At the time of the first Spanish explorers, Von Ormy was inhabited by clans of the Payaya and Pastia Indian Confederations. These native peoples lived in seasonal encampments known as “rancherias” on the tributaries and banks of the Medina River, which in the Payaya language was termed “Panapay”. The migratory pattern for these early residents included an annual journey south to the Nueces River for the annual cactus tuna harvest. At these annual gatherings that clans exchanged goods, marriage partners and news. The earliest Spanish missionary activity targeted the Payaya Confederation, for whom the Alamo was built in 1719. Mission San Jose was built for the Pastia Confederation in 1721.
Rapid depopulation of the native population occurred in the mid-18th century due to European diseases and the encroachment of the Lipan Apache and Comanche. Remnant groups of the native people of Von Ormy survived in the Missions, including the Reyes family who moved back to the area in the late 19th century and continue to reside in Von Ormy.
The first Spanish land grants occurred in the latter half of the 18th century. Manuel Ruiz received a land grant in 1762 and began ranching operations. Other area ranchers include those of the Navarro, Perez and Hernandez families. These early ranches concentrated on rounding up wild cattle and horses (mesteños) and sheep herding. Archeological site 41 BX 865 on the Ruiz land grant is the earliest known Spanish site associated with Von Ormy, dating to the late 18th century.
Most of the area now comprising the City of Von Ormy was granted to Col. Juan Ygnacio Perez in 1808 soon after he was appointed Commander of the Presidio in San Antonio. Perez and his family moved into the Governor’s Palace, while his son Jose Ygnacio Perez and slave named Cesar set about marking the land grant and building a ranch complex on the South side of the Medina River. The location of this ranch complex is likely 41 BX 644, also known as the Enoch Jones Homestead (for a later resident), and lies along the old Camino Real to Presidio Rio Grande.
The Ruiz, Navarro, Perez and Hernandez families were central to the early history of San Antonio and all participated in the wars for Mexican and Texas Independence. In 1827, Col. Jose Francisco Ruiz, then commander of the Flying Alamo Company at the Presidio was charged with liquidating the fixtures of the Alamo. It was at this time that the gates to the old mission and other artifacts were brought to Von Ormy as improvements to the Ruiz Ranch, which was operated by Ruiz’ son-in-law Blas Herrera. The Alamo gates were donated to the DRT by the Herrera family in the 1980s and now reside at the Bob Bullock Museum in Austin.
The Ruiz, Navarro and Herrera families formed the nexus of Tejano support for Texas Independence in San Antonio. Jose Francisco Ruiz was a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence and served as the first Senator from Bexar. Luciano Navarro, who inherited the Navarro ranch in Von Ormy, provisioned the garrison at the Alamo from his store without compensation. Blas Herrera warned San Antonio of the approach of Santa Ana and again saved San Antonio from orders by Gen. Houston to burn it and retreat by personally riding to Gen. Houston and convincing him to spare the city. Francisco Antonio Ruiz was the Mayor of San Antonio during the battle of the Alamo, buried the dead following the battle on orders of Santa Ana and wrote one of the earliest accounts of the Battle. Mayor Ruiz and Blas Herrera were buried in Von Ormy and their descendents settled there. Ygnacio Perez remained loyal to Mexico during the uprising and fled to Tamaulipas following the war.
During the Republic of Texas-era, the Perez land grant was redistributed to Texas Veterans. Despite a guarantee to recognize Spanish Land grants in the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo and the Texas Constitution, the Perez family lost all of their 1808 land grant. A series of landmark cases reached the Texas Supreme Court (see Paschal v. Perez, 7 Tex. 348; 1851 and Paul v. Perez, 7 Tex. 338; 1851). The Perez family loss of land was not unusual for the time. In the five year period around annexation to the United States, Bexar County saw Hispanic land ownership fall from 86% of lands in 1840 to 19% of lands in 1850.
The land now encompassing the City of Von Ormy ended up being granted to Sam McCulloch, the partnership of Enoch Jones and John W. Smith and Francisco Antonio Ruiz. McCulloch arrived in Texas as a slave. His father and owner freed him and McCulloch served in the Texian Army, being severely founded at the Battle of Gonzales. When the Republic of Texas gave free blacks two years to leave Texas or revert to a state of slavery, McCulloch appealed to President Houston and eventually received an exemption for himself and his family, which required an Act of Congress. (see Petition No. 11584105, Republic of Texas Memorials and Petitions, State Archives, Austin Texas). The area around the McCulloh homestead became known as Mann’s Crossing.
Jose Francisco Ruiz died in 1840, his Medina River Ranch was inherited by daughter Maria Antonia Ruiz and her husband Blas Herrera. The area around the Herrera Ranch became known as Garza’s Crossing. Col. Ruiz’ son, Francisco Antonio Ruiz, purchased the land immediately west of the Herrera Ranch and later parts of the old Perez land grant in what is old Von Ormy. Jones/Smith eventually held over 200,000 acres of Texas land. In 1858, when Jones retired he build a stone “castle” in Von Ormy at the old Perez ranch complex. Thus structure is now known as the Von Ormy Castle and was the first home in Texas to have indoor plumbing.
