|To the lay reader Duval County evokes
thoughts of political intrigue. The political history of Duval County
is indeed a colorful one, but it is only a part of a very interesting
story. It is a story of a frontier people with an indomitable spirit.
Any treatment of Duval County must take special mention of its
politics. But a complete history should include much more. This,
however, is not a complete history. The history of a great and volatile
people is not one that can be told dryly. It not only lends itself to
color, it begs for life. This then is only a "brief" history of Duval
County: One that treats primarily its genesis. It will be for another
time or for another writer to do a true and complete history of Duval
County. It is one that needs to be done.
History of Duval County
The area today known as Duval County was first the roaming ground for
various Indian tribes. The early tribes included the Tejones in the
western part of the county. They were a passive tribe who caused little
concern to later settlers. In the northern parts of the county could be
found the semi-nomadic and warlike Comanches. They would, until their
disappearance, be a threat to peaceful settlement. Finally, the
Karankawas also were early inhabitants of this area but would not be
when the European settlements were to be founded.1
Early vegetation in
the area was variously described as "delightfully rolling"2,
sea of land covered with a think growth of brush"3,
and the worst brush
United States".4 The Spaniards termed
the area between the Nueces and Rio Grande rivers as "El
Desierto Muerto", the Desert of Death.5 It was
clearly a very
inhospitable area, both in terms of
terrain as well as inhabitants. During the early years of
European exploration in the New World, very
little attention was given to
this area. Early explorers that are said to have traversed
area included Cabeza de Baca in 1533 and the Marquis de Rubi in 1767.
Prior to 1721, this area
served only as a path for caravans of cattle making their way from
Mexico to east Texas.6 It
would not be for another 100 years that the first trickling of settlers
would begin to appear.
Duval County was in the center of the area between the Nueces and Rio
Grande rivers. This area was for a long time a no man's land, inhabited
by unfriendly Indians
and bandits from both the United States and Mexico. The wildlife was
plentiful enough to keep these
types well taken care of. There were plenty of wild cattle, horses and
other game. Permanent settlement
requiring families and stability for trade were not eager to enter this
environment. In the
latter 1700s, however, some Mexican ranchers from the Escandon
settlements of Guerrero, Mier,
Camargo and Agualeguas began to make forays into the area of present
day Duval County.
In 1794, Julian and Ventura Flores were both granted eight leagues of
land called "San Diego de Arriba" and "San Diego de Abajo". These
grants were surveyed in 1806 by
Jose Faustino Contreras, the Surveyor General of San Luis Potosi.7
early as 1815
herdsmen for Julian Flores occupied the ranch San Diego. Juan Saenz
testified in an 1860 court
case that he was born in that ranch in that year. General Zachary
Taylor is said to have made camp at
the trading post of San Diego in 1845.8
In the year 1848, "Colonel Kinney" of Corpus Christi, Texas established
an easy to follow route form Corpus Christi to Laredo, Texas by
fastening a plow to the end of a wagon to turn the turf. The route
closely followed the "San Diego Creek" from its mouth to the site of
San Diego before turning southward. This route was preferred by
travelers and early settlers because the San diego Creek provided water
for them as well as for their stock.9
It was in the year of 1848 that the first settlement in
Duval County was founded.
Pablo Perez of Mier, Tamaulipas, Mexico brought in the first group of
permanent settlers and founded the town of Perezville in the present
site of San Diego.
Included amongst his entourage were Jose Maria Garcia, Encarnacion
Garcia Perez, Juan Bautista, Martin
Perez, and Jesus Solis. The town was located on the banks of the San
Diego Creek and was renamed
San Diego in 1852. This is the year the community got its first Post
Office. By 1860 the town
had prospered and counted three to four stores, two hotels and a
population of 500. It was
primarily a roundup center for cattle and a trading post between Mexico
As the years passed more and more trappings of civilization began to
come to the small hamlet. The first priest, Father Claude Jaillet, came
in 1866. Immediately after
the Civil War the first common school was opened. The first doctor
arrived in the 1860's. "Henry
Holmes Croft, a distinguished English Chemist, was a member of the
first science faculty at the
University of Toronto. In search of a hot, dry climate for reasons of
Croft's health, the family moved to
Las Hermanitas Ranch in the
The first group of European settlers came in 1867 in pursuit of sheep
raising which was becoming a great boost to the local economy. Among
the first group included, N.G.
