Live Oak County Historical Commission
Live Oak County Historical Commission

Don Victoriano and Don Prisciliano Chapa

J. Frank Dobie on the left, and it is believed Don Prisciliano Chapa is on the right. Photos like this were trendy in the late 1890's and early 1900's when Dobie and Chapa worked ranches together. Prisciliano died in 1919 when he was 51 and Dobie 31.Photo permission from MICHENER CENTER for WRITERS located in Dobie's final Austin home, now owned and preserved by The University of Texas. Photo permission purchased and restoration by Richard Hudson.

THANK YOU!

 

Don Victoriano and Don Prisciliano, father and son both born in Mexico and migrated to Texas and then to Live Oak County in 1856 about 30 years after Mexican dispensation of original McMullin and McGloin Land Grants in the Live Oak area to Irish immigrants. Prisciliano's siblings died in Mexico. He was Victoriano's only heir. He never had children. The Chapas amassed a large Live Oak County ranch raising longhorn cattle and mustang horses. They made provision for dispensing their Live Oak County estate before passing.

 

Thanks to county records and written stories from J. Frank Dobie, Thelma Pugh Lindholm, David Robinson, and to oral histories from numerous Live Oak County ranchers to whom Dobie gives credit, the Chapa story lives today. 

 

Marker Chair, Richard Hudson,​ wishes to postumously thank each of the above. The following people living in the second decade of the 2000s gave invaluable help in the Texas Historical Marker application process and delivery of the Chapa story:

 

Judge Jim Huff and the Live Oak County Commissioner's Court's moral support and agreement to place the marker near the Dobie Marker on the LOC Courthouse Square.

Lamar James for courthouse deeds and his vast store of Live Oak County history.

Ross Harris for his support as LOCHC Chair and especially in lieu of living Chapa descendants, and his magnanimous willingness to sponsor this marker. 

Live Oak County Judge: Honorable Jim Huff

Live Oak County Historical Commission Chair: Ross Harris

LOCHC Marker Chair: Richard Hudson

Assistant Chair: Janis Hudson

Deed Research: Lamar James

Chapa Sponsor: Ross Harris

Date Unveiled: Pending

Contact: rehudson@liveoakchc.com

 

 

Don Victoriano and Don Prisciliano Chapa Narrative:

 

 

Don Victoriano and Don Prisciliano Chapa

(1812-1919)

 

  1. CONTEXT

 

Don Victoriano Chapa was born in rural Mexico some distance from Matamoros about 1812. There is no record of his birth, though later affidavits and documents point to this year.[1] The family does not appear to have descended from aristocracy; yet later in Live Oak County, Texas, the titles "Don Victoriano" and "Don Prisciliano" were bestowed upon both Victoriano and his son, Prisciliano, by those who worked for them and friends who knew them.[2] The Spanish masculine term "Don" and the feminine "Dona" are honorific terms bestowed to people who gain high social status and respect.[3]

Don Victoriano’s youth did not include pedagogical literacy. In his own early years and for the rest of his life, he believed children should develop a strong work ethic at an early age to help family and themselves. Victoriano’s culture kept him near the earth with no need for wealthy accoutrement. His life work shows him to have been a man of unusual ranching talent, intelligence, and inventive mind - an entrepreneurial spirit. He was respected by all who knew him for his knowledge and respect of land and his genteel acceptance of people. More than that, he was known as a man of his word with strong character.[4]

Victoriano married Manuella Longoria near Matamoros, Mexico. They had three children: a son who lived until 1858 but died without issue, a daughter who died in infancy, and their last son, Prisciliano, who became Victoriano’s lifetime companion.[5]

Don Prisciliano Chapa was born on January 4, 1840 in Mexico. Learning to ride and work with his father at a very early age, they went on expeditions to supply their livelihood. Manuella Chapa died near Matamoros in 1857. A 1908 heirship affidavit given in the presence of John R. Beasley, a Beeville, Texas, attorney, shows that Victoriano and Prisciliano crossed the river to Texas in 1856 about a year before Manuella's death.[6] Prisciliano married, and his wife lived and died on their Live Oak County ranch. They never had any children.[7]

 

  1. Overview 

Little is known about Victoriano’s life in Mexico except that he was captured by Comanche Indians as a young man. This is verified by an affidavit from Alfred Robinson, long time Live Oak County resident and son of Jesse Robinson, one of  the original Texas Rangers from Stephen Austin’s Three Hundred. Robinson mentions that he and Victoriano spoke only Spanish to each other.[8]  

