The annual fall roundup on the historic Yturria Ranch north of Raymondville is a tradition that dates back some 150 years. While men on horseback are still an essential part of the event, helicopters save many man hours.
Leaning on a weathered corral, fourth generation South Texas rancher Frank Yturria oversees the operation. "Things are much easier today. In the old days you needed lots of cowboys to roundup cattle, and it took weeks. Today you can roundup 7, 8, 900 head of cattle with helicopters and the following day ship everything off."
The big calves are being weaned off the cows and sent to market where they will be auctioned. As the cowboys herd the calves up a ramp into a waiting trailer, Yturria smiles broadly beneath his crisp Stetson. "The cattle are fat, the deer are fat...we have had some great rains this year, and cattle prices are the best I have ever seen."
Frank Yturria's great grandfather, Francisco Yturria, founded the ranch a century and a half ago, and Frank has recently written a book about his remarkable namesake who was a legendary pioneer of southernmost Texas.
"My great grandfather, Francisco, there had been a lot of things written about him a lot of rumors and so forth that I finally decided one day to set the record straight. Fortunately, he left a tremendous amount of archives that we were able to go thru."
With the cooperation of his brother Fausto Yturria Jr. and sister Marion Yturria Kimbro, the valuable archive was professionally organized. "We catalogued everything, and finally I set down to write the book about his life."
It took nearly a decade to complete, and the finished work is a fascinating portrait of life along the border seen thru the eyes of a singular figure in Texas history. The book, called "The Patriarch...The Remarkable Life and Extraordinary Times of Francisco Yturria," is a unique look at an exceptional man and the tumultuous era he thrived in.
"My great grandfather, he was six years old when Santa Ana lost the battle at San Jacinto, and he saw the remnants of his army come into Matamoros. And when he was 16 years old, he saw Zachary Taylor arrive at the Rio Grande with his army."
"His father was a Mexican Army officer. He was the aide de camp to Arista who fought Taylor at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma. And then my grandfather lived thru the American Civil War and the historic cattle drives to Kansas. He lived at a time of great epic proportions."
During the turbulent times in the Rio Grande Valley's early days, Francisco Yturria was a business partner of Captain Richard King, founder of the King Ranch. He was a contemporary of historical figures such as Charles Stillman, Rip Ford and Jim Wells. Yturria prospered as a prominent merchant, banker and respected public servant. Yturria was also one of the few early ranchers and business barons who were native to the Valley, and he would devote his entire life to its development.
"That's why I wanted to write the book and of course I called the book "The Patriarch," because there are so many of his heirs today that are still benefiting from what he accumulated and what he left."
While extensively researching the book, Yturria made a startling discovery. "There was one thing that really surprised me, and that was that there were assassination attempts twice on his life. The first time he had a gunfight on the streets of
Brownsville with a fellow named Trevino. The second time he was shot and wounded at night from ambush, but he never knew who did it."
By the early 1900's Francisco Yturria had acquired 155,000 acres in Deep South Texas. After his death in 1912, following a lengthy illness, the vast holdings were partitioned between his son and daughter. Further partitions were to follow, but various Yturria heirs still mange thousands of acres in southernmost Texas.
While cattle ranching and the time honored traditions that accompany it continue to be mainstays on the Yturria Ranch, there is another important focus, and it is wildlife conservation. Yturria is an astute cattleman, but also has an appreciation for the abundant wildlife on his ranch.
Rare aplomado falcons, endangered ocelots and thriving herds of cattle peacefully coexist on Frank Yturria's historic ranch. While some ranchers have been reluctant to even admit they have endangered species on their property, Yturria takes pride in his rarities and nurtures their existence.
Yturria was one of the initial private landowners to allow his property be used for the reintroduction of the aplomado falcon. More than a decade ago, he also set aside 620 acres of undisturbed native brush for the rare ocelot. This was the nation's first conservation easement for the spotted cats. Yturria has recently more than doubled the size of his ocelot preserve.
"Originally there was just over 600 acres, and I have added 700 acres. Now, there are about 1,400 acres total. The Nature Conservancy is taking over the new preserve and eventually they plan to pass it on to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service who looks after the original 600."
"What really motivates me is that I am worried that our native habitat and the ocelots will disappear within the next 30 or 40 years. It would be a tragic loss. We have to do the best we can to preserve it for our children and grandchildren and our great grand children."
More than 95 percent of the remaining wildlands in Texas are in the hands of private landowners, and ranchers such as Frank Yturria who are dedicated stewards of the land hold the key to the future of wildlife in the Lone Star state. These ranches are reservoirs of wildlife and the heart of our natural heritage.
South Texas is one of the last regions in the state with large contiguous tracts of wildlife habitat, and the King, Kennedy and Yturria Ranches are of vital importance to native species and to populations of Neotropical migrants who depend on the oak mottes, mesquite thickets and wetlands on their spring and fall flights.
As the last of the cattle are loaded for market and the cowboys begin to tend to their horses, distant howls of coyotes drift across the crisp fall air. It seems no matter how much some things change, others remain timeless. I ask Frank what he believes his great grandfather would think if he could look down on the modern day Yturria ranch. Yturria smiles and says, "I think he would look at me and say damn good job."
A limited edition of the hard bound book is available. If you are interested in obtaining a copy of "The Patriarch," the book is available thru the University of Texas at Brownsville, and the number to call is 882-7410.
Copyright 2007 Richard Moore