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A Texas Matchmaker

III. Las Palomas
There is something about those large ranches of southern Texas that reminds
one of the old feudal system. The pathetic attachment to the soil of those born to
certain Spanish land grants can only be compared to the European immigrant
when for the last time he looks on the land of his birth before sailing. Of all this
Las Palomas was typical. In the course of time several such grants had been
absorbed into its baronial acres. But it had always been the policy of Uncle Lance
never to disturb the Mexican population; rather he encouraged them to remain in
his service. Thus had sprung up around Las Palomas ranch a little Mexican
community numbering about a dozen families, who lived in _jacals_ close to the
main ranch buildings. They were simple people, and rendered their new master a
feudal loyalty. There were also several small _ranchites_ located on the land,
where, under the Mexican régime, there had been pretentious adobe buildings. A
number of families still resided at these deserted ranches, content in cultivating
small fields or looking after flocks of goats and a few head of cattle, paying no
rental save a service tenure to the new owner.
The customs of these Mexican people were simple and primitive. They blindly
accepted the religious teachings imposed with fire and sword by the Spanish
conquerors upon their ancestors. A padre visited them yearly, christening the
babes, marrying the youth, shriving the penitent, and saying masses for the
repose of the souls of the departed. Their social customs were in many respects
unique. For instance, in courtship a young man was never allowed in the
presence of his inamorata, unless in company of others, or under the eye of a
chaperon. Proposals, even among the nearest of neighbors or most intimate of
friends, were always made in writing, usually by the father of the young man to
the parents of the girl, but in the absence of such, by a godfather or _padrino_.
Fifteen days was the term allowed for a reply, and no matter how desirable the
match might be, it was not accounted good taste to answer before the last day.
The owner of Las Palomas was frequently called upon to act as _padrino_ for his
people, and so successful had he always been that the vaqueros on his ranch
preferred his services to those of their own fathers. There was scarcely a
vaquero at the home ranch but, in time past, had invoked his good offices in this
matter, and he had come to be looked on as their patron saint.
The month of September was usually the beginning of the branding season at
Las Palomas. In conducting this work, Uncle Lance was the leader, and with the
white element already enumerated, there were twelve to fifteen vaqueros
included in the branding outfit. The dance at Shepherd's had delayed the
beginning of active operations, and a large calf crop, to say nothing of horse and
mule colts, now demanded our attention and promised several months' work. The
year before, Las Palomas had branded over four thousand calves, and the range
was now dotted with the crop, awaiting the iron stamp of ownership.