J. Frank Dobie, noted author and son of South Texas, had the utmost respect for both Don Victoriano and Don Prisciliano. He vividly describes their presence in Texas based on his own experience with them.  Dobie from childhood to early manhood was raised in southern Live Oak County on ranchland owned by his father Richard J. Dobie.[9] Other Dobie relatives include his uncle Jim Dobie, an early Live Oak County resident, who also ranched near the Chapa Pasture. “Chapa Pasture” instead of Chapa Ranch is the name preferred by the Chapas and used by Live Oak County ranchers who knew Don Victoriano and Don Prisciliano.[10]

Young Dobie’s knowledge of the Chapas, as well as tales which Dobie likely overheard from his elders and his thorough study of Live Oak County Courthouse Documents gives credibility to his writings.   His multiple sources also include interviews with old time local ranchers; namely, Theodore Coker of George West, Albert Dunn, Rocky Reagan and Tom Lyne of Live Oak County, and his uncle J. M. Dobie of Cotulla, as well as many others familiar with the ranching history of South Texas. [11]

Dobie writes that at age fifteen, in 1825, Chapa and another Mexican boy were captured by Comanche Indians and remained captives until their escape back to the Rio Bravo (Spanish name for Rio Grande) about four years later.  While captives, they were in the company of the warriors on many raids into Texas and thereby became familiar with the vast lands of South Texas.

The boys finally escaped while the braves were on a hunting expedition. A Mexican woman near San Antonio hid them and gave them sustenance. Her home was a jacal, a hut with a thatched roof and walls made of upright poles or sticks covered and chinked with mud or clay.[12] Her bravery against the Indian search party which came looking for them created a lasting bond.

Victoriano crossed the border and returned to South Texas sometime around 1856. He worked for others as a mustanger at first. But after some time became a mesteñero, catching, breaking, and herding wild horses of his own for market. Lancers scouting for Santa Anna captured him and made him bring a herd of these horses to the General making his way to the Alamo. During the Civil War, Victoriano and Prisciliano were employed to haul cotton from the interior of Texas to the Rio Grande for the benefit of the Confederacy.[13] 

In the seventies, Chapa was handling cattle with T. J. Lyne on Padre Island.  Lyne and the Grace Company operated a hide and tallow factory at which the best parts of the slaughtered animals were pickled in brine and shipped by boat to the southern states.  In 1876, Lyne went up into Live Oak County where there was plenty of land to be located.  Don Victoriano Chapa and Don Prisciliano Chapa followed.[14]

While under Spanish rule, the area later known as Live Oak County remained unsettled except for two brothers named Ramirez. They were run off by marauding Lipan Indians around 1813.[15] About 25 years, later, the Mexican govenment contracted McMullen McGloin Empresarios to bring in Iris Catholic immigrants to fill the void.[16]

Among the first 58 grants finally delivered by the Mexican government to the area by 1835 nearly all were Irish; two Leal brothers, Francisco and Luis, were Mexican.[17] These brothers are only mentioned afterwards in Live Oak land surveys. They remained in San Patricio where they already had property. They left the Live Oak land to itself choosing only to sell Live Oak property as occasions arose. Some of those sales were as much as forty years later.[18]

Large portions of Live Oak land remained unsettled and became Texas Republic land when Texas won independence. This was true throughout the state, and land including Live Oak was given as reward to soldiers who fought in that war. This brought more Anglos, and the vast majority of landowners in the area were Irish and Anglo.[19] Dons Victoriano and Prisciliano had long ago become comfortable with the Spanish/Mexican/Indian (Spanish speakers) and the Irish/Anglo (English speakers) dichotomy in South Texas.[20]

In August of 1877, after being in the area for little more than one year, possibly assisted by T. J. Lyne, Victoriano purchased his first two sections of land, the Lane and Payne State Survey Nos. 163 and 165, both traversed by the waters of Spring Creek. These surveys are located little more than five miles southwest of the present town of George West.[21] 

One month later, Victoriano followed this purchase by acquiring two more sections, neither contiguous to his first land acquisition. These were significant because they would eventually become a part of the final acreage comprising Chapa Pasture.[22]  

In 1878, Chapa purchased 1,476 acres comprising the James Cook State Survey No. 171, which is contiguous to his first purchases made in 1877. [23] These three tracts are significant because they were conveyed an Exchange Deed in March of 1886 between Chapa and Thomas J. Lyne, "The Chapas raised Spanish horses and Longhorn cattle, and their method was to let nature run its course."evidencing their amicable relationship. Because of this exchange, Lyne became the recipient of land adjoining his ranch, and Chapa received land situated farther south joined to his ranch.  

