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.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Farming, politics and baseball were the great pastimes in Duval County in late 19th century

While today farming is a scarce commodity in Duval County, it has not always been that way. In the second half of the 19th century, many landowners were involved in ranching and other livestock pursuits besides cattle raising. It was not rare to hear the joyful news that farmers got rain, and corn and crops looked good and farmers expected a good season.

In a trip to Corpus Christi in April 1887, R. R. Savage reported it rained for hours in San Diego. Calixto Tovar of Duval County had 30 acres in corn and six acres in potatoes and watermelons.

The Corpus Christi Caller editor took the train to San Diego in search of shekels (money) and declared the area as the “Finest country under the sun.” California not excluded.

“As far as the eye could see it was covered with one solid mat of grass and flowers;” daisies and buttercups filled the air with fragrance,” wrote the editor. “Cattle and horses with their sides standing out…and fields of corn and cotton were found in all directions. Duval County it can be safely said is now a cotton belt.”

Avelino Perez who farmed near San Diego raised 100 bushels of corn and $280 worth of cotton. Cottonseed was distributed at no cost to farmers. Potatoes and garden crops came to market in large amounts.

“People busy as bees between working crops and shearing sheep,” continued the Caller editor. Wool began arriving, and wool clips were already in storage at Gueydan & Co. Warehouse, including those of French Colony, Albino Canales, J. A. Perez, and Charles Hoffman.

The editor saw Capt. E.N. Gray in San Diego “carrying roses as big as saucers.” Gray was preparing to ship fruit. At Dr. Kupfer’s home in San Diego, which was for sale, Italian mulberry trees were loaded with fruit. Others, such as Otto Brandt, had beautiful yards filled with fruit trees.

“While not flowing with milk and honey, not far from it,” gushed the Caller editor.

Of course, politics was never far from the minds of Duval County residents. F.C. Gravis called for the Democratic Party Convention to meet at the Duval County Courthouse. Gravis was named chairman of the Duval County Democrats and to the Democratic Executive Committee. He was pushing for a July 25 Congressional Convention at Corpus Christi. John Buckley, meanwhile, was named chairman of 83rd Representative District in place of Capt. Gray who declined to serve. The Caller correspondent took a shot at the San Antonio Express. “Why good Democrats take that paper is a surprise and the articles from this place to it will never ‘dam’ the creek or ornament the Plaza.”

A note in the newspaper reported that a new town named Kleberg was established on the Texas-Mexican Railroad between San Diego and Collins. That town would later be renamed Alice.

Farming and politics were not the only pastimes. Baseball had spread to the countryside where in a game played at Concepcion, Realitos beat Concepcion by a score of 27-25. Gus Staples was on the mound for Realitos and catching his zingers was Sgt. Aten of the state troops. Realitos quickly announced that it was accepting any challenges; no doubt, the San Diego and Corpus Christi teams were their intended audience.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

After taking time for Christmas, hot election took center stage again

The election of 1888 continued to rile folks long after Election Day. But the following December the community took a deep breath to enjoy the Christmas season. Father Bard celebrated the midnight mass or misa de gallo to a full church with more than half of the town in attendance and many standing outside of church because it was packed. After mass, the people enjoyed some eggnog and a fireworks display of shooting rockets, Roman candles and firecrackers. There was also plenty of drinking but no one got into trouble.

The next day, on Christmas, the Gun Club held a shooting match in which Juan Puig was the subject of everyone’s jokes after he missed all his shots. Townspeople also enjoyed some horse races and had the choice of two or three dances, one put on by John Buckley Jr. for the young people and another by Willie Rallston at the old Spann Building.

Bad weather did not keep people away from a New Year’s dance at the Garfield House. Even though the streets were in terrible condition, more than 100 San Diego residents showed up. The San Diego Club sponsored the ball and invited families of any social standing without regard to politics. Some did not attend, however, because of politics. Later in the week, the Martinet Hotel held a house warming party for its new building. The new spacious hotel was built adjacent to Mrs. E. Martinet’s house for travelers and boarders.

In January, politics and the recent election with its attendant issues came back to the forefront. District Judge J. C. Russell impaneled a grand jury and in his charge reminded them that the law on illegal voting and election fraud was very clear. Judge Russell appointed former state senator N. G. Collins as foreman of the grand jury.

Rumors about town were that the grand jury was going to consider some 50 to 60 indictments for illegal voting. La Bota charged that Republicans had imported voters from Nueces and Starr Counties and even from Mexico. They brought quo warranto proceedings against the county judge, county attorney, county clerk, sheriff, assessor, county surveyor and hide and animal inspector. A quo warranto proceeding was a legal maneuver requiring somebody to state by what authority he or she acted or held a position. One political observer noted that “Lame election law has brought this expense upon the county, and will no doubt send many a poor Mexican to the state prison.”

La Bota members filed affidavits claiming they could not get a fair trial in Duval County so the cases were transferred to Nueces County. While La Bota claimed they had been elected by majority vote, they also claimed these same citizens would not give them a fair trial.

Authorities arrested Juan Zardiente, who had been elected commissioner from Precinct 2 in Benavides, on charges of illegal voting because he allegedly was not a citizen. The mater was quickly cleared up when Zardiente provided proof of citizenship and of having lived in the precinct the required number of days before the election.

