The early stirrings of the "town" of San Diego

Photo from "Texas in Other Times: J. Williamson Moses,"
published by Friends of the Corpus Christi Public Libraries.
It is not clear why the Texas Legislature chose to create a county in the area between Nueces and Webb Counties. In 1858, 10 years after officially becoming American territory, the area was still Mexican in all aspects. There were not yet any “Americans” living in the area. But, they would soon begin to make their way.

One on the early settlers who went on to become a political leader in Duval County was J. Williamson Moses. During this period, Moses was a mustanger in and around what is now Duval, Jim Wells and western Nueces Counties. He came to San Diego in 1871 and served as county attorney and then county judge. He wrote a number of articles for area newspapers, including the San Antonio Express under the pen name Sesom, Moses spelled backwards.

In September 1887, Moses wrote what is perhaps the earliest history of San Diego, called the “City in the Woods.” According to Moses, a German merchant by the name of Maclenberg settled the town of San Diego. To say that he settled the town is a bit of a stretch. San Diego had been around as a Rancheria for many years.

Maclenburg lived at Roma and reportedly entered into a contract with the descendants of Rafael Garcia Salinas of the San Leandro grant to bring in 100 families to settle on the south side of the San Diego and Carancahua Creeks (probably Tarancahua Creek). This was on the opposite side of the San Diego de Arriba and San Diego de Abajo grants of Julian and Ventura Flores.

The deal included for Maclenburg to clear the titles of the Salinas heirs. He was also to provide a permanent water supply by deepening and damming the San Diego Creek. Maclenburg came to the area in 1854 and pitched a tent to begin his work. He brought Mexican laborers from Starr County and a couple mayordomos, who he left in charge while he returned to Roma to tend to other business. Maclenburg died of Yellow Fever and never returned to complete the work of establishing a town.

In 1856, Don Alejo Perez, who had married an heir of the Flores familiy who owned the grants north of the San Diego Creek, moved into the land and started a ranch named San Refugio, about a mile and a half south of the San Diego. At that time, William “Peg Leg” Stewart also moved in and established the San Diego store. It was this move, according to Moses, that gave the town its start.

The store’s main customers were mustangers and hunters who made a thriving business rounding up wild cattle, killing deer, antelope, and jabalinas that made their home on the mesquite and chaparral along the banks of the San Diego, Carancahua, Lagarto and Rosita Creeks. Stewart also made a thriving business in hides and pelts. He traded food, clothes, and ammunition.

Stewart soon moved his operation to Fort Ewell in La Salle County and the growth of San Diego stalled with the onset of the American Civil War.