Collins, Captain E.N. Gray, Frank C. Gravis, Charles Roach, Charles
Hoffman, William Hubbard, Frank
W. Shaeffer and James O. Luby.11 By 1870 the
community had grown to a
population of over
1,000. The economy began to diversify, although the primary industry
continued to be agriculture
and stock raising. Cotton was a leading staple but onions and early
winter vegetables were also
bountiful in certain parts of the county.12
Sheep raising, however, continued to be the most profitable. Land was
cheap, selling for as little as twelve cents an acre. A buyer could
occasionally get several thousand
acres as "pilon" or bonus. There were over a million sheep in the two
counties of Nueces and
Duval. Unlike other sections of the country, there was no friction
between the cattlemen and the
sheepherders.13 "Prominent sheepmen included
Manuel Vela (12,000), E.G. Perez (10,000), C. Hoffman
(10,000), Rios Cayetano (10,000), and Hubbard and Company (8,000).
Jacinto Guerra was
said to have 100,000 pounds of wool in storage in his store in San
Every merchant in the country bought wool. But the men who bought
millions of pounds were ... N.G. Collins and James Luby of San Diego.
Other prominent buyers ... included E. Garcia Saenz, M.C. Spahn
& Co., Croft & Co., and Jacinto Guerra of San Diego ...
(and) R. Schuber, Concepcion ...15 Concepcion,
Realitos and Piedras Pintas were other small settlements
that had sprung up. It was difficult, however, to sustain too many
outposts because of the threat
of Indian and bandit raids. In 1873 a band of bandits from Mexico under
the leadership of Alberto
Garza, known as "El Caballo Blanco", were killing cattle for hides in
the vicinity of Piedras
Pintas. In December of that year, 32 persons were said to have been
killed in the Piedras Pintas area.16
years later: In March 1875 a well-organized band of 150 Mexicans
crossed into Texas near Eagle Pass. On this side they separated into
four divisions bent on plunder. Three of the divisions
were intercepted by United States Cavalry stationed in San Diego.17
Yet three years later, in 1878, a final Indian raid was occasioned in
the area. They killed several area people, including several
sheepherders and young boys. They were chased
back to Mexico by a posse led by Frank Gravis.18
After these series
of raids, the country
began to settle down. The last "Caballada" (mustang roundup) occurred
in 1878 and the railroad arrived
a year after. It was time for the area to take on a more formal
structure and talk turned into
organizing the county.
Although Duval County was created by the State Legislature in 1858, it
was attached to Nueces County until 1876 when a group of citizens
petitioned for an
organizational election. On February 1, 1858 the legislature passed an
act creating: The county of Duval,
(named in honor of Captain Bur H. Duval, who fell in Fannin's
massacre), the county seat thereof shall bear the same name, and may be
located by a majority vote anywhere within ten miles of its center...19
The act provided for the county to be organized by a petition
citizens. It was not until 1876 that the petition would come forward.
On April 22, 1876 N.G. Collins,
F.C. Gravis, J.H. Moses and other citizens petitioned the Nueces County
Commissioner Court for
recognition. The Court denied their request because; 1) they were
unsure if San Diego, from
where most signatures were from, was in Duval or Nueces County: and 2)
the petition was not
verified by a law officer.20 A month later, on
May 21, 1876, the group
petitioned again through Gravis
who was a County Commissioner in Nueces County. The court rejected them
again until the
boundaries could be reviewed. On September 22, 1876 a third petition
was presented which
was tabled to allow the County Attorney more time to review and analyze
the situation. Finally,
on September 28, 1876 the Court accepted the petition and called for an
election on November 7,
The following election precincts and election judges were named:
1 - San Diego, Theodore Lamberton, Judge
Precinct 2 - Piedras Pintas, E.A. glover, Judge
Precinct 3 - Concepcion, John Vining, Judge
Precinct 4 - Borjas Rancho, E.H. Caldwell, Judge21
The election proved successful and James O. Luby was elected the first
County Judge. Other elected officials included: Frank C. Gravis, County
Precinct One, P.W. Fowler, County Commissioner Precinct Two, Rafael
Salinas, County Commissioner
Precinct Three, E.H. Caldwell, County Commissioner Precinct Four, R.P.
