The story you are about to read is true; it details a personal fable based…
by Antonio N. Zavaleta
Through most of its history, the Rio Grande River (Rio Bravo in Mexico) has meandered lazily toward its terminus at the Gulf of Mexico. One hundred miles to the West of its mouth the river flows through limestone banks and high escarpments before descending to the fertile delta soils of the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Most of the time the river flows peacefully, but as its Spanish name suggests, from time to time during flood stages it overflows its banks cutting off old meanders and creating new ones. The one hundred years between the 1850’s and the construction of the massive Amistad and Falcon dam projects saw the river flow out of its banks almost every year. The result of the changes in the river’s course was the expatriation of at least one hundred parcels or “bancos” of privately owned land that were “cut-out” from one nation’s jurisdiction to the other’s. When the water receded, not only land but also houses, livestock and people found themselves living on “the other side.” Thus American landowners found that their farms were now located in the Republic of Mexico. This would occur when the river overflowed its banks to the north. Conversely, Mexican landowners discovered that their land was suddenly located on the American side when the river rolled to the south.
The hearty Mexican rancheros and determined Anglo farmers who worked the porciones and parcels along the river banks in the past realized that this brave river experienced periodic and sometimes devastating wet and dry seasons. People along the river have always lived at the mercy of the cycles of weather that produced times of draught, and the times of flood. The destinies and fortunes of the families who live along international rivers have always been tenuous (Horgan, 1957).
Today we understand the forces of change that formed the Rio Grande River Valley’s geographic features and supported its long forgotten cultures (Zavaleta, 1989). From the time of its earliest European description, the area has fascinated dreamers and would be empire builders. Few physical features in North America have had the ability to maintain public focus and controversy over the centuries like the river that forms most of the southern boundary between The United States and Mexico.
As seen from above, the river valley of the Rio Bravo extends some 50 miles to the north and south around the present river channel. The valley landscape is marked with the vestiges of its ancient history. Snaking across the valley on both sides of the present river are hundreds of miles of former riverbeds called esteros or resacas. The Spanish term resaca reveals in its literal meaning the redraft or alternating wet and dry cycles, which the old riverbeds experience. All of our valley resacas are actually former channels of the river. In the centuries before the existence of nation-states, imperialism, and manifest destiny, the annual shift of the main channel of the river a half mile northward or southward from its course was little cause for concern. However, the river’s status as an international boundary established between the United States and Mexico in 1848 has been a constant source of quarrels between the two neighbors.
During the 17th century, in the early years before organized Spanish colonization of the lower river, absentee landlords owned land in huge tracts. The landowner’s view of their world from central Mexico contained no inkling of life on the northern frontier. Spanish colonization of the lower river came at a time when the infant Anglo nation to the Northeast was evolving its political and philosophical identity. Competition for the area was driven by the young nation’s drive to forge new frontiers and to realize their nationhood. Few people recognized that shortly after the beginning of the 19th century, the passions of independence would launch an era of political and military turmoil often centered along the river.
The Mexican American War established the Rio Grande River as the international boundary between The United States and The Republic of Mexico with the singing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. Fort Brown, an American Army installation, had been built on the north bank of the river near the Santa Cruz bend across from the Mexican city of Matamoros, Tamaulipas. The frontier town of Brownsville, Texas was founded shortly after in 1850. Just to the North of the Fort the plans for Brownsville were laid out in typical North American fashion. Brownsville’s initial streets were plotted with scientific exactitude in a perpendicular latticework.
One of the most important results of the 1848 Treaty was the agreement to establish an International Boundary Commission to oversee both natural and man- made changes along the river. During the years 1849 to 1856, the first survey of the international boundary was completed. The Emory-Salazar survey’s primary purpose was to fix legally the location the Rio Grande River channel as the international boundary. For more than one hundred years, the Emory-Salazar survey has remained the standard with which Rio Grande River channel movement is documented.
The establishment of the International Boundary Commission and the publication of the Emory survey formed the basis of land claims and other legal battles continuing to this day. Today the IBWC rarely takes up actual boundary disputes because the course of the river does not change. However, major infrastructural improvements in the form of dams, which today fix the banks of the river and the international boundary, were not present until the mid-twentieth century. During the period from 1848 to the late 1950, the constantly changing river channel produced non-stop international intrigue regarding the ownership of land. This important aspect of the Rio Grande’s story is unknown by most and yet is the basis for one of the most fascinating and complicated chapters in the river’s history.
