Written by Teresa Palomo Acosta
Read by Laurie Gallardo
Rosa María Hinojosa de Ballí, who some consider Texas’s first cattle queen, was one of the largest landowners in the present-day Rio Grande Valley in the late eighteenth century. By the time of her death in 1803, she owned approximately one million acres, one third of this region. De Ballí lived in what is now the Mexican side of the border, but her ranch headquarters were on the present-day Texas side, in La Feria.
With her husband’s death in 1790, de Ballí was left with three young sons to rear and an estate heavily encumbered with debt. Taking advantage of Spanish law, which protected widows’ rights, she completed in her name a large land grant for which her husband had applied. De Ballí also obtained several other sizeable land grants. One of her sons, Padre Nicolás Ballí, eventually owned Padre Island, which the family retained until 1937.
Her contemporaries referred to de Ballí as "La Patrona" (the protectoress) for the guidance and leadership she provided to the Mexican-origin community, and she was accorded the honorific title of "Doña Rosa."
Neighboring ranchers kept their papers and valuables in her strong box, sought her advice, and borrowed her farming tools. She was the godmother of many children baptized at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Reynosa Viejo. She also built a family chapel and donated funds for churches in Mexico.
Acosta, Teresa Palomo and Ruthe Winegarten. Las Tejanas: 300 Years of History. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003.
Audio Source Information
Our project, "Texas Women's History Moments," received the 2012 National Council on Public History Outstanding Public History Award and the American Association for State and Local History Leadership in History Award. The audio clips were broadcast on KUT radio from 2011-2016 during Women’s History Month.