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New Spain
Nuevo Santander
La Grulla
La Encantada
The Alcala Exodus


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The modern history of this piece of land in the middle of the Wild Horse Desert began on June 27, 1834, when Jose Manuel de Chapa, a resident of Camargo, was granted 5 leagues (22,400 acres) of land by the Mexican government. Land grants this large were generally made to prominent citizens, and were also primarily for the purpose of grazing cattle and horses. Jose Manuel de Chapa paid 50 pesos to the Mexican Treasury at Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, to obtain the grant, which he named “La Encantada”. The Governor of the state of Tamaulipas, Francisco Vital Fernandez, made the grant on behalf of the Mexican government. The land grant is 5 square leagues of land, 250 cordeles in length and 200 cordeles in width, and is bounded on the west by lands granted to Rafael Garcia (known as “La Mesteña”) and on the east by the land grant named “Encino del Pozo”, which was made to Jose Manuel’s son Luciano de Chapa. Riding from Camargo on October 2, 1834, Jose Manuel de Chapa, the alcalde Jose Antonio Falcon and two witnesses, Jose Antonio Contreras and Pedro de la Garza, reached La Encantada two days later on October 4, 1834. On that day, Jose Manuel de Chapa took possession of La Encantada by performing the required ritual of thanking the government of Tamaulipas, throwing water on the land, cutting grass, pulling weeds, and throwing dirt in all four wind directions.

Map - La Encantada / Encino del Pozo
The La Encantada and Encino del Pozo land grants in southern Brooks County, Texas, encompassed nine leagues, or about 38,856 acres.  Shown on the map are the approximate locations of four of the original ranches, as well as the modern communities of Encino and Rachal.  FM 755 is the road going west from Rachal to Rio Grande City.

How much use Jose Manuel de Chapa made of La Encantada is not known. He must have at least grazed cattle and horses and may have built a few jacales to serve as sleeping quarters when he or his vaqueros came to La Encantada.  But he also undoubtedly suffered greatly from Indian raids, because less than three years after taking possession, Jose Manuel de Chapa sold his interest in La Encantada stating that the sale was due to “…de recivir perjuicios sintamano en el cultivo de dro terreno por las diarias incursiones que hacen en el las tribus salbajes…” (the damages done by the daily incursions of savage tribes).  The phrase "savage tribes" obviously refers to Indians; however, one has to note that this was just one year after Texas had gained its independence from Mexico and La Encantada was situated right in the middle of the disputed territory between the Nueces River (Mexico's claim for the southern boundary of Texas) and the Rio Grande River (the Texan claim for the southern boundary). Raids within this disputed territory could have been conducted by Indians, Texans or Mexicans, all taking advantage of the lack of well organized law enforcement within the disputed territory.  Whatever his motives, Jose Manuel de Chapa sold La Encantada to Antonio Martinez on April 10, 1837, for 300 pesos, or a 500% profit in less than three years.

Antonio Martinez was a resident of Matamoros and had apparently also bought the “Encino del Pozo” land grant from Manuel's son Luciano de Chapa, probably on the same date he bought La Encantada. The Encino del Pozo land grant consisted of 4 sitios, or approximately 17,714 acres (surveying errors led to the unequal leagues). Antonio Martinez must have been a land speculator because less than two weeks would pass before he sold his interests in both La Encantada and Encino del Pozo. He sold to another resident of Matamoros, French Strother, for 932 pesos on April 22, 1837. Assuming Antonio Martinez paid the same per acre price for Encino del Pozo that he did for La Encantada, then his sale netted him almost a 75% profit in less than two weeks.
[NOTE: The Spanish deed recorded in Vol. 1, page 247, of the Deed Records of Brooks County gives the new owner's name as French Strother. This is probably the same man referred to as French Strather in the book I Would Rather Sleep in Texas, by the McAllen family. The authors of that book state that French Strather was a merchant from Virginia who owned a mercantile in Matamoros, and that he was expulsed from Matamoros, along with other mercants, at the beginning of The Mexican War by General Pedro de Ampudia.]

The new owner, French Strother, managed to hold onto La Encantada and Encino del Pozo for almost a year. He finally sold his interests in both tracts to Frederick (also referred to as Federico) Belden, another resident of Matamoros, on March 15, 1838, for 500 pesos. French Strother must have fallen on hard financial times or been deeply discouraged in utilizing the land because he sold at a big loss -- he lost 432 pesos, or about 46% of his investment, in less than 11 months.