Population centers developed on the Herrera and Ruiz ranches and at Mann’s Crossing. These were consolidated at present-day Von Ormy following the arrival of the railroad in 1886. The Baptist colony which arrived at Mann’s Crossing in the 1850’s from Somerset, Kentucky left for Atascosa County and eventually settled at Somerset, Texas to the south of Von Ormy. Today many of the residents of Von Ormy can claim descent from the Ruiz-Herrera families.
The 30th Bexar, Texas State Militia, “The Medina Guards,” was organized at the start of the Civil War at Garza’s Crossing on the Medina. It was uniquely a half-Tejano and half-German unit. Their initial duty was to guard San Antonio from Comanche attack. The Company was later merged into the Texas 2nd Calvary, Mounted Volunteers, and participated in the New Mexican Campaign. They suffered a great defeat at the Battle of Gloreietta Pass near Santa Fe and were forced to march back to San Antonio across Eastern New Mexico and West Texas without horses or provisions. The survivors were consolidated under the command of Col. Benavides of Laredo and served the remainder of the war protecting cotton shipments into Mexico.
Following the war Von Ormy became one of the few enclaves to continue to elect Hispanics to office despite Jim Crow laws. In particular, Von Ormy resident Rafael Quintana was among the few Hispanic County Commissioner and Justices of the Peace in Bexar County in the latter part of the 19th century. The local economy shifted from ranching and subsistence farming with the arrival of the railroads. Winter vegetables for northern markets and open pit coal mines came to dominate the economy. An influx of Mexican laborers during the Mexican War of Reform (late 1860s) brought new residents, mostly from the states of Coahuila and Tamaulipas. As the population and economy surged, residents organized the first school at the Herrera Ranch in 1878.
In 1886, an Austrio-Hungarian Count arrived in San Antonio and rented out the St. Anthony Hotel. He placed an ad in the San Antonio Express stating that he wanted to become a cattle baron and soliciting offers for land and cattle. Elizabeth Jones, widow of Enoch Jones, sold her Castle and land to Count Von Ormay. The postmaster was so impressed with Counts gilded carriage and 21 servants in waiting, that he renamed the town “Von Ormy”, misspelling the name. The Count stayed only 18 months, before mysteriously returning to Saxony.
1900 saw the discovery of the Somerset Oil Field, then the largest shallow oil field in the world. The oil boom killed the coal industry as it struggled to find workers. The Artesian Belt Railroad was constructed from Macdona to Charlotte (Atascosa County), passing through Von Ormy, Somerset, Lemming and Jourdanton to access the Somerset Oil Fields and the Charlotte Coal Mines. Von Ormy became a regional transportation center being the crossroads of two rail lines, the Pan-American Highway and the Medina River. Its economy remains centered on transportation to this day.
In the 1910s, Von Ormy experienced an influx of Belgian farming families, including the Van de Walle, Verysuft and Verstraaten farms. In 1920, downtown Von Ormy boasted a Post Office, a Court of the Justice of the Peace, a grain mill, warehousing for agricultural goods, a tuberculosis hospital, a train depot, a school house and a small residential neighborhood.
1919 was a disastrous year, the Spanish Flu killed nearly 20% of the population, several local soldiers were killed in WWI, and a massive hurricane caused the worst flooding ever seen on the Medina. The Catholic Church was washed away, cattle were stranded 50 feet up in trees and the concrete rail bridge at Von Ormy was the only crossing of the Medina to survive.
In the summer of 2006, a group of Von Ormy residents led by Art Martinez de Vara and Charles Minor Brown organized a series of public meetings in Von Ormy concerning the future of the community, the lack of basic public services and possible solutions to these problems. Overwhelming support for the creation of a City of Von Ormy was expressed by attendees at these three meetings. In order to pursue this community desire, the Committee to Incorporate Von Ormy, a Texas non-profit association, was organized. In addition to residential members, CIVO also includes over 20 commercial members representing nearly all local businesses.
CIVO received written endorsements of County Judge Nelson Wolff County Commissioner "Chico" Rodriguez, Congressman Ciro Rodriguez, State Rep. David McQuade Leibowitz, State Sen. Carlos Uresti, and San Antonio City Councilman Phil Cortez.
After confirming that it was in the best interest of Von Ormy to incorporate CIVO filed the necessary petition to the City of San Antonio to allow an election for incorporation within its extraterritorial jurisdiction. Following a series of negotiations with the City of San Antonio planning department, the petition was amended on August 15, 2007 to reflect an agreed upon City Limits. Von Ormy received the endorsement of the San Antonio Planning Commission on January 23, 2008. On January 31, 2008, the San Antonio City Council passed a resolution to allow Von Ormy to hold an election on incorporation. On May 10, 2008 voters approved the proposition to create the City of Von Ormy by a vote of 88% in favor and 12% opposed.