Thursday, February 19, 2015

Early Duval officials played musical chairs

Early Duval County officials often engaged in a game of musical chairs, resigning posts and taking others. These activities occupied the Commissioners Court as 1878 opened.

In February, Road Commissioner for Precinct 2 Rafael Saenz submitted his resignation, which the Court quickly accepted. Just as quickly, the Court appointed Alejo Perez to the fill the new vacancy. Perez, however, had to give up his post as Constable for Precinct 4.

A couple of days later, during the same February term of the Court, John Vining resigned as Justice of the Peace for Precinct 3. The Court accepted the resignation. The Court did not name replacements for Perez and Vining.

The court also fined Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace Charles Roach $25 for contempt of court for failing to make his report to the Court as required by law.

The commissioners also faced a request by citizens in the form of a petition to delay the construction of a new courthouse and jail. Commissioners tabled the request until the following day at which time they refused the petition, pointing to the petitioners the unanimous vote of the Court in favor of the project. They “respectfully” told petitioners that the Court had appointed a committee to proceed with this project and it had performed considerable work already.

In a related item, Commissioners authorized N. G. Collins to exchange the three lots he had donated to the county for the building of the courthouse and jail. The Court preferred three lots owned by E. D. Sidbury and located directly west of the Collins’ donated lots.

The Court also approved a special tax for the courthouse and jail at a rate of ½ of 1 percent or 50 cents on $100 of valuation.

Also approved were a ¼ of 1 percent on $100 of valuation for the general fund and a $1 per head in a poll tax. The court also agreed to “all the taxes for the state as provided by law,” as well as the Occupation and dog tax. The county would get to keep half of the Occupation Tax collected for the state.

Commissioners also addressed the matter of hiring out convicts. They directed Jose Vaello to pay the county for nine months for the services of convict Rafael Ruiz. Vaello was also required to pay for the expenses incurred in bringing Ruiz to Duval County. Commissioners also voted to sue anyone else who owed the county money for sue of convict labor.

Convicts, who the county could not hire out to cover the costs of their imprisonment, would put to work on public roads and other county projects at $1 per day. County Judge James Luby would designate the task convicts would perform.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Issues of county organization continue to occupy commissioners court in 1877

One year after its formal organization and first election, Duval County officials continued to wrestle with a number of issues concerning the new endeavor. Taxes, roads and public buildings were on the agenda for the commissioners December term.

The court added to members to the newly appointed courthouse and jail committee. Charles Sullivan and William Hubbard joined County Judge James Luby, N. G. Collins and P. A. Matteson on the committee, which the court empowered to develop plans and specifications and to enter into a contract with the “lowest and best bidder.”

The cost for the courthouse building was not to exceed $4,000 and the jail was to be no more than $2,500. The court also accepted the donation made by N. G. Collins of San Diego town lots in which to build the new courthouse and jail. They directed Judge James Luby to prepare the documents needed to complete the deed transfer.

The court also continued to deal with transferring funds and documents from Nueces County to Duval County. They ordered County Treasurer Charles Hoffman to contact his Nueces County counterpart and request that the parent county transfer any school funds in its treasury to Hoffman.

The commissioners court also saw a need to appoint five-men juries of viewers to deal with the continued issue of road development. The role of these committees was to “obtain the assent and signatures of all persons through whose lands any roads may pass.”

The court appointed a committee for each precinct. Serving on the committee for Precinct 1 were Charles Hoffman, Theodore Lamberton, Jose M. G. Trevino, Claude Tiblier and E. Garcia Perez. The Precinct 2 committee consisted of Isidro Benavides, Jose Maria Sanes (mostly likely this is a misspelling of Saenz), E. A. Glover, Tiburcio Salinas and Juan Sanes.

The five viewers in Precinct 3 included E. N. Gray, Jesus Maria Palacios, Charles Stillman, Francisco Cadena and Eduardo G. Hinojosa. Precinct 4 committee members were Richard Jordan (?), Jesus Saens, Santos Balderas, Edward Caldwell and George Alanis.

In a related matter, the court ordered that a Class 3 road be built from La Gloria Ranch to Concepcion via La Rosita at the upper end and via Rancho of Juan Salinas, Piedras Pintas and Los Indios at the lower end.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Duval County Commissioners fine tax collector

On November 15, 1877, Duval County Commissioners Court fined the tax collector $15 for contempt of court. The action came because the tax collector failed to provide a supplemental roll of taxes as ordered by the court. The tax collector had no excuse for the failure.

