A Brief History
        of Laredo, Texas

     (Published by Laredo Chamber of Commerce)

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        Tomas Sanchez

               A Brief History of Laredo, Texas
          (Published by Laredo Chamber of Commerce)

                   SPANISH COLONIAL PERIOD

In 1747, Jose de Escandon, a Spanish colonel, organized a
great expedition in Queretaro to explore and colonize Nuevo
Santander, the Mexican province which inclued most of the
northeastern part of Mexico and parts of what is now Texas.

In 1749, he established the first settlement on the Rio
Grande at Camargo, across the river from present-day Rio
Grande City.

With him was Captain Don Tomas Sanchez de Barrera y Gallardo,
a veteran Spanish officer, forty years old at the time, who
crossed to the north bank of the river, locating a ford which
he christened "El Paso de Jacinto," later called Indian Ford,
just west of what is now downtown Laredo.

He then petitioned Colonel Escandon for permission to found a
town near the ranch.  At fist the famous explorer urged that
the proposed town be located farther north along the Nueces

After attempting to carry out this suggestion, and being
repulsed by savage Indian attacks, Captain Sanchez reported
that he considered that part of the frontier undersirable.
His original request was then granted, and on May 15, 1755,
he moved three families and their belongings to his new
grant.  In honor of his chief, he named the settlement "Villa
de San Agustin de Laredo," after the city of Laredo on the
Bay of Biscay in the Spanish Province of Santander, which had
been the home of Colonel Escandon.

Fifteen "sitios de ganado mayor," or grazing plots, for the
common use of the inhabitants, comprised the original
settlement - no individual grants of land being made at that

The site selected was near the present San Agustin Plaza and
church, close to the river, and in the heart of modern

Three or four other settlements on the broad map of texas
predated Don Tomas Sanchez's little town, but they had all
been subsidized, either as soldier-garrisoned "presidios" or
well-protected missions.

Laredo, on the other hand, was founded without financial aid
or military protection from either State or Church, and Don
Tomas Sanchez rightfully takes his place at the head of the
ranks of Texas' rugged individualists who, scorning aid or
protection have created an empire famed the world over for
its independence of thought and action.

During this same period, the colonists of England, France and
Holland surged across the Atlantic, settled the northern
seaboard, and began their sure but slow march to the south
and west.  Nor were the forces of Spain static.  From Mexico
City they pushed their fingers of settlement west and north
toward the vast, unknown lands of what is now Texas.

The expedition of Colonel Escandon was one of the most
determined and successfull of the expansion moves, and when
Captain Sanchez founded the little frontier town of Laredo in
1755, Spain was beginning to feel that its northern borders
were well secured against any encroachment from the forces of
England and Frances which still huddled along the
northeastern seacoast.

But during the next year, during peace and war, the opposing
forces moved closer until little Laredo became, first, the
anvil of their conflicting hates and suspicions, and finally
the altar of their merging destinies.

For the fist fifty years of its existence, the little adobe
town of Laredo faced the normal problems of any frontier
posts.  Drought and flood alternated life the swift changes
of temperature which sifted overnight from burning semi-
tropic intensity to chilling cold.

The fierce Comanche and Apache Indian tribes, on their annual
treks from their northern hunting grounds to sunny Mexico,
raided the settlements, with murderous regularity, and the
local tribes, though less warlike, lurked at the edges of
civilization looking for a chance to strike and rob.

For the first few years, Don Tomas Sanchez was charged with
the settlement's political and military administration,
organizing his own militia to fight Indians and deal stern
justice to wrongdoers.

Within two years, when the first inspection was made by the
officials of Nuevo Santander, there were eighty-five persons
owning 9,000 head of sheep, goats and cattle.

Ten years later, on June 10, 1767, the first formal
distribution of lands was made to the inhabitants.  After
surveying and laying out the blocks of the town, the
commissioners proceeded to mark off eighty-nine "porciones,"
or tracts of land with a river frontage of approximately one-
half mile and extending back from it a little more than
fifteen miles.  The head of each family was allotted one
"porcion" with the exception of Captain Sanchez who, as the
leader, received two.

