Zavala County, Texas

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Zavala - Spinach capital in Texas
  • Zavala County was formed 1858 from Maverick & Uvalde counties, organized in 1884.
  • Zavala county is named for Lorenzo de Zavala (1788–1836), signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence and the first Vice-President of the Republic of Texas

One hundred archaeological sites of early Indians have been identified by the University of Texas at San Antonio archaeologists research at the Holdsworth Site, the Stewart Site, and the Chaparrosa Ranch near La Pryor. [1]

Pre 1700s Many Coahuiltecan Indian groups lived in the aria. Tonkawans were also known to venture into the region. Lipan Mescalero Apache moved into the area in and effort to escape fierce Comanches.
1716 Domingo Ramón, commander of a military unit that was sent to reestablish Spanish presence in East Texas and to counter French influence from Louisiana, noted a large Indian village near La Pryor. Old San Antonio Road crosses the county crosses the county from west to east.[1]
1720 Marqués de San Miguel de Aguayo, soldier, later governor, born in Spain, and a member of a family long distinguished in the service of the Spanish crown, is believed to have stopped at Comanche Creek.[1]
1832 Stockmen grazed their herds on free range, Beales's Rio Grande colony, included land in Dimmit and Zavala counties, used the Upper Presidio Road as a reference point. [1]
1836, Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna crossed the Nueces River near present-day Crystal City, on his way to the Alamo. [1]
1836-1848 Zavala County was in the area of disputed territory between Republic Texas, who insisted that the Rio Grande was the border and the Mexican government who supported the Nueces River as the recognized border between Mexico and Texas.[1]
1846 Texas state legislature established the county between Nueces and Rio Grande.[1]
1858 the area was attached to the municipality of San Antonio, then to Kinney County, and later to Maverick County. Initially, the name was misspelled "Zavalla" by the legislature. When the state legislature passed a bill to correct their error it was rejected by the federal government. It wasn't until 1929 that the matter was resolved. [1]
1860 Zavala County had population of twenty-six souls who were dispersed throughtout the county in small ranches. Espantosa Lake, in the Southwest portion of the county, was a popular campground for travelers making the trek from Mexico to San Antonio.
1870 Large herds of longhorn cattle and mustangs roamed the area and both cattle and sheep were raised as livestock and moreso in proximity to the larger streams. The earliest permanent settlement occurred in the eastern half of the county along the Leona River in present-day Batesville.
1870 Batesville is established and his comprised of at least three ranches, the Woodward, the Hill, and the Bates.[1]
1871 Settlement activity increases along the Upper Presidio Road at Murlo, a family-run trading post in Northwest Zavala County and at the ranching community of Cometa (1872) in the Southeast portion.[1]
1880 Total county population was 410 people and the county seat was Batesville which had only 38 inhabitants. Also inhabiting the county were 3,284 cattle and 7,046 sheep. [1]
March 20, 1884 The first County commissioners court is held, approving the county's first road to run from Bates City south to the Comanche Ditch Farm and Loma Vista (one of the oldest irrigation projects in the state of Texas) then on to Dimmit County.
1884 Discovery of artesian wells, the first of many, which resulted in increased farming. Farms, which numbered 21 in 1880, had risen to 145 in 1890. Zavala County began for the Truck Farms in Winter Garden. The farms are in an area where only cactus and brush occurred. Irrigation began and the Winter Garden farms began. Spinach was later planted in 1917.[2]
1890 21,800 pounds of wool was produced here in this year alone and the number of cattle had risen tenfold to 32,726 while the number of sheep increase also but had only doubled to 14,722.
1904 The area was becoming well known for its fertile soil, abundance of water and mild climate. Owners of the Cross S and Pryor ranches, recognizing the the potential for irrigated farming and associated communites, subdivided their ranches into small farms near Crystal City and La Pryor where planned communities soon followed. [1]
1905 Land speculators E. J. Buckingham and Carl Groos purchased the entirety of the Cross S Rance, 96,101 acres and began efforts to design the town that would become Crystal City. They instructed their engineers to place the community near the Nueces River [1]
1906 A bill for "knocking the `L' out of Zavalla" was passed in the Texas legislature rejected by the federal government.[1]
1907 By this date the ranch had been surveyed into sections with each section divided into 10-acre farms. Purchasers of a farm were encouraged to take residence in the planned community and were also given title to a town lot in Crystal City. Buckninham and Groos advertized near and far to encourage settlers from the USA and Europe. [1]
