While our physical offices are closed until further notice in accordance with Austin's COVID-19 "stay home-work safe" order, the Handbook of Texas will remain available at no-cost for you, your fellow history enthusiasts, and all Texas students currently mandated to study from home. If you have the capacity to help us maintain our online Texas history resources during these uncertain times, please consider making a 100% tax-deductible contribution today. Thank you for your support of TSHA and Texas history. Donate Today »


Diana J. Kleiner

ARANSAS NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE. Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, originally known as Aransas Migratory Waterfowl Refuge, is located on Blackjack Peninsula, eight miles southeast of Austwell and midway between Rockport and Port Lavaca, on the Gulf Coast. The refuge comprises 54,829 acres of scattered blackjack oak woodlands, fresh and saltwater marshes, ponds, and coastal grasslands on the mainland, as well as 56,668 acres on Matagorda Island. Karankawa, Lipan, Tonkawa, and Comanche Indians once occupied the area. The refuge occupies land on which it is believed pirate Jean Laffite buried treasure. In 1937 surface rights to what was by then the St. Charles Ranch of San Antonio oilman Leroy G. Denman were purchased by the government with funds raised from the sale of migratory bird stamps, and the refuge was established on December 31, 1937, with 47,261 acres on the Blackjack Peninsula. Continental Oil Company won the right to extract oil and gas within the refuge. In 1967 the refuge acquired an additional 7,568 acres along St. Charles Bay; it also purchased 19,000 acres on Matagorda Island in 1982 and another 11,502 acres in 1986. Another 2,940 acres of the island was added to the refuge in 1993.

The refuge forms a unit in the Central Flyway, which extends from Alaska and Arctic Canada southward. It provides wintering grounds for the rare whooping crane, 320 species of other birds including wild turkeys and Canadian geese, and thirty-seven species of mammals. Among the inhabitants are deer, armadillos, javelinas, and alligators. Facilities at the refuge include an observation tower, a picnic area, a car tour route, walking trails, and an environmental study area. Hunting for deer and feral hogs is permitted in season. The refuge on the mainland is administered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior; Matagorda Island State Park is managed by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department as a unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System. In the late 1980s the refuge was losing about twenty-five acres of shoreline each year as a result of erosion. By 1991 volunteer projects had succeeded in stabilizing 4,785 feet of shoreline, but the problem was still not solved.


Wayne H. and Martha K. McAlister, Guidebook to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (Victoria, Texas: Mince Country Press, 1987). U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Wildlife Refuges and Fish Hatcheries: Region Two (GPO, 1988). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin (Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Whooping Cranes, Matagorda Island).

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Diana J. Kleiner, "ARANSAS NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE," accessed July 08, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/gka03.

Uploaded on June 9, 2010. Modified on October 5, 2018. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
visit the mytsha forums to participate

View these posts and more when you register your free MyTSHA account.

Call for Papers: Texas Center for Working-Class Studies Events, Symposia, and Workshops
Hi all! You may be interested in this call for papers I received from the Texas Center for Working-Class Studies at Collin College...

Katy Jennings' Ride Scholarly Research Request
I'm doing research on Catherine Jennings Lockwood, specifically the incident known as "Katy Jennings' Ride." Her father was Gordon C. Jennings, the oldest man to die at the Alamo...

Texas Constitution of 1836 Co-Author- Elisha Pease? Ask a Historian
The TSHA profile of Elisha Marshall Pease states that he wrote part of the Texas Constitution although he was only a 24 year-old assistant secretary (not elected). I cannot find any other mention of this authorship work by Pease in other credible research about the credited Constution authors...