With a formal charter in its possession, the village of "San
Agustin de Laredo" held its first election the following
year, naming Don Jose Martinez de Soto Mayor as its first
mayor, and Don Salvador Hidalgo and Don Nicolas Castellanos
as councilmen.

Probably Don Tomas Sanchez, who was then fifty-nine years
old, had hopes of winning a little well earned rest by
turning the administration of the settlement over to the
younger men.  But the new officials seemed unable to curb the
mounting Indina raids and in 1770 the Governor of the
Province ordered the town's founder to take over the reins of
the government again, this time as mayor.

The capable soldier drove the Indians back, secured the
boundaries of his settlement and served for twenty-two years
as mayor until he resigned in 1792, at the age fo eighty-two,
to let the younger generation take over.

A direct sixth generation descendant of Don Tomas, Alber
Martin, was to become mayor of the city 134 years later, in
1926, and to server his community in that post for fourteen
years.  In 1954, a nephew, J.C. Martin, Jr., a seventh
generation descendant of the town's founder, was elected to
this office.


Drought, floods, Indian raids, heat and cold - a constant
struggle for existence, continued to be the lot of the
settlers until 1810 when there began a period of revolutions
and wars, to last for fifty-five years, which would undermine
their traditions, strain their loyalties and impose another
culture, another language and strange customs on their
ancient and accustomed way of life.

Hidalgo's clarion call for the overthrow of Spanish colonial
rule at first meant little to the Laredo settlement.  The
local garrison remained loyal to the crown during most of the
11 years of struggle.  Occasionally, however, individuals or
groups came from the Laredo area to help win freedom for

With Spain defeated, the colonists accepted the new flag of
Mexico and the changes fo authority willingly and life
continued much as usual.  There were rumors of new
settlements of Anglo-Americans from the north, but they menat
little to the Laredoans though twice they were hosts to
Stephen F. Austin when he was on his way to Mexico City to
transact business for his colony.


By 1836, when Texas revolted and won its independence, there
were 2,000 citizens in Laredo, according to a census at that
time, and ranching and farming were thriving.

The town resounded to the tramp of the armies of Santa Ana on
their way to the Alamo and the significance of Laredo as the
"gateway to Mexico" became apparent.

                  REPUBLIC OF THE RIO GRANDE

During the next ten years, Laredo was the capital of a "no-
man's land," Mexico contended that the boundary with the new
Republic of Texas was the Nueces River.

Though many Texas disputed this, and claimed the Rio Grande
as the border, little effort was made to bring the wild
country between the two rivers under the Lone Star Republic's

Laredo even served, for the year of 1840, as the capital of
the Republic of the Rio Grande, a coalition of the three
northern Mexico states and southwest Texas with fought for
the restoration of State's rights.  However, Mexico defeated
the new uprising after a bitter campaign.  Later two Mexican
armies passed through Laredo on their way to attack San
Antonio, but both returned and, between periods of warlike
activity, little Laredo continued its sleepy ranch-like life.


During the war between Mexico and the United States in 1846
Laredo again became the center of intense military activity.
But after the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo,
which ended the border controversy by making the Rio Grande
the boundary line, the town continued life much as usual,
gradually adapting itself to the way of its new rulers.

To protect the region from continuing Indian raids and the
depredations of lawless gangs which had multiplied in the
disputed territory, the U.S. Army established Camp Crawford
at Laredo on March 3, 1848, changing the name two years later
to Fort McIntosh, and the Stars and Stripes waved for the
first time over the Rio Grande.

From then until the start of the War Between the States,
Laredo grew slowly.  A few families of northern European
extraction trickled into the area and were welcomed by the
natives.  Many of them intermarried and established families
which are still among the most popular and powerful on the

During this period, foreign trade between Mexico and the
United States was born with the import in 1851 of 156 bushel
of corn, valued at $52.00 and paying a duty of $10.40 - a
tiny beginning for the great volume of imports and exports
now passing annually between the two countries and reaching a
value of more than $500 million.

