Thursday, April 17, 2014

Duval County had diverse economy in 1889

The New York Times of February 14, 1889 reported that a wealthy Spaniard died a suspicious death in San Diego. James E. W. Herrera, who came to Duval County from northern Texas, died on February 13 because of poisoning. Authorities ruled-out suicide and were investigating the death as a murder, but had no suspects. The newspaper made no mention as to why or whom Herrera was visiting in San Diego.

Not all the news from the spring of 1889 was as ominous. Father Pedro Bard officiated at a church wedding between Benjamin Everett, the youngest son of the late Capt. Jack Everett, and Amanda Oliveira, the daughter of Antonio Oliveira. Padrino John Buckley and madrina Maria Lina Carter led the bridal party. The Oliveiras’ hosted a wedding supper at their residence.

Father Bard had two more weddings scheduled and George Bodet returned from Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

The local economy, meanwhile, was undergoing a shift. The sheep industry had been the underpinning of the Duval County economy, but the threats of free trade being advanced nationally, had caused the industry to decline. 

Many Duval County residents engaged in the sheep industry were turning to agriculture. Small farmers expected to plant 1,000 bales of cotton in 1889; the crop had raised $15,000 in the most recent year. Farmers also planned to plant other cereal crops, such as corn and beans. Farmers were also expecting a good fruit season. Vines and fig trees were full of fruit, and peach, apricot, and pomegranate trees were blooming. Paul Henry had a farm six miles from San Diego with cabbage, potatoes, turnips, and carrots.

A large crew was working on the Tex-Mex railroad, with 18 carloads of rock and gravel brought in daily from eight miles above San Diego. The rock cemented quickly and workers considered the rock the best foundation material in the state. The Tex-Mex was transporting a lot of freight, including large herds of livestock from Capt. Kenedy’s Laureles Ranch as well as road material being used to build the road between Mexico City and Vera Cruz. Townspeople were working to bring another railroad.

Prosperity in Duval County was pervasive with money spread throughout community, mostly with the working class. A dozen new houses were under construction in San Diego. Mendieta, also called Schaefer, was a thriving little community with two stores, a post office, a blacksmith, a baker, and a butcher shop. Postmaster James Bryden operated one of the stores and was a big farmer as well. Julius Henry of Corpus Christi owned the second store. Both stores were doing good business in hides and pelts.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Una Injusticia En Duval

The Botas and Guaraches continued to be active for some time in Duval County. It should be noted that this movement was not peculiar to Duval County. Similar parties existed in Webb and Zapata Counties and perhaps others.

In 1912, a significant event occurred in Duval County in which three Anglos shut and killed three Mexican Americans outside the courthouse. Many attribute this incident to the birth of the Parr machine.

The Botas and Guaraches were probably no longer active, but the Conjunto La Suerte De Sam Y Martina recorded a corridor entitled “Una Injusticia En Duval”, which relates the events of 1912 and attributed them to the Botas and Guaraches. This is probably a stretch but the depiction of events is generally in keeping with history and the song is entertaining.

The song is available from Amazon for 89¢ and it is well worth it. Thanks to Armando Gonzalez for putting me on to this corridor.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

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

The election of 1888 continued to rile folks long after Election Day. But in 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 1889 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 the 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 of Duval County citizens, 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.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Anglos hijacked the Mexican American efforts at organizing a political party

The 1888 election was not the first controversial election in the county, and certainly not the last. It set out important markers for future politicians, and no doubt provided important lessons to an aspiring politician named Archie Parr who had recently arrived in the county.

Newspaper accounts and the public record are somewhat confusing as to what ultimately transpired with the legal challenges. Take, for example, the office of county judge. In the summer, when the Botas were first organized, newspapers reported that the new party had nominated J. W. Parkham for county judge. After the election, Juan Zardiente reported to the Laredo Daily Times that Bota candidate Julian Palacios was elected county judge. The commissioners court certified the incumbent Guarache James Luby as county judge. The Handbook of Texas says that J. W. Moses contested the election all the way to the Supreme Court and was named county judge. The election records at the state archives have corrected returns from the 1888 election that indeed show Moses as the winner for county judge.

