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A Condensed History of The Texas Rio Grande Valley

The "Magic Valley", as it was declared in the early 1900s due to its year round growing season, is a 140 mile stretch of delta along the Rio Grande River at the southernmost tip of Texas.

Before recorded history little is known about this region other than that it was inhabited by nomadic tribes of Indians who were primarily hunter gatherers.

The Spanish began colonizing the area in the 1700s establishing missions and presidios along the Rio Grande river.

Land grants and porciones were awarded by the King of Spain to early settlers in the area. These were primarily used for cattle, sheep and goat ranching. At this time in history the area was known as Nuevo Santander, a part of New Spain.

In the turbulent 1800s Mexico won its independence from Spanish rule. Then Texas won its independence from Mexico. By the mid 1800s, Anglo-Americans out numbered Mexicans in Texas 4 to 1.

Still the Rio Grande Valley was not developed during this time. It remained largely ranchos where free roaming cattle grazed on the abundant grasses of the area.

It was not until the early 1900s when adventurous and visionary men like John Shary, John Closner, Mifflin Kennedy, Richard King, Stephen Powers and Charles Stillman purchased large tracts of land and built irrigation systems. This allowed for development of the land for farming and great empires were built around citrus and truck farming operations. Crops included cotton, grapefruit, oranges, a variety of vegetables and later, sugar cane.

This agricultural development along with the Mexican revolution (1910-1920) caused a mass migration of Mexicans into the Rio Grande Valley. This population of Tejanos, Mexican-Americans, brought with them a cultural presence which has remained an integral part of the Valley through present times. This can be seen in the many festivals and celebrations which occur annually, and of course, Mexican cuisine.

As the early pioneers of the farming industry in the Rio Grande Valley continued to build their empires, the Rio Grande Valley was marketed to Midwestern farmers in the US. The year round growing season and the wide variety of crop choices brought many buyers to the Valley and a whole new concept was developed: The Winter Texan.

Commonly referred to as snowbirds in many parts of the US, these winter visitors began coming to the Rio Grande Valley in the 1940s. After WWII, when materials became available for construction, the area was developed as a winter vacation spot. At first hotels and motels were built to accommodate the winter travelers from the north. As the concept of travel in an RV, or pull behind trailer, grew in popularity campgrounds were established. Early campsites were little more than a place to park your trailer with perhaps a bathroom and shower facility. During the 1950s these campgrounds expanded to include water and electricity at the sites. During the 1960s and 70s a major transformation took place and soon the Rio Grande Valley was full of RV Resorts which included many amenities such as clubhouses, swimming pools and shuffleboard courts. read more about early development of the Winter Texan industry

Word of Mouth and an aggressive marketing campaign to the northern areas of the US and Canada produced a population of winter visitors numbering around 200,000 at its peak in the late 1900s and early 2000s. Year after year people from all over the US and Canada make the journey southward to enjoy the warm, sunny tropical climate of the Valley and enjoy the company of fellow travelers.

As more and more winter visitors chose to stay for longer periods of time, RV resorts added Mobile Homes and Park Models. Today, in the early 2010s you can choose from over 200 resort communities with a wide range of amenities and prices from 5 star resorts to Mom and Pop campgrounds.

The Rio Grande Valley has also been discovered by folks from the East Coast, New England and Canada. For a long time these Easterners traditionally wintered in Florida or Arizona. As cost of living factors increased in those areas, many have discovered that it is much more affordable here in the RGV. In addition, "snowbirds" seem to have come to be considered a nuisance to locals in Florida and Arizona.

This is not the case in the Rio Grande Valley of the Texas Tropics!

Here we welcome our winter visitors and celebrate their return each year with festivities and banners declaring "Welcome Home". And by the way, there are no snowbirds here in Texas. You may have been a snowbird when you left the north, but once you cross the Texas line you became a WINTER TEXAN! And proudly so!

Find more in-depth history of the Rio Grande Valley, Texas at The Valley Spotlight