BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS. Brownsville, the county seat of Cameron County, is across the Rio Grande from Matamoros, Tamaulipas, at the southernmost tip of Texas. The city is at the southern terminus of U.S. highways 77 and 83 and the Missouri Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads, as well as a major port of entry to Mexico.
Although the site was explored as early as the seventeenth century, the first settlers did not arrive until the latter part of the eighteenth century. In 1765 the community of San Juan de los Esteros (present-day Matamoros) was established across the Rio Grande. In 1781 Spanish authorities granted fifty-nine leagues of land on the northern bank of the river, including all of the site of Brownsville, to José Salvador de la Garza, who established a ranch about sixteen miles northwest of the site.
During the early nineteenth century a small number of squatters, most of them herders and farmers from Matamoros, built huts in the area. A small settlement had formed by 1836, when Texas declared her independence from Mexico, but the region was still only sparsely settled when United States troops under Gen. Zachary Taylor arrived in early 1846. After taking up a position across from Matamoros, Taylor's forces began the construction of a defensive position near the settlement. Their temporary fort was originally called Fort Texas, but was renamed Fort Brown a short time later, in honor of Maj. Jacob Brown, who died during a Mexican attack on the stronghold.
After the Mexican War, at the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, the area became part of the state of Texas and fell within the jurisdiction of San Patricio County.
The same year Charles Stillman purchased a large part of the Garza grant north and northwest of Matamoros, including part of the city's common landholdings, from the children of the first wife of José Narciso Cavazos. Cavazos had remarried, however, and the heirs of his second wife, led by the eldest son, Juan N. Cortina,qv had been given legal title to the property, a fact that later led to a long series of legal battles over ownership. Stillman and his partner, Samuel Belden, laid out a town that they called Brownsville.
Despite the construction of the narrow-gauge Rio Grande Railroad from Brownsville to Port Isabel in 1872, the town grew only modestly during the early 1870s and did not fully rebound until the middle of the decade
Among the chief local concerns voiced in the Herald's editorial
pages was the need for a railroad connection to the north and
a bridge to link the city with Matamoros. Several attempts were
made to attract a railroad, but not until 1904 did the St. Louis,
Brownsville and Mexico Railway reach the town. In 1910 a railroad
bridge was constructed between Brownsville and Matamoros and regular
service between the two towns began.The introduction of the rail
link to Brownsville opened the area for settlement of northern
farmers, who began arriving in the lower Rio Grande valley in
large numbers after the turn of the century.
Text from the Handbook of Texas Online
Last Revised: 09/30/2005 - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.