Brownsville, Texas

Brownsville, Texas

A Sabal Mexicana, a Texas sabal palm which is a native plant species of the City of Brownsville, the seat of Cameron County, Texas. Image Credit: Whitney Cranshaw.

Brownsville, the county seat of Cameron County, is across the Rio Grande from Matamoros, Tamaulipas, at the southernmost tip of Texas. The city is at the southern terminus of U.S. highways 77 and 83 and the Missouri Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads, as well as a major port of entry to Mexico. Although the site was explored as early as the seventeenth century, the first settlers did not arrive until the latter part of the eighteenth century. In 1765 the community of San Juan de los Esteros (present-day Matamoros) was established across the Rio Grande. In 1781 Spanish authorities granted fifty-nine leagues of land on the northern bank of the river, including all of the site of Brownsville, to José Salvador de la Garza, who established a ranch about sixteen miles northwest of the site. During the early nineteenth century a small number of squatters, most of them herders and farmers from Matamoros, built huts in the area. A small settlement had formed by 1836, when Texas declared her independence from Mexico, but the region was still only sparsely settled when United States troops under Gen. Zachary Taylor arrived in early 1846. After taking up a position across from Matamoros, Taylor's forces began the construction of a defensive position near the settlement. Their temporary fort was originally called Fort Texas, but was renamed Fort Brown a short time later, in honor of Maj. Jacob Brown, who died during a Mexican attack on the stronghold. After the Mexican War, at the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, the area became part of the state of Texas and fell within the jurisdiction of San Patricio County. The same year Charles Stillman purchased a large part of the Garza grant north and northwest of Matamoros, including part of the city's common landholdings, from the children of the first wife of José Narciso Cavazos. Cavazos had remarried, however, and the heirs of his second wife, led by the eldest son, Juan N. Cortina, had been given legal title to the property, a fact that later led to a long series of legal battles over ownership. Stillman and his partner, Samuel Belden, laid out a town that they called Brownsville. George Lyons, deputy surveyor of Nueces County, surveyed a townsite of 4,676 acres. In December 1848, Stillman, Belden, and Simon Mussina formed the Brownsville Town Company and began selling lots for as much as $1,500 each.

Adapted from the official Handbook of Texas, a state encyclopedia developed by the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA). It is an authoritative source of trusted historical records.

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Brownsville by the Numbers

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Population Counts

Pop. Year Source
186,738 2020 United States Census Bureau
185,625 2019 Texas Demographic Center
175,023 2010 United States Census Bureau
139,722 2000 United States Census Bureau
107,027 1990 United States Census Bureau
84,997 1980 United States Census Bureau
52,522 1970 United States Census Bureau
48,040 1960 United States Census Bureau
36,066 1950 United States Census Bureau
22,083 1940 United States Census Bureau
22,021 1930 United States Census Bureau
11,791 1920 United States Census Bureau
10,517 1910 United States Census Bureau
6,305 1900 United States Census Bureau
6,134 1890 United States Census Bureau
4,938 1880 United States Census Bureau
4,905 1870 United States Census Bureau
2,734 1860 United States Census Bureau