Thursday, May 21, 2015

Duval Democrats bolt county convention

At the end of May and beginning of June 1886, four prisoners escaped from the Duval County jail in San Diego after the jailer forgot to lock door and over in Realitos the Texas Mexican Railroad was completing a small railway station built.

But even back then, politics still dominated conversations in the county. Democratic Party Chairman John J. Dix called a county convention for July 15 at the county courthouse but later changed the date to June 30 to allow delegates time to attend the congressional convention. On the appointed date, the party regulars convened and as they say, “all Hell broke loose.”

A group bolted the convention and called a meeting at the schoolhouse in San Diego. The disagreement erupted after Dix ruled out of order motion a motion calling for him to name a temporary chairman and secretary. Dix appointed E. N. Gray, C. K. Gravis, and J. W. Shaw to the credentials committee but Gray rejected the appointment, saying the committee was stacked 2-1. M. C. Spann moved that Chairman Dix appoint delegates from each precinct, but Dix ruled him out of order. Spann appealed to the entire convention to take up his request; Dix again refused to submit the matter to the convention.

Spann and 37 other dissenters walked out and marched to the schoolhouse where Democratic Executive Committee Secretary A. R. Valls called the rebellious convention to order. The group elected Spann temporary chairman, A. J. Ayers temporary secretary and Gray, E. Chamberlain, Julian Palacios, Senobio Cuellar, and H. Garrett to the credentials committee.

The committee accepted Spann, Chamberlain, and John Buckley as delegates from Precinct 1; Placido Benavides, Valls, Florencio Salinas, Nicolas Molina, Ventura Flores, Ysidro Benavides, Vicente Vera, Cuellar, and Agustine Canales as Precinct 2 delegates; Cesario Guajardo, Sotenedo Vera, Francisco Furras, Florencio Palacios, Theo Perez, Juan Leal, Charles Stillman, and Julian Palacios as delegates from Precinct 3; Ayers and James Gullet as Precinct 4 delegates; and F. K. Ridder, M. C. Diaz, and Theodore Weidenmuller as delegates from Precinct 5. The committee based representation based on one vote for every 20 cast in gubernatorial election with Precinct 1 entitled to 15 votes; Precinct 2 to 9; and Precincts 3, 4 and 5 to 3 votes each.

The bolters elected Spann as regular chairman and Valls retained his post as secretary. Also selected to serve on the executive committee were Gray, Placido Benavides, Ayers, Julian Palacios, and Ridder. Spann named himself and Chamberlain as delegates to the state convention; N. G. Collins, George Bodet, and Buckley as delegates to the congressional convention; Ridder, Julian Palacios, and Charles Hoffman to represent the county at the senatorial convention; and Gray, Placido Benavides, and Stillman to attend the representative convention as Duval County delegates.

The runaway convention also adopted a resolution accusing the Courthouse Convention of only having delegates from part of Precinct 1 and had no credentialed representatives from Precinct 2. The convention unanimously approved a motion sponsored by Buckley granting certificates to delegates showing the meeting of Precinct 2 held June 22 was illegal and void. The convention claimed to represent 463 of the 640 votes in the county.

J. S. Penn, a candidate for state representative and editor of the Laredo Times, addressed the schoolhouse convention.

Stay tuned to find out what the convention was happening at the Courthouse Convention.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Planting, shearing and cattle raising profitable in Duval County in 1885

Map of San Diego in 1885,
After the harsh winter of 1884-85, landowners around Concepcion started planting using American plows and cultivators. They planted twice the acreage they had the previous planting season, mostly corn. One of the largest planters of corn was E. N. Gray of Concepcion, who planted 400 acres.

While farmers in the southern part of the county were busy planting, a hailstorm lasting 15 minutes hit near San Diego causing heavy damage. The storm caused waters in the San Diego, Agua Dulce and Pernitas Creeks to overflow. The rising waters washed away the railroad bridge at San Diego. The Texas Mexican train from Laredo found the bridge impassable and turned around and returned to Benavides.

The hailstorm also knocked down several miles of telephone wire and poles down between San Diego and Benavides. The storms blew away the railroad’s depots at San Diego and Collins. Another hailstorm in May caused extensive damage at the rancho of John Fitch, killing 3,000 head of sheep and destroying his corn crop and windmill.

Planting was of course only part of the business of local ranchers. The shearing of sheep continued with sheep men transporting more than 200 bags of wool to Corpus Christi. Woolgrowers hauled wool to M. C. Spann’s warehouse in San Diego. Buyers were bypassing Corpus Christi and going directly to San Diego to buy the product.

