Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Border Sanctuary: The Conservation Legacy of the Santa Ana Land Grant

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Border Sanctuary: The Conservation Legacy of the Santa Ana Land Grant

Article excerpt

Border Sanctuary: The Conservation Legacy of the Santa Ana Land Grant. By M. J. Morgan. Kathie and Ed Cox Jr. Books on Conservation Leadership. (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2015. Pp. xiv, 215. $32.00, ISBN 978-1-62349-320-2.)

In Border Sanctuary: The Conservation Legacy of the Santa Ana Land Grant, M. J. Morgan traces the hidden history of the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge: "hidden" because almost no human impressions of this former Mexican land grant survive from before the 1940s. Morgan uses numerous techniques ranging from interrogating scientific sources to contextualizing the region's history within Spaniards' observations of South Texas in order to narrate the history of a rare riparian habitat and generations of its Indian, Spanish, Mexican, Tejano, and Anglo-American inhabitants. Connections between human inhabitants and the natural environment thus reveal new insights into South Texas borderlands history.

Morgan begins her narrative by discussing the acquisition of the Santa Ana refuge by the U.S. government in 1943, an event celebrated by members of the Rio Grande Valley Nature Club. Birders and conservationists had noted three threats to the Santa Ana forest during the 1930s: bird hunters, two destructive hurricane seasons, and federal flood control measures that might rob the dry land of its life-giving water. Thus did the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge enter recorded history. In chapter 2, Morgan reimagines the region's landscape during the precontact era by utilizing scientific and historical sources to describe the forest's three environments: a riparian forest that hugged the Rio Grande; river-formed, curving lakes known as resacas; and the flowing grasslands that stretched northward on the South Texas plains. During the Spanish period, settlers from the village of Reynosa hunted in and around the Santa Ana environment, while domestic animals such as sheep and cattle flourished in the bountiful forests and surrounding grasslands. In chapter 4, Morgan reconstructs the story of Benigno Leal and his family; Leal received a grant for the southern portions of what later became the wildlife refuge, ranching on the grant with members of his family while also dealing, undoubtedly, with fears of the ever-common Indian raids that decimated Mexico's northern borderlands during the mid-nineteenth century. …

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