Indians of the Archaic period are believed to have lived on the island from 2700 to 1000 B.C. They were followed by Karankawan and Coahuiltecan peoples of the Rockport culture, who visited the island seasonally until the mid-1800s. In 1554 four ships sailed from Veracruz for Spain. They encountered storms, and three of the four were cast up on Padre Island at about the location of the present Mansfield Channel (see PADRE ISLAND SPANISH SHIPWRECKS OF 1554). The first known land grant on the island is believed to have been given to Padre José Nicolás Ballíqv and his nephew José Ballí II in 1805. They established Rancho Santa Cruz de Buena Vista some twenty-four miles from the south end of the island. Their grant was perfected by the Mexican state of Tamaulipas on February 21, 1829. Capt. John V. Singerqv and his family were shipwrecked on Padre Island in 1847. They built a home on the site of the old Ballí ranch and ranched there until the Civil War.qv In spite of the independence of Texas in 1836 and statehood in 1847 Padre Island remained a possession of Mexico until the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgoqv in 1848. The state of Texas subsequently relinquished all rights on the island to Nicolás and Juan José Ballí, on February 10, 1852. In 1879 Patrick Dunn, the "Duke of Padre," was living on the island. He gradually acquired title to all but 7,500 acres of the south end, then sold his interests in 1926 to Samuel A. Robertson,qv who attempted to develop the south end into a beach drive. Robertson's two hotels and four houses were destroyed by the hurricane of 1933 (see HURRICANES), and the developer sold his interests to Albert and Frank Jones of Kansas City, Missouri, in 1939. In the 1940s oil was discovered offshore, and gas was discovered on the island. In the 1950s oil and gas leases were negotiated on what is now the National Seashore.
Padre Island is a biological wonder with more than 600 species of plants and wildflowers. A unique species of oily live oak tree (Quercus fusiformis) grows only on the island. Blacktail jackrabbits, ground squirrels, kangaroo rats, coyotes, and eastern moles are among the many animals on Padre. The Laguna Madre is noted for its astronomical numbers of waterfowl. Herons, ibis, egrets, spoonbills, pelicans, cormorants, ducks, and geese use the island and the lagoons as a sanctuary and breeding ground. In 1991 the island was divided into three distinct areas: north, central, and south. The north is devoted to residential, water-oriented, recreational development. In 1962 the central portion became Padre Island National Seashore,qv which is in its natural state except at Malaquite Beach. The south part has been developing rapidly since the 1970s as a resort area; the town of South Padre Island was incorporated in 1973. All of Padre Island is susceptible to tropical storm damage. Between 1900 and 1979 eleven tropical storms struck the island, an average of one every 7.1 years. Historically, developments have been hard to maintain against storm surge, flooding, and wind and wave erosion.