BROWNSVILLE, Texas — There is a place in northern Tamaulipas called Rancho El Cielo. A beautiful, beautiful bio-reserve. In 1890, a Canadian surgeon by the name of Murdoch Cameron, came to that area in northern Tamaulipas. He was so impressed by the beautiful nature of what he saw around him that he petitioned the Republic of Mexico for a land grant. He received the grant for 6,000 square miles.
By 1903 Anglican colonists were coming into the area of south Texas and northern Mexico. One individual, a sheriff out of Oklahoma, saw the land and started a colony. He later went back to Oklahoma and he gathered up many investors and bought a tract of land.
By 1913, it was getting a bit too uncomfortable for some of the colonists. They left and some of them came to the Rio Grande Valley. When the Canadians came into the RGV in 1926 they hired a schoolteacher for the American colony. His name was Frank Harrison. He became very, very familiar with the area. He fell in love with all the flora and the fauna that was there. In 1936 he bought a tract of land, what we call Rancho El Cielo.
By 1940, the academia started catching on to this biosphere. Professors from Cornell University and the University of Minnesota came to see and study this natural beauty. The area was so diverse, you could have pleased the botanists, the ornithologists, and herpetologists. This tract of land is actually classified as a cloud forest. The clouds would come flying through the cabins that they had there, that is how high the cabins were.
In the early 1950’s, Frank Harrison met with John H. Hunter and that is when it really started developing. John H. Hunter was interested in Bromeliads, Gloxinias and Amaryllis, the natural plants that were there. Hunter began talks with Texas Southmost College, since he was on the board, and discussed doing something about incorporating this in the studies of the college.
All through the 1950’s and into the 1960’s there were crews of students going down there and realized the gift they had. They saw nature and it helped many young students. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) deemed a portion of that area as a natural treasure for the world and is protected by the Mexican government. Student tours and all of that activity carried on until 2010.
The legacy of Frank Harrison and John Hunter is built strongly into this place and it shows the benefit given to many students for many decades.