Nestled 22 miles northwest of San Antonio, Texas lies the sublime Gallagher Headquarters Ranch, the state’s oldest dude ranch, but this incredible story doesn’t begin there.
It starts in 1812 when Peter Gallagher, a 17 year old lad born in Westmeath County, Ireland immigrated to America seeking a better life and built an empire that remains to this day.
Peter Gallagher became famous not only as a engineer, but a stonemason, explorer, developer, rancher, businessman and judge.
In 1829 after building docks in New Orleans and working on the docks of Galveston, Texas, Gallagher was commissioned by Mexican president Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.
Although Mexico controlled Texas, the General knew both native Mexican Tejanos and recent Texian immigrants were brewing for an independence fight.
Gallaghers job was to scout the surrounding area and build General Santa Anna a munitions supply depot located within a twenty-five-mile radius of San Antonio de Béxar, a full 3 years before the battle of the Alamo.
Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón, known as Santa Anna and “the Napoleon of the West” was both Mexico’s military general and the country’s President many times over a tempestuous 40-year career.
A wealthy landowner, Santa Anna built his political base in the major port city of Veracruz, which is perhaps why he so quickly recognized the young engineer’s skills and used Gallagher to his full advantage.
While securing the Generals depot, Peter Gallagher also spied a 10,000 acre land track deep in the lush Texas hill country.
After receiving a Spanish land grant from the Mexican government, Gallagher established his ranch headquarters in 1833, calling his ranch the Circle G, which would eventually become part of a 300,000 acre dynasty. Land was wealth and independence.
To defend against fierce Indian attacks, the walls were built two feet thick, with gun slits and gun ports in the walls to allow return fire.
The Indian wars in Texas were some of the bloodiest, creating a violent frontier that lasted more than a generation.
The original section of the Spanish Mexican hacienda was comprised of four main rooms and a chapel, while the door of hand-hewn oak had iron-barred windows.
Although Texas was officially part of the Mexican frontier, settlers faced deadly Indian raids. Some estimate over 30,000 hostile’s were in the immediate vicinity.
The Hacienda style house is built in a U shape, with a rock wall in the front to completely enclose the compound for protection.
The house, walkways and exterior stairs are all built of limestone rock taken off the ranch.
Meanwhile, the settler’s requests for help were ignored by the Mexican government, who controled the land, but was bankrupt and unable to provide military assistance.
The burden to protect against the hostile Indians fell to Stephen F. Austin and his colonists.
Stephen’s father Moses Austin had traveled to Texas and received an “empresarial” grant that would allow him to bring 300 American families to Texas.
Empresarial is Spanish for entrepreneur and Mexico granted few individuals the right to settle on Mexican land in exchange for recruiting and taking responsibility for new settlers.
Upon returning home, Moses was attacked by Indians and became ill with pneumonia. He died leaving his empresario grant to his son Stephen.
Although the settlers organized militia and made treaties to the east of the San Antonio river, however to the west of San Antonio loomed the every present threat of the Comanches, who were waging war against the scattered, unprotected settlements, capturing horses and cattle to trade in the United States.
Meanwhile, within the Mexican interior, rumors abounded that Texas was on the verge of revolution. Many Mexicans believed Texas had already declared independence and began raising an army.
Santa Anna was infuriated, especially at the involvement of Sam Houston, a former officer in the United States military.
Col. William Barret Travis, the commander of the Alamo garrison feared his forces were too small to resist the Mexican forces that vastly outnumbering his and Travis wrote the now famous letter Feb. 24, 1836, addressed “To the People of Texas & all Americans in the world.”
He states that his men had been under Mexican bombardment for 24 hours. He said the Mexican commander, Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, had given an ultimatum that the Texas garrison surrender or “be put to the sword.” “I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, & our flag still waves proudly from the walls — I shall never retreat or surrender.”
He concludes: “If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible & die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country — Victory or Death.”
The letter was taken out by courier and published in leaflets and newspapers, but volunteers didn’t come in time. Santa Anna’s forces stormed the Alamo on March 6 and killed the defenders.
Volunteers began joining troops under Sam Houston’s command to defeat Santa Anna and on April 22 at the Battle of San Jacinto near present-day Houston, they secured Texas independence until its annexation by the United States in 1845.
Throughout the ill-fated battle at the Alamo and subsequent Texas Revolution, Gallagher retained all his land titles by switching sides.
He was nexed asked by new Texas President Lamar in 1841 to join the doomed Santa Fe Expedition.
The plan was to establish a trade route along the Santa Fe Trail and incite an insurrection that would end Mexican control over New Mexico so that the Texas Republic could expand westward.
Gallagher was hired to record details of the expedition and provide a diary of the eventful journey, which was a disaster and resulted in the arrest and prison for the Texans.
Forced by their Mexican captors to march to Mexico City, Gallagher recorded that they “suffered all the horrors and hardships of the march.” remaining imprisoned until June 13, 1842.
Upon his release from a Mexican prision, Gallagher joined the Texas Rangers and served under John Coffee Hays. One of the most important Indian fights in history occurred just northwest of the Gallagher Headquarter Ranch at Bandera Pass, outside of modern day Bandera, Texas, cowboy capital of the world.
After Gallagher joined Captain Hays Rangers, the tide began to turn when the Captain armed his men with Colt 5-shot revolvers instead of single-shot guns.
The colts were used for the first time at the Battle of Bandera Pass in 1841, when about 200 Indians came up against 50 “new rangers” and were soundly beaten.
This battle marked a clear turning point in the War against the Plains Indians, though the Indians would fight on bitterly for another 34 years.
Indian fighter Peter Gallagher eventually returned to Ireland to marry Eliza Conran in 1850 and during the Civil War, moved his family from the Circle G into San Antonio where he served as Chief Justice of Bexar County in 1862.
From 1846 to 1850 he was engaged in the mercantile business in San Antonio and after traveling to Europe, he started a business in Mexico and began buying large tracts of land.
After resigning as judge, Gallagher developed land around Fort Stockton, California as well as Texas. He was also the owner of a successful salt mining company near Juan Cardona Lake, Texas.
Gallagher donated much of his vast property empire to the Texas government and was instrumental in creating Pecos County in 1877.
The house is approximately 15,000 square feet and is elegant and comfortable.
In 1878, Gallagher built and leased the first U.S. Post Office in Bexar County at Alamo Plaza in downtown San Antonio, Texas. He lived his final months at the famous Menger Hotel until his death on October 30, 1878.
The Gallagher Headquarters Ranch remained a popular meeting place for foreign dignitaries, entertainers and politicians.
As the last of the Indian fighting cowboys hung up their spurs and the west became civilized, Amy Shelton McNutt, a self-made millionaire took ownership of the ranch during most of the 1900’s.
An international jet set was drawn to the working cattle ranch: Orson Wells, Grace Kelly, the Ziegfeld Girls and the King of Sweden Gustaf VI Adolf.
Actors Matt Damon and Penelope Cruz filmed “All The Pretty Horses” here.
The current owner is Chris Hill who has meticulously spent the past 16 years renovating the hand-cut limestone 19 bedroom, 17.5 bath historic mansion.
There are 22 original fireplaces, wide hacienda style porches, expansive lawns, a large swimming pool and gardens.
The old stage coach trail leads right up to the original second story structure, which is similar to the homes built in Ireland.
In the distance numerous barns and corrals are constant reminders of the hard working ranch’s history.
Once land fought over, now the ranch is a place of rest.
A place of cowboys and cattle.
For over 150 years the Cirlce G ranch has stood the test of time, a Wild West snapshot that captures our imagination like very few places still can in America.