The first legal claim regarding the ownership of land as a result of a shift in the international boundary was filed by J. W. Magofin of Fort Davis, Texas. Magofin wrote to Commissioner Emory on October 10, 1856 seeking a legal opinion regarding the “elimination of bancos.” A banco was defined as a bank of land that was cutout by a shift in the channel of the river and circumscribed on one side by the former river channel. The former river channel now without a continuing flow of river water became dependent upon rains and thus entered an endless wet and dry cycle. Thus, resacas were formed. The river’s first one hundred years as an international boundary (1848-1948) witnessed periodic and formidable changes in the river’s channel, Table 1. These changes formed the basis of the IBWC’s major work during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One of the IBWC’s major functions was to decide upon the elimination of bancos. Literally to recognize their origin, location and national sovereignty.
Between 1848 and 1900, some 58 bancos had formed on the lower Rio Grande. By the 1930, the number reached nearly 100. The almost constant change in the course of the river prompted the need for amendments to the treaty between Mexico and the United States in 1853, and then again in 1884. The 1884 Convention described what the IBWC considered an international boundary and the fact that it could be composed of a combination of land and water. Consider the following excerpt:
“Notwithstanding any alterations in the banks or in the course of those rivers, provided that such alterations be effected by natural causes through the slow and gradual erosion and deposit of alluvium and not by the abandonment of an existing river bed and the opening of a new one. Any other change, wrought by the force of current, whether by the cutting of a new bed, or when there is more than one channel by the deepening of another channel than that which marked the boundary at the time of the survey made under the aforesaid Treaty (Emory Survey), shall produce no change in the dividing line as fixed by the surveys of the International Boundary Commissions in 1852; but the line then fixed shall continue to follow the middle of the original channel bed, even though this should become wholly dry or be obstructed by deposits”(IBWC, 1910).”
The Boundary Commissioners met once again in March of 1889 to facilitate the accord reached in 1884. Beginning with the 1889 meeting, the International Boundary Commissions (IBWC) of The United States and Mexico met regularly to hear land appeals. Both nations agreed that the commission’s final decision on land disputes would be respected by both federal governments.
The Journal of the Joint Commission on the “General Subject of Isolated Bancos in the Rio Grande” was taken up again on January 15, 1895 at a meeting held in San Antonio, Texas. At this meeting, the course of the Rio Grande was divided into three “divisions.”
The first division ran from El Paso southward to Presidio del Norte, the second division continued southward from the Presidio del Norte to Rio Grande City. The third and final division continued from Rio Grande City to the mouth of the Rio Grande River on The Gulf of Mexico, a distance of approximately 241 river miles. It was within these final 241 river miles that the greatest number of bancos was constantly created. The following is an excerpt from the 1895 journal:
“…The course of the river, passes through such low alluvial bottoms where the earth has little consistency, with such slight fall, that the channel of the river is ever changing from right to left, always eroding the concave bank and depositing on the convex in low as well as high water, though of course the changes are more marked during the high-water stages. These erosions are greater where the water in its tangent from its curve strikes the bank at the most obtuse angle, ceasing when the angle becomes so acute that the water is more readily deflected by the consistency of the earth, so that when the curve has formed almost a circle, the radius of which is dependent on the consistency of the earth and the volume and velocity of the water, the erosions practically cease and the river turns upon itself in a circle and forms a cut-off, leaving the land so separated in something like the shape of pear or gourd”( IBWC, 1910).”
In 1905 so many bancos had been created that the 1884 convention which protected the “rights of property in respect to lands which may become separated through the creation of new channels”; and the statement that indicated that, “such lands shall continue to be under the jurisdiction of the country to which they previously belonged,” were no longer realistic. By the turn of the century, each country had lost between 2,000 and 3,000 acres of land. Therefore, in 1905, the IBWC met to “eliminate” the 58 bancos identified in the 1884 and 1898 conventions:
“Between the mouth of the river and its confluence with the San Juan River the boundary line between the two countries shall…follow the deepest channel of the steam…and the dominion and jurisdiction of so many as the aforesaid fifty- eight (58) bancos as may remain on the right bank of the river shall pass to Mexico, and the dominion and jurisdiction of those of the said fifty-eight(58) bancos which may remain on the left bank shall pass to the United States of America.” “The citizens of either of the two contracting countries who, by virtue of the stipulations of this convention, shall in the future be located on the land of the other may remain thereon or remove at any time to whatever place may suit them, and either keep the property which they possess in said territory or dispose of it. Those who prefer to remain on the eliminated bancos may either preserve the title and rights of citizenship of the country to which the said bancos formerly belonged, or acquire the nationality of the country to which they will belong in the future. Property of all kinds situated on the said bancos shall be inviolably respected, and its present owners, their heirs, and those who may subsequently acquire the property legally, shall enjoy as complete security with respect there to as if it belonged to citizens of the country where it is situated”(IBWC, 1910).”