The election controversies were still not over.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

From weddings to leopard attacks

The drought that plagued Duval County in the summer of 1884 began to clear in September when heavy rains, which stock raisers welcomed, nearly flooded Benavides. The rain, however, provided cover for a party of robbers who assaulted the clerk of the Levy store in Piedras Pintas.

The robbers threatened to kill the clerk if he told P. W. Toklas or anyone else that they had asked about his whereabouts. The clerk felt Toklas was in danger and told him of the bandits’ interest. Toklas gathered a posse the following morning to look for the robbers but lost their trail because of the recent heavy rains.

County commissioners, meanwhile, called for bids to build a new jail. Several contractors attended the Oct. 1 commissioners court meeting, but the commissioners failed to show up and the item was postponed. With the cost of the project reportedly requiring a $10,000 bond issue, rumors spread throughout the county that large taxpayers would vigorously oppose the jail. The proposal called for the two-story jail constructed of brick with steel cells. Opponents argued the county could make the existing jail adequate at a lot less cost.

On a lighter note, John D. Cleary, who would play an important part in county politics in years to come, and Julia Martinet announced wedding plans. The couple wed at St. Francis de Paula Catholic Church before a packed congregation of friends and relatives. C. Tibilier gave the bride away. Bridesmaids included Addie L. Feuille and Maclovia G. Tovar. Groomsmen were Fred Rider and William Rankin. A reception and ball followed at the Garfield House.

In another less ostentatious wedding, Robert Spence took Bettie Spach as his bride. The C. Tibilier family announced the arrival of a “big fat boy baby.” Methodists were expecting the Rev. A. H. Sutherland to come to San Diego to dedicate their new church. A ball had more women in attendance than men, with some old married men escorting young ladies.

Over in Benavides the social scene took a different turn when Triunfo Serna supposedly tried to commit suicide after his girl left him. A friend intervened and Serna shot himself in a leg resulting in a gashing wound.

Further south at the Hilario Benavides Ranch three miles from Concepcion, the excited sounds of dogs, hogs and goats awoke Pedro Gonzalez at three in the morning. He got up to see what the racket was about and a leopard attacked him as he stepped out his door. Gonzalez wrestled the cat suffering very bad bites and scratches to his hands. The match between Gonzalez and the leopard awoke others at the ranch who shot and killed the animal, but not before it had bit eight goats, a dog and a pig. Five of the goats died from their wounds. It turned out that the leopard had rabies, and a doctor in Conception treated Gonzalez.

As the year 1884 wound down, politics again began to enter local conversations. Rumors had it that there were three men thinking of becoming candidates for county judge and two for county clerk.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Democrat “regulars” accuse bolters of being Republicans, bolsters and mugwumps

In June 1886 Duval Democrats had a falling out with some of them bolting the county convention and holding their own confab at the schoolhouse. The “regulars” remained at the County Courthouse for their convention.

County Chairman John Dix explained that the reason for the get-together was to name delegates to the Democratic state convention in Galveston, the 7th Congressional District Convention in Victoria, the 27th Senatorial District Convention in Cotulla and the 83rd Representative Convention that had not yet been scheduled.

When E. N. Gray and the rest of the protesters walked out, those who stayed at the Courthouse cheered their departure with shouts of “get out you mugwumps” and “bolter, Republicans and traitors.” Ironically, mugwumps were Republicans who supported Democratic candidate Grover Cleveland for president two years before.

Dix named John D. Cleary temporary secretary and appointed E. A. Gallagher, F. C. Gravis, W. H. Simmons to the committee of permanent organization. Dix also named a committee of basis of representation that included C. L. Coyner, R. B. Glover and L. P. Bryant and a resolutions committee consisting of George H. Reynolds, Tomas Ramon and Bryant.

Dix certified R. B. Glover, M. L. Valverde, E. A. Glover, Tomas Ramon, Comele G. Ramirez, W. H. Simmons, G. H. Reynolds, Bryant, Cleary, G. S. Gunter, F. C. Gravis, L. L. Wright, C. K. Gravis, J. W. Shaw and himself as delegates. Representation was based on one vote to 20 votes cast for Democratic governor with San Diego, Pct. 1 having 177 votes and entitled to nine convention votes; Benavides, Pct. 2, 153 votes and eight convention votes; Concepcion, Pct. 3, 58 votes and three convention votes; Peña, Pct. 4, two votes and no convention votes; and Rosita, Pct. 5, 68 votes and three convention votes.

The convention made Dix permanent chairman and Cleary permanent secretary. They adopted a resolution denouncing the bolters and named delegates to the various conventions. Selected to go to the state convention were E. A. Glover and C. G. Ramirez with Bryant as alternate. C. K. Gravis and J. W. Shaw were named delegates to the congressional convention; L. L. Wright and F. C. Gravis to the senatorial convention; and Wright, Cleary, Coyner, J. H. Reynolds, W. H. Simmons, F. C. Gravis, R. B. Glover and Ramon were picked to attend the representative convention.

Finally, the Executive Committee was composed of Dix, Cleary, Bryant (Pct. 1), E. A. Glover (Pct. 2), O. S. Watson (Pct. 3), C. E. Bownes (Pct. 4) and Agustine Cantu (Pct. 5).