Saturday, March 26, 2016


During Women’s History Month, posting about an influential woman seems appropriate. I enjoy finding women not universally known. Patricia de la Garza De Leon is such a woman, yet she was tremendously important in pioneering and founding the town of Victoria, Texas. Doña Patricia was the matriarch of one of the prominent founding families of early Texas. She raised ten children, some of whom helped change the course of history.

Patricia de la Garza was born in Mexico about 1775 in Soto la Marina, in what is now Tamaulipas, Mexico, to a wealthy family. Her father, Felipe de la Garza, served as commandant for the Spanish government. She married Don (Spanish for a titled man) Martín De León in 1795. Martín de León was born to a wealthy family from Spain, and although offered the chance to study in Europe, he chose to stay in Texas as a merchant and supplier to the miners of Real de San Nicolás.

Patricia and Martín settled at his ranch in Cruillas. Martín sold wild mustangs, mules and cattle in New Orleans. The couple's first child, Fernando, was born at the Cruillas ranch in 1798. The couple moved their base of ranching operations in 1799 to San Patricio County, Texas, where three more children were born.  Between 1798 and 1818 Doña De León gave birth to ten children. In 1805 the De Leóns moved to the east bank of the Aransas River, north of Corpus Christi. They moved several more times before 1824.

Ranching in Texas, De León had repeatedly petitioned the Spanish governor in San Antonio for permission to settle a colony in the area of his ranch. He was denied due to a combination of political problems in Mexico and some rumors that the De Leóns were not loyal to Spain (which, it turns out, they were not). Patricia and Martín didn’t understand why their petitions were denied when others, like those for Moses and Stephen F. Austin, were granted.

During this time, Martín continued ranching around Texas, and the family moved several times. The number of head of livestock they owned quickly grew, and De León began driving cattle to various markets. He was one of the first Texas trail drivers.

Brand of Martín De León stood
for "Espiritu de Jesús"
De León also bears the distinction of using the first cattle brand in the state, which he developed while living near Corpus Christi. The brand was an interconnected E and J, which stood for “Espíritu de Jesús.” He was well respected as a fighter of Native Americans, but he often avoided violence from raiding parties on his cattle drive by feeding them beef. To the Native Americans, he was known as Capitán Vacas Muchas (Captain Many Cows).

The De León family sided with the Mexican rebels in the Mexican War against Spain. On April 13, 1824, the provisional Mexican government granted Martín De León an empresario contract to settle forty-one Mexican families on the lower Guadalupe and Lavaca rivers. At age 49, with her four adult children and six minor children, Patricia de la Garza De León uprooted her life to become her husband's partner in the founding of De León's Colony.

Empressario Don Martín De León

The De Leóns paid for the colony themselves with profits from their cattle trade and with an inheritance from Patricia’s father of $9,800, plus another $300 valuation of cows, horses, and mules, in order to help get the colonization off the ground. The only predominantly Mexican colony in Texas, Martín named the settlement Guadalupe Victoria in honor of the first president of Mexico.

At Victoria, Doña Patricia transplanted cultural traditions of Mexico and Spain to the community. The De León family lived in a log home with a dirt floor. Nevertheless, the family had domestic servants and Doña Patricia filled the house with imported furniture provided from her family in Mexico. As the family's wealth increased she imported fine furniture and clothes. She and her daughters became known for their excellent embroidery skills and beautiful clothing. The De León home was described as among the most beautifully furnished in the area, and it became the center for community gatherings.

Their surviving children were Fernando (1798), Candelaria (1800), Silvestre(1802), Guadalupe (1804). Felix (1806), Agapito (1808), Maria (1810), Refugia (1812), Augustina (1814), Francisca (1818). She discouraged her children from using guns, for fear they would be perceived as bandits. At first she home schooled her children. Later, Doña Patricia sent her children and grandchildren to Spain and Mexico to be educated.

When José María Jesús Carbajal platted the town of Victoria, she made sure land was set aside for a school and a church. Her donation of $500 in gold helped to build and furnish the church, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe), the second oldest Catholic parish in Texas.

Empressario Martín De León died in a cholera outbreak in 1833 and left an estate worth $500,000. (Imagine what that would be in today’s currency.) Eldest son Fernando took over the colony responsibilities of his father. Doña Patricia, an excellent bookkeeper, managed the family assets and continued her civic work.

She and her family supported the idea of an independent Texas and smuggled arms and ammunition from New Orleans to the Texans. Despite their support of the Texans, however, the De Leóns were victims of the anti-Mexican sentiment that swept through Texas after the Texas Revolution. Her youngest son Agapito was murdered in 1836 by cattle thieves.

Many Mexicans fought with Anglos for Texas
Independence against General Santa Anna
Like many Mexicans, the De León extended family was opposed to the regime of Antonio López de Santa Anna. Texas independence was a separate issue. As the issue did with other Mexicans living in Texas, it divided the De León extended family, some of whom helped change the course of history in both Texas and Mexico. Divided loyalties among the Mexicans made them subject to suspicion and prejudice from the new Republic of Texas government and military establishment.

Candelaria's husband José Miguel Aldrete was 1835 state land commissioner of Coahuila y Tejas. Aldrete joined several Texas insurgent groups to resist Santa Anna.

