Thursday, July 30, 2015

Men was in South Texas 11,000 years ago

We know very little of the people who inhabited South Texas prior to Cabeza de Vaca’s time. Fortunately, De Vaca and other Spanish explorers were devoted note takers. Their accounts provide the earliest historic record of men in this part of the world.

Prehistory by definition means that no written reports are available from that time. What we know of the prehistoric era comes from archaeological studies. Governmental requirements for uranium mining permits as well as for the use of Federal government grants prompted most of these studies and thus they lack the depth of scholarship one would hope. Regrettably, the scientific language used in reports of these archaeological digs does not make them easily understood by lay readers. Still, they provide the only resource available for this period.

Fossil remains found in the Duval County equus beds are the earliest references to people inhabiting this area of Texas. The remains date to the mid Ice Age when mammoths roamed the Texas countryside. As the temperatures warmed, the mammoth and giant bison became extinct. The vegetation and animal life in the area changed but remained plentiful.

Archaeological digs in areas around Seven Sisters, San Diego, Rosita and north of Hebbronville have yielded artifacts mostly from the Archaic Age, or from 1,000 to 7,000 years before historic times. These artifacts point to a people that used spears to hunt big game.

From very earliest times, the people that lived in the Duval and Jim Wells counties were hunter-gatherers. They never established towns or communities but traveled about the countryside in family groups or bands, staying for short periods in campsites. Aboriginal people often used these temporary sites as work areas where they built tools or processed their kills. On other occasions, they were in fact kill sites, where the natives used spears to bring down their game food. The game was plentiful in vegetation that included lush savannas.

With plenty of game and plant foods to gather, the aboriginal people had no use for farming. This way of life continued through the next seven millennia. Cataclysmic changes in the environment began to occur as the Europeans began to arrive.

The Spaniards began to push the natives north and the Americans pushed the warlike natives south. Caught in the middle were the docile hunter-gatherers that belonged to the Coahuiltecan family of natives. Before long foreign dieases and intermarriage with the Spanish and the raiding by Lipan Apache and the Comanche exterminated these people

Just as the native people became extinct, so too did the fertile vegetation in the area give way to a more barren environment. Cattle and sheep raising, as well as European style farming caused the natural grasslands to give way to a semi arid environment where thorny brush dominated.

It was to this less inviting setting that the residents of modern day Duval and Jim Wells counties came. Like their predecessors, they had to fight off the Apache and Comanche; unlike their predecessors, they were successful in eliminating the menace. Moreover, unlike their predecessors, the ancestors of today’s South Texans found a way to live with the new desert like surroundings.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Sheep was king in Duval County

The summer of 1884 was hot, dry, dusty and dull in Duval County. Amateur weather forecasters looked at skies and predicted rain but it did not come. Old timers complained of old injuries and said it was a sign the weather was about to change, but it did not. Sheep and cattlemen remained discouraged over the lack of rain.

The big question in San Diego that summer was how much would wool be worth? While most sheepmen were readying for shearing, William Hubbard had already sheared his herd and had his clippings in the Collins warehouse in San Diego. While some wool was beginning to come in, prices were questionable. The outlook seemed dismal. Trade in wool was fair, trouble was not whether they could sell, it was whether they would get money for their work.

The importance of the sheep trade can best be demonstrated by citing figures reported in the Houston Post that summer. For the year ended July 31, 1884 the Texas Mexican railroad reported shipping , 1,084,051 pounds of wool from San Diego, compared to 1,226,375 from Laredo. It shipped 226,227 pounds of hide and only one car load of horses and cattle.

A stock raiser who bought cattle months earlier from men who had showed him papers that looked in order had to pay for them again when it turned out the livestock had been stolen from a cattlemen in the Brownsville vicinity.

While the talk in town was about the lack of rain and the upcoming shearing, George Copp had other preoccupations. Copp was suffering from a sprained ankle and was alone at his ranch 18 miles from San Diego when he was awakened with a belduque held to his throat. Six men surrouded him. While four of them ramsaked the house and took $50 in silver, jewelry and other valuables worth $140, two others guarded Copp. The bandits left Copp unharmed, but warned him to keep his mouth shut or they would return to kill him. Next morning Sheriff L. L. Wright picked up some suspects, but Copp could not identify them as his assailants.

Politics was never far from the minds of Duval men. James Luby gave a stirring speech at the Republican state convention in Houston in support of R. B. Rentfro for the 7th Congressional District. Luby predicted William H. Crain would not carry a single county west of the Nueces. The 23 delegates represented 17 of 26 counties, including seven white and 16 black delegates.

