First pioneers came as ranchers


The first settlers to the area of what is now Duval County came to ranch. The land did not lend itself to farming, as the aborigines had found. It did provide, however, enough forage for animals to survive. Therefore, the Spanish came into the area with their cattle, goats and sheep to make a living. 

Some historians date the first Spanish ranches in the area to as early as 1760. Guerrero, Camargo and Mier were said to be the well spring for the first frontier communities, including San Diego. In 1794, Julian and Ventura Flores first received eight leagues of land called San Diego de Arriba and San Diego de Abajo from the king of Spain. It would take another 10 years before its owners had the land officially surveyed and their titles perfected.

While Julian and Ventura Flores’ Rancho San Diego was among the first settlements, it cannot be definitively said that it was the first. Spaniards surveyed several other grants at about the same time, including Los Angeles, Concepcion, San Leandro and San Florentina.

In 1808, ancestors of Trinidad Vela took possession of Santa Maria de Los Angeles de Abajo, where they founded Rancho Mesquite near the Charco Salado. Like many of the first settlements, this ranch was located next to a creek, in this instance the Arroyo de Los Angeles or Palo Blanco. The area was in southwestern Duval County, adjacent to Webb County. It was 36 miles from present day San Diego and 51 miles northeast of Carrizo on the Rio Grande.

Within five years, Vela’s ancestors erected houses and pens but marauding Indians soon forced them to leave. These Indian attacks were frequent and the ranchers would leave the lands often, but would always return. The Velas returned to the area and in 1819, Indians killed Trinidad Vela’s father at Los Angeles de Abajo. Indians also killed several neighbors while attending stock. The settlers left once more, but returned in 1824 and rebuilt their houses and pens and resumed ranching. Two years later, Indians again forced settlers to leave Los Angeles de Abajo. They returned occasionally to rope and bring in an occasional beef but the cattle became wild.

Just northwest of Rancho Mesquite, Mariano Arispe settled the grant called Santa Maria de Los Angeles de Arriba. The interruption of sovereignty prevented Arispe from perfecting the grant. As the area went from being part of Mexico to part of Texas, the Arispes could not legally claim the land. Eventually, they paid the state of Texas what they owed to the former Mexican state of Tamaulipas and they received legal title to the land.

By 1848, the greater Los Angeles area was a stop on the road Col. Henry Kinney had opened between Corpus Christi and Laredo. A water well on Arispe’s land where the Laredo to Corpus Christi Road crossed Arroyo Los Angeles became a haven for travelers. Further south, the Velas’ Rancho Mesquite was on the arroyo where the road from Corpus Christi to Mier passed.

The area had a sizable enough population that it got its own voting precinct in 1860. At that time, Los Angeles was in the unorganized county of Encinal attached to Nueces County. Political pundits of the time did not know whether the Los Angeles vote, as well as that of the other new precinct in San Diego, would go for Lincoln or Breckenridge in the presidential election and for or against slavery.

The Los Angeles vote played a pivotal part in the 1860 election of the district judge. The Los Angeles vote reported late and swung the election to Joseph O'Connor of Corpus Christi in the race for district judge. Governor Sam Houston, however, certified O'Connor's opponent, Gen. John F. McKinney, as the winner because he claimed some of new votes were illegal.

During the Civil War, in 1864, Los Angeles was a stop for Confederate troops fighting off the Union soldiers threatening from Brownsville. John “Rip” Ford traveled through Los Angeles on his way to the Rio Grande. In April 1864, part of Major Matt Nolan’s Battalion made Los Angeles its camp.

After the Civil War Los Angeles seems to have vanished as a community and no one heard from it again.å