1888 election set tone for things to come in Duval County

The formation of a political party supposedly of Mexican Americans, with mostly Anglo candidates, continued to command attention in the run up to the November 1888 election. While optimists expressed the idea that San Diego was still growing, others openly complained that public officials were not interested in improvements. This no doubt contributed to the interest in a new political movement.

The correspondent to the Corpus Christi newspaper lamented that the Plaza, and he called it that only “out of courtesy”, was a disgrace overrun with waist-high weeds. Rent houses in town were only commanding half the rent they had received five years earlier.

Mostly Anglos ran the convention held in Concepcion to form the Mexican American political party. The group clearly was an opposition party as only two county incumbents were part of the new ticket. These were County Surveyor J. C. Caldwell and County Commissioner W. H. Hebbron. The Corpus Christi Caller correspondent noted that “many good Mexicans cannot support ticket.” Another convention of Mexican Americans reportedly was in the planning to select an opposing ticket.

By mid-September, the November election season was in full swing. Two groups were formed, one called the Guaraches and the other the Botas. The two parties held large political gatherings in Conception, Mendieta, and La Rosita. Pachangas, dances and political speeches sprouted up throughout the county. No fighting was reported but the meetings were intense. Everyone was calling for a close election contest.

The Guaraches were supposedly those representing the landless or the poor and the Botas the landowners or the rich. Viewed from present-day eyes, one could assume that the Guaraches were the Democrats and the Botas the Republicans. That would likely be a mistake, since in 1888 the Democrats sided with the dominant power structure and the Republicans were the ones that had freed the slaves and generally were seen as representing those deprived of a political voice and political rights. Indeed, the newly organized “Mexican” party was called Botas.

The truth was that the two parties were simply the “ins” and the “outs” and both included Democrats and Republicans. Some folks simply thought that it was time for change and that the incumbents had served long enough.

With three weeks until the election, politics began to get hot. The Laredo Daily Times reported that young boys were seen everywhere shouting “Viva la Bota” or “Viva el Guarache”. The Botas held a large rally in San Diego at a building that had previously housed the McNaughton store known as El Ranchero. It was a large building, but the crowd overflowed out into the streets, and many supporters stood outside. Manuel Garza Diaz, a candidate for justice of the peace, and Juan Puig, the Botas’ candidate for county treasurer, rallied the crowd by denying rumors published by Francisco P. de Gonzales in El Clarin that they were withdrawing from the race. They affirmed to their supporters that not only were they not withdrawing, they were firm supporters of La Bota.

After the rally, things got out of hand and the election took a turn for the worse.