Traditionally recognized as the first great cattle ranch in Texas, Espiritu Santo Ranch traces its history to the Spanish Mission of Nuestra Senora del Espiritu Santo de Zuniga, established on Garcitas Creek in present Jackson County in 1722. It was moved to this site along the Guadalupe River in 1726, and this area of Victoria County has been known as Mission Valley since that time. The mission's principal secular activity was cattle ranching, largely developed at this site. After the mission relocated to present Goliad County in 1749, its ranching operation grew to an estimated 40,000 head of cattle and was influential in the development of the famed Texas longhorn breed. In 1833, Felix de Leon received a Spanish land grant that included the former Espiritu Santo property in Victoria County. Abner McDonald purchased the land at a public auction in 1841, and sold it to J. O. Wheeler in 1850. Quincy Davidson purchased the property in 1867. The 1870 census listed Davidson as the wealthiest landowner in Victoria County, and by 1878 the Victoria Advocate reported that he owned 59,989 of the 61,161 head of cattle then in Victoria County. The Davidson family retained ownership of the land for 97 years, gradually selling off large tracts. Much of the area surrounding the present ranch property remains known as the Davidson lands. In continuous operation as a cattle ranch since the 18th century, Espiritu Santo Ranch and the ruins of the 1726 mission complex have provided a wealth of archeological evidence of the Spanish Colonial period. It represents a tangible link to the frontier and to the earliest history of ranching in Texas. (2000)
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