Fifty-eight bancos were eliminated in 1905. A small banco of land (60 acres) located up-river from Brownsville on Josiah Turner’s Galveston ranch was not included due to the fact that it required further investigation. In the early 1900, a Mexican citizen claimed that the land on the American side of the river was actually Mexican land and sought its elimination. The Turner case brings into play an interesting combination of area history, culture, and national identity. The following excerpts are taken from the original proceedings of the Turner in 1910-11. Figure one, describes the dynamics of river movement in the area in question.
Report of the American Consulting Engineer, Mr. Follett.
“My name is Josiah Turner. I am eighty-three years of age. I have lived at what is known as the Galveston Ranch, La Feria tract, Cameron County, Texas, since the year 1851. I am the owner of the land surrounding the Banco Soliseñito, and of the banco itself. Relative to the strip of land lying directly west of the Soliseñito Banco and which, it is claimed by Filomeno Garda, pertains to Mexican territory, I desire to say that in the year of 1865 after the first overflow of the Rio Grande, a part of the Galveston Ranch, which at that time belonged to my father-in-law, Don Anastacio Treviño, was cut off and thrown onto the Mexican side—about forty acres of the upper potrero. The land was recognized as Don Anastacio’s, even after being thrown onto the Mexican side.
Afterwards Emilio Fernandez contracted to buy it from me for two hundred dollars but paid me but one hundred. Then for a long time he refused to pay me the balance, feeling that as the banco was on Mexican territory but under American jurisdiction, it would be hard for me to enforce my rights.
About 1885 or 1886 the river took another cut and threw almost the entire banco onto the Texas side again, leaving a few acres only on the Mexican side. Immediately upon seeing my own land coming by to me through nature’s agency, I took possession of it and have held ever since.
There is no truth in the statement that the piece referred to was ever Mexican territory, except as an avulsive fragment of American soil; and the history of these bancos will bear me out in the assertion that this peculiar action of the river has occurred at other places along the Rio Grande.”
February 7, 1910. Signed Josiah Turner.
“My name is Hilario Treviño. I am 63 or 64 years old and live in Las Rusias Ranch, Texas. I knew Don Anastacio Treviño. He was my uncle. I know that Anastacio gave Jesus Garcia permission to plant a small piece of land on the Mexican side which had cut from Texas, Jesus loaning him 100 pesos for the privilege.”
“My name is Desiderio Garcia. I am 72 years old and I live in Galveston Ranch, Texas. I do not remember when Soliseño banco cut off. I lived in Soliseño banco from 1860 for about 16 years. During that time, a piece of Galveston ranch cut over to Mexico. It was above Soliseño banco, and was cut off a few years after I began living on Soliseño. I do not know whether the river destroyed it, or what became of it, because I was not here for a few years. I was here in Soliseño banco when Soliseñito banco cut off and knows when it was cut. Jesus Garcia and Emilio Fernandez were planting it before it cut off under permission from Josiah Turner. I have heard that a piece of the Texas banco was left on the Mexican side when the Soliseñito cut off but I have never seen it. Soliseñito is the same land that was formerly cut from Texas” (IBWC, 1910).
Report of Mexican Consulting Engineer, Mr. Zayas.
