Las Cuevas Ebony

Historical Period: Frontier Texas (1865-1900)
Historical Topic: Border Wars, Ranching & Rustling
Species: Texas Ebony (Ebenopsis ebano)
County: Hildago
Public Access: Yes

High on the north bank of the Rio Grande, near the present town of Los Ebanos, stands a giant Texas ebony. From its vantage overlooking one of that river's more important fords, it has witnessed years of history unfold. For the past two decades, it has served in a less romantic capacity as an anchor for the last hand-operated ferry on the U.S.-Mexican border.

The history of this crossing is replete with incidents of cattle rustling, smuggling, banditry, and entry of illegal immigrants. Most of this illegal traffic was eliminated in 1950, when the crossing at Los Ebanos was made a U.S. Port of Entry. Today an average of about 100 cars pass under this tree each day, carrying shoppers to Los Ebanos or to San Miguel.

Standing at the southwest corner of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Station, at the southern edge of the little town of Los Ebanos, this immense tree provides tired travelers a shady spot in which to wait the ferry. Around its girth is a one-inch steel cable, which spans the river to hold the ferry.

It is not difficult to visualize this low-water crossing as it must have appeared a century or more ago, when the first important crossings were recorded. In 1846, General Zachary Taylor moved his army up river from Fort Brown and invaded Mexico from this spot.

Late in 1875, customs men learned that Mexican rustlers were picking up a large herd of cattle from the King Ranch and were heading south. When they were spotted at the Cuevas Crossing, the famous Texas Ranger Captain L. H. McNelly was summoned from Fort Ringgold. Captain Randlett and some troops of the 7th Cavalry accompanied McNelly and his Rangers to the crossing. Word was sent to the Mexican commandant at Las Cuevas (now San Miguel) requesting the return of the stolen cattle. When the Mexicans refused, Captain Randlett sent three customs men, six Rangers and about four of his troops across the river to get the cattle.

They were met in Las Cuevas by a small force of Mexican troops and townspeople, who engaged the “invaders” in a half-hour gun battle. All of the Americans later returned safely, but five Mexicans were killed. Only about half of the cattle were recovered. Among the Mexican defenders who died in the battle was Juan Flores Salinas, owner of the Las Cuevas Ranch.

The Las Cuevas Ebony is at the end of Farm Road 886, on the south edge of the town of Los Ebanos, in Hidalgo County.