Zapata, the county seat of Zapata County, is on U.S. Highway 83 and the shores of International Falcon Reservoir, fifty miles south of Laredo. The first European settlers in the area were residents of Revilla (now Ciudad Guerrero), Mexico. Organized settlement of the area began about 1750, when the viceroy of New Spain commissioned Col. José de Escandón to explore and colonize the vast northern frontier along the Rio Grande. One of the inducements for colonists was the promise of large land grants from the Spanish government on both banks of the Rio Grande. After the requirements for validation of the grants were met, the final adjudication of the lands occurred in 1767. Soon thereafter, the settlers began to move across the river, and a town was begun on the north bank of the Rio Grande. The first name of the village was Habitación. Later the name was changed to Carrizo, after a local Indian group that lived in huts made of cane. In 1858 the name was changed to Bellville, in honor of Governor Peter Hansborough Bell, who signed the bill officially marking off the new Zapata County from Webb and Starr counties. In 1898 the name of the town was permanently changed to Zapata, in honor of Col. Antonio Zapata, a local rancher and respected military man who became one of the leaders of the federalist movement to found the Republic of the Rio Grande, which began in 1839. The first headquarters of this movement were in Zapata County. Two military posts, Camp Drum and Camp Harney, were located at Zapata in the early 1850s to combat border disturbances and Indian attacks.
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