1910 Crystal City and Uvalde Railroad is built to La Pryor assuring access to outside markets and bolstering the county's colonization efforts then a rail trunk line from Crystal City to Gardendale. [1]
1910 The overthrow of Porfirio Díaz in Mexico and the advancing tide of the Mexican Revoulution had postitive effects on the region as those factors played a part in increasing the workforce allowing for cultivation of increased vegetable crops. Although ranchers and farmers welcomed the Mexican laborers for the work they could provide, there were also troubles.
1912 Bermuda onions became a major crop in the region. [1]
1917 and 1918 Duing the winter that these two years shared, spinach was first introduced to the region which would become an intregal part of the community and the town's claim to fame. Francisco (Pancho) Villa caused much anxiety in the area by sending raiders across the Rio Grande to pilfer. [1]
1918 - 1920 In reaction to Villa's raids, Crystal City residents organized home guards for protection. [1]
1920's A shift from raising livestock to grain, fruit, and vegetable farming as the cattle numbers dropped. Goats were 20,030 in 1930
1920 The number of cattle dropped drastically from 39,803 in 1920, to 26,392 in 1930, Ranchers in the area began to raise goats, primarily Angora. The numbers increased 13fold from 1,558 goats in 1920 to 20,020 goats in 1930.
One cowhand recalled a line of cattle waiting to be shipped at Crystal City that extended eight miles and when loaded filled 150 boxcars. [1]
1910-1930 A distinct trend toward vegetable and fruit farming during this timeframe . Te trend towards vegetable and fruit farming between 1910 and 1930 coincided with growth of the county's urban centers, particularly Crystal City.[1][3]
1920s & 1930s The political patronage system called boss rule caused a failed attempt by Crystal City to supplant Batesville as county seat in 1926. [1]
1928 An increase in Mexican-American voter registration and voting provides them a margin of victory (978 to 446) in a county-seat election. Accusations of illegal and improper voting led to one indictment, but the accused was later acquitted. [1]
1928 Rancher Ike Pryor known as the "Pecan King" producing (400,000 lbs) of pecans. Pryor's ranch included one of the largest native pecan groves in the world. [1]
1929 Development of the Old Presidio Road, the introduction of cattle, and the herds of mustangs in the region provided the commercial and economic foundation for mid-nineteenth-century settlement of Zavala County. [1]
1930 The average farm size fell from 2,741 acres in 1920 to 1,518 acres in 1930. Correspondingly, th number of farms rose from 102 in 1900, to 150 in 1910 and then doubled again to 304 by 1930. A significant portion of the later growth can be attributed to the increase in cotton as a crop.
1930 Zavala County and Crystal City had highest percent of laborers per 100 farms (1,430) and the lowest number of tenants per 100 farms (33 ) of all counties in South Texas. Owner-operators were primarily Anglo, whereas sharecroppers and farm laborers were Hispanic. The marketing problems that had hampered farming previously were eliminated during the1920s with the improved transportation and road system, better packing procedures, utilization of ice, and the increased cultivation of winter spinach.
1930 County farm production peaked in 1930 when, reportedly, 3,959 cars of spinach, 443 cars of onions, 397 cars of mixed vegetables, 214 cars of vegetable plants, and 140 cars of livestock all were marketed from railroad depots in Crystal City. [1][4]
1930 The spinach boom lasted only a decade from 1919 to 1929. A combination of demand for the product dropping during the Great Depression and an an attack of blue mold fungus on crops furthered by an increased demand for processed and frozen vegetables led to the industries slow demise. These and technilogical developments led to the decline of small acerage farming and the need for farm labor. [1]
World War II Led to an increased demand for vegetables and the Crystal City area was well suited for the task as it had 25,000 acres of farmland irrigated with river and well water.[1]
1940 Mexican Americans were comprised only 21% of the total population, or 2,442 of the estimated 11,603 county residents). [1]
December 12, 1942 Crystal City WWII Internment Camp receives its first internees. Although it was originally intended to be populated by people of Japanese ancestry and their immediate families, the Crystal City (Family) Internment Camp housed a mix of German Americans and German Enemy Aliens, Latin Americans and Japanese American internees. In fact, when it came time to move the German residents to their separate facilities, they asked, and were allowed, to stay. From its inception in mid-1942 through June 1945, Crystal City (Family) Internment Camp interned 4,751 persons, this included 153 people born in the camp).
1942 The San Antonio, Uvalde and Gulf Railroad extended a North to South line that ran parallel to U.S. Highway 83 and cut through the central part of the county.[1]
1946 the California Packing Corporation Del Monte Corporation purchased 3,200 acres of prime farmland north of Crystal City and established a highly mechanized farm, cannery, and shipping facility becoming a primary source of employment for residents.

