I have an odd quirk that my children have always bemoaned. When we're road-tripping through Texas, and the terrain around us becomes rugged with steep ravines, hilly outcrops, densely packed trees, drifting sand or boggy lowland, I inevitably exclaim, "Wow! Can you believe ANYONE ever traveled out here on a horse or in a wagon?"
Settlers would not have found the Texas frontier easy going. And yet they came.
As early as 1716 women and children came to Texas from the Mexican city of San Juan Bautista. Priests and soldiers established missions and small settlements as buffers from French intervention. Texas' first municipal government was begun in San Antonio by settlers from the Canary Islands. Throughout the Spanish, Mexican and Texian periods — and well into statehood — they kept coming.
They worked the land, felled trees, cleared brush, dammed streams and plowed fields. They brought with them domestic livestock that disrupted natural resources and displaced native animals.
People weren't unaware of the ways they diminished the land they'd come to — the 1860s saw the first laws protecting fish and wildlife passed in Texas for example. But it wasn't until 1923 that Governor Pat Neff, a man who was motivated by the idea of providing recreational opportunities for Texans, persuaded the Legislature to create the State Parks Board.
Neff wrote, "...all breathing spots for humanity where the weak and weary and worn may be nursed in the lap of nature back to health and happiness — should be preserved wherever found, for the use not only of the present generation, but of all the generations yet unborn."
Today over 80 state parks and natural areas are spread throughout Texas, preserving the rugged landscapes that settlers would have encountered when they first arrived.
And those early 18th century Hispanic settlers, making their slow journey into what would become Texas, left behind the words used to name many of our state parks.
Here are a few examples.
Not surprisingly, several of our state parks are named for the rivers that flow through them. A description and history of the Spanish words for our Texas rivers can be found in our first Hispanic Heritage Month post.
Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, deep in South Texas, was once part of Porcíon 50 — granted to Jose Antonio Zamora in 1767. A small village called Las Nuevas existed on the property from 1850 to sometime in the 1930s, when it was abandoned. Eventually purchased by the Bentsen family, the acreage that comprises the majority of the park was donated to the state in 1944. Today it is one of the very few continuous sections of riparian woodland native to the area, home to Rio Grande ash, Texas ebony and black willow, and a hotspot for birding activity.
National Hispanic Heritage Month recognizes the history, culture and contributions Hispanic Americans have made, and continue to make, to our country. Celebrated nationally since 1968, Hispanic Heritage Month begins on September 15, encompassing the independence anniversaries of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Mexico.