Fly, Sheriff, P. W.
Moses, County Attorney, Charles Hoffman, County Treasurer, Theo
Lamberton, Hide Inspector and
John Dix, Surveyor. San Diego, being the only community of substance,
was selected as
county seat. San Diego had been partitioned in 1875. The first
courthouse was a two story stone
building rented for $400 per year. In 1879 a two-story frame courthouse
was built. It burned down in
1914 under mysterious circumstances. The present courthouse was built
in 1916 and the annex
Duval County Courthouse
In the early 1900's there were two attempts to divide the county. Under
one scheme the County of Lanham was to be created out of Duval. Under
the second proposal Duval
was to splinter off the County of Dunn. These efforts died after strong
opposition from local
citizens, charging that the moves were politically motivated and
and Political Development
Political activity such as described above was to play a prominent role
in the development of Duval County. In the late 1800's and early
1900's, however, the county still
had some economic growing pains. Shortly after the organization of the
county in 1879, the Corpus
Christi-San Diego, Rio Grande Narrow Gauge Railroad reached San Diego.
This railroad was later
converted to standard gauge and was renamed the Texas-Mexican Railway,
becoming an important
transportaton link between the inland port of Laredo and the coastal
port of Corpus Christi. A
year after reaching San Diego, the railroad reached Benavides, which
was a new community founded by
the railroad as a depot.
With the coming of the railroad, other new towns such as Benavides were
founded, but old settlements died away as well. Shortly after the
Benavides, the communities of Piedras Pintas and La Mota died out as
their inhabitants moved to the
new thriving community of Benavides.24
Another import way of life also
disappeared with the
coming of the railroad. Duval County had always been an important
roundup area. From this brush
country many of the trail drives that ended up in Dodge City and other
Kansas towns of yesteryear
began. Cattle had always been a central player in South Texas economic
life and it found much of
its early development in Duval County. The Mexican Vaqueros were the
forerunners of the
romanticized cowboys of later years. The life of the Vaquero in the
brush country was anything but
romantic. It was a hard and lonely life. Although the railroad brought
about the demise of the
cattle drives, it did not kill the cattle industry in Duval County. It
continues today as a vibrant part of the
Another major contributor of the local economy, as well as that of the
overall South Texas region, is oil, gas, uranium and other energy
related commodities. They too had
their South Texas genesis in Duval County. The Piedras Pintas Oil Field
was first founded in 1907,
but development did not begin until the 1920's. Oil had been around
Piedras Pintas since the
early days when the local ranchers used it to grease the wheels of
their oxen driven carts. They
found no real use for it, however, and the land was considered ruined
by it. It was not until
later in the twentieth century with inventions such as the automobile
that this land became valuable. As a
result of the oil boom, the third significant community was founded in
Duval County. Along with the
Piedras Pintas Oil field came the community of Freer. Another community
owing its development to
oil was Seven Sisters,
just north of Freer.
It was primarily because of the development of oil and gas that Duval
County withstood the harshest times that the Depression had to deal.25
It was, in fact, during this
period that Duval County enjoyed its greatest growth. Eventually,
however, oil and gas, cotton, and
cattle had their gradual decline and most people were forced to move to
the larger towns and become
dependent on government employment or programs for subsistence.