[5] Repairs to the nearby Upper Nueces Reservoir with increased irrigation.[6]

Del Monte quickly became the region's most important economic institution. In 1919 Del Monte announced closure of this facility.
Post World War II there was a decline in the number of small, owner-occupied farms in the county due to corporate farming competition. [7]


1939 Another of the large ranches, BRISCOE Ranches are 640,000 acres and located in many counties: Brewster, Culberson, Dimmit, La Salle, Maverick, McMullen, Uvalde, Webb, and Zavala counties. The Primary Use is cow-calf, farming, Angora goats, and oil and GAS
Many people who inherit large ranches eventually downsize them. This does not apply to Dolph Briscoe, Jr., Texas’ governor from 1973 to 1979. Now 75, Briscoe inherited 190,000 acres when his father, Dolph Briscoe, Sr., died in 1954. He has more than tripled his holdings, making him Texas’ largest individual landowner and leases 100,000 acres in Maverick and Cochran counties. . [8]

Government Offices

Zavala County has had three courthouses:1885 - Batesville, 1928 Crystal City, 1970 Crystal City.[9]

1st County Courthouse, Batesville, The 1885 Zavala County courthouse in Batesville, Texas.

"This is a photo of a picture of the 1885 Zavala County courthouse that hangs in the county clerk's office in the current courthouse."- Terry Jeanson [9]

painting of 1885 courthouse
2nd County Courthouse,1928 Crystal City 2 story
Here's an image.
3rd Courthouse, Crystal City one story, steel and concrete.[9]
19970 Courthouse.


Size: 1,299 sq mi (3,364 km2)

Locale Winter Garden Region of Southwest Texas, is 170 miles NW of Corpus Christi.

Defined as an agricultural area in South Texas (USA) located N of Laredo and SW of San Antonio. The region is centered on four "core" counties - Dimmit, Frio, La Salle, and Zavala which produce vegetables throughout the year

Center point - at 28°51' north latitude and 99°45' west longitude.
Crystal City, the county seat, is in S central Zavala County on U.S. Highway 83.
Rivers -Nueces River drains the central and W region, Leona and Frio rivers drain the E region
Lakes - Comanche Lake, six miles west of Crystal City, is popular with sportsmen and is believed to be the site of the last Indian raid in Texas.
Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer, which underlies much of Zavala County, provides water for all uses.
Region -Rio Grande Plain region, a brushland with dry streams. County once had grassland and streams numerous lined with trees.Changes inl environment and over grazing by ranches/farmers.
Trees mesquite and thorny shrubs from NE Mexico.
Climate is continental, semiarid, winds from the Gulf of Mexico
Rainfall is 21.87 inches, thunderstorms in the spring and fall, is impounded in earth reservoirs to supply water for livestock and for irrigation of some crops.
Growing season of 282 days
Temperature mild winter, freeze in February, first freeze in December. (mild winters, hot summers over 100° F.
Climate good to grow winter vegetables.
Topography of the county consists of flat land and slightly undulating plains.
Elevations - 580 feet above sea level in the south to 964 feet in the north.
Soil - N part of the county is light-colored, well-drained soils, SE and S region - deep light-colored loamy surfaces over clayey subsoils, with limestone within forty inches of the surface.
Animals - buffalo, bear, antelope, white dovetail deer, javelinas, coyotes, rabbits, turkeys, quail, hawks, snakes, lizards, tortoises
Vegetation - Mesquite, black brush, retama, guayacan, and huisache, oak, elm, ash, hackberry, pecan, and persimmon trees beside the streams and grama grasses.. The proliferation of nutritious grasses, including the grama, buffalo

Adjacent counties

  • Uvalde County (north)
  • Frio County (east)
  • Dimmit County (south)
  • Maverick County (west)
  • La Salle County (southeast)

