Hispanic Heritage Month - Your State Parks

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.

Prints and Photographs Collection #1972/163-26. 
Archives and Information Services Division,
Texas State Library and Archives.

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.

Bentsen - Rio Grande Valley State Park

In fact, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park is part of the World Birding Center, as are two other parks with Spanish names. 

Resaca de la Palma State Park, located close to the very southern tip of Texas, is a tropical wetland and woodland that's little changed since Spanish conquistadores explored the area in 1535. Resacas are all over the Rio Grande Valley — remnant lakes sitting in the floodplain of the mighty river. In English they're usually called oxbow lakes. 

The Spanish word resaca has multiple meanings, none of which seem to be geographical in nature. It may be that it's a corruption of the infinitive verb resacar, to retake, in the sense that either the river is retaking its water or the earth retaking its land. It could also be a portmanteau of rio seco (dry river), in which case it's describing the eventual fate of a resaca that stops receiving water from upstream.

De la Palma is an easier translation — "of the palm."  Alternately called the Rio Grande, Mexican or Texas palmetto, the Sabal mexicana reaches it's current northern range in south Texas and can be found in the park.

Resaca de la Palma State Park

It was once part of a vast land grant given to the Hinojosa family in the late 18th century by the Spanish King Charles IV. Today, Estero Llano Grande is a 230-acre park of reclaimed wetland surrounded by riparian woodland and thorn scrub habitat. The name is fitting as estero llano grande means large flat estuary. 

The Hinojosa family eventually claimed hundreds of thousands of acres in what became south Texas, encompassing most of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. While the family name is largely forgotten today, part of their legacy remains famous throughout the country under a slightly different appellation. Padre Nicolas Balli, grandson of the original grant-holder Juan Jose Hinojosa, was a Catholic priest who in his own right held property along the Texas coastline. Savvy readers may see where this is going — we may not know the name Hinojosa, but we all certainly know Padre Island.

Estero Llano Grande State Park

The Goliad, in Goliad State Park, sounds slightly Spanish, but is it? No, but also yes. The word itself isn't Spanish, but the word it's derived from is. And how it was derived is something of a tale.
Almost 300 years ago Franciscan priests built a Catholic mission at Matagorda Bay next to a presidio. Presidio is one of those loanwords that we use today in English, somewhat interchangeably with its translation of fort. The mission, Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga, and the presidio, Nuestra Señora de Loreto de La Bahía del Espiritu Santo Presidio, were apparently never quite settled in place — they were moved by authorities a few times before eventually being relocated to opposite banks of the San Antonio River in 1749. The site had previously been called Santa Dorotea, but once the mission and presidio were built the town that grew up around it was called La Bahía. Thus, a town some 40 miles inland from the coast, was named "the bay." 

La Bahía had a complex history in the near century before it became Goliad. It was involved in the Revolutionary War (yes, really, that war), the Mexican War of Independence and multiple failed attempts at early Texas independence efforts between 1812 and 1821. It became Goliad in 1829, when the Gobernador of Coahuila y Tejas changed the name of the town to Villa de Goliad

But who was this Goliad the town was suddenly renamed to honor? It's actually an anagram of the name Hidalgo. And the man so honored was Father Miguel Hidalgo, who gave the famous Grito de Dolores on September 16, 1810, which marks the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence.

Goliad State Park

In far west Texas desert landscapes are beautiful, but a lack of water can also make them treacherous. Jutting high about the desert floor, the granite hills of Hueco Tanks State Park are the remnants of molten rock pushed up 34-million years ago. These weathered over time, eroding countless dips and hollows into the hard rock.  And in these voids rainwater collected— enough rainwater in fact, that in 1860 it was estimated they held sufficient water to last a full year. Water is a blessing in a place with so little, and well into the 20th century these huecos provided essentially the only water between El Paso and the Pecos River. The word hueco can be translated to several English words — hole, hollow, void, gap, opening — but all convey essentially the same meaning, an empty space that can be filled.

Hueco Tanks State Park

The canyon, running through the heart of Palo Duro Canyon State Park, is 120 miles long, 20 miles wide and, in places, reaches depths of 800 feet or more. It's the second-largest canyon in the country, and is the single most compelling geographic feature in the Texas Panhandle. And yet, it's name comes not from its majestic pinnacles, hoodoos, buttes or mesas, but rather from the trees found in the canyon. Palo duro translates to hard stick, in this case in reference to hardwood trees such as mesquite, cottonwood, willow and cedar.

Who named the canyon palo duro isn't exactly clear, but its believed that members of the Coronado expedition reached the canyon in the spring of 1541, and this is likely how the name first came into use.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park

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.

To learn more about the state parks found throughout Texas subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. Whether in print or through our mobile app, choose the version that works best for you.


German American Heritage Month - The Settlers

In 1683 thirteen German families from the Rhine arrived in Philadelphia. The date, October 6th, has been celebrated as German American Day since 1983. In fact, the entirety of October is recognized as German American Heritage Month, and Pennsylvania is certainly not the only state that has a claim on German heritage. 

The first German settlers came to Texas 150 years after those that landed in Philadelphia. The city of Industry was founded in 1831 by the family of Johann Friedrich Ernst. A man with a somewhat checkered past, Ernst was born in Lower Saxony, served as a quartermaster, fought against Napoleon, and seemingly embezzled a large sum of money from a public post before fleeing with his wife and children to America. Originally arriving in New York, Ernst made friends with fellow German Charles Fordtran, who hailed from Westphalia. The two made the decision to move further afield with Missouri as their destination. On the way, they read rave reviews of Austin's colony and changed direction. Instead of Missouri, the schooner Saltillo delivered them to Texas.

