To be clear, there were a limited number of small ranches in existence before Mission Espiritu Santo received its official land charter in 1759, so it doesn’t claim to be the very first ranch in Texas. What the mission does claim, however, pertains to something much greater.
Goliad gets the bragging rights for being the birthplace of Texas ranching because long before the King Ranch or XIT Ranch, Mission Espiritu Santo established itself as the first mega-ranch in Texas. What does that mean? Well, it all comes down to sheer size.
Ten years after Mission Espiritu Santo moved to its final location here on the San Antonio River in 1749, the mission obtained its official charter. Encompassing approximately one million acres, the ranch was bounded to the east by the Guadalupe River and to the west by the San Antonio River. It was bounded to the south down near the coast at the confluence of the San Antonio and Guadalupe rivers. Its northern boundary stretched between the present-day towns of Kosciusko (near Floresville) and Belmont, which is located in Gonzales County. The vast herds of cattle claimed by the Mission consisted of approximately 40,000 head with around 15,000 cows wearing the Espiritu Santo brand.
The concept of large-scale cattle drives, like those that took place after the Civil War, was nothing new to the Native American vaqueros of Mission Espiritu Santo. During the American Revolution, over 9,000 head of cattle were driven from Spanish missions located in Texas with most coming from Mission Espiritu Santo. Of course, those early cattle drives were not immune to difficulty.
During this era, a cattle drive consisting of 2,000 head of cattle was driven to the Pueblo of La Apeluza, located in Louisiana. The cattle were taken in two separate drives because of the risk of losing the whole 2,000 head of cattle to hostile Native Americans. La Bahia received the news that the first drive was not pleasant, as the “hostiles numbering about 100 had made an attack at a place called the Arroyo de Los Nogales,” (The Texas Connection, by Robert H. Thonhoff p. 65).
The herd was scattered with one man dead and two injured. Thonhoff does not mention what happened to the second cattle drive. After reading such accounts, one can’t help but wonder what tales could be told from these early Texas cattle drives?
Much of Texas’ ranching heritage can trace its roots to the ranch of Mission Espiritu Santo. Not only did the mission create the tradition of Texas mega-ranches, it is also thought that the lands of Espiritu Santo are where the wild cattle of the Spanish Colonial Era coalesced into that most iconic of breeds - the Texas longhorn.
So the next time you hear or read about Goliad being the Birthplace of Texas Ranching, think about Mission Espiritu Santo, the vast amount of land and cattle it claimed as its own, and about those early ranch hands that made Espiritu Santo such a ranching success - the Native American vaqueros.