J. S. Beckham of Collins sold his wool in San Diego at 13¢. William Adami of Fort Ewell came to San Diego and sold 43 bags of wool totaling 14,000 pounds to John T. Murphy for 17¢ a pound. The Gravis brothers sold 52 bags to D. Hirsch at 16¢; the Collins clip sold to Cox-Gusset at 15¢; Fred Frank sold to Murphy at 15¢; and T. C. Wright sold to Hirsch at 14¢. The wool traders in the county preferred selling their wool in San Diego to Corpus Christi buyers at 17¢ than take it all the way to San Antonio for 19¢. The Corpus Christi buyers bought the wool “as is, sacks and all.”

Cattlemen, meanwhile, shipped 15,000 head of cattle from Peña station in southern Duval County. Gray left his corn on the field to move some 2,000 head of cattle and 800 horses to “wherever he finds a market.” San Diego was a center for stock buyers who were in town in search of product almost every day.

By June, the corn crop was everywhere. No one remembered ever seeing such a big corn crop in Duval County, it seemed as every pasture had corn growing on it. Farmers expected to harvest a good crop, provided the boll weevils did not get to it first. John Dix and Henry Seeligson recommend horse meat to keep the boll weevils from attacking the crop.

The favorable crops and markets for wool and cattle were not the only items of interest in Duval County in 1885. A fence was under construction by landowners around San Diego with gates cutting across public roads. Some townspeople who feared these gates could cause injury and were a public nuisance asked U. S. Courts to look into the practice.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Crime continued unabated in the frontier that was Duval County

Headstone of Paulino Coy. (From
The notorious Nueces County deputy sheriff Paulino Coy kept himself busy bringing in alleged bad guys throughout 1885. Fortunately for the bad guys, none tried to escape and the deputy saved the county money on ammo and pauper burials.

Early in the year, Coy went to Cameron County to bring back Guadalupe Longoria who Sheriff Brito of Cameron County had arrested. Longoria had several indictments pending against him in Nueces County and law enforcement officials believed him to be a member of the Abrigo gang who had escaped after a recent shootout in which authorities shot and killed Abrigo. Longoria supposedly admitted taking horses he stole from Cameron County ranchers to Nueces and Duval Counties where he sold them.

Shortly after his return from Cameron County, Coy was off to San Antonio with Ereneo Carrero, also accused of horse theft. Upon his return from the Alamo city, Coy again made treks for Cameron County to bring back another suspected criminal. Deputy Coy brought Mauricio Abrigo back to Nueces County. He was the brother of the gang leader killed in the shootout mentioned earlier. Mauricio Abrigo was a suspect in the robbery of the Noakes Store in 1874.

Nueces County Sheriff Whelan, meanwhile, brought in two suspected horse thieves that had been operating in the Pena area, in the southern part of the Duval County. The two suspects, Gumesindo G. Fuentes and Juan Salazar, were captured near Carrizo by none other than Deputy Coy.

In August, Coy brought in Porfirio Salazar, also suspected of horse theft. Deputy Coy reportedly caught Salazar on the road near Los Animas heading towards Rio Grande City. He had the horse, saddle and bridle belonging to John Kelly.

While Coy was gallivanting about the country, the usual crime spree in San Diego went unabated. A Brownsville gambler by the name of Manny Kepple went on a binge, entered a house in town and attacked a woman. A neighbor, Zenon Gonzales, heard the woman’s pleas for help and rushed to her aid. Kepple attacked Gonzales, stabbing him five times. Authorities arrested Kepple, but they did not expect that Gonzales would survive his wounds.

The year 1885 wound up with one of the most horrific killings seen in the frontier of Duval County. The victim was 14 year-old Casimira Diaz, daughter of Mateo Sendejo. The murder occurred at the Sendejo ranch six miles west of Mindieta.

Casimira apparently had married Eusebio Diaz, 28, with Sendejo’s blessing but not that of the local priest, who objected due to the disparity in their ages. The couple went to San Diego where the county judge married them. Casimira, however, who was in love with someone else, had second thoughts and reportedly gave her new spouse the cold treatment.

Diaz had suffered a head injury the year before and had become erratic in his behavior. On Sept 1, 1885, he went to the girl’s ranch and found her grinding corn in the kitchen. They soon got into an argument and Diaz reportedly directed gunfire at his reluctant bride. The first shot shattered Casimira’s jaw. She ran to her mother for help when Diaz fired again hitting her under the right arm. The dying girl fell into her mother’s arms.

Diaz, meanwhile, placed the gun to his head and unloaded three shots with no effect. He tossed the pistol aside, took a dagger from his boot and slit his throat. Incredibly, he survived. A doctor came from San Diego and sewed his throat and authorities took him to jail in San Diego.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Large crowds turn out for Fourth of July 1899

Claude Tibilier, one of San Diego’s most prominent citizens, died on March 6, 1899 after becoming paralyzed following several days of dengue fever. He was buried the following day with Father J. P. Bard officiating over a Catholic funeral. Serving as pall bearers were Paul Bears, W. W. Meek, C. H. Hufford, P. Eznal, Frank Feuille, S. H. Woods, and B. Miret.