Frederick (or Federico) Belden, the new owner, was a member of a prominent and powerful family from Matamoros. Members of the Belden family were frequent business partners of Charles Stillman, the founder of Brownsville. After the Mexican War, Samuel A. Belden had formed a partnership with Mifflin Kenedy to trade in Mexico; in December 1848, Samuel A. Belden, Charles Stillman and Simon Mussina formed the Brownsville Town Company and began selling lots in the town site they called Brownsville. Frederick Belden (brother of Samuel A. Belden) incorporated the Western Artesian Well Company on November 14, 1857; his partners were Stillman, Forbes N. Britton, Henry Redmond, D. S. Howard and H. Clay Davis. Later, in 1880, James Belden (perhaps a son of Samuel A. Belden) was among the men who received a concession from the Mexican president to build a railroad from Matamoros to Monterrey, where Stillman and Belden had large investments.  Soon after purchasing the La Encantada land grant Frederick Belden moved to Corpus Christi, probably in the year 1840, and became a prominent businessman and rancher there (Belden Street in Corpus Christi is named after him).

La Encantada remained under the control of the Beldens for about 34 years, until May 16, 1872, when Mauricia Arocha Belden, the widow of Frederick (or Federico) Belden, sold La Encantada (probably including Encino del Pozo) to Gregorio Villarreal for $3000. Gregorio Villarreal, a resident of Camargo, was the great-grandfather of Zoila Villarreal, my mother.

Gregorio Villarreal was still residing in Camargo when he died in 1882 and it is doubtful that he ever actually established a permanent home at La Encantada.  I believe that Gregorio Villarreal used La Encantada and Encino del Pozo only for their stated purpose when they were initially granted to the Chapas -- as "agostadero", or for the grazing of livestock.  

Within a year after purchasing La Encantada, Gregorio Villarreal began selling off 1-league parcels to other citizens of Camargo, starting with the most westerly league of land and proceeding east. First, on a date I have not yet determined, he sold the most westerly league of land to Eligio Garcia (whose future grandsons were Esteban and Eligio Garcia). Then, on September 25, 1873, Gregorio Villarreal sold the second most westerly league of land to Manuel Perez.  Gregorio then sold, on that same date of September 25, 1873, the third most westerly league to Juan Longoria, my father's great-grandfather.  Sometime later, Gregorio apparently sold the fourth most westerly league of land to his brother Sabas Villarreal, whose wife, Isabel Ramirez, was a first cousin of Gregorio’s wife Maria Ysidora Ramirez

Family oral history indicates that the first ranch to be located on the La Encantada land grant was named "La Mesa" and was founded by Manuel Perez on the southern part of the league he had purchased.  The next ranch to be founded was probably  "Tacubaya" by the Garcia's on the northern part of the league the elder Eligio Garcia had purchased.

The league purchased by Juan Longoria, who was to become a compadre of Gregorio Villarreal three years later, was adjacent to the Perez league. The league purchased by Juan Longoria encompasses lands known today as “Santirenea” or “Santa Yrinea”, after a ranch named after Juan Longoria's wife Yrinea Villarreal. Sometime later, Gregorio apparently sold the fourth league of land from the La Encantada grant to his brother Sabas Villarreal, the husband of Isabel Ramirez, the first cousin of Gregorio’s wife Maria Ysidora Ramirez, giving rise to a ranch named "Santa Isabel".

Family oral history states that the first ranch established by the Villarreal family on La Encantada was named "El Tepeguaje", at a site situated on lands later sold to Scott & Hopper.  After the sale to Scott & Hopper, Celso Villarreal, a son of Gregorio Villarreal, established a ranch called La Primavera, situated due west from “La Mota de la Encantada”, a grove of white oak trees noted on the original survey map of La Encantada for Juan Manuel de Chapa. La Primavera ranch grew to include many houses by the 1920’s, but as the land began to be partitioned and in some cases sold off, the ranch site eventually was razed and disappeared sometime in the 1940’s or 1950’s.  Today the site of La Primavera is no longer on lands owned by any of the heirs of Gregorio Villarreal.

At some point, probably simultaneously with the La Encantada purchase, Gregorio Villarreal apparently also purchased the Encino del Pozo land grant because after he died his estate included a total of 5 leagues of land, one league from the La Encantada grant and four leagues from the Encino del Pozo grant.


The heading on the cover page of the Inventory of the estate of Gregorio Villarreal, purchaser of the La Encantada and Encino del Pozo land grants. The inventory contains 36 pages and details each child's inheritance.

Gregorio Villarreal died on January 4, 1882, his wife having preceded him in death by six and one-half years. On September 15, 1882, the heirs gathered to approve and receive their respective inheritances. The Inventory and Partition of the Estate of Don Gregorio Villarreal Garza and wife included 5 sitios, or leagues, of land in “La Encantada”. This obviously refers to the remaining acreage that Gregorio Villarreal owned in both the La Encantada and Encino del Pozo tracts. The history of purchases and the resulting ownership may help explain why the two grants were combined into one by the Texas legislature when they were confirmed on June 17, 1904.

Page 8 of Inventario (click to enlarge)
The 8th page of the Inventory of the estate of Gregorio Villarreal itemizes the “Ganado Bacuno” (sic), or cattle livestock, and “Ganado Caballar” , or horse livestock. 

As for livestock, Gregorio Villarreal’s estate included 494 head of cattle and oxen, 232 horses, mares, colts and mules, 21 hogs and 5368 head of sheep and goats. All of the livestock were categorized and valued accordingly.

