The expedition led by the Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, was probably the first made by white man into what is now known as the Southwest. Several centuries later, we find some of the same territory known as the "Brush Country", or the "Brasada", peopled with the Indians and the long-horned cattle left by the Spaniards. It was in 1716 that the Spaniards seriously began the establishment of missions and colonies in Texas. However, it was not until Texas had achieved its independence from Mexico that the territory between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande was considered a part of the State.
In the early days of the nineteenth century, the Nueces and Frio Rivers were important camping grounds for the Spanish trains of wagons that came to San Antonio and went to the forts and missions beyond and returned to Mexico. The ox trains traveled slow, and the long stretch of road between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande required several days. In those days these rivers were bold mountain streams, whose waters teemed with an abundance of fish, and the green valleys abounded with game of all kinds. These camps were often attacked by the tribes of Indians that roamed the country. Many of the white settlers lost their lives, and too, no doubt some of the gold that the Spaniards carried in the ox carts. The rumor has persisted through the years that the Indians were aided by renegade Mexican bandits, who robbed the ox trains sometimes. From these raids have come down many of the stories of the buried treasure that have become legends of the Southwestern country.the foundations of some old homes and a little graveyard fenced in.
Along about the time of the establishment of Fort Ewell, there was a settlement on the Frio River known as "Dogtown", which after the presidential election of 1876 was re-christened "Tilden" and is now the county seat of McMullen County. This county was organized several years before La Salle County. Before the county was organized it was attached to San Patricio County for judicial purposes. Many of the old deed records were transcribed from the deed records of San Patricio County. Later when Live Oak County was organized, McMullen County was attached to it for judicial purposes, Oakville being the county seat of Live Oak County. One of the outstanding citizens of Live Oak County who was frequently called in by the early settlers of McMullen County to help keep law and order, when the outlaws and cattle skinners got too numerous, was Captain Pate McNeel. He had a friend he always brought with him, a Mr. Pierce. Both of these men were Civil War veterans, and to a great extent made it possible for the early citizens of McMullen County to get protection. Another man who helped the citizens to get some law and order was Jorge Alanis, who lived in the northern part of what is now Duval County. He made two trips to Austin in a buggy to ask the Governor of Texas for help in protecting the cattle of the settlers, when the outlaws were killing the cattle for their hides and tallow. The State gave them no help, but Captain McNeel lost no time in coming to their assistance.
The trouble with cattle skinners was just one of the problems of the early settlers, as they were continually raided by the Indians, who murdered their families and drove off their horses.
Some of these raids were made by Indians who came out of Mexico, crossing the Rio Grande at Presidio. Some were Comanches and some were Apaches. They were of Chief Geronimo's tribe. On one of their raids they killed the Stringfield family, carrying off two sons, in about 1770. One of the boys was discovered in San Antonio in 1904 with a Wild West Show. He was known as "Tommy Two-Braids". He came to Tilden in 1908 and placed tombstones on his parent's graves, which are located on the old Ruckman Ranch, South of the Nueces River. In 1878 the Indians again raided the Nueces country, raiding the Steele Ranch, located on the south side of the river and known as the "Tigre". They killed Mr. Steele's brother and his two small boys. Ceb Martin and "Pony Jim" Martin, father and uncle of J.W. Martin, ranched on the "Chiminias" ranch, and were on their way south to buy cattle.
They went by the Steele Ranch and learned of the raid, and gave what assistance they could. Three of the Steele children are at this time living in Cotulla. Many other Indian raids were made, but they failed to discourage the early pioneers.
Many of the early settlers of McMullen County came from the coast, around old St. Mary's and Indianola, getting away from the storms which frequently occurred. Some of the families were there before the Civil War; others came later, among them were the Martins, Michots, Towes, Drake Youngs, Hyars, Hills, Byrnes, Kuykendalls, Teals, Hollands, Bruces, Drakes, Crains, Wests, Richarson, Dilworths, Joe Walker and many others. Practically all the people were engaged in cattle raising. For the lack of a railroad and the meager highway facilities, most all of the land in the county is still used for grazing purposes, with a few farms along the San Miguel Creek, and in the eastern part of the county.