This atmosphere of government dependence gave rise to the colorful
political history of Duval County. While the Mexican-American
population founded the initial
settlements, much of the commerce and political life of the county was
dominated by the "Anglo"
citizenry. To be sure, from early times, the Hispanic community had
seen some success in both areas. Nonetheless, in 1914 a shootout took
place in downtown San Diego in
which three Anglo residents killed three Mexican-Americans as a result
of a political feud. This
was to be the beginning of a long history of political intrigue
centered primarily on the Parr family. As
a result of the shooting in 1914, Archer Parr, then a County
Commissioner, took the side of the
Mexican-American community and molded them into an unbeatable political
development. It would be half
a century before other South Texas counties saw the political influence
of the Hispanic community,
but Duval County led the way. Archer Parr went on to become a State
Senator and contributed greatly
to the development of South Texas. He was born in Matagorda County on
Christmas Day 1860. He
taught school in Rockport and then became a cowboy for the
Company. He moved to Duval County to become foreman of the Sweden
Ranch. Senator Parr passed
much legislation and is credited with setting up Texas A&I
This is a brief history of a county with a long past. As such, it
cannot approach to tell the whole story. It highlights all the
important points of its early history and
legal organization. It provides insights into important economic and
political developments. It does
not, however, go into great detail about these developments. Nor does
it pass judgment over any of
the happenings that have been categorized by many as being quite
There is, of course, the need to do a more complete history of Duval
County. The early cattle and sheep industries provide much insight into
the development of the whole
area. They also provide good information as to the way of life in this
frontier area. The
impact of the railroad is certainly one that needs deeper probing. The
oil and energy related industry offers
much for extensive research. Not mentioned in this report, but of
importance, is the contraband era
during Prohibition. Of course, one can always do much more than was
done here with the political
history of Duval County.
While not the ultimate word on this subject, this report should provide
an outline for further research in the area. Hopefully, a complete
history will follow.
1 Bilbao, Elena and Gallart, Maria Antonieta. Los Chicanos:
Segragacion y Educacion (The Chicanos: Segregation and Education).
Mexico City. Editorial Nueva Imagen, 1981. p. 100.
2 Inglis, Jack M. A History of Vegetation on the Rio Grande
Plain. Austin: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Bulletin #45, 1964.
3 Lehman, V.W. Forgotten Legion, Sheep in the Rio Grande
Plain of Texas. El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1969. p. 162.
4 Dobie, J. Frank. A Vaquero of the Brush Country. Boston:
Little, Brown, & Co., 1929. p. 190
5 Lea, Tom. Randado. El Paso: Hertzog Press, 1941. pp. 17-18.
6 Bilbao. op. cit., p. 100.
7 The New Encyclopedia of Texas, p. 122.
8 Lea. op. cit., p. 76.
9 "San Diego Early History."Handwritten manuscript obtained
from Mrs. Adela Bazan in San Diego, Texas. p.5
10 Lehman, op. cit., p. 169.
11 The New Encyclopedia of Texas, p. 122.
12 Op. cit., p. 122.
13 Lehman, op. cit., p. 57-58
14 Ibid., pp. 27-29.
15 Ibid., p. 57.
16 Dobie, op. cit., p. 58.
17 Ibid., p. 59.
18 Ibid., pp. 212-251.
19 Gamel, H.P.N. Gamel's Laws of Texas, 1822-1905. Austin:
1906. pp. 963-964.
20 Nueces County. Minutes of the Commissioners Court, 1876.
Corpus Christi: Nueces County
Office. p. 3.
21 Ibid. p. 46.
22 Welch, June Rayfield and Nance, J. Larry. The Texas
Courthouse. Waco: BLS Press, 1971.
23 Remarkable Conditions in Duval County: Protest By Citizens
Against Proposed Division, Privately printed
pamphlet can be found in the Eugene C. Barker Texas History Center,
Circa 1915. pp. 1-40.
24 Garza, Aida. "A Brief Account of the Development of
Benavides, Texas." Master Theses, Antioch College,
Lincoln-Juarez Center, Undated. (Typescript). p. 9.
25 Bibao, op. cit. p. 102.
26 Texas Almanac. 1947. s. v. "Parr".