by Patrick Qualls
To not only be one of the largest landowners in the nation, but to also have a town named after you because of all the respect you’ve gained during your lifetime, is basically unheard of. But when it comes to the namesake of Port O’Connor, Texas, this is one family that dates back for over 180 years; a family that brought pride and change to the Lone Star State.
In modern day times, D.M. O’Connor Heirs definitely make it into the top 25 largest landowners in the country. With more than 500,000 acres, the O’Connor family has been working the land for a good long time, with cattle ranching being their main mission. In the land there was ‘black gold’, and when the oil was found, the O’Connor name grew ever larger.
Traveling from Ireland in 1834, a cattle rancher by the name of, Thomas O’Connor, came to Texas. Granted 4,428 acres of land from the Mexican government situated in Refugio County, O’Connor aided surveyors in platting Refugio. The very next year, he joined up with the Texas cause against his benefactors.
This was a hero. In 1835, at the age of only seventeen, Thomas was the youngest man to go to battle in the War of San Jacinto. (A member of Captain Philip Dimitt’s company). He was issued 640 acres of land for having participated. In 1838, being a member of the Army Cavalry, he received another 320 acres for his service
It was the sale of saddletrees that provided him with horses; and between his assets and the woman he married (Mary Fagan), Thomas O’Connor became the core owner of the vast lands and cattle holdings in that neck of the woods. He was even a part of the settlers who drove out the Karankawa Indians after their attack at Kemper’s Bluff.
Selling his herd for $140,000, Thomas invested in only land, and as time progressed, this war hero and highly-esteemed man acquired the more than 500,000 fenced acres and 100,000 cattle in Refugio, and surrounding counties. With an estate valued at $4.5 million when he passed away, O’Connor had achieved the status of largest individual land and cattle owner in Texas. The O’Connor heirs have worked to maintain this hero’s legacy ever since.
Port O’Connor is the name of the town that this man’s work is heralded by. Once a fishing settlement called Alligator Head, the popularity of this area grew, bringing in permanent residents as well as tourists to the area. Alligator Head was dropped as the name in 1912, as the town took on the name of its main land owner at the time, Thomas M. O’Connor.
But cattle is not the only industry Port O’Connor is involved in. In addition to cattle herding and fishing, Port O’Connor also is a large producer of both figs and citrus fruit.
Hit hard by Mother Nature over the years, Port O’Connor had to live through four hurricanes. The 1919 Florida Keys Hurricane actually destroyed the town; residents worked hard to bring it back to life. But again in 1942 and ‘45 the mighty winds struck. It wasn’t until 1961 that the town was actually able to thrive once again. Business boomed and people began to resettle when the Matagorda Island Air Force Base became a part of their very active surroundings. But the fourth tragedy, Hurricane Carla, came along to ruin that, as well.
Like it’s namesake, Port O’Connor has worked. They have fought their battles which would have made Thomas O’Connor proud. And they are still working and surviving with their tourism, commercial fisheries and even the petrochemical industry.
Thomas O’Connor is in the history books for many amazing achievements, fighting battles for taxes, assessments – everything that could benefit the ranching realm. But above all, he is remembered as the man who lived and fought with integrity, making him a true and eternal leader in the land of Texas.
Source: Baret News Wire