McMullen County was orgaanized in 1877, and the minutes of the Commissioners' Court show the following proceedings: "The Honorable G.W. Jones, County Judge of Live Oak presiding, the following officers were sworn in and gave bond: G.W. Dilworth, County Judge; L.A. Parchman, Sheriff; M.F. Lowe, Tax Assessor; M.H. Martin, Hide and Animal Inspector; L.W. Snowden, County Clerk; Henry Martin, Treasurer."
The same officers were elected in a general election, which was held December 19, 1876. On February 26, 1877, James Lowe qualified for sheriff, and M.H. Martin, Deputy. May 1, 1877, M.H. Martin qualified for Sheriff, making three sheriffs in five months. In the Minutes of the Commissioners' Court, some time later the records show that M.H. Martin made a quarterly report as Sheriff and Tax Collector, and M.H. Martin made a report as Hide and Animal Inspector, and M.H. Martin made a report as County Treasurer. He was the father of M.H. Martin, Jr., who is one of the Committeemen of the "Dos Rios Soil Conservation District". The principal road that was in existence at that time was the Old San Antonio Road that had a stagecoach that made weekly trips from San Antonio, through Pleasanton, Tilden and Fort Ewell.
It carried the United States mail. The Postmaster at Tilden could not read nor write, so when the mail came in he emptied it in a box on the floor and every one helped themselves. This plan worked until a Postal Inspector arrived on the stage coach one day and informed the Postmaster that he did not approve of the way he was handling the mail. Mr. Walker handed him the mail sack and told him, "to take his dammed outfit and get out".
Today Tilden has a fine courthouse, good schools, and a paved road coming from San Antonio with hopes of getting it paved to Freer, and a big oil field.
In the early seventies, there were some settlements along the Nueces River in what is now La Salle County. There was a post office called "Iuka" with a few families and a store at Cochina Lake. Mr. Jesse Laxton, a pioneer of Frio County was postmaster. The white families living there were the Laxtons, McCoys, Lemmons, John DeSpain, some of the Gardners and Martin Wilkins. Some tough characters showed up now and then, and cast their lots with the frontiersmen. Of course, like all frontiers, the six-shooter was the law. Further down the Nueces about 25 miles below Cotulla, Mr. and Mrs. W.B. Burks came in 1876. They established what is known as the La Mota Ranch. In 1871 during the height of the big cattle drives to Kansas, Mrs. Burks went "Up the Trail" with the herd. Many years later she was elected "Queen of the Trail Drivers Association". Mr. Burks died a few months after coming to La Salle County. Mrs. Burks stayed on, and through the years increased her holdings of land and cattle until she had one of the most successful ranches in the Southwest, comprising about 40,000 acres of land. The ranch is still owned by her descendants, Mr. and Mrs. Jim Bell, who reside there at the present time.
What is now La Salle County was created in 1858, and attached to McMullen County for judicial purposes. In 1880 the county was organized into a distinct political unit at the old Guajuco ranch, one and a half miles from Fort Ewell, and named for the first French explorer to Texas, Cavalier La Salle. There were present and sworn in as officers: Pierce Johnston, County Judge; J.M. Buck, Sheriff; J.W. Baylor (father of Jack Baylor and Mrs. Jim Bell) Clerk. The County Commissioners were Jesse Laxton, Charles Sullivan and G. B. Robbins. In 1882 the county seat was moved to the present site at Cotulla.
First Courthouse built on Courthouse Square in Cotulla
In the settlement of all countries it takes the hardy pioneer to blaze the way, no frontier could be settled without the trail blazer. To the little bands that first came to these counties along the border, we are indebted for our freedom and the abundant life we enjoy today. They endured many hardships and privations as they battled the Indians, and the cow thieves from old Mexico and the renegades from the settled sections of the State. Among the old settlers who blazed the way in La Salle County were the Hargus', Henschells, McKinneys, Burks, Withers, Irvins, Berettas, Baylors, Earnests, Kerrs and many others.