Luby stopped in San Diego for a visit on his way from Houston to his post as Collector of Customs in Browsnville. Also in town for a visit was Henry Gueydan, a cadet at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

In between horse stealing and cattle rustling, kids still went to school

Baseball was one way early Duval residents found ways to enjoy what otherwise was a stressful life in the frontier. In addition to baseball, residents also enjoyed other sporting events such as gun and bicycle clubs. There were other activities, such as school and social events, to keep everyone entertained.

Before the start of the school year started in 1887, County Judge James Luby named W. B. Croft, William Taylor, and Henry Parkham to the Board of Examiners to test teacher applicants. The law required that the board be composed of three teachers with proper certifications, but Luby asked for a waiver of this provision otherwise he would have to appoint his mother and sister to the board. The state superintendent of schools approved the exemption and allowed Luby to select three other competent persons.

The new board proceeded to administer tests to Addie Feuille, Mr. And Mrs. A. R. Valls, Hays Dix, a Mrs. Sutherland, John McIntire, and T. S. Moses. Miss Feuille got a first grade certification and Mrs. Valls a second grade certificate; all the other applicants failed. Luby had authority to call for another examination and did so later in the year. The board, now consisting of certified teachers Pollard, Covington, and Feuille, administered a second round of tests to find teachers for the remaining grades and other schools in the county. Miss Winstead of Pena and Miss Nudd of Realitos received second grade certificates. The board issued a third grade certificate to Miss Garcia of San Diego.

As school got underway, the school board assigned Feuille to be in charge of the girls’ school and Pollard to be principal of the boys school. The newspaper noted that Pollard had ranked number nine, out of 40 individuals taking the state teachers exam in Austin. Louis Pueblo, meanwhile, ran a private school.

In Oct, 1887, Katie Luby and other women in town organized a musical concert to raise money to build a schoolhouse for girls. Despite a cold and wet norther, the concert raised $40, which the organizing group considered a great success. Lizzie Martinet and Tessie Spann “brought down the house” with their rendition of When a Little Farm We Keep. Laura Modd was teacher at the girls school with 30 pupils.

The school term for the girls wound up in April 1888 with final tests during the day and a program in the evening, which included recitations, comical dialogues, music, dancing, and “Negro” pieces that “brought down the house.” Teachers Misses Feuille and Garcia performed musical pieces Himno All Cencia. Lizzie Martinet, Addie Luby, and Albert Levy performed piano solos. Angela Bodet’s performance was a big hit. Schoolgirls performed Aunt Ray’s Cat. John and Priscilla Buckley did the Irish Jig while Lizzie Martinet and Addie Luby did the Garcano Dance. Mrs. K. Luby conducted calisthenics. As an indication of the tenor of the times, the Corpus Christi newspaper reported that John Luby turned in the performance of a “good Negro” in Ticket Taker, though “the Negro breakdown” at the close was not very “niggerly.”

Other students included Fannie Reeves, Lillie Doughty, Annie Marxen, Amada Puig, Mamie Luby, Juan Longoria, and Minnie Smith. Mrs. M. Doughty gave a baile for the students at her home.

Professor Pueblo’s academy performed speeches, music, essays at the end of its school year.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Earlier small pox epidemic in San Diego

The small pox epidemic of 1891 was not the first to afflict Duval County. Small pox was raging in San Diego in August 1879 and the Duval County Commissioners Court appointed a Sanitary Commission to address the problem. Named to the commission were County Judge James O. Luby, Sheriff E. A. Glover and County Physician T. S. Kupfer. The Commissioners Court granted the group authority to bring the epidemic under control.

The commission would place a flag at a home where the disease was present. Once the small pox was over at a home, the commission would order the home disinfected. Property owners were required to keep their premises in clean condition and if they refused, the commission was to report the violators to the county attorney for prosecution under state law

If the Sanitary Commission believed it necessary, they had the authority to establish a hospital and to take all steps necessary to prevent spread of the disease such as hiring any help they needed including guards and nurses. Finally, the commission could isolate an infected house from the rest of town. The court ordered that the commission post a copy of the resolution in town to give the public notice.

Commissioners, on a split vote, appointed Don Alejo Perez to replace H. Maas as Justice of the Peace for Precinct # 2 after accepting Maas’s resignation. Commissioners P. W. Tokias and E. N. Gray voted for Perez and Commissioner Charles R. Gravis voted against his appointment. Perez had been serving as constable and resigned the post.

Commissioners Court received reports from boards of viewers they had appointed in May to look at county roads. (Author’s note: These groups may have been called Board of Juries. The handwriting of the 1879 minutes are sometimes hard to read.) The court accepted Road #1 from San Diego to Piedras Pintas as a first class road and ordered that it be laid out. Road # 2 from Piedras Pintas to Rosita was also accepted and ordered laid out as a road of the third class.

Several of the roads ran into problems because board of viewers members were found ineligible because they were not freeholders. A freeholder owned land, as opposed to only leasing it.

