BRUSH COUNTRY BYWAY
Over 20 million acres of south Texas are dominated by brush; almost one-third (13,000 square miles) of this brush covers the northern counties of the Texas Tropical Trail Region.
The term Brush Country was made popular by Texas folklorist J. Frank Dobie (1888-1964), especially in the book titled, “A Vaquero of the Brush Country”, (1929). In the 19th century, parts of the American West were described as sage brush country or brush country, but Dobie further defined the term in an essay, “The Brush Country”, published in 1940.
Low scrub brush, mesquite and huisache trees and prickly pear cactus provide good cover for the abundant wildlife– white tail deer, quail, wild turkeys, javelinas, feral hogs and rattlesnakes– that populate the area.
The Brush Country area was originally a grassland savanna, but by the 1900s had changed to the scrub thickets of today. Continuous heavy grazing by the domestic livestock brought into the region with the 18th century Spanish missions and early settlers is a major reason for this change.
The counties of Webb, Dimmit and LaSalle are known as the Winter Garden Region and are famous for year-round production of vegetables, thanks to irrigation and artesian wells. The area farmers began experimenting with irrigation in the late 1890s, and the first Bermuda onion crop was raised near Cotulla in 1896.
When the railroads reached the Winter Garden area in the first decade of the 20th century, major canneries such as Del Monte followed and the region became a leading producer of onions, spinach, beets and strawberries.
With the increased cost of irrigation in the 1930s, coupled with the Great Depression, the prosperity of the Winter Garden declined.
In 1928, the arid Rosita Valley, home of Freer in Duval County, was changed forever because of a major oil discovery. By 1933, Freer had the second-largest oilfield in the United States. In 1938, there was no potable water, no paved streets or sewage system and no bank, but Freer did have a monthly payroll of $500,000 spread among its 1,200 residents. Freer’s population has leveled off at approximately 3,200 today, but the petroleum industry is still the major employer for the area.
Those thickets of brush in every county of the Brush Country make the area a prime destination each season for hunters from all over the United States. The Winter Garden Region still produces vegetables, but olive groves are now producing the newest form of “liquid gold”, a uniquely Texan variety of world class, extra virgin olive oil.
As for the oil industry, it has taken on a whole new life in the Brush Country during the past few years in the form of the Eagle Ford Shale Project. The shale area begins at the Texas/Mexico border, is 50 miles wide and extends 400 miles towards east Texas. The oil reserves are estimated at 3 billion barrels with potential output of over 400,000 barrels a day.
The Eagle Ford Shale Project oil boom is changing the south Texas Brush Country’s communities and businesses, and they are experiencing economic growth as never before.
As you travel through the Brush Country Byway, look for the ghost of the headless horseman, El Muerto, a 19th century horse thief who roams the back roads and was last seen near Alice in Jim Wells County. And, make plans to visit the Brush Country Museum in Cotulla (La Salle County) and get a close up look at the former schoolhouse where L.B. Johnson once taught. But watch out for the rattlesnakes…
Communities Located in the Brush Country Byway:
ALICE (Jim Wells County)
Originally known as Collins and then Bandana, in 1883 Alice was named after the daughter of one of the founders of King Ranch, Alice King Kleberg. A depot was moved to the area and Alice became the busiest shipping point in south Texas. By the 1920s, Alice adopted the slogan “Hub City of South Texas”.
Dating back to the mid 1940s, Alice has long been recognized as “The Birthplace of Tejano Music”. Armando Marroquin, Sr. of Alice and partner Paco Bentacourt of San Benito launched what was to be the first home-based recording company to record Tejano artists exclusively.
Ideal Records became the perfect vehicle for Tejano groups and artists to get their music to the public. Marroquin, who also owned and operated a jukebox company, insured that Ideal recordings would be distributed on the jukeboxes throughout south Texas.
The South Texas Museum is housed in the 1941 McGill Brother’s Building which was used as the Texas Rangers headquarters in the 1940s. Collections range from Civil War era to photographs and artifacts that tell the history of Alice and Jim Wells County.
66 S. Wright Street
CARRIZO SPRINGS (Dimmit County)
Named for local springs which were named by the Spanish for the cane grass that grew around them, Carrizo Springs was founded 1865 by a group of 15 families. Carrizo Springs is the Dimmit County seat. The courthouse was built in 1884.
Dimmit Co. Public Library & Wade House
200 N. 9th Street
COTULLA (La Salle County)
Named for Polish immigrant, Joseph Cotulla, Cotulla welcomed the railroad in 1881 and by 1882 had a healthy business community including a daily stage service. Sheep, cattle and most recently olives have been an important part of Cotulla’s economy.
