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Special Collections & University Archives: Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge

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Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge Research Guide

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge

Summary: Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge

This research guide presents the history, environmental importance, and political relevance of the 78-year-old Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in Alamo, Texas. It was compiled using external resources, UTRGV library catalog items, and archival and digital collections from the Special Collections and Archives, the latter of which includes vintage photographs taken at the refuge.

Background: Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge

Before the U.S. government purchased 2,008 acres designated for Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in 1943 for conservation efforts, the land previously was a Mexican land grant attributed to Benigno Leal in 1834. Leal developed a family cemetery on their property as well, which is still standing today. In 1852, half of the land grant was sold to Eli T. Merriman. Merriman, an original Hidalgo County Commissioner, later sold his acreages to Dr. William T. G. Brewster (a Civil War veteran and Union surgeon). In 1978, the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge acquired the Brewster Ranch. The two family cemeteries remain located on the refuge--Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge and Brewster Cemeteries. By 1902, however, both halves were owned by Peter Ebenezer Blalock, an initial co-developer of what became the town of Alamo, Texas.Foot trail within Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge

The Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge is a sanctuary for unique animals such as ocelots, Mexican free-tailed bats and Texas tortoises, but maintains its reputation as a prime birding center since it is home to over 400 residential and migratory bird species. Among the hundreds of bird species at the refuge, visitors may see chachalacas, raptors, various types of warblers, great kiskadees, cardinals, and parula. The Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge also shelters over 450 species of plants and “half of all butterfly species found in North America” (Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Wildlife and Habitat webpage). Within the 14 miles of trails, visitors also have a chance to view these animals and plants within the refuge’s diverse mini habitats: Resacas, the Upland Thorn Forest, the Bottomland Forest, Riparian Terraces, and the Mudflats.

Recently, the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge has been involved in a subject of controversy: the proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall. In 2017, former President Donald Trump announced that his proposed border wall would be built through a number of borderland sanctuaries and historical landmarks, including the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. In 2019 and 2020, however, Congress voted twice to enforce protection of the refuge from the approved border wall construction. Despite this, controversy remained in the year 2020, since the border wall building was planned exactly on the border of the refuge. Conservationists argue that constructing the border wall so close to the refuge will disturb the wildlife, especially since a federal judge allowed vegetation elimination for construction planning. The area designated for border wall construction also happens to be a dirt levee, which is utilized for flood control. Lastly, conservationists argue that planned features for a completed border wall will remain as a disturbance to both residential and migratory wildlife.

Image Gallery: Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge

Ocelot on tree branch.

Black and white photograph. Ocelot on tree branch.

Color Photograph of Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanager

Color photograph. Diranga Olivacea. The Scarlet Tanager has a red body set off by jet-black wings and tail.

Color photograph Northern Aplomado Falcon

Northern Aplomado Falcon

Color photograph. Northern Aplomado Falcon (Falco femoralis).

Black and White photograph of Black-Bellied Whistling-Duck in nesting box

Black-Bellied Whistling-Duck in nesting box

Black and White photograph. Dendncygna autumnails. It has a pink bill and an unusual long-legged silhouette. Some rest in trees. Lack of sexual dimorphism permits long-term pair bonds.

Color photograph Buff-Bellied Hummingbird

Buff-Bellied Hummingbird

Color photograph. Amazilia Yuratensis. The buff colored belly helps distinguish this species from similar species.

Color photograph of Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Color photograph. Sayornis phoebe. Their nests are in protected brooks, bridges, barns and houses.

Color photograph of black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

Color photograph. Nycticorax nyctixorax. The Black-crowned Night-Heron mostly nest in coastal colonies, some nest on land. Identified by their black crown and back with the remainder of the body white or gray, red eyes, and short yellow legs.

Archival & Digital Collections

Reference Files - Wildlife

Ruben Hinojosa Congressional Papers - Sub-Group XXXII: U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), 1999 - 2008

Alternative Transportation in the Parks and Public Lands Grant - Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge (award), 2006

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge Photograph Collection

Selected photographs from Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge was founded on 2,088 acres in 1943 and is home to nearly 400 bird species, and on the migration route of thousands of birds. Half of all butterfly species found in North America may be found in Santa Ana, and 450 types of plants. It has also been the home of the ocelot and jaguarundi. An ancient Spanish cemetery resides within its borders surrounded by 100-year-old hand-hewn ebony fence.

ScholarWorks (Institutional Repository)

Browse or search for selected items and publication relating to Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.

Research Compiled by Leslie Torres

Leslie Torres is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in History with a minor in Anthropology, and a certification in Gender & Women's Studies. Leslie is also an anthropology course intern with the Special Collections and Archives for Summer 2021. Leslie plans to attend graduate school to work in higher education and study the histories of Texas and its borderlands.


The research guides compiled by UTRGV staff and students are intended to assist patrons who are embarking upon new research endeavors. Our goal is to expand their knowledge of the types of resources available on a given topic, including books, archival materials, and websites. In so doing, our compilers have taken care to include collections, digital items, and resources that may be accessed not only through UTRGV but also via other institutions, repositories, and websites.

We wholeheartedly respect the research interests of others. Therefore, please contact us if you wish to submit a resource for consideration, or if you have a question about or an issue with a specific cited resource.

Resources from Our Catalog

Did you know?

The ghosts of the cemetery in the Santa Ana property may have been disturbed during the border bandit wars of 1915-1916 when robbers broke open the tomb of Cristoval Leal (adopted son of the original grantee and Civil War Confederate Veteran) and his wife María Rafaela Treviño. The tomb’s skeletons remained exposed until the federal government bought the property in 1943.

Source: Handbook of Texas Online

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