EDITORIAL: Yturria’s use of land created historic and ecological assets

Ranch owner Frank Yturria and his family have granted thousands of acres of land to benefit ocelots and aplomado falcons in South Texas. Yturria was present at a celebration in January at the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge to commemorate conservation easements. (Miguel Roberts | The Brownsville Herald)

Much of the land that is now called the Rio Grande Valley once carried the Yturria name. Much of the land between Starr County and Kingsville still does. The Yturria Ranch remains one of the state’s, and country’s, largest ranches, stretching from Starr, Hidalgo and Cameron counties in the south to Kenedy County more than 100 miles to the north.

It was founded in 1860 by Francisco Yturria, a friend and business partner of Richard King (of King Ranch fame), Mifflin Kenedy and Charles Stillman, who developed Brownsville.

One of the primary heirs of the Yturria holdings was great-grandson Frank, who died Monday at age 95.

The family is a success story, with continued ranching interests in addition to development of parcels of the original property. Frank Yturria, however, saw special value in this South Texas land that went beyond mere monetary gains. And he used much of that land to build a new legacy, one of ecological and historical stewardship.

Frank Yturria’s appreciation for animals went beyond the management of livestock. A lifelong environmentalist, he saw that many creatures indigenous to this area — and his family’s property — such as the ocelot, jaguarundi, aplomado falcon and Kemp’s ridley turtle, were in danger of extinction, and steered assets to preserving habitat for them and caring for them. Yturria, with other family members, sold, donated and offered easements to several properties throughout South Texas for animal preservation, including the Bahia Grande and parts of the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.

He also saw the historic value of parts of the Yturria land that had been the site of historic battles in both Texas’ fight for independence and the Civil War, and made land available for the preservation of key battlefields.

That appreciation for history moved Yturria in his later years to pen memoirs of his family’s past and legacy. In 2006 he published “The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Extraordinary Times of Francisco Yturria,” through the University of Texas at Brownsville Press. Ever the philanthropist, Yturria dedicated profits from the book to the Arnulfo L. Oliveira Literary Society. He also wrote books on the history of Brahman cattle in the United States, a study on the German army under Adolf Hitler, and a biography of Mexican Col. Manuel Yturria, his great-great grandfather.

And last year Yturria penned his own autobiography, “The Amazing Life of a South Texas Cowboy” through Watercress Press.

Frank Yturria was the product of remarkable family and South Texas legacy. He added to that legacy through his own remarkable life of philanthropy, environmentalism and the furtherance of history. And we all are the richer for it.