Shepherds were important part of economy but often met death in violent frontier

The raging arguments ongoing today over immigration are nothing new to South Texas. Some of the arguments for immigration were advanced more than 100 years ago in Duval County.

In 1874, E. N. Gray of Concepcion reported that many Mexican shepherds had returned to their native land because of the danger of Indians and outlaws. This exodus had caused a serious falling off in the wool business compared with former years, according to Gray. The Concepcion landowner hoped that the area would return to times that were more peaceful so that the Mexicans would return.

“They are very necessary to future prosperity,” wrote the Corpus Christi Weekly Gazette.

Examples of shepherds meeting premature deaths were many. On Sept. 1, 1874, residents of San Diego found Jesus Duran dead six miles from town. Justice of the Peace James O. Luby appointed a jury of inquest to determine the cause of death. The Jury of Inquest, consisting of Guadalupe Linares, Juan O. Yzaguirre, Eduardo O. Flores, E. G. Garcia, E. Garcia and Theodore Lamberton determined Duran died of exposure and starvation. Duran was a shepherd who worked for Rafael Salinas earning $3.50 a month.

Justice of the Peace Luby also reported that Indians killed a shepherd near Becerra Rancho, 50 miles north of San Diego.

The shepherds were not passive participants in the wild frontier. They at times gave as well as they got. On Sept. 24, 1874, Herculano Martinez, a shepherd employed by Joseph Nichols reportedly shot and killed his employer on the Amargosa Road. The news account in the Corpus Christi Gazette indicated that Martinez shot Nichols in the back and neck. The newspaper said Martinez took Nichols’ pistol and rode off. Authorities offered a $100 reward for the arrest Martinez but after looking for him in Concepcion, Borjas, and Rosita, no arrest was forthcoming.

That same day, F. Morgan killed a shepherd named Santos at the rancho of Lewis Brown. Morgan accused the shepherd of cutting out sheep. According to the Gazette, Santos took a rock to strike Morgan but a Mr. McCreary prevented him from doing so. Santos struck Morgan on the head with a heavy whip. McCreary saw that Santos had him down and a shepherd named Pablo Hinojosa was holding him. McCreary pulled Hinojosa off and held him against corral fence. Santos took Morgan's pistol from its scabbard. Morgan was holding the barrel, according to a Mr. Fletcher. Morgan wrenched the pistol from Santos and shot him through the head.

Judge Luby again appointed a jury of inquest, which ruled that Morgan was acting in self-defense. Members of the jury included L. D. Harris, W. H. Steele, Jesus Treviño, Leandro Reyna, Francisco Gonzalez and Charles S. Murphy.

As 1874 ended, the talk around San Diego turned to the building of a railroad through the frontier.