County Seat: Zapata * County Population: 12,788
The current Zapata County Courthouse was built in 1953 in a Modern style. This brick structure replaced the 1901 courthouse, which now sits at the bottom of the Falcon Reservoir; the county seat of Zapata was moved once the Falcon Dam and Reservoir project was completed.
Zapata County was created from Starr and Webb counties, organized in 1858, and named for Col. Antonio Zapata, a political rancher. The county was home to several county seats, including San Bartolo and Carrizo, which later was renamed Zapata.
The construction of the International Falcon Reservoir on the Rio Grande had an enormous impact on the county and its seat. The project was designed to protect the lower Rio Grande from flooding. Developers eventually selected the line between Zapata and Starr counties as the site for the new dam.
This decision meant more than 115,000 acres of Zapata County land would be inundated, and 3,000 people would be evacuated from the towns of Zapata, Falcon and Lopeno. The Rio Grande flooded in 1954, filling the reservoir three years before the projected date and forcing an immediate evacuation.
The reservoir was nevertheless a boon for the county, fostering an influx of tourism and lakeshore activities. Falcon State Park has been described as a fishing paradise, offering black and white bass, catfish, crappie and stripers.
Zapata County also is a lure for birders, rock enthusiasts, and wildlife hunters. The fall migration of hummingbirds to South America provides a treat, along with the white-collard seed eater, green jay, white pelican, cormorant and white, blue and green heron.
The Rio Grande River has changed its course three times, leaving fascinating findings for rock hounds. Agates, jaspers and cherts, along with colorful petrified woods and specially marked petrified palms, can be found in abundance.
Hunters are greeted with a plentiful supply of quail, mourning dove, white wing dove, turkey, deer and javelina. The county is home to a hunting contest – El Venadon – that kicks off every December, attracting hunters from throughout the United States and Mexico.
The area also offers a unique sense of history. For example, 15 miles north of Zapata is San Ygnacio, deemed one of the most historic villages along the Rio Grande. The town’s early Spanish-Mexican architecture has attracted film producers and their movie stars, such as Marlon Brando who was featured in “Viva Zapata.”
Finally, a portion of Zapata County is included in the Llanos Meste?os South Texas Heritage Trail, sponsored by the Rio Bravo Resource Conservation and Development Council, which services 12 south Texas counties.