HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — The Rio Grande Valley’s rich history dates back hundreds of years and could fill a library.

Valley residents know some of this compelling history, but there are things newcomers and tourists would find amazing–that even residents might still think of as odd facts.

Here are five strange historical facts about the Rio Grande Valley.

5. The Magic Valley

A surprise to few, the Rio Grande Valley is not a valley.

The region is more of a delta, but residents were calling this place the Rio Grande Valley since at least the 1800s. Turns out that “Rio Grande Valley” is only one of the “valley” myths created by residents and developers attempting to brand the region as a place to relocate to and create a home.

In the early 1900s, land developers marketed this place as the “Magic Valley.” The name evoked promises to outsiders that they would find a farming paradise, according to researchers Christian Brannstrom and Matthew Neuman in their 2009 academic paper “Inventing the ‘Magic Valley of South Texas, 1905-1941”.

“The Magic Valley idea, which we consider a place myth, attracted thousands of Anglo settlers,” wrote the researchers.

The making of that myth was not subtle.

In the July 7, 1915, edition of The Brownsville Daily Herald had an article titled, simply, “The Magic Valley” that stated: “And so they called [it] The Magic Valley, and today it stands as one of the unique spots in all this great country with soil as rich as the Delta of the Nile, with water in wasteful abundance, with the cooling monsoon of the Summer and the arm touch of the Winter’s sun to make its climate as delightful and healthful as any in the world: with splendid farms, thriving, prosperous cities, schools and churches and public institutions; and with a people picked from the best of America, planting and cultivating and harvesting something every day of the year.”

4. McAllen started with a rivalry

After developers founded a townsite named after John McAllen in 1904, rival developers set up nearby and seemingly taunted McAllen with its chosen name, according to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation in Washington, D.C.

“In 1907, rival developers started a town on their own land tract and named it East McAllen,” the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation stated. “The two groups soon joined forces and by 1910 businesses, churches, residences and a newspaper had been built.”

The east-versus-west rivalry resolved, and McAllen was incorporated in 1911. 

3. Hidalgo’s buzzworthy place in history

African bees were introduced to the United States through the Valley, which were first reported in Hidalgo, according to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

“When tourism was threatened by the appearance in Hidalgo of African “killer bees” (their first U.S. appearance) in the 1990s, the citizens took a lemon and made lemonade,” the council stated on its entry on Hidalgo, Texas. “They commissioned and proudly displayed a 10-foot tall statue of the feared bee, which has since been visited by no less than 100,000 tourists, locals, and journalists.”

2. The last battle of the Civil War

The Union may have won the Civil War, but the final battle was claimed as a victory by Confederate troops who clashed with Union soldiers near Brownsville, in a confrontation that happened more than a month after the war was conceded in 1865. The Battle of Palmito Ranch occurred May 13, 1865, somewhere around present-day Highway 4, leading to Boca Chica Beach.

A common belief is that the troops in Brownsville did not know the war had ended, but that notion is in dispute, according to Wikipedia.

Historian Jerry Thompson proposed the battle might have been caused by a mix of pride and finances, suggesting Confederates were reluctant to admit defeat and there was money to be made–or at least not lost. “Even more important was the large quantity of Richard King and Mifflin Kennedy’s cotton stacked in Brownsville waiting to be sent across the river to Matamoros,” Thompson stated. “If [Confederates] did not hold off the invading Federal force, the cotton would be confiscated by the Yankees and thousands of dollars lost.”

1. First US airplane shot at by combatants

They air shows over modern Cameron County reenact the type of military combat that fills the imagination and harkens to World War II and other conflicts on the international stage. Yet, few know that Brownsville has its place in the pages of aerial combat history.

In April 1915, the United States military’s 1st Aero Squadron was operating out of Fort Brown in Brownsville. The planes at that time were dangerous, with crashes and at least one death caused by crashes. The pilots, however, were sent up in the skies to find Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, believed to be across the Rio Grande in Matamoros.

On April 20, 1915, Pancho Villa’s army didn’t welcome the aerial reconnaissance and shot at one of the pilots with rifles and at least one machine gun. The pilot was able to gain altitude and return to Brownsville unharmed, but the encounter marked the first time a U.S. military plane had been fired upon by enemy combatants.

If you love the Valley and know strange facts about our home–whether historical or not–send us your tips and ideas for future articles. We want to hear about strange, unusual and remarkable facts about what makes this region special. Or just send us a question that you want answered and explained. Email Ryan Henry at rhenry@kveo.com.