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.