The open range attracted many of the lawless elements and out of this condition came feuds and bloodshed, and the loss of may good men as well as bad ones. Throughout the "Brush" counties occurred the "Hide and Tallow War". This land teemed with cattle and wild horses. Throughout the length and breadth of it cattle were killed and skinned, and others re-branded. The answer to the general lawlessness was the Texas Ranger. In 1874 a bill was passed for the reorganization and maintenance of Rangers for frontier defense. Captain Lee Hall, a member of McNeely's Ranger Company, and a brave and colorful figure, was sent to clean up these border counties. So well did his Rangers improve conditions that it was no longer said that the Nueces that traversed the two counties, was "the sheriff's deadline".
The gentle rolling hills and fertile valleys, which now comprise the "Dos Rios Soil Conservation District", at that time were used only for cattle and sheep raising. With the passing of the big round-ups and cattle drives "up the trail" came the fencing of the ranges, bringing another wave of feuds and fights between the land owners and those men who coveted the herds grazing on enclosed pastures. In 1880 forty thousand tons of steel barbed wire was sold to Texas cattlemen. In time, this situation too was cleaned up by Captain Hall and some of the men who had served with him as rangers, Jake, Tom and Sam Plat, Charlie McKinney and others. The fighting ended and civilization was on the march.
The instinct for adventure and the desire for land in an unsettled country brought Joseph Cotulla to this section in 1871. He staked out some large tracts of land on the Nueces River and in 1880 he brought his family here, having built a rock house on the land he had acquired, about two miles above what is now Cotulla. The house is still occupied by one of his daughters, Miss Mary Cotulla, who with her brother, Simon Cotulla operates the ranch. Joseph Cotulla gave a township of 120 acres to induce the railroad to come through here and in 1883 the first train came through, extending only as far as what is now Artesia Wells, from San Antonio. Other men of vision had become settlers in La Salle County, among them, Mr. George Copp, an Englishman, who in 1895 planted the first Bermuda onions in this section. In 1896 he shipped the first onion plants in Texas. By 1900 the Bermuda onion raising had become an important industry in the Cotulla-Laredo district. In 1909 some few people began to irrigate their farms.
As the years passed, cotton became another agricultural industry, and gradually some of the vast ranges of the past were producing the food and cloth needed by man. The great value of irrigation was realized, and in 1925 two irrigation districts were created for the purpose of building dams on the Frio and Nueces Rivers, in order to conserve the flood waters of these two mountain streams to produce the food and vegetables that are adapted to this mild climate. The Nueces project is known as the "La Salle County Irrigation District No. 1", and the Frio project is the "La Salle-McMullen Irrigation District No. 1". Government engineers have completed all the necessary surveys, their recommendations have been approved, and all thast remains to be done is to get appropriations from Congress.
Diversified farming and some irrigation from small dams on the Nueces River have to some extent taken the place of cattle raising. Spinach, tomatoes, peppers, beans and other garden vegetables are grown and shipped to Northern markets. The improvement of the cattle industry from the days of the Spanish longhorns has made great advances. The selection and breeding of Herford cattle and the introduction of Brahman cattle, has enabled the ranchman to have better marketing calves. The creation of the soil conservation movement is doing much to preserve and protect our great heritage - the earth on which we live.
"The Dos Rios Soil Conservation District", is composed of all of La Salle County, and that part of McMullen County that lies south of the San Miguel Creek, taking in approximately 1,600,000 acres of land. The Nueces and Frio Rivers traverse this District, and with their tributaries and underground water, furnish an abundance of water. This district has the same problems as the adjoining district, mainly the overgrazing of all pastureland, causing a great scarcity of grass. In the early days the grass was so rank and abundant that when it turned dry, the grass fires would destroy the heavy growth of brush; and clear the land. In recent years the entire area has become covered with a dense and heavy growth of brush, and in many places so thick that no grass can grow. Serious erosion has been the result, with the soil gradually washing away. We are looking forward to some economical method of destroying that which cannot be grazed. The large lakes are becoming filled with silt and the streams also which in the early days flowed continuously, and now in dry weather they do not flow at all. The land in this district varies, with some black land, some sandy loam, and some plain sand. However, the land is all very fertile, and will grow various grasses, some of which look very promising. With the protection and conservation of our natural resources, it can well be said of our district - a colorful, past, a prosperous present, and an unlimited future.
La Salle County Historical Commission
Text Copyright 1999 by La Salle County Historical Commission
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