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.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

First pioneers came as ranchers

The first settlers to the area of what is now Duval County came to ranch. The land did not lend itself to farming, as the aborigines had found. It did provide, however, enough forage for animals to survive. Therefore, the Spanish came into the area with their cattle, goats and sheep to make a living. 

Some historians date the first Spanish ranches in the area to as early as 1760. Guerrero, Camargo and Mier were said to be the well spring for the first frontier communities, including San Diego. In 1794, Julian and Ventura Flores first received eight leagues of land called San Diego de Arriba and San Diego de Abajo from the king of Spain. It would take another 10 years before its owners had the land officially surveyed and their titles perfected.

While Julian and Ventura Flores’ Rancho San Diego was among the first settlements, it cannot be definitively said that it was the first. Spaniards surveyed several other grants at about the same time, including Los Angeles, Concepcion, San Leandro and San Florentina.

In 1808, ancestors of Trinidad Vela took possession of Santa Maria de Los Angeles de Abajo, where they founded Rancho Mesquite near the Charco Salado. Like many of the first settlements, this ranch was located next to a creek, in this instance the Arroyo de Los Angeles or Palo Blanco. The area was in southwestern Duval County, adjacent to Webb County. It was 36 miles from present day San Diego and 51 miles northeast of Carrizo on the Rio Grande.

Within five years, Vela’s ancestors erected houses and pens but marauding Indians soon forced them to leave. These Indian attacks were frequent and the ranchers would leave the lands often, but would always return. The Velas returned to the area and in 1819, Indians killed Trinidad Vela’s father at Los Angeles de Abajo. Indians also killed several neighbors while attending stock. The settlers left once more, but returned in 1824 and rebuilt their houses and pens and resumed ranching. Two years later, Indians again forced settlers to leave Los Angeles de Abajo. They returned occasionally to rope and bring in an occasional beef but the cattle became wild.

Just northwest of Rancho Mesquite, Mariano Arispe settled the grant called Santa Maria de Los Angeles de Arriba. The interruption of sovereignty prevented Arispe from perfecting the grant. As the area went from being part of Mexico to part of Texas, the Arispes could not legally claim the land. Eventually, they paid the state of Texas what they owed to the former Mexican state of Tamaulipas and they received legal title to the land.

By 1848, the greater Los Angeles area was a stop on the road Col. Henry Kinney had opened between Corpus Christi and Laredo. A water well on Arispe’s land where the Laredo to Corpus Christi Road crossed Arroyo Los Angeles became a haven for travelers. Further south, the Velas’ Rancho Mesquite was on the arroyo where the road from Corpus Christi to Mier passed.

The area had a sizable enough population that it got its own voting precinct in 1860. At that time, Los Angeles was in the unorganized county of Encinal attached to Nueces County. Political pundits of the time did not know whether the Los Angeles vote, as well as that of the other new precinct in San Diego, would go for Lincoln or Breckenridge in the presidential election and for or against slavery.

The Los Angeles vote played a pivotal part in the 1860 election of the district judge. The Los Angeles vote reported late and swung the election to Joseph O'Connor of Corpus Christi in the race for district judge. Governor Sam Houston, however, certified O'Connor's opponent, Gen. John F. McKinney, as the winner because he claimed some of new votes were illegal.

During the Civil War, in 1864, Los Angeles was a stop for Confederate troops fighting off the Union soldiers threatening from Brownsville. John “Rip” Ford traveled through Los Angeles on his way to the Rio Grande. In April 1864, part of Major Matt Nolan’s Battalion made Los Angeles its camp.

After the Civil War Los Angeles seems to have vanished as a community and no one heard from it again.å

Thursday, August 6, 2015

San Diego creek was home to early settlers

The common perception is that the San Diego de Abajo and San Diego de Arriba grants are the grants in which San Diego is situated. This is only partially true. These grants cover the part of San Diego north of the San Diego Creek. The area south of the creek is part of the San Leandro grant.

Early Spanish language documents suggest that a fourth grant, San Florentina, was involved but the Texas General Land office has no record of this grant. A legal document used to establish rights to the San Leandro grant contains a notation in Spanish indicating that each of these grants contained four leagues of land. Their owners were Jose Antonio de la Pena y Lopes, Julian and Ventura Flores and Juan Sanchez Rosales who lived near Mier. All were heirs of Don Antonio Perez. The four grants combined, verified on May 30, 1810, contained 16 leagues.

Rosales testified that during the Spanish reign of the area he had settled and cultivated his four leagues of San Leandro on the shores of the San Diego Creek. Located on the San Leandro was the rancho of C. Rafael Garcia Salinas. The ranch was located off the right margin of arroyo de San Diego, 55 miles west of Corpus Christi. The rancho had pens, corrals, stock and servants. The family had possession of that place except when Indians and the wars for independence drove them off.

On July 22, 1831, the state of Tamaulipas recognized that the Spanish government had placed Rafael Garcia Salinas in actual possession of the San Leandro grant. The state of Tamaulipas ratified the grant under Articles 23 and 26 of Decree 42 of Colonization Laws passed on Dec. 15, 1826. The land comprised four leagues.

During Mexico’s war of independence from Spain, between 1810 and 1821, the government put troops into battle, native tribes attacked ranchers in the area and many withdrew to the towns south of the Rio Grande. The Comanche raided extensively since the early 1800s, particularly in South Texas in 1836-37.

Then, in late 1835 the military commander of Tamaulipas notified the ranchers that Texan colonists had started a rebellion against the central government and. he asked everyone on the ranches to arm themselves and fight if the Texans overran the area. After Santa Ana gave up the Nueces Strip 1836, the Mexican government began a process of removing anything of value from the area. They directed inhabitants to leave the land. General Antonio Canales said he would consider a spy any Mexican found three leagues north of the Rio Grande.

In 1839, Canales and Antonio Zapata rebelled against the Central government in Mexico City and moved north with an army of 1,000 men from Guerrero to Lipantitlan on the Nueces. The Mexican Army gave pursuit and Mexican military operations were common in the area, prompting President Maribeau Lamar of Texas to send Texan troops into the area.

By 1844, things had settled down enough where John Dix, a state surveyor, reported some 25 families living in San Diego. However, Indian raids were still a present danger. A band of Comanche, whites and Mexicans were reported killing innocent families throughout the area in 1849.

In the early 1850s, landowners resurveyed many of the Spanish land grants in the area with the intent of clearing clouds over their title. Felix Blucher surveyed the San Leandro grant on Nov. 4-5, 1854 and July 18-20, 1855. Julian Cortez, Refugio Salas, Domingo Escamilla and Andres Gonzales served as chain carriers. On Dec. 11, 1860, Judge Edmund J. Davis heard a case in the 14th Judicial District in Nueces County titled John Levy v. The State of Texas brought under the Legislature’s act of Feb. 11, 1860 to ascertain and adjudicate claims between Nueces and Rio Grande Rivers. The land in question was the original San Leandro grant made to Rafael Garcia Salinas in 1831.

By his time, more settlers and less Indians were coming to the area and an aura of civilization began to take place.

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.