Our Founders

Martin de Leon

Martín De León, the only Mexican empresario to found a colony in Texas, was born in 1765 in Burgos, Nuevo Santander (now Tamaulipas), where his parents, Bernardo and María Galván De León, settled after moving from Burgos, Spain. The De Leóns were an aristocratic family of great wealth; members were educated in Madrid, Paris, and London and were acquainted with European rulers. Martín, however, declined his father's offer to complete his education in Monterrey and Europe, choosing instead to become a merchant and supplier of provisions to the miners of Real de San Nicolás. In 1790 he joined the Fieles de Burgos regiment, organized by Mexican viceroy Juan Vicente Guernes Pacheco as a defense against Indians in Nuevo Santander. De León was promoted to captain, thus achieving the highest rank available to a criollo. In 1795 he married Patricia de la Garza, daughter of Gen. Felipe de la Garza, commandant of the Eastern Internal Provinces. The couple settled in Cruillas, Nuevo Santander (now Tamaulipas), where they began ranching. An excursion to La Bahía, San Antonio, and Nacogdoches in 1805 induced De León to settle in Texas. He established a ranch between Chiltipin Creek and the Aransas River, stocked it with cattle, horses, mules, and goats that he brought from Mexico, and enclosed several leagues of land with a brush fence in an effort to corral and domesticate mustangs.

In 1807 De León petitioned the Spanish governor at San Antonio, Manuel María de Salcedo, to establish a colony in this vicinity. The government, however, denied this request as well as a second one in 1809, as a result of rising political troubles in Mexico and rumors that the De Leóns were not loyal to Spain. De León then established a new ranch on the east bank of the Nueces River near the site of present San Patricio, where he enclosed another pasture. He had by this time driven several herds of livestock to market at New Orleans, thus becoming one of the earliest traildrivers in Texas. Texas presidio garrisons were moved as a result of the uprising in September 1810 of Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla. Because the frontier then became vulnerable to hostile Lipans and Comanches, De León removed his family to the safety of San Antonio, where he joined the Republicans in resisting the Royalists under Joaquín de Arredondo and Ignacio Elizondo. After a respite in Burgos in 1816 De León returned to his ranch and cattle, now numbering about 5,000 head. In 1823 he drove a large herd of livestock to New Orleans and became interested in settling a colony on the lower Guadalupe River.

Mexican independence from Spain brought a more open colonization policy. On April 8, 1824, De León petitioned the provincial delegation at San Fernando de Béxar to settle forty-one Mexican families on the lower Guadalupe and founded the town of Nuestra Señora Guadalupe de Jesús Victoria. The colonization grant was approved on April 13. Patricia De León contributed $9,800 and cows, horses, and mules valued at $300, which she inherited from her father. De León's colony was the only predominantly Mexican colony in Texas, and as a Mexican citizen the empresario received legal preference in the numerous border disputes with American settlements encircling Guadalupe Victoria.

De León stood six feet tall and was skilled as a horseman and Indian fighter; Indians called him "Capitán Vacas Muchas" ("Captain Plenty of Cows") since he often placated raiding parties by feeding them beef. His five-league (22,140-acre) ranch was located on Garcitas Creek in what is now southeastern Victoria County and probably included the site of La Salle's Fort St. Louis. His thousands of cattle carried the first brand in Texas, an E and J connected, signifying "Espíritu de Jesús." De León registered the historic brand in 1807; Jesuits had used it for hundreds of years before the royal De León family in Spain adopted it. De León's ranchland, though considerably less extensive than that of later cattlemen, provided a foundation for one of the characteristic industries of Texas. As a devout Catholic, De León was planning to build a church without rival in Texas when he became a victim of the cholera epidemic of 1833 and died, leaving his widow, four sons, and six daughters an estate of over a half million dollars.

In addition to dominating Guadalupe Victoria, the family of Martín De León controlled the ayuntamiento of Goliad; sons-in-law José Miguel Aldrete and Rafael Manchola each served as alcalde, and Manchola was also commandant of the La Bahía garrison. The family was intimately involved with the Texas cause against Antonio López de Santa Anna as well. Gen. José M. J. Carbajal and Capt. Plácido Benavides were sons-in-law of De León. Martín's sons, Fernando, Silvestre, Felix, and Agapito De León, contributed horses, mules, cattle, military equipment, and provisions to the Texas army and offered the safety of their ranches to colonists needing refuge. Not surprisingly, the Mexican army of occupation under Gen. José de Urrea singled out the De León family as traitors; Fernando and Silvestre were arrested.