“There is a banco in the lower Rio Grande which we denominated Soliseñito. This Soliseñito banco existed when the survey of 1897-8 was made, but was not taken into consideration then for the reason that the American Consulting Engineer had some information furnished him by Mr. Josiah Turner, the proprietor of Galveston Ranch, situated in the vicinity and just West of Soliseño banco to the effect that the formation of this banco was caused by an avulsive change of the river which segregated land, then American, which had remained on the Mexican side after another avulsive cut which bad caused its separation from the American side, and which had gained accretion with the gradual movement of the river towards the left bank, accretion which, according to said Turner, is today the “Soliseñito” banco by virtue of the last avulsive change which occurred in 1887. For this reason, it did not appear in the survey of 1897 as subject to elimination from the effects of the Treaty. The data appears in the once under your worthy charge relating to the claim presented by Señior Don Filomeno Garcia.”
In January of this year (1910), while the writer was engaged in the study of the new bancos in the lower river in company with the American Consulting Engineer, Señior Filomeno Garcia presented himself in the camp of the Mexican Section to inquire if the Commission would then proceed to investigate matters relating to the “Soliseñito” banco. This circumstance, together with that of having this banco on the list amongst those we were to study, and also having received instructions from the Mexican Commissioner to investigate whatever cases were presented during our study, caused me to confer with the American Consulting Engineer and propose to him the investigation of this case.
The American Consulting Engineer advised me that in 1898 when proposing eliminable bancos this was not taken into account for the reason that it was a banco cut from American and not from Mexican land, as is the case with bancos found on the left bank of the river. Desiring however, to begin actively the study of the land, he promised me to make whatever investigation was necessary the engineering sections arrived at the place.
This same day I proceeded to the place and was there joined by Filomeno Garcia and his witnesses Angel Garcia Rivas, Jose Longoria Garcia, and Manuel de la Rosa. We found there the American Consulting Engineer accompanied by the witnesses sent by Mr. Turner, but not him. We examined the land on the Mexican side where, according to Mr. Follett’s statement to me, he believed had been land anciently segregated from Texas. We examined with the witnesses the entire channel, very clear in parts, of the river in 1897-8, which we recognized by some portions left of a fence that then existed. The American Engineer several times asked the witnesses where was the piece of land and the channel, which surrounded it, which had cut from Texas in 1865. None of the witnesses of either party knew anything of it and looked from one to the other without comprehending. After repeated explanation, the witnesses of Filomeno Garcia stated that undoubtedly a piece of land was cut from Texas, which remained on the Mexican side. Asked concerning the actual situation of this land they unanimously stated that it did not now exist, much less at this place, since the river had carried it all away and even continued to destroy Mexican land more to the South as it moved toward the Mexican side for many years. Filomeno Garcia agreed that the high land actually corresponded, if it existed, with the land on the American side but in reality, the river caused it to disappear completely in its movements to the South and again to the North. That in this last movement, it went so far to the North as to become what is now the channel, which surrounds the Soliseñito, and until it ate part of the abandoned channel of the large Soliseñito banco, and that after this, in 1886-7, the land claimed was cut and which is now called Soliseñito. In this visit to the camp, the witnesses presented by Turner did not show the Texas land in Mexico. In our study on the American side there was no uniformity in the declarations of the witnesses of Mr. Turner, and the introducer of the witnesses, a young man by the name of Longoria, got very often all mixed up so far as to reply to everything “I don’t know” and finally refused to reply further. On the contrary, everything stated by the witnesses presented by Filomeno Garcia corresponded and was confirmed by that stated by the ancients, witnesses of Mr. Turner, to the effect that there was no Texas land on the Mexican side when the land in question cut, and I verified this as being the same as stated by Garcia, who showed some ebony posts, part of one nearby, which all knew he had planted in company with his father when they cultivated the land. All of the witnesses were contestants. At the termination of the meeting Mr. Follett again insisted that he be shown the Texas land on the Mexican side, which was said to be there, and carried his impatience at the vacillations of Longoria and his witnesses to such a degree as to indicate disgust, terminating by stating to one of his assistants and to all present there that since there was no land and the witnesses of Turner had cleared up nothing, we would proceed to project the traverse of the Soliseñito, considering it as eliminable.
“I respectfully assert the above in order to make known to the Mexican Commissioner my personal conviction that the failure to recognize Soliseñito as an eliminable banco would be an injustice and that any hypotheses of a different character which might be made in order to prove the contrary would be nothing more than a twisting of the truth, and it would be desirable that the Commission should examine without loss of time the proprietor of Galveston Ranch, now very old, the only witness favorable to his claim, in order that I may fully justify the fear that I manifest respecting the failure of his moral faculties.