From 1877 until 1886, Victoriano and Prisciliano continued their land acquisition by purchasing sections of land from original Mexican grantees, the State of Texas, and assignees of the State.  The Chapa Pasture in 1886 was comprised of more than 8,000 acres.[24] "The Chapas raised Spanish horses and Longhorn cattle, and their method was to let nature run its course." [25] "Don Victoriano laid off plots of land for peon Mexicans" who worked for him.[26] He finally changed from spreading a cowhide on the floor where he squatted to eat and converted to table and chairs. [27]

Don Victoriano and his son had a personal relationship with their nearest neighbors, the Pugh family, the first Irish immigrants who ranched on the east side of the Nueces River.  On February 27, 1872, William Pugh died at the young age of thirty-seven and left his wife Rose Ellen Malloy Pugh and six children surviving.

After William’s death, Don Victoriano made a personal visit and asked to adopt Charles, Pugh’s youngest son. He promised to will Charles an equal portion of land to be received by his sons upon his death. Ellen declined his offer. Don Prisciliano  and continued to cross the river and visit even over night with the Pughs just as his father did until his death.[28]        

Victoriano ranched in Live Oak County until his death on June 14, 1901.  He was eighty-nine years old when Prisciliano persuaded him to sell the ranch and lease one section of land back from the buyer to serve as a place of residence for the remainder of their lives. As time approached for delivering the ranch, Don Victoriano became morose and tragically two days before the sale he took his own life.[29] His burial site is referenced in a deed dated August 22, 1901, wherein Prisciliano conveys all acreage in the Chapa Ranch to Thomas J. Lyne, except for one acre in the Hooper and Wade Survey No. 3030, Abstract 251, described as "the burial site of my deceased father Victoriano Chapa". [30]

          Don Prisciliano continued to live on the leased acreage until his death, which occurred in Beeville, Bee County, Texas, on May 23, 1919.  Further evidence proving the Chapa and Lyne close relationship is made evident in Prisciliano’s will wherein W. R. Lyne was bequeathed the only land which he owned at the time of his death.[31]

  The remainder of his estate was willed to a cousin, Viviana Trevino de Soto, a widow living in DeWitt County, Zenona Chapa de Ortiz, a widow living in Matamoras, Mexico, and Josefina Chapa de Reyes, a widow and granddaughter of the woman who saved Victoriano from Indians when he was a young man. The granddaughter was then living in Bexar County.[32] Don Prisciliano was buried next to his father in their beloved Chapa Pasture.[33]

 

  1. Significance 

Don Victoriano Chapa, a man of Mexican descent, left a large footprint in the sands of Live Oak County, Texas, during the interval between his arrival in South Texas in 1856 and his death and burial in Live Oak County in 1901. The lives of Dons Victoriano and Prisciliano are virtually inseparable in their impact on Live Oak County. While they arrived in the county almost 45 years after the county’s first Irish Mexican grantees settled, they became steadfast members of the landowning ranch community and are remembered the same as founding fathers.

Don Victoriano and Don Prisciliano began in a most humble manner and ended with the highest respect and admiration of their friends and neighbors.  J. Frank Dobie referred to them always as Don Victoriano and Don Prisciliano. He described Don Victoriano as “gente decente”, meaning something more than “decent people.”

Despite the fact that the title “Don” was given in honor, twentieth century modernization made the term archaic. Don Victoriano received the “Don” title not only because of his great amassing of ranch property but also his old world values and practices. Don Prisciliano followed in his father’s footsteps; however, he had powerful influence on bringing his father into growing twentieth century modernization. With Prisciliano by his side, the father finally agreed to a perimeter fence, table and chairs for dining, and the sad but inevitable disposition of their land.

Don Victoriano and Don Prisciliano provided a segue or bridge between the old Spanish feudal system they knew in Mexico and South Texas’ twentieth century town building. Awarding plots of land to families who worked for them was a pattern from that Spanish feudal system. A beautiful tradition, but also an impediment. Dobie referred to these vaqueros and farmers in the way he understood Victoriano saw them, “peons”.

Vaqueros, farmers, and those who cared for the headquarters were given plots of land while they worked for the Chapas. The Chapas did not assume to own their workers, but neither did their workers share ownership in the land. If a workman left, the plot was soon someone else’s to use. The only small Chapa tract in the Live Oak County Courthouse is one acre used for the burial of Don Victoriano and Don Prisciliano. All the land was eventually sold when Victoriano and Prisciliano repositioned it.  