                  THE WAR BETWEEN THE STATES

During the Civil War a Confederate regiment was raised in
Laredo under the command of Colonel Santos Benavides and
played a powerful part in maintaining the flow of cotton from
the South, through Mexico, to Europe making it possible for
the Confederacy to continue the war after the economic
situation had become hopeless.

After the war, the Stars and Stripes were flying over Fort
McIntosh again, more Anglo-Amerincan families came to the
border town - mostly former Confederate officers anxious to
begin a new life.


During this period great ranches were developed, stocked
mostly with sheep, and in 1878 there were an estimated
239,000 sheep and goats, and 9,000 cattle on the Webb County
ranges.  There was still serious unrest along the border and
the depredation of notorious bandit gangs kept the area from

But in November, 1881, there was a dramatic change with the
completion of the Texas Mexican Railway from Corpus Christi,
giving Laredo a direct outlet to a deep-water port and the
outside world.

A year later the Missouri Pacific Lines reached the border at
Laredo and was met by the National Lines from Mexico City,
making the sleepy town the center of the greatest
international freight movement in the Western Hemisphere.

The coming of the railways launched a boom which converted
the "Gateway to Mexico" from an adobe village into one of the
most modern and important towns in the Lone Star State in
less than ten years, and swelled its population between 1881
and 1889 from 3,531 to 11,319.

The Laredo Directory, published in 1889, records the changes
of the preceeding eight years in great detail and dramatizes
the immense growth resulting from the building of railroads.

During this Golden Era, the Laredo Electric Light Company was
established, installed incandescent lights, doubled the size
of its steam plant and built a large machine shop; the Laredo
Improvement Company built the first electric street railway
system west of the Mississippi connecting the local rail
stations with the National Lines in Nuevo Laredo.  A City
Market and an Opera House with a seating capacity of 3,000
people were built; a telephone exchange with 150 boxes was
installed; three ice plants were erected; the Kansas city Ore
Company built a $40,000 refinery; three brick plants were
opened and by 1888 were exporting more than 5 million bricks

During the same period a new County Court House and Jail were
built.  A two story public school building and a Methodist
Seminary for young ladies, costing $64,000, were opened.

The Laredo Waterworks were established and two million
gallons of water distributed daily through ten miles of mains
to the thirsty populace.  The U.S. Army completed a $500,00
building program at Fort McIntosh and two companies of
infantry and one of cavalry were stationed there as a
permanent protection against Indian raids.

To keep up with the boom in shipping, the National Lines of
Mexico built a $300,000 machine shop - the largest west of
the Mississippi - in Laredo and completed the first railroad
bridge across the Rio Grande, 1,700 feet long with seven
spans, which was described as one of the most magnificent in
the Americas.

The International Bridge and Tramway Company, not to be
outdone, brought the sister cities of Laredo and Nuevo Laredo
closer together by building a bridge for pedestrians and the
electric street railway and the city built bridges across the
deep arroyos to help develop new residential areas which were
reaching into the hills toward the east.

The three-story Hamilton Hotel, then declared to be the most
elegant in the state of Texas, was completed, four Protestant
churches erected, a baseball park and race track built and
the Guadalupe Mining Company installed a 300 ton-per-day

In 1889 there were twenty two and three-story buildings going
up at one time - and that in a town which only a few years
before had boasted nothing grander than one-story adobe


Up to that period there had been only a very few Anglo-
American families in Laredo, aside from the military
personnel at Forth McIntosh.  But now there came several
thousand strong from the north and the east, and the great
pincer movement of colonization was completed with the
meeting of two races and two cultures on an amicable basic
after years of conflict and misunderstanding.

They formed a cosmopolitan, liberal and tolerant population
which, ever since, has kept Laredo moving forward ahead of
the average march of progess.

During the boom, ranches learned that sheep could be raised
more profitably in the cooler  hill country west of San
Antonio, and the Laredo area ranches converted to cattle
which have been the most important industry in the region
since that time.

However, interest began to increase in the growing of
vegetables and the irrigable acres along the river were
rapidly developed until, by 1900, Laredo became known as the
Bermuda onion capital of the country.  Since then it has won
equal fame for its cantaloupe, tomatoes and other fruit and
vegetable crops.