The witnesses of Filomeno Garcia did not deny that Mr. Turner may have rented land to the persons mentioned, nor said they anything to the contrary to his having given or returned the money to the widow of Jesus Garcia; the only thing that they affirmed is that the individual who cultivated the land that passed to Mexico at the first cut stopped doing so for the simple reason that the river destroyed it completely two years, more or less, after it cut. As a matter of fact since the cut took place Mr. Turner has not occupied the land during 19 years or more until 1885-6, when he says the river turned and cut, making it pass to the American side and leaving a few acres on the Mexican side.
I believe, therefore, to admit what is proposed by Mr. Turner would be to establish a precedent which would in the future complicate even more the already complicated banco matters, whose simplification was essential to the object of the treaty of May 20,1905.
I have to state in conclusion that I am profoundly convinced that the Soliseñito banco was separated from Mexican territory and that it is of the class comprehended in the boundary treaties and classified as eliminable.”
May 4, 1910. Signed Zayas.
The IBWC met in Mercedes, Texas in March of 1911 to decide the Turner case. The banco in question (60 acres) was relatively small compared to the average size for lower Rio Grande bancos of about 150 acres. In the end, the aged Mr. Turner seemed confused and mixed statements about Turner banco #22, which was cut from the U.S. to Mexico in 1891, and Soliseño banco, #23, which was cut from Mexico to the U.S. in 1859. All three bancos are in the area of Turner’s Galveston ranch.
The IBWC Decision
“A review of the reports of the Consulting Engineers shows that they are of one opinion that the land in question was cut from the South to the North side of the Rio Grande by an avulsive change of the river, the abandoned channel around the land being clearly defined, thus giving every indication that it is a banco cut to the American side. The American Consulting Engineer in his report states that his first opinion was that this land was a Mexican banco and went so far as to join with the Mexican Consulting Engineer in laying a traverse around it, but upon going into the matter further he came to the conclusion that such was not the case, but that it was accretion to an American banco cut back from the Mexican side. The Mexican Consulting Engineer was unable to concur in this opinion of the American Consulting Engineer and reported that in his opinion the Soliseñito tract was a Mexican banco and subject to elimination.
The American Consulting Engineer bases his conclusion that it is a part of an American banco cut back to the American side upon information obtained by him during the banco survey of 1897-8, from Mr. Josiah Turner and others that the land in question was United States soil; that in 1865 a small banco was cut from Turner’s ranch to the Mexican side of the river; that about 1886 a portion of this land, with considerable accretion, was cut back to the American side of the river forming what is known as the Soliseñito banco, and that Mr. Turner still had a small piece of the original American banco lying on the Mexican side of the river. The Commissioners agreed that it was not necessary to take testimony in this case as their own examination of the physical condition of the land, together with the maps, made it possible for them to arrive at a decision, especially as it had always been the experience of the Commissioners that testimony of witnesses as to the movements of the river, even for a short period back, was almost wholly unreliable. Therefore, it was agreed that the land known as Soliseñito was, in the opinion of the Commission, a Mexican banco and subject to elimination under the treaty of 1905 for the elimination of bancos in the Rio Grande.
Therefore, this journal, together with the map of the Consulting Engineers showing the traverse in the abandoned channel around Soliseñito, will be forwarded to the two governments and upon its approval a copy of same will be famished the Consulting Engineers with instructions to monument this banco in the same manner followed in the monumentation of bancos Nos. 1 to 58, and report accordingly. This banco will be numbered eighty-one.”
The date of the decision in this case is April 8, 1911.
This short examination of the elimination of bancos on the lower Rio Grande has selected the Turner case and Soliseñito banco to demonstrate a little known but important chapter in Matamoros-Brownsville history. The dynamics of national identity, family fortune, land, and water rights, the physical displacement of people to a neighboring country and dual citizenship all add to our understanding of lower border culture, as it exists today.
In 1884, the 1BWC first considered maintaining the international border along a line, which would run through the middle of the original river channel, even though it might be a dry resaca. The Treaties of 1889 and 1895 abandoned that idea in favor of the more reasonable “elimination of bancos” concept. Elimination removed the land inventory from the country of origin to the country where the banco of land was currently present.
Elimination also maintained the legal rights of citizenship and ownership. In 1905, the IBWC met to eliminate 58 bancos. Simply stated, the land on the right bank of the river was to revert to Mexico and the land on the left bank to the United States.