At the end of their lives, Prisciliano was Victoriano’s only heir. Prisciliano had no heirs and managed to acquire full documentation of his property. After that he sold most of the land for a dollar an acre to close and long-time friend, Tom Lyne, who would continue to treat the land as he and his father had. His will specified that remaining land would be sold and money it brought divided between a family widow and the granddaughter of the woman who had saved his father from Indians.

The legacy of Don Victoriano and Don Prisciliano is one of frugal living, shrewd business, simplicity, trustworthiness, and respect for others.

 

[1] George West, Texas County Courthouse. Live Oak County Deed Records, Vol. O. 412; J. Frank Dobie. The Longhorns. (Austin: University of Texas Press.) Third Printing. 1985. 333.

[2] Ibid. Dobie.

[4] George West, Texas County Courthouse. Live Oak County Deed Records. Vol. P. 560; Ibid. Dobie. 333-339. Victoriano signed documents with an X. He spoke only Spanish. During his lifetime, this was little problem as most Irish immigrants and other “Anglos” he knew in South Texas had become bilingual after moving to Mexico or later to Texas. Spanish was their second language.

[5] Ibid. Dobie; LOC Deed Vol. O. 412.

[6] Ibid. LOC Deed.

[7] Ibid. Dobie.

[8] Ibid. LOC Deed Vol. P. 560.

[9] Richard Hudson and Janis Hudson. Images of America: Live Oak County. (Charleston: Arcadia Publishing) 2013. 113.

[10] Ibid. Dobie. vii-xvii; David Robinson. A Little Corner of Texas. (Tulsa: John Hadden Publishers) 1991. 175; THC Texas Historical Subject Marker, Jesse Robinson, 1973. Atlas Number 5297006298.

[11] Ibid. Dobie.

[12] Merriam Webster. “Definition for jacal.” Access from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/jacal on November 8, 2018.

[13] Ibid. 335.

[14] Ibid. 335-336.

[15] Ibid. Lindholm, et.al. The History of the People of Live Oak County, Texas. George West: Live Oak County Historical Commission – Self-Published. 1982. 5-6.

[16] Handbook of Texas Online, Christopher Long, "MCMULLEN-MCGLOIN COLONY," accessed November 5, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/uem01

[17] Rachel Bluntzer Hébert. The Forgotten Colony – San Patricio de Hibernia. (Burnet: Eakin Press.)First Edition, Second Print. 1981. “List of Grantees in the Colony of McMullen and McGloin. 429-433.

[18] Ibid. 29-30, 116, 258.

[19] Handbook of Texas Online, Aldon S. Lang and Christopher Long, "LAND GRANTS," accessed November 12, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/mpl01

[20] Ibid. Dobie. 333-339.

[21] George West, Texas County Courthouse. Live Oak County Deed Records. Vol. E. 363.

[22] George West, Texas County Courthouse. Live Oak County Deed Records. Vol. I. 574, 578.

[23] George West, Texas County Courthouse. Live Oak County Deed Records. Vol. F. 38.

[24] George West, Texas County Courthouse. Live Oak County Deed Records attached to this application.

[25] Ervin L. Sparkman. The People’s History of Live Oak County, Texas. (Mesquite: Ide House.) 1981. 183.

[26] Ibid. Dobie. 336.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Lindholm. 239.

[29] Ibid. Dobie. 338.

[30] George West, Texas County Courthouse. Live Oak County Deed Records. Vol. I. 580; Vol. N. 113; George West, Texas County Courthouse. Live Oak County Probate Records. Vol. C. 33.

[31] George West, Texas County Courthouse. Live Oak County Probate Records. Prisciliano Chapa. Last Will and Testament. Vol. C. 33.

[32] Ibid; Dobie, 339

[33] Texas Death Certificate. Ibid. Verified in Probate; Dobie. 339.

Live Oak County Courthouse

The Honorable Jim Huff, County Judge for Live Oak County, welcomes you to the Live Oak County Historical Commission (LOCHC) Website. The Live Oak County Historical Commission is an arm of the Live Oak County Commissioners' Court; appointees are selected at the beginning of odd numbered years and serve two year terms. Judge Huff and the Live Oak County Commissioners support and approve actions of the LOCHC in coordination with the Texas Historical Commission (THC).

 

Live Oak County Commissioners:

Precinct 1: Richard Lee

Precinct 2: Donna Kopplin Mills

Precinct 3: Willie James

Precinct 4: Emilio Garza

The Commissioner's Court is committed to the preservation of our county's history. Judge Huff and your local commissioner welcome suggestions.

The Honorable Jim Huff, Live Oak County Judge.

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