Padre Island National Seashore
Historic Resource Study
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In 1962 Sigurd Olson, the noted American wilderness ideologue, spoke to an international audience of park supporters gathered in Seattle to attend the first world conference on national parks. Addressing himself to modern man's relationship to nature, Olson outlined a philosophical concept for better understanding of the meaning and significance of national parks. Preserving nature in natural and recreational areas is necessary, Olson explained, because they provide islands of removal and solitude in the midst of modern society's noise, confusion, and speed. Such areas are "islands from which we may glimpse not only the mystery of the universe, but ourselves in the new role we must now play." [1]

Olson used the term island in a metaphorical sense to express an image of the national park as a place separate and removed. At the time he spoke, a committee of the United States Congress was weighing a bill that called for the transformation of a real island into an area that would provide solitude from civilization's noise, confusion, and speed. Located just off the Texas coast and extending from Corpus Christi Bay south to the mouth of the Rio Grande is a long narrow stretch of beach, sand dunes, and grass. The bill proposed that a section of the island become a national recreation area and that it be called Padre Island National Seashore. The national seashore would be an island in nature where the modern American could glimpse the mystery of the universe and the new role he must now play. Olson's idea of preserving nature as an island for modern man would become a reality on Padre Island.

The intention of this Historic Resource Study of Padre Island is to narrate briefly the island's background and historical significance from the time of the Indian to the creation of the Padre Island National Seashore. Methodologically the study approaches the island from the perspective of environmental history, i.e., the study focuses on the historical interaction of man and the natural environment of Padre Island. The object is to view Padre as a document which reveals thought and action; to read, in a sense, the island's environment as one would a primary source.

A second intention of this study is to evaluate the area's historic resources. Recommendations for historic resource preservation are contained in Appendix Two, An historical base map accompanies the report. In addition, Appendix Three contains a recommended List of Classified Structures. The recommendations, historical base map, and List of Classified Structures are intended for National Park Service planning and management purposes.

Historically three identifiable cultures, Indian, Spanish, and American, encountered Padre Island. The study is therefore divided into three major chapters: Indians and an island, Spaniards and an island, and Americans and an island. Each culture related to the island's environment on a number of levels. The study will examine these levels.

At the outset a word of caution is in order. Padre is in no sense a historic island. It of course has a human history as does every square mile of the North American land mass. However, with the exception of a 1553 Spanish galleon shipwreck, no historic event of transcendent importance took place on Padre Island. For 443 years from its "discovery" in 1519 by European explorers to the 1962 authorization of the Padre Island National Seashore, the island was another feature in the total environment of the Texas gulf coast. Coahuiltecan and Karankawa Indians lived on Padre. However, in terms of the anthropology of the historic Texas Indian tribes no distinction can be made between Padre and similar barrier islands from Galveston Bay to Brazos Island. Indians lived on them all. At the beginning of the nineteenth century Spain granted the island to a member of her colonial elite, Padre Nicolas Balli, who turned the island into a cattle ranch. At the same time, however, similar grants were made of all the land between the Rio Grande and the Nueces rivers. After United States acquisition of Mexican territory to the Rio Grande at the end of the Mexican War, Americans moved to Padre to raise cattle. Simultaneously the Texas mainland from the coast of San Antonio became a huge open cattle range covering literally thousands of square miles. In relation to the famous King and Kenedy ranches, which bordered Padre, cattle raising on the island was a similar form of land utilization, but on a much, much smaller scale. It was only with the beginning of sophisticated industrial and agricultural land utilization during this century that Padre Island became qualitatively distinguishable from its surroundings. While modern society transformed the environment of the mainland, and Corpus Christi became one of the country's fastest growing cities, Padre retained its nineteenth century environmental characteristics. Indeed the Island became one of the very few barrier islands in the United States that had not been altered in one way or another by man. Padre's untouched or unaltered natural environment led some to suggest that such an area should be preserved for its scientific, scenic, and recreational values. The most important single fact in the island's past is that it has a limited human history. The American did not lay his indeed productive but often heavy and disfiguring hand on Padre Island.

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Last Updated: 16-Mar-2007