In our example case, Mr. Turner had lived on the land since 1851, had married into a Mexican family and claimed that the land in question was originally U.S. land which had been cut to the Mexican side and then back to the U.S. side of the river. However, during the 20 intervening years between its loss and return to the U.S. side, Turner did not attempt to claim the land nor did he farm it. During this time, a Mexican citizen Filomeno Garcia from the Mexican community of Soliseño had taken possession of the land and had farmed it with his sons and other community members.
Mr. Zayas, the Mexican engineer felt that Mr. Turner had been acting opportunistically in claiming the land after the river cut it back to the American side in 1885. During the years that passed between 1885 and 1895, the IBWC developed policy, which provided for the elimination of bancos and the recognition of the rights of those who possessed and worked the land at the time of the cut. Therefore, in 1911 the IBWC decided to eliminate the banco, to name and number it Soliseñito #81, and to recognize the Mexican the claim of Filomeno Garcia. The decision was appropriate and was subsequently honored by the governments of both countries.
IBWC records also report the case of the Benavides banco in which a Mexican citizen named Mainero had been publicly embarrassed in having to apply for a permit of access to his own land once it was cut to the other country. The IBWC asked, “would these accretions change the boundary line and add to the jurisdiction of the banco, or would the boundary line remain unchanged and the accretions go to the adjacent owners fronting on the river and consequently to the opposite jurisdiction?” In this case, the title to Mr. Mainero’s land was transferred to American registry and he was granted access and dual citizenship.
There are approximately 30 bancos of land in the area of Matamoros-Brownsville, which were eliminated by IBWC treaty. Many of these bancos bear family names, which are today readily recognizable in both communities. Local bancos bear names like, Treviño, Celaya, Benavides, Fernandez, Combe, Canales, Lozano, and many others. Other area bancos bear place or ranch names, which are also recognizable to local citizens. Familiar banco names include Las Rusias, Las Prietas, Los Tomates, and others.
This article has only dealt with the elimination of bancos on the lower Rio Grande in the area of Matamoros-Brownsville through 1911. It should also be noted that the river continued to overflow its banks and to change directions through the 1940’s. Numerous changes In the course of the river resulted from the 1933 hurricanes and from annual spring floods. The annual overflow of the river’s banks was not controlled until the middle 1950’s. “Old Timers” will recall that the 1950’s was a decade of severe draught in the lower Rio Grande Valley.
Examination of Table 1 indicates that between 1855 and 1910, the river underwent cycles of movement from north to south and then back from south to north. For example, in the period between the 1850’s and the 1880’s the river seemed to cut out more land from Mexico because it rolled more often to the south. During the period from the 1890’s to the 1920’s, the river seemed to more often move to the north cutting off land from the United States. Most of the familiar bancos within the city limits of Brownsville today, Los Tomates, Lozano, Morales, Jeronimo bancos, and the Fort Brown area, were cut from Mexico in the 1920 and 1930’s. The banks of the Rio Grande at Brownsville and Matamoros in 1900 were about 16 feet above low water and there had never been an overflow. In the late 1890’s, the river rose 13 feet above low water, this was a level higher that the river had risen in the past quarter century back to 1875. This high water condition placed Fort Brown and downtown Brownsville in serious jeopardy. The army engineers at Fort Brown were prompted to construct defensive works on the reservation opposite Los Tomates (in Mexico) and in front of the American artillery barracks, Santa Cruz point and the Fort Administration building. While the Mayor of Matamoros officially protested the construction as aggressive, the IBWC found the activity to be necessary. In fact, as we know after that decision was made around 1898, major changes on the river cut out large chunks of Mexican land to the U.S. side now within the city limits of Brownsville.
Further examination of 1903 IBWC tables indicates a transfer of 5,572 Mexican acres to The United States including 2,500 acres of arable land, 95 jacals, 2 houses, and 289 Mexican citizens. Mexico conversely gained 3,392 acres of U.S. land, including 1,038 acres of arable land, 34 jacals, and 78 U.S. citizens. The table also indicates that 17 of the 23 U.S. bancos were cut during or since 1880, while 13 of the 35 Mexican bancos were formed in the same time. As indicated above, the table supports my contention that the river tended to move south for a time after Emory’s survey, and then reversed its trend and began to move to the North (1903 IBWC). Early 20th Century IBWC survey maps indicated the inevitability of future bancos being formed by the river above Brownsville. “The bends Emory found have been lengthened and the resulting river are very crooked, with several bancos imminent” (IBWC, 1903). In addition, the distance downstream from Soliseño banco toward Brownsville was considered the “worst condition found along the whole river.” The twisted nature of the river channel had great potential for the creation of bancos in the future.
