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The History of Aransas County

Aransas County, Texas

Come with us and learn about the history of Aransas County. From Native Americans to the first European settlers, to the Texas Revolution and beyond.

Before we dive into the history of Aransas County, we need to establish where Aransas County is and what its main features are.

Aransas County is located in South Texas along the Gulf of Mexico in the United States of America. Its county seat is the City of Rockport, Texas. Aransas County has a total area of 528 square miles. 252 square miles are land, and 276 square miles (52%) are water. Communities that make up the land are the Live Oak Peninsula, which contains the city of Rockport and the town of Fulton, the Lamar Peninsula which has Lamar and Holiday Beach, the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, and San Jose Island. Bodies of water bordering Aransas County include the Gulf of MexicoAransas BayCopano Bay, and St. Charles Bay.

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Spanish conquistador and cartographer Alonso Álvarez de Pineda was likely the first European to encounter this land when he sailed along the Texas coast in the summer of 1519 and charted Aransas Bay. This name is derived from an outpost established during the Viceroyalty of New Spain called “Rio Nuestra Señora de Aránzazu,” which was itself named for the Sanctuary of Arantzazu, a Franciscan sanctuary in Oñati, Basque Country, Spain.

Early Map of the Gulf of Mexico

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But way before the Spanish ships arrived to document and record our history books. Aransas County and its boundaries have been inhabited by humans and a great diversity of different species and fauna. Let’s dive right in…..

6000 TO 8000 YEARS AGO

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Lots of people may not realize this but Aransas County has been the site of human habitation for several thousand years. Archeological artifacts recovered in the region suggest that the earliest human inhabitants arrived around 6,000 to 8,000 years ago. Subsequent inhabitants belonged to a culture known as Aransas. Campsites, some dating back approximately 4,000 years, have been found in Copano Bay and Aransas County.

The ancient history of Aransas County is something that is not only quite extensive but should be celebrated and preserved. Many artifacts have been preserved and can be found at The History Center for Aransas County and by members of the Aransas Historical Society. Thanks to archeological research, we now know a great deal about the people who inhabited this part of the world.

1200 TO 1400 A.D. ARANSAS, KARANKAWAS AND COAHUILTECANS

Karankawas along the Aransas County Coastlands

The Aransas Indians, a nomadic, hunter-gatherer people, appear to have left the Gulf Coast around A.D. 1200 to 1300. The region apparently afterward remained uninhabited for 100 years until the ancestors of the Karankawas moved there around A.D. 1400. During historic times, the Coastal Bend area was occupied by several groups of Indians, including the Karankawas and Coahuiltecans. These nomadic hunter-gatherers never formed a large alliance or organization. After the arrival of the Europeans most fled, succumbed to disease, or were absorbed by other Indian groups in Mexico; by the mid-1800s virtually all traces of them had disappeared.

Historical research of the Karankawa is hindered because the documents concerning them were overwhelmingly written by enemies of the tribe. The Karankawa had been described for centuries as “cannibals,” now believed by many to be a falsehood initially spread by the Spanish after failing to convert them to Catholicism at missionary settlements in La Bahía and Refugio. Years later, Texan colonist John H. Moore attempted to justify his role in the massacre of Karankawa because “their cannibalism… was beyond question,” despite the absence of evidence.

Karankawas

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COAHUILTECANS

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The Karankawa descendants now call themselves Karankawa Kadla, living still in Texas along the Gulf Coast, Austin, and Houston, Texas. Their language has been kept alive and they are revitalizing their culture.

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1519 TO 1766 SPANISH CONQUEST EXPLORATION

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Aransas County was formed in 1871 from portions of Refugio County. It was named after Rio Nuestra Senora de Aránzazu, a Spanish outpost in early Texas. The first European to see this land was probably Alonso Álvarez de Pineda, who sailed along the coast of Texas in the summer of 1519 and who also discovered Aransas Bay. The area remained undisturbed until 1766 when Diego Ortiz Parrilla conducted an exploration of the Gulf Coast and gave the names Santo Domingo to Copano Bay and Culebra Island to what is now St. Joseph Island.

By the late colonial period, the Spanish had established a small fort on Live Oak Point that they named Aránzazu, reportedly after a palace in Spain. Several attempts were made to establish settlements in the lower Nueces River valley to the south, but because of the threat of Indian attacks and the distance from other Spanish enclaves the plans came to nothing. Across Copano Bay in what is now Refugio County. A port of entry and customhouse was established in the 1780s, which became known as El Cópano. During the late Spanish and Mexican periods, the port, which served Goliad, Refugio, and San Antonio, was considered the best in what was called western Texas. Around 1832 James Power founded Aransas City on Live Oak Point near the site of the Aránzazu fort. A custom house, a post office, and several stores were established at the settlement. Until the establishment of Corpus Christi, Aransas City was the westernmost port in Texas; its estimated population was several hundred. The town was raided by Karankawa Indians on several occasions, and at least three times by Mexican bandits, in 1838, 1839, and 1841.

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