At the request of Antonio Cordero, interim governor of the Province of Texas, Spanish-born Felipe Roque de la Portilla (1768?-1841) established a colony here on El Camino Real. With his own family of eight, he brought 51 persons from the interior of Mexico and founded San Marcos de Neve in April 1808. Titles were issued to 13 lots, and home were built, only to be washed away in June floods. Hardships plagued the colony: the defensive troops departed; no priest arrived; seed and a farm irrigation system did not materialize; horses and cattle were lost to Indians, and the people feared for their own lives. In 1809 new settlers brought the population to 81 without bettering living conditions. Portilla lost his health and fortune and was forced to lead his people back to Matamoros, Mexico, in 1812.
In 1829, however, he helped his son-in-law, James Power, and Power's associate, James Hewetson, plant their colony at Refugio, near Copano Bay. Portilla received land there in 1834, but left for Mexico in 1836. Because he invested his own fortune in the colonizing effort, he is sometimes called the First Empresario, and recognized as a forerunner of Stephen F. Austin, "The Father of Texas".