In addition to crops like oranges, grapefruit, pecans and spinach, south Texas is also becoming known for olive ranching. Texas soil and adventurous landowners’ successes have even inspired the film “El Camino Olive Trail” which tells the story of liquid gold.
FREER (Duval County)
The area was originally called Las Hermanitas (“the Sisters”), for two hills south of the present townsite, and then became known as Government Wells, for a water well dug by United States Cavalry troops in 1876 on the property of A. J. Wiederkehr. In 1912, developer Hahl reportedly hung apples on mesquite trees to entice buyers to purchase an acre for $1 down and 14 years to pay the remaining $14 Freer is the site of the Rattlesnake Roundup each April.
State Highway 16 runs through Freer connecting Tilden and Zapata. 542 miles long, 9th longest in Texas, SH 16 was one of the original 26 state highways proposed in 1917. SH 16 did not extend to Zapata until 1965.
GEORGE WEST (Live Oak County)
Named for George Washington West who in 1912 donated his name, a townsite, $100,000, and 13 miles of railroad right-of-way through his ranch in order to establish a town on a railroad. In 1913, the San Antonio, Uvalde and Gulf Railroad laid the tracks and George West was recorded in 1914 and became the county seat in 1919. In 2005, George West was declared the Storytelling Capital of Texas.
Grace Armantrout Museum
1961 U.S. 281
OAKVILLE (Live Oak County)
After the Texas Revolution, Oakville was a station on the stage line from San Antonio to Corpus Christi. The community was referred to as “on the Sulphur” because it was on Sulphur Creek or Puenta de la Piedra (“Rock Bridge”) by Spanish gold seekers because of a nearby natural rock bridge. Oakville lost the county seat designation to George West in 1919.
Historic Oakville Jail built in 1887 of native sandstone, the building served as the Live Oakville County Jail until 1919 when the county seat was moved to George West.
Historic Oakville Jail Bed & Breakfast
107 Curry Street
ORANGE GROVE (Jim Wells County)
The site was part of the Ventana Ranch owned by George and Hannah (Compton) Reynolds. In 1889, the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway reached the area and the Reynolds donated 51 acres of land as an inducement to build a stop, which was constructed in 1914. Orange Grove was chosen as a name to capitalize on the popularity of the citrus industry in the Rio Grande Valley.
This 1915 Rock Island Caboose was originally a B-2 boxcar in 1915 and then converted to a caboose by Rock Island Lines and is part of the Orange Grove Area Museum.
119 Eugenia Street
SAN DIEGO (Duval County)
Pablo Perez of Mier, Tamaulipas, Mexico brought in the first group of permanent settlers and founded the town of Perezville in the present site of San Diego. The town was located on the banks of the San Diego Creek and was renamed San Diego in 1852. This is the year the community got its first Post Office. It was primarily a roundup center for cattle and a trading post between Mexico and Texas.
Duval County Museum
208 E. Saint
SINTON (San Patricio County)
Sinton was established in 1886 as a stop on the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railroad. Named for David Sinton, a charter was granted in 1894 and Sinton became the San Patricio County seat. A 1935 oil discovery and the establishment of the Plymouth Oil Company headquarters spurred growth. Sinton’s economy is primarily agriculture and petroleum and is home to Agnes, the largest squirrel in Texas.
Sinton Historical Museum
116 W. Sinton Street
Welder Wildlife Foundation
10620 U.S. 77
THREE RIVERS (Live Oak County)
Founded in 1913, near the confluence of the Atascosa, Frio and Nueces Rivers, Three Rivers was first named Hamiltonburg. Annie T. Hamilton paid the San Antonio, Uvalde and Gulf Railroad to build a depot on her land in 1913, by 1914, the name had been changed to Three Rivers. In 1920, natural gas was discovered nearby and in 1922, the first glass factory was built, both helped employ residents.
Mission Sin Caja, privately owned, is a reconstruction of an early Spanish Mission.
The High Lonesome Ranch, outside Three Rivers, recreates the Lonesome Dove experience complete with a saloon, theater, barber shop, post office, general store, school house, sheriff’s office, chapel, hotel, boot & hat shop, saddle shop, Wells Fargo Express office, jailhouse and chapel.
TILDEN (McMullen County)
The town was named for Samuel J. Tilden, the unsuccessful Democratic presidential candidate in the election of 1876. It was the home-guard post for the 29th Brigade of the Texas Confederate Militia during the Civil War. The town was originally called Rio Frio, but it became known as Dog Town during the early 1860s when drunken cowboys on a shooting spree left about fifteen dead dogs on the street. Dog Town was chosen as the county seat in 1877 when McMullen County was organized, but propriety demanded a change of name.