Why is This Called the Valley?

Local News

We have our focus on the Rio Grande Valley.

In particular, we take a look at where the term ‘valley’ comes from.

It’s a simple request with an interesting story.

The 956, the southernmost tip of Texas and the Rio Grande Valley, those are some of the names we give this part of the State.

There are over a million people in this area, and many are valley proud. There’s, valley schools, valley businesses, you name it, and there is something named after this iconic valley. But where is the valley?

Where does the term come from?

Ask any local resident, where the name of their city or town originates, and they’ll give you a general answer, but ask them, ‘where does the term valley come from?’ and the answers are quite different.

Dr. Robert Crocker, Texas Dept of Agriculture says, “The Rio Grande part is obvious because of the Rio Grande River. The Valley part would be perhaps because we’re in a coastal plane.”

George McShan, Harlingen School Board, “The water table here is pretty much at sea level and it’s semi tropical and it’s a strip of territory of land along this area.”

Barry Patel, SPI Mayor, “The guys that came here first, the pioneers saw that the land was so flat that it really wasn’t a valley, but if they describe it as a valley, then perhaps they could entice more people to come down here.”

So what happened? Did we lose track of the term? Are any of these guesses correct?

It was then that I took upon the quest to search for the Valley.

My first stop was at Palo Alto Battlefield. There I met with an expert to tell me if this indeed is a valley.

“What is a valley essentially, not just this area, but what is it? What is it supposed to be?”

Rolando L Garza – Archeologist – Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Park says,  “A valley is encapsulated between two ridges, two mountain ridges.”

The nearest mountains are deep into Mexico, we are hundreds of miles away to even them to consider this their valley.   

“Is this area a valley?”

Rolando L Garza – Archeologist – Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Park says, “No, it’s a delta, right now what we’re standing on is a classic deltaic plane out here.”

With no luck, I decided to look into the past in order to move forward, perhaps we could find a valley there.

Rolando L Garza – Archeologist – Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Park, “There was a valley here, but that was about 30,000 years ago before any people were here during the Pleistocene Era (Ice Age). However that is buried deeply under hundreds of meters of sediment. So that’s not the reason it’s called the valley. In my estimation.”

That’s because settlers were not around until at least 15,000 years ago. I did find, however, that the land between the Rio Grande River and the Nueces River was once referred to as the Wild Horse Desert. Then came the Republic of the Rio Grande. It was an independent country that lasted a few months at most. But turns out, the word ‘valley’ was also commonly used in the 1800’s to refer to a specific area. 

Eugene Fernandez – Texas State Historical Marker program says, “It is a drain area, this is consistent with what is around the country. You have the Nappa Valley, San Joaquin Valley, Tennessee Valley, Mississippi Valley, and it’s not what people would say to be a sharp division with canyon walls, no. so it’s a drainage area. The delta of the Rio Grande comes to a finite finale. That is what we term as the Rio Grande Valley.

But was this written anywhere? Did anyone officially call it a valley?

Although the term Valley was a common term, it could have been used to describe a basin. It could have been used to describe this particular area. But it turns out that’s not why we call this area the valley. Written records show a different story.

Rolando L Garza – Archeologist – Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Park, “With our role in the US Mexican War and our role in the Civil War with the cotton trade going into Mexico. We have a history unique unrivaled in the state or anywhere beyond.

So I went back in time. To find the first time anyone ever referred to this as the Rio Grande Valley. Turns out it was first, the Magic Valley of the Rio Grande.

Eugene Fernandez – Texas State Historical Marker program, “The first usage that I see, in all of my records, as to the term Magic Valley, in particular, because that really preceded the Rio Grande Valley  in what I found. The first usage that I have that is after the coming of the 1904 railroad.”

With railroad infrastructure also came irrigation methods that made this the green we know today. 

Eugene Fernandez – Texas State Historical Marker program, “It was a necessity, because there was no way on earth that even if a parcel of land was a mile from the river, you couldn’t grow crop on it without water. You could not depend upon the rain because the rain stops at the Sierra Madre Oriental, and it surely doesn’t come from the north.”

The tracks helped with trade, watering methods meant more crops. Unlike different parts of the country, the lower Rio Grande could harvest 3 times a year. This sparked some interest in some people.

Eugene Fernandez – Texas State Historical Marker program, “Whoever it was that coined the phrase magic valley is unknown. But one thing is certain, they had a distinct marketing push.”

Turns out, the solution was right under my feet this entire time. The soil is where the magic happened. Thanks to our overall warm weather, our proximity to the river, and railroad transportation, farmers and investors could grow whatever they wanted in this magic valley. And that’s how some people in the 1900’s saw this as.

So come one, come all to the magic valley of the Rio Grande. It was one of the greatest marketing schemes of the time and some could argue that it worked.

Eugene Fernandez – Texas State Historical Marker program, “To the degree that they would put stand pipes for irrigation, mind you a stand pipe is to equalize water, they would put those up and there’s supposed to be pipes underneath for water, no they’d just put them up on the field and it made the farmers think it was all developed farming land.

Prospective investors would be paraded around towns.

Visitors would tour the land, see the amenities, then take a sample of what could be grown here.

And the visitors were mystified. So the story goes.

But why was this history forgotten? Why would something so important like a name go unpublished for future generations to remember?

Eugene Fernandez – Texas State Historical Marker program, “It is published but you really have to dig back in the old journals. These are the actual accounts that I gathered through our archives here bit by bit by bit. And they are personal remembrances they’re not published.”

Not all of these documents are found online in archives or even a book. Some are working to preserve this knowledge, but those that lived it, remember it first hand, or have more evidence are getting old. When they pass away so does their knowledge. This happens in a similar fashion that a marketing plan is forgotten by many.

Experts and even locals are believed to be working to one day publish some of the information in this report.

This is done to make the history of this land widely available.

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