Protected areas

  • Winter Garden
  • Comanche Lake


In 2014 the U.S. Census counted 12,267 people living in Zavala County; with 92.9% Hispanic and 6.4% Anglo; other ethnicities accounted for about 3 percent of the area’s residents. Of residents twenty-five and older, 53% had completed high school and 8% had college degrees. In the early twenty-first century, agriculture and food packaging were important elements of the local economy. Del Monte

Ub 2000, there were 11,600 people with a population density of 9 people/sq mi. Racial makeup of the county was 65.06% White, 0.49% Black or African American, 0.59% Native American, 0.09% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 31.08% from other races, and 2.66% from two or more races. 91.22% of the population were Hispanic.

41.80% of the population were below the poverty line, including 48.90% of those under age 18 and 42.40% of those age 65 or over. The county's per-capita income makes it one of the poorest counties in the United States.[10]


  • Raza Unida party
  • Zavala County has voted Democratic in most presidential elections; exceptions were the elections of 1928, 1952, 1956, 1960, and 1972. From 1980 through 2004, the Democratic candidates for president carried the county easily.


  • U.S. Highway 57
  • U.S. Highway 83


Spinach replaced the onion crop and now Crystal City is “Spinach Capital of the World”. The first annual spinach festival took place in 1936 and the Spinach Festival maintains an office in downtown Crystal City. The Spinach Festival was resumed in 1982 after being suspended during World War II. A statue of Popeye was erected with the blessing of the sailorman’s creator in 1937. It ranks high in the pantheon of less-than-serious statues in Texas. Today the pipe-smoking sailor stands in front of city hall – sharing the same banishment of other tobacco users.

Formed From

Maverick County


  • Comanche Lake
  • Political Association of Spanish-Speaking Organizations
  • Teamsters Union


1860 --- 26 —
1870 --- 138 430.8%
1880 --- 410 197.1%
1890 --- 1,097 167.6%
1900 --- 792 −27.8%
1910 --- 1,889 138.5%
1920 --- 3,108 64.5%
1930 --- 10,349 233.0%
1940 --- 11,603 12.1%
1950 --- 11,201 −3.5%
1960 --- 12,696 13.3%
1970 --- 11,370 −10.4%
1980 --- 11,666 2.6%
1990 --- 12,162 4.3%
2000 --- 11,600 −4.6%
2010 --- 11,677 0.7%
Est. 2015 --- 12,235


Senovio Sandoval


1880sMexican Americans had no access to rural schools
1883 -George C. Herman organized a private school in the SW area. Mexican Americans had been enrolled on school census lists for the purpose of increasing state revenues to benefit the white schools; Anglo county residents claimed substantial property-tax liability justified this practice. F acilities in the Mexican schools were far inferior.
1890s Mexican working-class children in urban areas were admitted to city schools. Access limited to segregated classes in the elementary grades
1928 school children were segregated through the fifth grade in Crystal City. Segregation of elementary schools in Texas was due to residential location, and lack of a Mexican-American voice in school affairs.
1934 Senovio Sandoval became the first Mexican American to play varsity football and graduate from a Zavala County high school.
1939 schools were (8 for white) ( 11 for Hispanic) and (1 for Blacks). Though segregation continued at the lower levels, the number of Hispanic students attending high school continued to rise.
1940 a graduating class had 3/31 high school students were Mexican American.
pre 1950s a majority of Tejano students dropped out between the 3rd and 6th grades.
1950s a majority of those graduating from high school were Mexican American. The development of a Hispanic middle class was indicative of advances in education and in political influence.
1962-63 Political Association of Spanish-Speaking Organizations and the Teamsters Union became involved in Crystal City politics in 1962–63.
1963 the Mexican Americans of Crystal City organized and elected all-Hispanic slate to the city council, attracting statewide and national attention in what was commonly referred to as the Crystal City Revolts.
Teamster and PASSO strategists utilized the large number of Mexican-American cannery and farm laborers from small Teamsters union at Del Monte cannery to alter the political makeup of Crystal City. :1970 Raza Unida party
1990s there are now an increasing number of Tejanos in college and university graduates.




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  2. "The Handy Texas Answer Book" by James L Haley
  3. "The Handy Texas Answer Book" by James L Haley
  4. "The Handy Texas Answer Book" by James L Haley
  6. "The Handy Texas Answer Book" by James L Haley
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