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By Bartee Haile


More than two and a half centuries ago this week — May 15, 1755, to be exact — a Spanish rancher established the outpost of Laredo on the wild frontier of New Spain. Although Tomas Sanchez is remembered with good reason as the founder of Laredo, the real credit for the settlement of the lower Rio Grande belongs to Jose de Escandon. He turned the vast territory previously dismissed as inhospitable wasteland into a patchwork of permanent colonies.


Fancying himself a latter-day conquistador, 15 year old Escandon left Spain to find his fortune in Mexico. His exploits as a teenaged cavalryman earned him the rank of lieutenant and reassignment to the thick of the fighting on the Indian front. Based at Queretaro northwest of Mexico City, Escandon systematically subdued the hostile tribes and negotiated lasting treaties that guaranteed peace. In his spare time, he married twice into wealthy families, social coups which brought him fabulous riches by the age of 40.


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