After the Texas victory at San Jacinto, the De Leóns fell victim to the prejudice directed against Texans of Mexican descent. Agapito was murdered by Mabry B. (Mustang) Gray, who was rustling De León cattle. Fernando was wounded in a similar affray. The De León, Benavides, and Carbajal families were forced to abandon their lands, cattle, and most possessions and flee to Louisiana for their lives. The De Leóns remained in New Orleans for about three years before removing to Soto la Marina (now in Tamaulipas), the childhood home of Patricia de la Garza De León, where her daughter, Agustina De León Benavides, died in 1841. Soon thereafter, Patricia and her family returned to Texas to recover their property, but they were largely unsuccessful. In April 1972 the De Leóns were honored with Texas state historical markers in Evergreen Cemetery, Victoria. Among the dignitaries attending the dedication were Patricia De León, great-granddaughter of the empresario, and Dr. Ricardo Victoria of Mexico, great-grandson of President Guadalupe Victoria, for whom Victoria, Texas, is named.

Patricia de la Garza

Patricia de la Garza De León, early settler, who with her husband, empresario Martín De León, developed the city of Victoria, was born in Soto la Marina, Nuevo Santander (now Tamaulipas), Mexico, in 1775. Her father, Felipe de la Garza, served as commandant for the Spanish government. In 1795 Patricia and Martín were married, and they started a ranch near Cruillas, Nuevo Santander. Between 1798 and 1818 Doña De León gave birth to ten children. In 1805 the De Leóns moved to the east bank of the Aransas River, north of Corpus Christi. They moved several more times before 1824, when they were granted land by the newly independent Mexican government. Using money they had earned from the sale of livestock and the $9,800 Patricia inherited from her father, they established a colony on the bank of the Guadalupe River in Southwest Texas. Martín named the settlement Guadalupe Victoria in honor of the first president of Mexico; it was the only predominantly Mexican colony in Texas.

Life in frontier Texas was very different from the life Patricia had lived in Mexico. She was forty-seven years old when she settled in Victoria, where she lived in a house of hand-hewn logs with a dirt floor. Although her new home was simple, she placed fine furniture in it and kept servants. While Martín worked to bring financial success to the community, Patricia attempted to transplant to Texas some of the cultural traditions of Spain and Mexico. She saw that a school was established immediately after she arrived in Victoria. She also helped found a church, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, to which she donated money and furnishings. As the family's wealth increased she imported fine furniture and clothes and sent her children and grandchildren to Europe and Mexico to be educated. She and her daughters became known for their excellent embroidery skills and fine clothing. The De León home was described as among the most beautifully furnished in the area, and it became the center for community gatherings. Shortly before her death Madame De León donated the original homestead to the Catholic Church as the site for a new church building.

After Martín died of cholera in 1833, Patricia managed the family's property and continued to work for the community. She and her family supported the idea of an independent Texas and smuggled arms and ammunition from New Orleans to the Texans. Despite their support of the Texans, however, the De Leóns were victims of the anti-Mexican sentiment that swept through Texas after the Texas Revolution. Her youngest son was murdered by cattle thieves. The family fled to Louisiana, where they lived in poverty, and then to Soto la Marina. In 1837 Patricia sold 25,000 acres of Victoria County land on Garcitas Creek for $10,000. When she returned to Texas in 1844 she found her possessions scattered among newcomers, and she no longer held an influential position in the town. She resumed her work with the church and until her death lived as an ordinary parishioner. She died at Victoria in 1849, after devoting much time to the church her husband founded. Her homesite, donated to the parish at her death, is the site of the present St. Mary's Catholic Church, to which she also contributed altar vessels, including a gold monstrance. The state of Texas recognized the contributions of the De Leóns by dedicating historical grave markers to them in Evergreen Cemetery, Victoria, on April 8, 1972.

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