The first significant Spanish activity in the Texas area began in the 1700's. The main route north from Mexico through the San Antonio region and on to Louisiana was called the Camino Real (King's Highway). The Camino Real crossed the Rio Grande River at the Paseo de Francia (later known as the Presidio Crossing) about 30 miles south of present day Eagle Pass. The highway had two branches, the Upper and lower Presidio Roads. Both crossed present day Dimmit County, so the earliest European travelers were familiar with the Dimmit County area.
One of the earliest recorded trips through the region was that of Friar Morfi, a Spanish priest who traveled the Camino Real in 1778. The priest's diary records place names for many natural features of the area including:
After achieving independence from Spain, Mexico issued several land grants in the Dimmit County area including those to Jesus Cardenas, Blas Reyes, Joaquin Galan, Francisco Lambrano, Narcisso Aguirre, and Francisco Pereyra. There is no evidence that the owners of these grants made any attempts to settle their land.
Republic of Texas Period
After winning independence from Mexico, Texas voided or re-negotiated all former land grants. To boost immigration, the Republic gave away parcels of land to new immigrants and to Veterans. Some of these grants were in the Dimmit County area. Because the boundary between Texas and Mexico was not clearly established, Mexico claiming the Nueces River and Texas claiming the Rio Grande, the disputed area became a "no man's land." Much of present day Dimmit County fell in this disputed area and it became a haven for Indians and Outlaws making it unsuited for settlement.
After the annexation of Texas and the Mexican War, the boundary was fixed at the Rio Grande. The United States established a group of forts inside the Nueces strip to guard the area from Indians, outlaws, and raids from Mexico. The presence of the forts opened the way for settlement of the area by the early 1850's.
In 1858, the Texas legislature created Dimmit County out of Webb, Bexar, Uvalde, and Maverick Counties. It was named in honor of Philip Dimmitt, who rendered outstanding service to the Republic during the fight for independence from Mexico, but those honoring him could not remember how to spell his name.
Dimmit County in the 1860's was a cattleman's paradise, with the Nueces River, spring-fed streams and lakes, abundant game, with vast stretches of grassland dotted with brush and cactus. The first Dimmit County settlers moved their cattle to pasture in about 1861/62, coming from Frio, Atascosa and Goliad Counties. They established their settlement at the present site of Carrizo Springs. These settlers had severe problems with Indians, and many chose to leave. The determined remained, thus creating the first permanent settlement in Dimmit County.
In 1870, the United States Census recorded the population of Dimmit as 109 people. It appears that these are only the residents of Carrizo Springs. The residents of other settlements in the County were either missed or counted in the population of Maverick County. It is estimated that 96 Dimmit County residents are included in the Maverick Census, thus making the total population of about 205 non-Indian persons.
Dimmit County was under the jurisdiction of Maverick County until 1880. By that time, the population had increased to 665 and the residents were able to gain control of their County. Growth was slow and steady until 1900 when an Agricultural Explosion hit Dimmit County. A La Salle County farmer obtained Bermuda onion seeds from the Tenerife Islands in about 1896 and planted the first onion crop in the area. By 1900, Dimmit County Bermuda onions were being shipped out of state by rail. This caught the attention of Major Charles Seefeld of Milwaukee who rushed to south Texas and began to promote Agriculture in the area that is now known as the Winter Garden. Dimmit County had all the necessary farming ingredients - good soil, good growing conditions and plentiful artesian water.
Professional land developers bought up huge tracts of land, established farming communities, schools, wells, and roads dividing the tracts of farm land. The communities established in this period were Asherton, Bermuda Colony, Big Wells, Brundage, Catarina, Dentonio, Palm, Puddin', Shady Acres, Valley Wells, Winter Garden and Winter Garden Ranch.
The artesian water came from the Carrizo Sands, part of a formation extending from the Rio Grande to Arkansas and Louisiana. The sands are shallow in Dimmit County, with portions exposed near Carrizo Springs. These sands were the source of the Carrizo springs which gave the formation its name. From early times, the Dimmit County area was famous for spring fed creeks that supported travelers and wild life. Within 40 years of the first well drilling, virtually all of the springs and creeks they fed were dry. By 1910, farmers in some areas had to pump their wells. The drought and hard times of World War I began to hit small farmers hard. They realized that even in the Winter Garden, a small farmer could not support a family on 40 acres of land. By 1920, large-scale agricultural operation replaced the small family farm. Other crops such as strawberry, spinach, carrots, melons, cotton, etc. were added over the years. The farming tapered off as the cost of pumping water increased and the economics of farming changed further.
Today some farming still exists in Dimmit County, but much of the area has returned to its early use, cattle ranching.
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