Sunday, October 4, 2015

Opening of twentieth century saw nearly 10,000 residents living in Duval County

At the start of the twentieth century, Duval County had a population of 8,483. The county seat of San Diego had a population of 2,000. The census is probably quite accurate since the census supervisor for 1900 was longtime resident and political leader James O. Luby who was intimately familiar with the county and its people. Luby and his wife had four children, John M., James, Mrs. Adelaide Whitman, and Mrs. Kate L. Shaeffer. The Lubys owned homes in San Diego and San Antonio.

The century opened with an acting troupe, the Pastime Club, unveiling the comedy Above the Clouds in San Diego. The talented group of A. D. Smith, W. W. McCampbell, D. C. Wells, Bernard Adams, Fred Gunter, Carrie and Dot Morgan and Ethel Sutherland took the show on the road and performed before a crowded house in Laredo. The club elected officers with McCampbell as president; Josie Lewis, vice-president; Hayes Dix, secretary; W. M. van Norte, treasurer; Mrs. F. V. D. Sutherland, musical director; Smith, business manager; and Will L. Long of Laredo, honorary member.

During the first week of January, good rains were reported everywhere in Duval County. The Gueydan-Parkman Gin processed 75 bales of cotton in three days. In Benavides, farmers were basking with the rains after planting cotton, corn, and cane crops. Archie Parr planted 400 acres of cattle feed for his cattle and had plans to fatten and ship cattle to market directly from his ranch. S. R. Peters also planted corn and cane for feeding purposes and John J. Dix planned to plant corn and cotton.

Farmers in Piedras Pintas planted two hundred acres of corn and another 200 acres of cotton. They also planted 10 acres with cane. Frank Barton, Jose Vaello, and James Muller each planted 100 acres of mostly cotton. There were many others farming in Duval County.

The first inklings of oil at Piedras Pintas also occurred in the first month of 1900, when S. D. Hannah from Houston, L. D. O’Hara from Illinois, McCampbell, and A. Becher of San Diego visited the sulphur springs in the area.

On a sad note, Andrew R. Valls, interpreter for the Duval County courts, slipped and fell from the top of the stairs at the Gonzales hotel. He died of lung complications from the fall. Vale, who had served as county clerk for a number of years was also a writer and Spanish scholar. A large family survived the 55-year-old Vale.

The trial of A. Lieberman, a barber charged with arson, ended in a hung jury, as did the trial of a man named Martinez on charges of mule theft. Judge McLane left the juries deliberating while he went to Laredo. One hung jury lasted 11 days and the other eight days. The judge transferred the cases to Laredo, but the community was not pleased with the development.

A jury did convict Jose Ybarra for theft and gave him two years in the penitentiary. The court continued the rape trial of Richard Gray until its next term. The Duval County Grand jury, meanwhile, returned nine indictments including one for rape; one for murder; one for horse theft; another for cattle theft; three for embezzlement; one for arson; and an aggravated assault.

Friday, September 25, 2015

It rained but not everyone was convinced

In last week’s blog, we looked at an amazing experiment conducted in San Diego in 1891. Folks actually believed they could make rain by setting off explosives and rattling the clouds. The latter part of 1891 saw a severe drought beset Duval County and thousands of cattle were dying from hunger and thirst. It was not surprising that some ranchmen would reach for any hopeful proposal to end the drought.

Robert Kleberg and N. G. Collins raised funds to bring a meteorologist named John Ellis from Oberlin College to replicate a seemingly successful experiment he had conducted in Midland, Texas. They brought in an old canon from the King Ranch and with the help of an Army detachment from Fort Bliss, they set-up their equipment on the Collins Ranch a couple of miles northeast of San Diego.

Ellis climbed into a balloon and rose into the heavens to check the clouds. The soldiers, meanwhile, filled small balls with powder and soaked them in nitro- glycerin. After days of waiting, some dark clouds appeared overhead and the soldiers, at Ellis’ direction, released balloons filled with sulfuric acid gas and exploded them with the canon. The blasts caused quite a stir in town and a discharge was so close that it leveled the soldiers’ tents.

But lo and behold, by nightfall it began to rain and the dry grass below sprung back to life. It rained about half an inch in an hour. Shortly after five in the morning, a north wind blew the cumulus clouds away and the rains stopped and so did the experiment. The soldiers took down the camp and Ellis and his men returned home by way of Corpus Christi. Ellis and the rest of the rainmakers reported to Washington and others that the experiment had been a success.