Refugia married José María Jesús Carbajal in 1832. Initially, he teamed up with Fernando De León and Peter Kerr, to trade livestock for munitions to help his old friend and mentor Stephen F. Austin. Carbajal, however, felt his loyalties lay with the Mexican people, not the Texas cause. He moved across the Rio Grande and waged guerilla warfare in Mexico against Santa Anna's political machine. Doña Patricia loaned Carbajal $6,000 for his cause.

Fernando later became aide-de-camp to provisional Texas governor James W. Robinson.

Maria had one daughter with her husband, Mexican politician and military officer Rafael Manchola. He died in the cholera outbreak that killed Martín de León.

Augustina married Plácido Benavides, who opposed Santa Anna's dictatorship, but felt Texas should remain part of Mexico. Benavides led a unit of Tejano fighters at the Battle of Goliad. He was recruited by Stephen F. Austin for the 1835 Siege of Béxar to drive Martín Perfecto de Cos out of Texas. Silvestre fought beside his brother-in-law Plácido at the Siege of Béxar. Benavides earned himself the nickname of the "Texas Paul Revere" for his 1836 journey from San Patricio to Goliad to Victoria, warning residents of the approaching Mexican army.

But on July 20, 1836, disaster struck for the De León family, much of whose wealth was in land and cattle. Brigadier General Thomas Jefferson Rusk ordered Mexican families in the Victoria area to be evacuated in an attempt to stem any assistance being given to Santa Anna. The Carbajal, Benavides, and De León families left for New Orleans, forced to abandon their money and possessions. In Louisiana, they lived in poverty, and then moved back with Doña Patricia's family in Soto la Marina. From half a million dollars to poverty through no fault of hers, at least she was able to sell 25,000 acres of land near Garcitias Creek for $10,000 in 1837.

Silvestre De León
Silvestre De León returned to Victoria in 1842 to try and reclaim the family's property, and was murdered by persons unknown. Doña Patricia returned to Texas in 1844, only to find her assets had been redistributed among new settlers. In the new climate, she had lost her social standing in the community. She devoted the rest of her life to church service and until her death lived as an ordinary parishioner.
Doña Patricia died in 1849, and is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Victoria, Texas. Before her death, she had donated the original De León homestead to the Catholic Church. She also donated altar vessels and a gold monstrance. In 1898, the church name was changed from Our Lady of Guadalupe to Saint Mary's Catholic Church, which currently occupies the site of the De León homestead.

Recorded Texas Historic Landmark number 6539 placed at Evergreen Cemetery in 1972 acknowledges Patricia de la Garza De León's contribution to Texas. Recorded Texas Historic Landmark number 6543 placed at Church and Bridge Streets in 1936 denotes the home of Doña Patricia de la Garza De León and Don Martin De León's home in Victoria.

Caroline Clemmons is the bestselling and award winning author of numerous contemporary and historical romances. Her latest release is GRANT ME THE MOON, which is included in the eight-author contemporary western anthology COME LOVE A COWBOY, available now for pre-order at Amazon The Sample booklet with recipes, blurbs, and excerpts is available FREE at[email].

TEXAS DAMES: Sassy and Savvy Women Throughout Lone Star History, Carmen Goldthwaite, The History Press, 2012


  1. I thoroughly enjoyed your post; what an amazing woman, and so much sadness to bear. Great job of researching, very informative but still interesting. Thanks.

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed your post; what an amazing woman, and so much sadness to bear. Great job of researching, very informative but still interesting. Thanks.

  3. I can't imagine raising 10 children and sending them to Mexico and Spain for an education. Also amazing to me is the difference in the value of money in those days compared to now where $5 won't buy much of anything.
    Patricia certainly was not only a tough woman, but a smart one, and best of all, a generous woman to have donated so much to the town.
    I couldn't help but think of the correlation between how the De Leon family was held in such suspicion because they were Mexican even though they supported a free Texas against Santa Anna and how the Syrians escaping the terror of ISIS are also held in suspicion because they are Muslims. I can see where folks get confused.
    This was a very informative article, Caroline. I'm still assimilating all this information. All the best to you.

  4. What a fascinating post, Caroline. Doña Patricia had quite a life. As much as she and her family did for Texas, it's so sad they were stripped of their finances and land out of concern about their heritage. I'm reminded of the Japanese during WWII. Fear and bigotry are such ugly things.

    Thanks for sharing Doña Patricia's story. I had heard of her, but she's not someone I knew much about. Now I do. :-)

  5. Fascinating. I have heard ...or read...of this woman. I'm glad you chose her as a topic. She was quite a woman, as was so many of our female ancestors. There's a saying that "women built the West," because the men were out fighting or doing other things. The woman stayed home, had one baby after the other, and put down roots.
    I still shudder thinking about living in a cabin with a dirt floor. I just finished reading a story...not that great..but the family did live in a cabin with a dirt floor. Ugh..double ugh. But you and I would have done the same thing.
    Thanks so much for this wonderful story.

  6. I also like the saying that behind every great man is an even greater woman. :) Interesting post, Caroline. Thanks for sharing.


Thank you for visiting Sweethearts of the West!