The Corpus Christi Caller reported the funeral was one of “largest seen in San Diego”. The funeral procession left the Tibilier home for St. Francis de Paula Catholic Church and from the church proceeded to the San Diego Cemetery. Tibilier was survived by a wife, eight children, a brother, and several sisters. He was a member of the fraternal organizations the Knights of Honor, the Knights of Pythias, and the Woodmen of the World. He believed in “Republicanism of the heart and Democracy of the fireside”.

Two months later, Tibilier’s widow was building a $1,200 home. M. D. Cohn was also building a $1,500 residence, showing San Diego still possessed economic vitality. In another sign of this healthy economy, John A. Cleary bought the E. D. Sidbury lumberyard in San Diego.

The Texas Mexican Railroad, meanwhile, named A. Puig of San Diego as its agent, replacing D. M. Morris who the railroad transferred to its Monterey depot. The post office, located at E. C. Cadena’s store, also made changes, naming L. Fernandez assistant postmaster and bookkeeper to take over from Santos Ramirez. A prominent Mexican politician, Amado Garcia Hinojosa, was visiting in San Diego.

Over in Realitos, large crowds came out to celebrate the Fiesta de San Juan. The newspaper reported that the town was filled with “gamblers, smugglers, illicit liquor dealers, and soiled doves. Open-air gaming, brass bands, and hoodlums with all calibers of pistols from 45 Colts to 22 Winchesters make night dangerous.” Chuck-luck lotteries and Monte tables attracted gamblers and other louts.

In San Diego, local residents were also partying in observance of the Fourth of July, with large crowds gathering around the picnic grounds. Judge J. O. Luby donated ammo for 12-pound cannon which arrived by train. Pedro Cruz, who was in charge of the cannon, fired a 21-gun salute. Bands played music throughout the day and political types made speeches. Among the orators were A. D. Smith and Alice resident T. E. Noonan who “made one of his characteristic speeches, logical and eloquent.”

Johnnie Nichols, the only greased pole contestant, tried to climb the pole time after time but failed each time. Someone felt sorry for him and gave him a quarter. Frank Feuille Jr. won the watermelon-eating contest and also received a quarter for his effort. Willie Hoffman and Claude Tibilier Jr. tied in the potato race. The tub race provided the most hilarity and paid half a dollar to winner Willie Nichols. Lawrence Tibilier also took home a half dollar after he easily won the swimming competition. Other winners included George Lewis in the wheel barrel race; Eugene Spence in the sack race; and Jorge Rodriguez in the greased pig challenge.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Duval County liked to celebrate often and late into the night, fiestas and dance were common

Special celebrations in Duval County were many and held often in the nineteenth century. They were also quite different from today’s fiestas. In 1887, the July 4 celebration included the San Diego Gun Club putting on a remarkable display of American flags on the fiesta grounds. Tent stands also dotted the ground selling everything from lemonade and to cold while a band struck up a musical fare. The affair more than made up for the community’s failure to celebrate San Jacinto Day on April 21.

The large crowd enjoyed a large display of both American and Texas flags. Ferdinand Tibilier raised the Irish flag and the Mexican flag was also flown. The Corpus Christi reporter claimed there were “no Americans … more enthusiastic than were the Mexicans in celebrating the day”.

Old Gun Club members taking part in the celebration included Charles Hoffman, M. C. Spann, Tibilier, George Bodet, and Frank Gravis. New members taking part were Avelino Garcia Tovar, Eusebio Martinez, and Antonio Rosales. Also enjoying the festivities were W. B. Croft and John Buckley. The Gun Club marched onto the fiesta grounds in procession accompanied by musicians and followed by a large crowd. Because the Club’s president, J. O. Luby, was busy attending to his law business, the Gun Club members marched to his office to serenade him. At least that was Luby’s excuse; others theorized he absented himself from the celebration because he was of English descent and the orators were making some nasty comments about the British.

Benavides did not put on quite a show for the Fourth; the only celebration reported was the firing of 13 rifles.

In Realitos a couple of weeks before, on June 26, the Spanish-speaking community had celebrated feast day of San Juan with horse races, cockfights, and other entertainment. Apparently, the day did not generate the same interest in San Diego, where no celebrations were observed. Perhaps they were too busy preparing to the Fourth of July.

The lively entertainment continued in July with no less than six dances being held in San Diego on Saturday, July 23. All six dances were well attended with both music and dance partners in great demand.

In September, the young men celebrated Dies y Seis de Septiembre with another dance. The following month, Kate Luby, with the help of women in the town, organized a grand musical concert to raise funds for school for girls.

The year’s celebrating was capped in December when the San Diego Gun Club held a shooting tournament and another private dance. The shooting tournament was held on the Monday after Christmas. The Gun Club asked merchants to close for the day. The private “hop” on Saturday night, meanwhile, resulted in dancing through the night until daylight; many went home with girls in the morning. The theatre was also well attended even though the shows did not start until midnight.