata) as the only counties in Texas giving a majority vote to Democrat George McGovern in his unsuccessful bid against Republican Richard Nixon in 1972. In 1990 the population of Maverick County was 36,378. Eagle Pass (20,651) was the largest town. Attractions included nearby Piedras Negras, hunting, and fishing.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Eagle Pass Daily Guide, Jubilee Centennial Edition, July 2, 1936. Vinton Lee James, Frontier and Pioneer Recollections of Early Days in San Antonio and West Texas (San Antonio, 1938). John Hugh Knight, The History of the Maverick County Irrigation Project (M.A. thesis, Texas College of Arts and Industries, 1939). Cora Montgomery, Eagle Pass, or Life on the Border (New York: Putnam, 1852; rpt., Austin: Pemberton Press, 1966). Frederick Law Olmsted, A Journey through Texas (New York, 1857; rpt., Austin: University of Texas Press, 1978). Ben E. Pingenot, Historical Highlights of Eagle Pass and Maverick County (Eagle Pass, Texas: Eagle Pass Chamber of Commerce, 1971). Ben E. Pingenot, ed., Paso del Águila . . . Memoirs of Jesse Sumpter (Austin: Encino, 1969). August Santleben, A Texas Pioneer (New York and Washington: Neale, 1910). Ronnie C. Tyler, Santiago Vidaurri and the Southern Confederacy (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1973).

Ruben E. Ochoa

Citation

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

Ruben E. Ochoa, "MAVERICK COUNTY," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hcm06), accessed April 16, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on November 25, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.