While court minutes do not name the tax collector, during the early years of Texas county government the sheriff of the county was the tax collector. In the case of Duval County, it was R. P. Fly.

The sheriff may have been a little miffed at this turn of events for he resigned from office at the same meeting. On the other hand, he may have failed to produce the tax roll because he was planning on resigning.

The commissioners court accepted Fly’s resignation “with regret” and gave him the thanks of the county for “his past good services.” The court tabled action on paying the sheriff’s bills. Two days later, the court settled accounts with the sheriff paying him $223.05 for keep and guard of prisoners, $180.75 for attendance at the courts’ sessions and $54.10 for handcuffs and leg irons.

Political intrigue may well have been in the air at that time, as Justice of the Peace John Humphries also tendered his resignation a few days later, during the same term of the court. The court acted immediately on this resignation, expressed no regrets or well wishes as they had with Fly but instead named Humphries as the new Sheriff and Tax Collector.

Leading citizens lined up to guarantee the three bonds totaling $30,000 Humphries filed for the positions. Among the sureties were N. G. Collins, E. G. Perez, E. G. Garza, Jose M. G. Treviño, Pablo Perez, John J. Dix, Gueydan Brothers, Fly and W. Hubbard.

At the same meeting, commissioners appointed P. A. Matteson as Justice of the Peace, approved his bond backed by Hubbard and Collins and administered him the oath of office.

In other action, the court agreed to extend the rental agreement with Manuel Ancira for the county courthouse building. Plans were underway to secure a new courthouse but Ancira gave the county an additional six months, beginning on January 1, 1878, to use the building for $40 per month, an increase from the $33.33 monthly average during the first year agreement, which was for $400 a year.

Commissioners appointed a three-man committee to begin corresponding with an architect and iron dealers for a new courthouse and jail. Serving on the committee were County Judge James Luby, Collins and Matteson. The commissioners directed the committee to get plans and specifications for a 36 by 40-foot courthouse to cost no more than $4,000. The jail was to be of 2 by 6-foot “spiked boards” or an iron cage. The committee had until the court’s December 17, 1877 meeting to gather the information.

Finally, the court approved paying Dix, who was the county surveyor, $727.13 for his work in setting out the boundary lines for the county. The court also ordered the road overseer for precinct one to begin work on the road to Concepcion, especially on the road’s crossing of the San Diego Creek. Work on roads in other precincts was to proceed upon Dix’s notification.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Duval County Sheriff authorized to use convicts to clear crossing at creek

Judge James O. Luby
Concerned about the crossing at the San Diego Creek, the Duval County Commissioners in 1877 ordered that the sheriff to use convict labor to improve the crossing across from the courthouse. Sheriff R. P. Fly was to seek the advice and consent of County Judge James Luby when using the convicts.

The court directed the sheriff to keep the convicts at “hard labor” fixing the crossing and approaches. In addition, convicts were to remove stakes and corrals obstructing the crossing. The sheriff could credit the convicts for one day’s work for every nine hours of labor. He could also purchase all the necessary equipment to get the job done.

If convict labor was not sufficient to complete the job, the court authorized the sheriff to use road crews to help with the project. Under no circumstances, however, were road crews compelled to work with the convicts.

Commissioners also appointed County Surveyor John J. Dix as sole commissioner to represent the county in working with Starr, Zapata and Encinal Counties in establishing the southern and western boundaries of Duval County. The court authorized Dix to enter into the agreements necessary to effectuate this matter.

The commissioners also directed Surveyor Dix to locate and obtain patents to all lands that the county was entitled to for school purposes. The court agreed to pay Dix fees allowed by law for this purpose.

Finally, the court ordered Dix to cut and establish all approved roads in the county. The court also directed the surveyor to place mileposts on the roads and to use road crews as necessary to get the job done.

In other business at its August 1877 meeting, Commissioners Court agreed to give County Judge Luby a pay raise of $300 annually, from $200 to $500. The court also accepted the resignation of Justice of the Peace for Pct. 2 Saul Tinney and tabled action on the appointment of a county physician.

At the court’s subsequent meeting, commissioners named Eugene A. Glover to replace Tinney as Pct. 2 Justice of the Peace.

The court also approved the payment of a $250 for the “apprehension and delivery to the proper officers at the courthouse door in San Diego of each and every party implicated in the murders of Girtman and Poppell.” Unknown parties had murdered the two sheep buyers in the county.