Local residents also praised the experiment. H. J. Delamer of the Delamer Ranch in San Diego praised the experiment, as did Dr. L. B. Wright, F. Gueydan, Judge James O. Luby, and G. W. Fullerton of Gregory, who had contributed $300 for the experiment. The main backers of the project were not as effusive. Kleberg, whose mother-in-law Henrietta King had contributed the most, $1,000, agreed the rain probably resulted from the explosions but still remained cautious that more work needed to be done before the process were proven. Collins, on the other hand, did not think the bombing had caused the rain and openly told the press as much. That prompted Ellis to reply that Collins would not have been convinced had it rained gold on his neighbor’s land, if it did not fall on his land.

As years passed, atmospheric scientists concluded that Collins was indeed right; the explosions had nothing to do with causing rain to fall. And so, you do not see anyone pulling out their shotguns during the frequent dry spells in Duval County today.

Friday, September 18, 2015

1891 bombing in San Diego was not from war

In the middle of October 1891, residents of San Diego could hardly sleep for three nights as bombardments exploded through the night. They were not under attack from a foreign enemy; they were party to a rainmaking experiment that captured the attention farmers and scientists near and far.

Twenty years earlier, a fellow by the name of Edward Powers had written a book entitled War and the Weather in which he observed that shortly after intense battles involving heavy cannon fire it would rain. Edwards hypothesized that men could artificially make rain by use of explosives.

Congress approved $9,000 to stimulate this notion and an initial experiment in Midland, Texas appeared to prove successful. Robert Kleberg of the King Ranch and N. G. Collins of San Diego traveled to Midland to talk with farmers in the area to see what they thought about the experiment. They were impressed and invited the rainmakers to come to South Texas. By this time, the experimenters in Midland had spent all the government money, so Kleberg and Collins offered to raise private capital for the experiment.

Rainmakers tried to make in rain by using explosives.
On Sept. 28, 1891, the rainmakers, accompanied by soldiers from Fort Bliss in El Paso, arrived in San Diego. The experimenters chose San Diego because of its location on the railroad and because of a hot dry spell that had afflicted the area for several months. The rainmakers proceeded to set up their operations in an area one and a half miles north, northeast of the train depot in San Diego. They called the encampment Camp Edward Peters in honor of the man who offered the theory of rainmaking by use of explosives. Mrs. C. S. Gunter, wife of Duval County’s surveyor, fashioned a white flag with Camp Edward Powers sewn in red silk. After her husband erected a flagpole and raised the flag, Addie Feuille and Clara Woods came to the camp from town and ceremoniously set off an electric dynamo.

After two weeks of preparation and of waiting for the most opportune time, the rainmakers began firing off explosives in the early morning hours of Oct. 16. The explosives were set off at night to prevent the daytime winds from affecting the experiment. The rainmakers discharged explosives every five minutes for several hours and continued several days. Many spectators came to the camp from San Diego and surrounding communities. As the explosives were set off, the onlookers huddled at the center of camp.

Judge J. O. Luby observed the bombardment from an iron bridge spanning 153 feet across the San Diego Creek. Although it was two and a half miles from Camp Edward Powers and made of iron, the bridge shook with every explosion. Twenty-seven miles away at the headquarters of the King Ranch, the bombardment awakened Kleberg. He climbed to the roof of the ranch headquarters and could feel the structure rattle with each explosion. The Kineños watched the fireworks as if it were the Fourth of July or el Dies y Seis de Septiembre.

So did it rain? Stay tuned for next week's blog for the results of the rainmakers’ assault on the sky.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Duval officials accused of “Open defiance against U.S. authority”

Former Duval County deputy Lino Cuellar’s arrest for murder in the streets of San Diego in February 1892 led U. S. Army Capt. Chase, in the area hunting for Catarino Garza and his men, to charge that Duval County officials were in “open defiance” of federal authority. After an investigation by Texas Ranger J. S. McNeil, the Duval County grand jury ignored charges brought by local lawmen against U. S. soldiers.

It was not Cuellar’s first run in with Duval County law. In 1886, as a Duval County Deputy Sheriff, he was arrested for helping prisoners escape from the Duval County jail. The case remained open until the district attorney refused to prosecute Cuellar, who was serving as Court Bailiff, on the prisoner-escape charge. In the contentious county elections later that year, Jose Munoz was elected Constable in San Diego but was disqualified and Cuellar was named to serve in his place. Cuellar went on to serve as a deputy U. S. Marshall.

