In February 1860, the Texas Legislature enacted a law giving landowners yet another opportunity to ratify ownership to Spanish and Mexican grants south of the Nueces River. Mexican American landowners in Duval County began the process to legitimize their longstanding claims.
These landowners needed help navigating the American legal system. They turned to two men who through the years had earned their trust. Prussian-born Felix Blucher began surveying land grants in Duval County as early as 1854. Attorney Charles Lovenskiold, a multi-lingual Dane, represented a number of landowners, as well.
These men did not look at the Mexican Americans with the contempt of those seeking to get their lands. Perhaps because they felt an affinity to their foreign upbringing, the Mexican American landowners looked at these two men for advice.
As the land cases made their way to the courts, Judge Milton P. Norton of the Fourteenth Judicial District died unexpectedly in San Antonio in June 1860. Governor Sam Houston called a special election for the first week of August to fill Norton’s unexpired term.
In February, the Legislature enacted a law assigning the unorganized counties of Duval, Encinal, and LaSalle to Nueces County for judicial purposes. The Nueces County Commissioners Court moved to establish voting precincts to serve residents in the three unorganized counties. The court was unable to get a quorum in May or June but at a special meeting on July 3 they created Precinct 9 for Duval and Encinal counties at Agua Poquita, which was located south of San Diego, between present day San Diego and Benavides.
The roads between Corpus Christi and Laredo and San Diego and Mier crisscrossed the Agua Poquita's ranch headquarters at La Felicidad. The court’s action was unclear whether they named John Vale as election judge with Rafael Salinas as an alternate or whether Vale was named election judge and the precinct’s location was at his rancho or at that of Salinas. Since Salinas did not appear to have a ranch, it could have been interpreted that the mention of Salinas was as an alternate election judge.
In late June, candidates began filing for the seat. Seven men, all attorneys specializing in land issues, filed for the office. Among the candidates was Goliad attorney John F. McKinney, a Virginia native, who had unsuccessfully challenged Judge Norton three years earlier. He was the same McKinney who was the plaintiff in McKinney v. Saviego that had made land titles for longtime Mexican landowners murkier. His primary challenger was Joseph O’Connor, another Virginian and a Corpus Christi attorney, who solicited help of his “numerous friends… to see it [law] executed efficiently without fear or favor, prejudice or predilection.” Among his friends were Blucher and Lovenskiold who would play a central role in the election.
Early returns gave O’Connor a substantial lead, primarily from the large turnout in Nueces County. When votes from the northern counties were counted, McKinney closed the gap but he was still considerably short. O’Connor led with a 171-vote margin, 654 to 483. O’Connor’s margin was credited to the striking results of the newly created Precinct 9 in Duval County. Even though the census showed only 73 men of voting age, the new precinct recorded 315 votes, or 45.2 percent of the total Nueces County vote. O’Connor carried Agua Poquita, receiving 313 votes. Blucher, Lovenskiold, and several other men not of Mexican origin organized and voted in the precinct even though they lived elsewhere in the county.
The cries of foul were swift and widespread.