The estate was divided equitably by value among the 7 surviving children, each one receiving a combination of land, livestock and other property worth $2573.58. Each heir received 1/7 of the 5 sitios of land in La Encantada, or about 3163.14 acres.

At the time of Gregorio’s death, Juan Longoria owned one league of land in La Encantada. After Gregorio’s death, Juan Longoria’s son Ponciano came to control the 1/7 league of land in La Encantada that his wife Maria Rita Villarreal inherited from her father Gregorio. Nine years later, Juan Longoria started to increase his landholdings in La Encantada. In 1891, Juan Longoria purchased 500 acres in La Encantada from Octaviana Villarreal, another of Gregorio’s heirs. Juan died in February 1892; however, his widow Yrinea continued the land purchases in August of the same year by purchasing 250 acres from Romana, another of Gregorio’s heirs. Yrinea died less than 4 months later and no further land acquisitions occurred until after the estate of Juan and Yrinea Longoria was partitioned in February 1897.

The estate of Juan Longoria and wife Yrinea Villarreal de Longoria included 5178 acres in La Encantada, 4415 acres in Porciones 93 and 94 in Starr County, 2214 acres in Gil Zarate’s La Blanca tract in Hidalgo County, 1280 acres in the Julian grant in Starr County, 930 acres in the Rucias tract in Hidalgo County, and 70 acres in Porcion 95 in Starr County. After dividing the land into 8 equal portions among the heirs, Ponciano Longoria inherited 647.25 acres in La Encantada which, when combined with the 3163.14 acres inherited by his wife Maria Rita, brought Ponciano and Maria Rita’s total landholdings in La Encantada to 3810.39 acres.

During 1897 and 1898, Ponciano continued to increase his landholdings in La Encantada, purchasing his seven siblings’ interests in the 750 acres purchased by their parents (a net increase for Ponciano of 656.25 acres) and purchasing 600 acres from Transito Villarreal, another of Gregorio Villarreal’s heirs. This brought Ponciano and Maria Rita Longoria’s total landholdings in La Encantada to 5066.64 acres. In one final transaction in 1910 wherein he traded 132.83 acres in Starr County for his sister Leonor’s interest in an equal amount of acreage in La Encantada, Ponciano brought his total landholdings in La Encantada to 5199.47 acres.

Sometime during the early 1900’s, Ponciano Longoria relocated his family from La Grulla to La Encantada.  He first moved his family to a ranch on his La Blanca lands (on the Gil Zarate tract) and used that as his base to scout for a suitable location for his new ranch.  Some of my father's younger siblings still recall hearing stories from their grandmother Maria Rita Villarreal about how, during one of his scouting missions, Ponciano encountered some Indians living near a natural spring of water.  Once he found a suitable site for his new ranch, Ponciano commenced the building of homes soon thereafter.  He named his new ranch “Santa Rita”, in honor of his wife Maria Rita Villarreal.

Not all of Ponciano's children joined him in the initial move to Santa Rita.  Staying behind in La Grulla were some of Ponciano’s married children, including my grandfather Eugenio. But soon they too would join their father at Santa Rita. Eugenio would first move his family to Mission, Texas, where they lived for a short while with his wife’s step-brother, Manuel Trevino. They then moved to the La Blanca ranch and remained there until the ranch houses at Santa Rita were constructed, and moved there probably in the year 1914.

Santa Rita Ranch, ca 1918
At the Santa Rita Ranch, brothers Raul (at left) and Leonel Longoria pose with their pet calf, circa 1918.

Ponciano Longoria died in 1915, but the Santa Rita ranch remained the hub of the Longoria family until 1929, when Ponciano’s wife Maria Rita died. A few years prior to that, about 1925, Maria Rita had given each of her six children 200 acres each, with 100 acres fronting the farm to market road FM 755 and the other 100 acres fronting the highway US 281.  The three male children built their own homes on their own 100 acre portions. The two eldest female children were living in homes on theirs husband's inherited lands.  The only ones who remained at the Santa Rita ranch itself were Ponciano’s youngest daughter Francisca, her husband Simon Treviño and their children. The ranch continued to be occupied until 1987 when the home in which one of Simon Trevino's sons lived burned down. The ranch site currently belongs to one of Simon Trevino’s grandsons, having inherited it from his mother, but many of the original wooden ranch buildings were razed in the late 1990’s. Only some of the more recent metal buildings remain on the site.

Today, many of the descendants of Gregorio Villarreal, Juan and Ponciano Longoria, Sabas Villarreal, Manuel Perez and the Garcias still live on their family lands in La Encantada. In some families, the trials and tribulations of life have resulted in large portions of the lands being sold, and many family members, myself included, have had to move away in order to provide for life’s necessities and make a decent living. La Encantada may have lost its enchantment for some of us, but it will live forever in our hearts.

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Copyright © 2001.  Raul N. Longoria.  All rights reserved.