But in the first week of February 1892, Chase received word that Cuellar, who Chase considered one of his best scouts, had been arrested in San Diego for murder. Chase expressed full confidence in Cuellar but had no confidence in the local officials whom he charged as being underhanded.”

After investigating the case, Chase learned Cuellar was arrested while he was escorting his prisoner, Jose Angel Hinojosa Pena, through the streets of San Diego. Authorities charged Cuellar with allegedly killing a smuggler three years earlier. The smuggler had been killed “while resisting arrest.” The shooting involved a posse of U. S. Marshals, of which Cuellar was a member. Three Duval County grand juries considered the case, but did not true bill anyone.

Sheriff John Buckley
According to Chase, arresting a U.S. marshal and letting his prisoner go free was no less that an “open defiance against U.S. authority.” It would not be the only time that Capt. Chase would make that charge against Duval County Sheriff John Buckley and other county officials. U. S. troops had a running battle with Duval County officials, who Chase believed were sympathetic to Garza.

Chase learned from Pablo Longoria, who had served as a soldier in Garza’s insurrectionist army, that Sheriff Buckley helped Garza in any way he could. Chase and his men were amazed with the support for Garza from Duval County officials. This support went as far as hiring Garza to make speeches for “the party now in power…to control the Mexican vote.” Chase had become convinced that the Duval County power structure was coercing people not to help the U. S. troops.

A Federal Grand Jury eventually indicted Buckley for aiding and abetting Garza in his revolutionary activities. When Duval County residents reelected Buckley, while still under a $2,000 bond for violating U. S. law, Chase became convinced that Garza’s popularity was genuine and ran deep.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

San Diego parents meet to organize college

Calixto Tovar, Félix B. Del Barrio, and others called a meeting to discuss the practicality of establishing a college in San Diego. Some 60 Duval students were attending school out of the area. Fourteen were enrolled at the State College of Mines in Rolla, Missouri alone. 

The Rolla Building.
Duval County residents sent out $10,000 in one day to pay for their childrens’ schooling. Duval residents believed they could organize a college, hire teachers from Rolla and keep money at home. They would recruit students from surrounding towns as well as from the Rió Grande Valley and México. 

Within a day they raised $8,000, with San Diego contributing $5,000. The group’s goal was to raise $15,000 in order to build a brick structure by September.

Deputy Paulino Coy was quickly getting a reputation as a ruthless lawmen. In late 1883 he killed Ezequiel De Los Santos supposedly while the suspect tried to escape. In January 1884 he killed Cristóbal Salinas at a rancho near Concepción.

Salinas was indicted by the grand jury of allegedly stealing sheep, and Coy was given a warrant for his arrest. Coy and two Texas Rangers came across Salinas who, according to the Corpus newspaper “showed flight when he was informed he was wanted and succeeded in wounding one of the Rangers when Coy, seeing that Salinas would kill them, if not prevented, shot him three times.” The newspaper reported that from all the known facts, Coy was justified in the killing. It was the second such killing by Coy.

On the political front in 1884, James O. Luby gave up a lucrative law practice in San Diego and accepted an appointment as Collector of the Port of Brownsville.

County Democrats elected Frank C. Gravis as chairman of the county convention and Andrew R. Valls secretary. The convention named Charles K. Gravis and Ed Chamberlain as delegates to the national party convention; J. W. Shaw, L. L. Wright, and E. A. Atkinson as delegates to the congressional district convention in Victoria; Ed Corkill, F. C. Gravis, and C. Hoffman to the senatorial convention in Cotulla; E. A. Glover, John J. Dix, and N. G. Collins delegates to the state convention in Houston; and Corkill, Gravis, and Hoffman delegates to the state representative convention, if one was called. Democrats also endorsed J. W. Stayton for congress; John Ireland for governor; and Collins for state senator.

Building of a wool house an improvement to public squares were also under discussion.

Some of the businesses in San Diego included Perrenot Bros. manufacturers of cypress cisterns, troughs, and vats. They were the local representatives for Woodmane Windmills and bought a St. Louis steam artesian well boring machine to sink wells. Mac’s Saloon, meanwhile, offered the choicest liquors, cigars, and tobaccos on the northwest corner of the plaza. The saloon also filled demijohns, jugs, and kegs “at rock bottom prices.”

François Gueydan, a large stock owner and merchant of San Diego patented a machine to cut nopal and was preparing to manufacture it. Nopal could be cut and held for several weeks without losing value.