A 1987 Dallas Morning News article says the Texas Supreme Court declared John Buckley sheriff in 1890. The Texas Archives collection on election returns shows that Moses was elected County Judge; William A. Tinney, County and District Clerk; Charles S. Gunter, County Surveyor; Buckley, Sheriff; Pedro Eznal, Assessor of Taxes; Vidal Garcia, Inspector of Hides and Animals; Pablo Cardono, Constable Precinct 1; G. D. Garcia, Commissioner Precinct 1; and F. K. Ridder, Commissioner Precinct 4. The original returns showed Ridder as Commissioner of Precinct 1 and Charles Stillman as Commissioner Precinct 3. In the amended returns, Stillman is Commissioner of Precinct 2. Zardiente, who newspapers reported being elected Commissioner of Precinct 2, does not appear on any official record.

Juan Puig, who newspapers reported was a candidate for County Treasurer, also does not appear on the official election records, although it could be he lost to George Bodet because Bodet appears on both the original and amended record. Zardiente, meanwhile, had reported to the Laredo newspaper that Alvino Tovar had won the treasurer’s post.

Clearly, the 1888 election was a mess. Surely, it was a sign of things to come. What is clear, however, is that the Anglos hijacked the Mexican American efforts at organizing a political party as Anglo candidates dominated both the Botas and Guaraches.

The first Mexican American County Judge did assume office, however, in 1892 when Moses suffered a stroke and resigned and F. Garcia Tovar was appointed to finish his term.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

1888 election was a precursor of future politics in Duval County

The deadly Duval County election of 1888 featuring the Botas and Guaraches was a precursor to the Parr politics of the future.

The Laredo Daily Times recounted a letter from Juan Zardiente to his brother Romulo in Laredo in which he relayed that the Botas Democratic ticket had won the election in Duval County. According to Zardiente, Julian Palacios was elected County Judge over James Luby. Other Bota victors were W. Tinney for County Clerk; Alvino G. Tovar, as County Treasurer; John Buckley, as Sheriff; and Zardiente for County Commissioner. The Guaraches and the Botas reportedly elected two commissioners each but with a Bota County Judge they had majority on the court.

But politics reared its ugly head in Duval County, much before the Parr’s had perfected dirty politics to an art form. In fact, Archie Parr had only been in the county for five years and was not yet an active political player.

The Duval County Commissioners Court met on Nov. 12 -13 to canvass the election returns. The Botas were in control of the court and quickly threw out the votes from Benavides and Rosita, claiming the election judge had not reported the total number of votes cast even though the votes each candidate candidate received were reported. Anticipating shenanigans. the Guaraches hired Corpus Christi attorney John S. McCampbell, who had been the law partner of Archie Parr’s uncle John Givens. The Botas, meanwhile, retained the services of Laredo attorney J. O. Nicholson.

McCampbell, representing R. B. Glover, F. C. Gravis, and L. L. Wright, protested the Commissioners Court’s action but Nicholson argued that the election law was “directory not mandatory.” Commissioners Corkill and Ridder voted to throw out the Benavides and Realitos votes. Commissioners Hebron and Eznal, voted to keep the votes, but Judge Luby broke the tie and the votes were rejected. More than 400 votes were thrown out. The Guaraches served notice they would appeal to the District Court where they hoped for a friendlier reception since the Botas had supported the District Judge’s opponent. The Laredo newspaper lamented the disenfranchisement of voters and reported that a similar case two years previous had occurred in Starr County and the Supreme Court had reversed it.

The election took on an international flavor when parties asked the Mexican Consul in Laredo, Señor Rafael Varrios, and Minister Romero to get involved in the Duval County election controversy. They wisely declined involvement.