Monday, January 19, 2015

South Texas Gentle Men of Steel – Los Padres

(This is a news release from my good friend Father Armando Ibañez, OP, which I know many of you would be interested in. Look forward seeing some of you at the preview.)

A new documentary about the great impact Dominican friars had in the history and development of central South Texas, especially on how their presence assisted many Mexican-Americans struggle against injustice and harsh racism, will be shown at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 26-27 in Ball Room A, in the Memorial Student Union Bldg. (Sub-M), at Texas A&M University-Kingsville (TAMUK).

South Texas Gentle Men of Steel – Los Padres is written, produced and directed by Assistant Professor of Communications / Radio-Television-Film, Armando P. Ibáñez. He is also the director of TAMUK’s RTF program, is also a Roman Catholic priest, a Dominican friar of the Southern Dominican Province, headquartered in New Orleans. He is a native of San Diego, grew up in Alice, and is a former reporter of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

In addition, award-winning editor and animator, Todd Schmidt, is co-producer of the film, and Emmy Award nominee, Joe O. Barrera, a native of San Diego, is the documentary’s music composer and music supervisor. Barrera was named by the Hollywood Reporter as a film music composer to watch, and has won numerous prestigious honors for his music.

The January screenings are the film’s third and fourth sneak previews. The doc screened in the Little Theatre in late November.

“Watching Los Padres was an immersion in the history of my family,” said Jenni Vinson, who teaches at TAMUK. “It was touching to see the church that received my grandfather when he fled Mier, Mexico. This was the same church he later married in and where they baptized their children.”

The film is a tribute to the last two Spanish Dominican friars—Father Benito Retortillo, OP, and Father Epifanio “Epi” Rodriguez, OP. They left San Diego, and returned to their homes in Spain last year, ending an 82-year presence of Spanish Dominican friars in central South Texas. The film is not only a tribute to the last two friars to minister in San Diego and surrounding area, but is also about the great impact Dominican friars had on the lives of many Mexican Americans in South Texas, who struggled against poverty and discrimination.

Ibáñez says that the film represents a chapter of the ongoing universal story of people grappling to understand and accept each other as equals. It is a chapter that traces its roots to the Spanish Conquista—a wrestling match of greed and brutality against equality and Salvation. It is part of the universal story that began with Cain slaying his brother Abel.

Vinson says: “Los Padres is an encapsulation of what we once relied on the narrative to do, the telling of our stories. To see ‘us’ on the screen filled me with joy because Armando Ibáñez took such care with our story and presented us with the dignity my grandparents and the priests instilled in me for our culture.”

In the film, Father Epi says: “When I go back to Spain, I’m going to be a stranger in my own country. It’s going to be very painful for me to leave.” Father Epi ministered in South Texas for more than 50 years, while Father Benito served for about 30 years.

Although Dominican friars no longer minister in South Texas, the work of Father Epi and Father Benito and that of their Dominican brothers had a profound impact on the lives of many Mexican-Americans, especially when they faced the harsh realities of blatant discrimination, which denied them good jobs, education and even kept them out public institutions, such as universities, and businesses, like restaurants.

The Spanish friars of the Order of Preachers, more commonly known as Dominicans, did not lead with anger, but, rather, with a gentle presence that assured their parishioners of their human dignity and integrity.

The Dominicans “didn’t join protest marches” of the late 1960s and early 1970s, TAMUK Professor Manuel Flores says in the film, but they quietly encouraged the youth and activists to continue with their struggles against discrimination. It was a matter of justice and equality.

“They gave legitimacy to the Chicano movement,” Dr. Flores said.

“Our documentary includes a historical context in order to illustrate the true contribution these Dominican friars made, and to illustrate that Mexican-Americans faced blatant discrimination at one time in this country.” Although discrimination is still very much alive today, he added, but it is not as overt as it once was.

“We should never forget so that it won’t happen again, and so that we also won’t discriminate against anyone else either.”

The documentary is produced by Pluma Pictures, Inc., a non-profit film production company. Featured in the film are writer and historian Alfredo Cardenas, Roberto Juarez, poet and retired postmaster and Servando Hinojosa, visual artist and retired art teacher, as well as an interview with the Bishop Michael Mulvey, STL, DD of the Diocese of Corpus Christi. 

“A unique component of our film is poetry,” said Ibañez, who is listed in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, and wrote poetry for the documentary.