Ernst and Fordtran obtained land in Austin's colony and a letter sent by Ernst to relatives in Germany extolling the virtues of this new land went viral — at least the 19th century version of viral. Copies of the letter apparently circulated throughout Germany and encouraged further immigration. Whether the influx of more Germans had been his intent or not, Ernst proved to a generous benefactor. He opened his home as a boardinghouse for new emigrants, sold lots partitioned from his own land, provided knowledge and resources and earned the nickname the "father of the immigrants." 

Industry was the first German town in Texas, but it certainly wouldn't be the last.

Organized emigration of Germans began with the creation of the Verein zum Schutze deutcher Einwanderer in Texas (Society for the protection of German immigrants in Texas), commonly known as the Adelsverein, in April of 1842. Twenty-one members of the German nobility formed the society with the express purpose of establishing a Germany colony in Texas by encouraging and enabling mass emigration.

Logo for the Adelsverein

Members of the Adelsverein came to Texas in 1842, conferred briefly with President Sam Houston about the possibility of a frontier land grant, and instead purchased thousands of acres near present day Round Top. Further purchases in 1844 and 1845 added millions of acres for settlement between the Llano and Colorado Rivers, and near Comal Springs. 

While many German towns, including Bettina, Castell, Leiningen, Meerholtz and Schoenburg, were established on this acreage, New Braunfels and Fredericksburg were definitely the largest from the beginning.  In the span of seven months over 5,200 Germans made the arduous ocean voyage , disembarking in Carlshafen (which later became Indianola, which later became a ghost town after two hurricanes and a massive fire destroyed the town and port in the late 19th century) and traveling overland to their eventual destination.

German immigrants journeying from Carlshafen to New Braunfels
from the German Federal Archive

The Adelsverein is something of a curiosity today. The intent of its founders was philanthropic, but also commercial. By providing lands and means of emigration to German workers they hoped to ease economic pressures in Germany. At the same time they believed that German settlers would be the source of both raw materials for production and end-consumers for the goods produced. But the project was beset by poor planning and economic mismanagement. In the end their intent of a new Germany within the confines of Texas failed, but it left behind vibrant German communities that still exist today.

Additional settlements cropped up as the years went by. The city of Castroville became the center of Alsatian culture in Texas due to the colonization efforts of Henri Casto that brought 2,000 settlers to the area in 1844. The community of Serbin was founded by some 600 Wends. Throughout the 1850s the population of German-born Texans more than doubled, reaching over 20,000. The German Belt in Texas was firmly established.

Immigration came to a standstill during the Civil War due to blockades of Confederate ports, but as soon as the war was over the Galveston wharves saw more German passengers disembark.  In the 25 years after the war ended, more Germans arrived in Texas than had arrived during the entirety of the early colonization period — an estimated 40,000 new immigrants. They didn't all end up in the established German towns and settlements. Some ventured further afield, and German "ethnic islands" existed in North Texas and on the high plains of West Texas.

By the 1890s German immigration to Texas was winding down, and most arrivals were from other states rather than from Germany itself. But those first, intrepid settlers that had already arrived left their mark. Roughly 17% of Texans claim German ancestry today, and their heritage and culture are commemorated in celebrations, food and language.

But let's save those for other posts.

Photos used in this post are available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, unless otherwise credited.

To learn more about the legacy and heritage of our state subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. Whether in print or through our mobile app, choose the version that works best for you.

Mammal Monday - The American Badger

You'd be forgiven for hearing the word badger and immediately picturing an imaginary creature living in a tranquil British fantasy countryside. After all, most of us are first introduced to the intrepid creature through childhood tales from The Wind in the Willows or The Chronicles of Narnia.

In truth, badgers reside on every continent except Australia and South America (while the honey badgers of South America are related to badgers, they are not, properly, badgers.) It's just as likely then that the badger you picture actually lives outside of a child's ideal of Britain and instead in, say, Texas.

© Tim Kirkland | #inthewildhood

Because they do, in fact, live in Texas. While they are most common in prairies and deserts, where large sections of open ground allow for unfettered burrowing, they can actually be found throughout the state — the sole exception being far east Texas.

They are swift and agile hunters and will often pursue their prey into burrows. As unparalleled excavators, they use their unique skills and fearsome, inch-long claws, to dig through the ground in search of these small mammals, snakes, reptiles and insects. 

They have few natural predators, and any inexperienced enough to make an attempt are met with a ferocious defense. Their compact muscular body and loose skin makes them capable of twisting free from the grip of the attacking animal, and those impressive claws and razor sharp teeth are used in combination with loud and vicious snarls and growls, enough to scare away even large assailants.

Badgers are generally solitary, mating in late summer. The female will dig a sett — a multi-roomed tunnel — in which she gives birth to one to five pups in the spring. She'll keep them with her for several months. In the fall they set out on their own solitary lives.

At up to 25 pound and 3 feet long, with a shaggy coats and white striping on the face, the badger is hard to mistake for any other animal. Add to that the strong scent glands common to mustelids, you'll likely know when you encounter this Texas native.

To learn more about the about the animals that call Texas home subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. Whether in print or through our mobile app, choose the version that works best for you.