In 1790, the woman now known as the first "cattle queen" of Texas—Rosa María Hinojosa de Ballí—inherited fifty-five thousand acres in what is now South Texas. Her father and husband had applied to the Spanish crown for the land, but both died before their request was approved.
It soon became clear that in addition to the land, Doña Rosa possessed a strong will, exceptional foresight, and shrewd business skills.
From her ranch headquarters in what is now Cameron County, Doña Rosa set about to improve her land, expand her holdings, and rid the estate of the debt that came with her inheritance. She acquired herds of cattle, sheep, and other livestock. She applied for and received land grants on behalf of her three sons, including a portion of Padre Island, which was named for her son Nicolás, a priest who helped develop the island. Her goal was to establish a ranching empire for her family.
Deeply religious, Doña Rosa was also a generous benefactor of Catholic churches throughout the region, earning her the nickname "La Patrona." Her name appears in local church records as the godmother at scores of baptisms.
When she died, in 1803, just thirteen years after her original inheritance, Doña Rosa owned more than a million acres of ranch land in the lower Rio Grande Valley.
Women in Texas History, a project of the Ruthe Winegarten Memorial Foundation for Texas Women's History, has produced a short audio biography of Rosa María Hinojosa de Ballí's life, available online. She is also featured in a fourth-grade social studies lesson plan, "Las Tejanas."
Cecilia Ballí, a descendant of Rosa María Hinojosa de Ballí, attended the 2012 unveiling of the monument on the grounds of the Texas Capitol honoring Tejano contributions to Texas history. Texas Monthly published her reflections on the experience.
Acosta, Teresa Palomo and Ruthe Winegarten. Las Tejanas: 300 Years of History. Austin: The University of Texas Press, 2003.
Amberson, Mary Margaret McAllen, James A. McAllen, and Margaret H. McAllen. I Would Rather Sleep in Texas: A History of the Lower Rio Grande Valley and the People of the Santa Anita Land Grant. Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 2003.
Alonzo, Armando. Tejano Legacy: Rancheros and Settlers in South Texas, 1734–1900. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1998.
Bennett, Michele and Barbara Bennett. Twenty-Two Texas Women: Strong, Tough, and Independent. Austin: Eakin Press, 1996 (for juvenile readers).
García, Clotilde P. "Hinojosa de Ballí, Rosa María," Handbook of Texas Online. Accessed July 31, 2013.
Gilbert, Minnie. "Texas' First Cattle Queen." In Roots by the River: A Story of Texas Tropical Borderland, by Valley By-Liners Society. Mission, TX: Border Kingdom Press, 1978: 15–25.
Graham, Joe S. El Rancho in South Texas: Continuity and Change from 1750. Denton: University of North Texas Press, 1994.
Greaser, Galen. New Guide to Spanish and Mexican Land Grants in South Texas. Austin: Texas General Land Office, 2009.
Rozeff, Norman. "Rosa María Hinojosa de Ballí: A Modern Woman Before Modern Times." Valley Morning Star, November 2, 2014.
Scott, Florence J. Royal Land Grants North of the Rio Grande, 1777–1821. Waco: Texian Press, 1969.
Tijerina, Andres. Tejano Empire: Life on the South Texas Ranchos. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1998.