Duval County History

Until recently Duval was one of the South Texas counties with an area of more than a million acres, over twice the average size of the counties in the more populous and better developed sections of the state. It formed a great block of territory co-extensive with the western boundary of the original Nueces County. From this original area of 1,887 square miles the southern part was detached in 1913 to make a new county known as Dunn, with 888 square miles. In the same year forty-nine square miles in the southwest corner of the original Duval was attached to the new County of Jim Hogg. The original Duval County had three important towns, San Diego, Benavides and Hebbronville. San Diego remains the county seat of Duval, as it has since the organization of the county. Benavides became the county seat of Dunn County, while Hebbronville was accorded a similar honor for Jim Hogg County. The following brief survey of Duval County applies generally to the former territory, before the creation of the two recent counties. Duval was one of the counties created by the act of February 1,1858, providing for a subdivision of unorganized territory in the counties of rectangular shape. It was named in honor of Capt. Burr H. Duval, who fell in the Goliad massacre. For nearly twenty years the county remained unorganized, being attached to adjoining counties for judicial purposes. The Texas Almanac for 1867, speaking collectively of Dimmit and Duval counties, said; "At present there are but four stock raisers in these counties, and a scant population is all they will ever probably have, unless they should be found to possess mineral wealth not now known to exist." Some mineral wealth has indeed since been discovered, in the form of petroleum, in 1903, at Piedras Pintas, and a limited production has been obtained, although the field has not been pronounced a commercial success. Duval County was a scene of disturbance during the border troubles of the '70s. In a Mexican and Indian raid of 1878 the raiders committed murder and depredations at the Toribio, Soledad and Charco Escondido ranches in this county, while a company of United States cavalry was stationed at San Diego. In 1878, the Corpus Christi, San Diego & Rio Grande Railroad (now the Texas-Mexican), a narrow-gauge line, was completed from the gulf fifty-three miles to San Diego, and in 1880 extended through Duval County. A county government was organized about the same time, and it was as a result of the acquisition of railway facilities that the county had its chief development. In 1881 San Diego was the principal town, with Benavides, Concepcion and La Rosita, small villages. Duval County at that time was described as "one extended pasture, and, from the preponderance of the sheep interest, may properly be termed a great sheep walk. There are a few enclosed pastures, but the greater part is open range, and the whole is covered with luxuriant grasses." The county being without perennial streams, dependence has been placed on wells, and only a small per cent of the land has yet been brought under cultivation. The population of the county in 1870 was 1,083; in 1880,5,732; in 1890, 7,598; in 1900, 8,483; and in 1910, 8,964. San Diego has always been the chief center of population, estimated at between 1,500 and 2,000 for the past twenty years. Hebbronville was chiefly noted as a cattle shipping point, and has now acquired the additional dignity of being a county seat. Benavides in Dunn County is also a railway point, and there are no towns of importance away from the railway, and the western and northwestern sections of the original county are still almost a desert. A majority of the population have always been Mexican. In 1910 there were 2,235 of Mexican birth, and upwards of 3,000 inhabitants of Mexican parentage. It is noteworthy that the original county, in spite of the preponderance of the live stock industry and of its vast comparative area, reported less cattle and other stock, according to the official statistics of the last census, than many counties smaller in area and claiming no special distinction in live stock production. The census enumerators in 1910 found 34,652 cattle; about 7,000 horses and mules; less than 2,000 sheep, and 7,297 goats, much attention having been given to the latter industry. Of the total area of 1,168,000 acres, about 42,000 acres had been reclaimed so as to be regarded "improved land." The chief crop was cotton, with an acreage in 1909 of 17,478, and the corn crop was 1,876 acres.

transcribed by Nan Starjak, from:

A History of Texas and Texans by Frank W. Johnson, A Leader in the Texas Revolution Edited and Brought to Date by Eugene C. Barker, Ph.D. Professor of American History The University of Texas With the Assistance of Ernest William Winkler, M.A. Texas State Librarian, Vol. II, The American Historical Society Chicago and New York 1916


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