From 1910 to 1917, the revolutions which convulsed Mexico
resulted in the influx of new population for Laredo with many
of the leading families of the Republic to the south seeking
sanctuary and investing their fortunes in homes, ranches and
business enterprises.

During World War I, Laredo became the site of a great army
camp, housing more than 10,000 troops, and had to expand its
utilites and other services to meet the new demands.

Soon after the war, natural gas was discovered east of
Laredo.  Then O.W. Killam, who became one of the greatest oil
developers in Texas, brought in the first oil well and Laredo
was launched on another boom which nearly reached the
proportions of the one it had enjoyed in th 1880's.

Field after field was discovered and the city became the
center of one of the most important producing areas in the
state.  Within the past few years, there has been renewed
interest in the possibilities of the region and there is now
more activity than at any time since the first wells were
brought in.

Even during the depression, Laredo continued its steady,
sound growth.  With the completion of the Pan American
Highway to Mexico City in 1935, the attention of the world
was turned increasingly to the border metropolis and a great
tourist trade began to develop which has grown to become one
of the most important industries in the area.

Hand in hand with the tourist development, Laredo became the
natural meeting place for the leaders of Mexico and the
United States to gather to discuss mutual probles and plans,
and has developed a character as international as any city in
the world.

World War II added impetus to  the city's growth, with the
establishment of an important base - Laredo Army Air Field _
which utilized the vast cattle ranges to the northwest of the
city as aerial gunnery range.

Imports and exports also swelled to undreamed-of volumes
during the war as Mexico played a mighty role in supplying
the armies of democracy.

After the war many people predicted there would be a slump.
But to their amazement, the city continued to expand at an
ever faster rate.

New oil fields, a vast expansion of the international tourist
trade, a continuation of the import and export boom, better
cattle ranges, increased irrigated crop production, and the
re-opening of the Laredo Air Force Base all contributed their

One of the most fascinating aspects of Laredo life is its
fame as an entertainment center.  Since 1898, it's popular
Washington's Birthday Celebration has drawn visitors from all
over the world with Mexican and United States senators,
governors, top-ranking generals and admirals and other high
officials mixing and enjoying the fiesta season with an
informality which illustrates the good neighborliness
existing between the two countries better than diplomatic
dinners or receptions.

Another feature which emphasized the city's ideal climate is
the annual Border Olympics, the earliest annual outdoors
track meet in the country, which is held the first week in
March and attracts more than 1,000 of the top tract stars of
the universities, colleges and high schools of the
southwestern states and Mexico.

History is still being written in Laredo - written by its
progressive citizens whose vision is not limited by the
boundaries of a single country, but encompassess the
opportunities of a vast international frontier only awaiting
development by men of energy and ability; the type of men who
have been produced by the meeting and merging of the advance
guards of the two great armies of exploration and
civilization which swept out of Europe between 300 and 400
years ago to meet in Laredo and merge their contrasting
cultures and races in bonds of international good


Laredo's sister city, across the Rio Grande, has a population
of more than 300,000.  It was founded in 1847, following the
War with Mexico, when many of the inhabitants of Laredo moved
to the south side of the river in order to preserve their
Mexican citizenship.  It was christened Nuevo Laredo in honor
of the older city.

Modern Nuevo Laredo has changed considerably since the days
in which its dusty streets and dim "cantinas" were the
setting for the exciting deeds of may of the "Tall Men" of
southwestern folklore.  While the city still preserves its
typically Mexican atmosphere, it is rapidly developing a
program of lovely parks, wide clean streets and boulevards
and new recreational facilities, such as the recently
completed ball park, which ranks among the finest to be found
in the Republic.

Nuevo Laredo's principal source of income is the extensive
import-export industry.  It is the largest port of entry on
the Mexico-United States border and tariff and customs
collections are larger than any other customs office in the
Republic of Mexico.  Aside from the tremendous export-import
business, Nuevo Laredo has extensive agricultural and
ranching activity, with cotton production being its princial