The Coahuiltecan Indians roamed the Rio Grande Valley, then a quasi-desert rangeland, for many years before the arrival of explorers in the early 16th century. The Spanish occupied the area for some time beginning in the 1750s, until the first American settlement sprang up in Brownsville. The town, which was founded as a result of the invasion of Zachary Taylor and the U.S. Army in the Mexican War in 1846, grew around Fort Brown (originally called Fort Texas).
Brownsville, home to what many consider the last major battle of arms in the American Civil War (the Battle of Palmito Ranch), remained the only American settlement of its size and distinction in the area for more than a half-century. The introduction of irrigation and the railroad in the 1910s and ‘20s enticed many Midwestern farmers to relocate their farms to southern Texas. This large-scale migration, plus simultaneous Mexican immigration into the U.S., led to dramatic growth and development in the Valley. By 1930, the Rio Grande Valley housed more than 176,000 people.
During this time, agriculture remained a mainstay in the local economy. In the 1940s, the Valley also developed into a resort center owing to its appealing year-round climate and outstanding opportunities for outdoor recreation.
While the region’s growth calmed during the 1950s and 1960s, it picked up again beginning in the 1970s, with the population exceeding 700,000 by 1990. Today, with a population of 1,264,111, the Rio Grande Valley features a unique blend of old-world charm and modern development. While the Valley continues on its path of growth, serving as one of the fastest-growing regions in the nation, its rich history and culture remain strong and is experienced through various local museums and historical landmarks.