by Robert Stafford
Peter Gallagher, born in Westmeath County, Ireland in 1812, became famous in Texas as an explorer, rancher, businessman, and judge. Gallagher, who immigrated to Louisiana in 1829, earned favor with the Mexican government when it controlled Texas, but was able to remain a prominent engineer and entrepreneur after the Texas independence. He led businesses and established one of the few ranches that still continues to function in the 21st century; thus, Peter Gallagher’s influences continue to be apparent in Bexar County.
After immigrating to New Orleans in 1829, the seventeen-year-old Gallagher built docks in that city before moving to Galveston. While in Galveston, Gallagher also worked on the docks and his skillful efforts garnered the attention of the Mexican government. Santa Anna commissioned Gallagher to build a supply depot near San Antonio de Bexar and the Alamo. Santa Anna planned to use the depot to support an attack on Stephen Austin’s colonists. Gallagher chose a spot on San Geronimo Creek, 27 miles from Bexar, and designated 10,000 acres for his personal ranch. He built his ranch headquarters in 1833, heavily fortifying it to defend against Indian attacks, with walls two feet thick and a door fashioned of hand-hewn oak and iron-barred windows. Gun slits in the walls allowed return fire against potential attack. Gallagher’s complex comprised four main rooms and a chapel.
After completing the ranch house, Gallagher organized the construction of an aqueduct to provide water to his surrounding farmland. With the help of Mexican laborers, Gallagher built a mile-long aqueduct using limestone blocks quarried from nearby areas. Declared a “marvel of engineering know-how,” the aqueduct still functioned during World War II when it brought water to irrigate Victory Gardens.
Following the Texas Revolution, Gallagher retained his land titles and began working for the Texas government, leaving his ranch in 1841 to join the ill-fated Santa Fe Expedition. The expedition, organized by President Lamar, sought to blaze a trade route to Santa Fe, and to incite an insurrection that would end Mexican control over New Mexico so that the Texas Republic could expand westward. Gallagher was hired to record details of the expedition and provide a diary of the eventful journey. The disastrous expedition resulted in the arrest and incarceration of the Texans. Their Mexican captors forced Gallagher and the other prisoners to march to Mexico City. Gallagher recorded that he “suffered all the horrors and hardships of the march.” He remained imprisoned until June 13, 1842.
Upon his release, Gallagher joined the Texas Rangers and served under John Coffee Hays. He also returned to Ireland to marry Eliza Conran in 1850. During the Civil War, Gallagher moved from his ranch to San Antonio, where he served as Chief Justice of Bexar County beginning August 18, 1862. While he was noted for his fairness and impartiality in executing his public duties in those troubled days, he served just one year, resigning in 1863 due to failing health. Following his resignation, Gallagher continued developing land near Fort Stockton, and he owned a salt mining company in the Juan Cardona Lake area that was one of the most important in the state. Gallagher donated much of his property to the Texas government in his later years and was instrumental in creating Pecos County in 1877. Gallagher returned to Bexar County in 1878, and built and leased the first U.S. Post Office on Alamo Plaza at the southeast corner of Blum Street and Alamo Street He lived his final months in the Menger Hotel until his death on October 30, 1878. His ranch, the Circle G, remains a popular meeting place for foreign dignitaries and politicians.
Gallagher, Peter. The Santa Fe Expedition : The Diary of Peter Gallagher. Dallas: [s.n.], 1935.
“Gallagher, Peter.” Handbook of Texas Online. 6 June 2001. Texas State Historical Association. Accessed 22 May 2006. http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/GG/fga8.html
Kendall, George Wilkins. Narrative of the Texan Santa Fe Expeditions. New York: Harper, 1850.
Rayfield, Dade. “Legend of the Circle G.” True West Magazine. 1966.
Editors note: readers will find The Santa Fe Expedition : The Diary of Peter Gallagher and Narrative of the Texan Santa Fe Expeditions at the Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library.