Road # 3, from San Diego to Laredo ran into a snag when the court discovered that A. J. Ayers was
not a freeholder and was ineligible to serve. The court named Juan Saenz as his replacement and instructed the board of viewers to continue their work and report to the court at the court’s next meeting. The matter of freeholders also presented a problem for Road # 5, from Borjas to Barroneña. In addition to Ayers, L. Bodet, H. W. Caldwell and Manuel B. Vela were not freeholders; the court removed them as viewers, and appointed Charles Hoffman, Mariano Chapa, David Chapa and Cesario de los Santos in their place were.

The road from Piedras Pintas to Barroneña met the same fate. In addition to Bodet, Maximiliano Lopez, and Cornelio Serna were not freeholders. The court appointed Charles Roach, William Hubbard and Isidro Benavides to replace the three. The same issue arose on the road from Piedras Pintas to Borjas where the court removed R. B. Glover and Caldwell and replaced them with Juan de los Santos and Juan Saenz.

The board of viewers looking at the road from San Diego to Concepcion did not complete their work and the court asked them to report at the court’s next meeting. The court also granted the board of viewers looking at the Piedras Pintas to Concepcion Road an extension until its next meeting.

In other road related business, the court accepted a petition for a road from San Diego to the northeast corner of the county towards Oakville in Live Oak County. The court appointed Charles K. Gravis, John P. Dix, Robert Corbett, Fabian Fabela and Matias Garcia as a board of viewers to look into the matter and report to the court at its next regular term. The court also accepted a petition for a road from San Diego to the northern county line, towards Tilden in McMullen County. It appointed N. G. Collins, E. N. Gray, Dix, Gravis and A. L. Labbe as board of viewers. The court also received and approved a petition for a road from Piedras Pintas to Guajillo. The court appointed Dix, Melecio Cuellar, Nicolas Ybañez, Manuel Cadena and Antonio Saenz to the board of viewers.

County Surveyor A. W. French asked the court to assign county road workers to lay out lines for new roads. The court agreed and directed road overseers in the various precincts to work with French on the matter.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Duval County hit by small pox epidemic in 1891

The dreaded small pox returned to Duval County in 1891, after it had survived an earlier epidemic in 1879. In San Diego, 10 cases were reported but no deaths and the spread of the disease seemed to be slowing. All small pox patients were being taken to the hospital that had been made being ready for the epidemic. The news was not that good in other parts of the area.

Residents of Concepcion reported four children died of small pox at the Florencio Benavides ranch within two miles of Concepcion. Another three deaths were reported at Palito Blanco, 15 miles southeast of San Diego in Nueces County.

Small pox victim.
County Judge J. W. Moses received a letter from the state health officer authorizing Dr. B. Valls to take whatever measures needed to stop disease. The county appointed a small pox force to deal with the epidemic.

One member of the small pox force, however, had to leave town unexpectedly after learning two of his brothers had been killed. Charles Adami went in pursuit of the suspected murderers of his brothers Miles and Walter Adami who were found dead in their ranch 50 miles from San Diego in the unorganized county of Encinal. The two men were shot through the head by someone authorities believed the brothers caught skinning a cow.

In another murder case, Sheriff John Buckley returned from San Antonio with two men named Moreno who were charged with killing T. Weidenmueller.

Death indeed was in the air in Duval County in January 1891. Robert Spence, 28, died at his ranch of consumption and left a widow and three children. Bells at St. Francis de Paula Catholic Church in San Diego announced the death of Mrs. S. G. de Guerra, 34. Mrs. Guerra also succumbed to consumption. She was the wife of merchant Amando Guerra. Over in Benavides, Gracie Linn Valls, wife of A. R. Valls, died leaving a family of seven.

Visitors to the San Diego Cemetery, which were numerous given the many deaths, found it surrounded by a new hedge and a house in a corner for a sexton. The improvements were done at the direction of N. G. Collins.

While many were leaving this life, others were a little luckier and only experienced injuries. Rev. Wright and E.J. Flores were injured when the passenger coach of the outgoing Texas Mexican train turned over. Juan Garcia Pena of Corpus Christi was stabbed, in a supposed robbery attempt. Mr. Miret of Miret and Pena, meanwhile, fell seriously ill with typhoid fever.

A new arrival in town, Dr. Freeborn, M. D., offered some hope to those suffering illness. The homeopathic doctor made his office headquarters at the Gonzales Hotel and expressed the intent to stay in the city. Also new to San Diego was an art gallery scheduled to be opened by H. Hopkins, who was considered a “first class artist”. He reportedly painted a picture of J. O. Luby on a plate. Over at the Martinet Hotel, Mr. Meul was painting a room to for use of commercial travelers.

On the society front, Dario Garcia and Andrea Garcia were married.