Indeed, the Rio Grande River continued to defy international boundaries through the end of the 1940’s. Today we often wonder about the seemingly odd mixture of out of place surnames found along the lower river not knowing where they came from. In studying river genealogy, we discover that families often have members living on both sides of the river right across from one another. Further examination reveals that family lands were separated sometime in the past by changes in the river’s course, but that the lands remained under their control. As the decades pass, and as land was sold, families lost track of the fact that they have members only a few hundred yards away. Most people do not realize how our border history has been driven by the natural history of the Rio Grande River.
Cameron County Bancos 1855 to 1909
Date Banco IBWC Cut-out Acres No. No.
Cut-Out Name No. From No. Houses People
1855 Las Tranquitas #20 Mex 129.4 3 8 Mex
1857 La Isla # 8 U.S. 157.8 1 2 Mex
1859 Soliseñito #23 Mex 221.6
1860 Fernandez #4.5 U.S. 224.0 3 12 US
1861 Taualachito # 7 Mex 178.8 2 3 Mex
1863 Rafael Garcia #11 Mex 51.9
1864 Capote #13 Mex 137.6
1865 San Pedro #87 U.S. 95.8
1865 San Miguel #88 Mex 56.3
1869 Mainero #17 U.S. 207.5
1874 Las Sierritas #18 Mex 134.4 4 12 Mex
1874 Benavides #10 Mex 130.2
1875 Phillips # 6 Mex 111.4 2 8 Mex
1876 Longoreño # 3 Mex 138.1 5 20 Mex
1880 Combe #15 U.S. 79.5
1881 Santa Anita #86 U.S. 49.9
1885 San Juan Arriba # 2 U.S. 23.2
1886 Soliseñito #81 Mex 60.3
1887 Llanito #14 Mex 29.4
1891 Turner #22 U.S. 32.1
1892 Trevino Canales # 5 Mex 249.2 1 3 Mex
1893 Venado #21 U.S. 125.7
1894 Las Rusias #19 U.S. 105.0
1895 La Burita # 1 U.S. 23.7
1895 Canasta # 4 126.5
1897 Tahuachal # 9 83.0
1897 Panola #16 62.2 3 6 US
1900 Santa Rosalia #77 54.8
1900 Caja Pinta #80 144.0
1900 Naranjo #78 255.9 1 2 US
1900 Celaya #72 U.S. 117.6 1 2 US
1905 San Martin #79 U:S. 110.9
1905 LasPrietas #76 U.S. 85.0
1905 Carmen #75 U.S. 57.6 1 5 US
1909 Campamiento #74 Mex 51.9
Emory, 1857, Report on the United States and Mexican Boundary Survey, Wendell Publisher, Washington, D.C.
Horgan, Paul 1954. Great River. Holt Rinehart, Winston, New York
International Boundary and Water Commission, 1903 Proceedings of the IBC United States and Mexican Treaties of.1884-1889. Vol.l and 2, Washington, D.C.
International Boundary Commission United States and Mexico, 1910.
Elimination of Fifty-Seven Old Bancos Specifically Described in the Treaty of 1905. First Series 1958. Press of Byron S. Adams, Washington, D.C.
International Boundary Commission United States and Mexico, 1910, Elimination of Bancos Treaty of 1905. Second Series. 59-89. Press of Byron S. Adams, Washington, D.C.
Zavaleta, Antonio N. 1989, “Resacas and Bancos in Brownsville History,” in More Studies in Brownsville History. Edited by Milo Kearney, Pan American University at Brownsville
Zavaleta, Antonio N. 1991, Mr. A. E. Anderson, “The Father of Valley Archeology and his Indian Relic Collection,” in Still More Studies in Brownsville History. Edited by Milo Kearney, The University of Texas at Brownsville
Special thanks to Mrs. Julia Monsees and to Mr. Bruce Aiken who kindly allowed me access to the original IBWC documents in their possession.