December 2014 ...
After the end of the Mexican-American
War the population of Texas grew rapidly
as migrants poured into the cotton
lands of the state. In addition to Americans
moving into Texas, thousands immigrated
from Germany and Czechoslovakia.
Cotton plantations brought with them
slavery, and in 1860, 30% of the total
state's population of 604,215 were
slaves. Texas declared its secession
from the United States on February 1,
1861, and joined the Confederate States
of America on March 2, 1861.
It is estimated that in 1861 only one
third of the white population in Texas
supported the Confederacy.
Those loyal to the Union were mainly from the northern counties, the German districts and the Mexican areas. Large
scale massacres against these unionists
caused many to flee south across the Rio
Grande River into Mexico.
During the Civil War, the Rio Grande
River delta was a vital depot for the
Confederate cotton trade.
With Union ships blockading ports from Virginia to
Texas, Confederate leaders transported
their "white gold" across the Rio
Grande, loaded it onto Mexican flagships
in the Port of Bagdad and sailed
it safely past the blockading forces.
Fort Brown, in Brownsville, became a
strategic location for this thriving trade.
In November 1863, Union troops
invaded Texas at Brazos Island and
marched inland successfully occupying
Brownsville in an attempt to halt
the flow of cotton. They held the territory
until July 1864 when Confederate
troops recaptured the city. Union forces
were forced to withdraw to Brazos Island
where they remained stationed for
the remainder of the war.
Few battles actually took place in
Texas during the civil war. However, the
Rio Grande Valley is the site of the last
battle of the war. The Battle of Palmito
Ranch was fought in May 1865, one
month after the surrender of Confederate
Gen. Robert E. Lee in April 1865. Ironically,
the Confederate troops claimed a
victory in this the final conflict of the
The Lost Cities of the Rio Grande Valley
The Port of Bagdad
Bagdad, Tamaulipas, Mexico
was a town established in 1848 on
the south bank of the mouth of the
Rio Grande River inside the municipality
of Matamoros. In 1861
Matamoros had a population of
about 40,000 and the Port of Bagdad
population was nearly 12,000.
Prior to the American Civil War,
Bagdad was but a recreational
destination for the residents of
Matamoros. When the Mexican-
American War broke out, Matamoros
was split into two cities.
Those residents with loyalties to
the United States moved north of
the Rio Bravo (the Rio Grande)
and created Brownsville. However,
Bagdad continued on as a destination
for recreation for the people
of both cities.
During the American Civil War,
Union warships bottled up Southern
ports. In response, the Confederacy opened a back door on the
Rio Grande River, which by treaty
was an international waterway.
Cotton was the "white gold" that
would sustain the Confederacy
during the Civil War, and cotton
was literally "King" in south
Richard King, owner of
the famed King Ranch, along with
several partners, was a major player
in the cotton trade during this
Cotton was hauled by wagon,
oxcart and mule cart to Matamoros
where many speculators and
agents vied for this valuable commodity
to ship to Europe. They
offered in exchange vital goods:
guns, ammunition, drugs, shoes &
cloth. At Bagdad, cotton was loaded
from small boats onto ships in
the Gulf of Mexico. Goods crossing
here played an important role
in the South's war effort.
Clarksville, Texas was near the
mouth of the Rio Grande, opposite
the Mexican city of Bagdad. During
the Mexican War a temporary
army camp stood there, with William
H. Clark, a civilian, in charge.
Clark set up a country store and
served as agent for the steamship
lines using the port. The town
quickly developed; houses were
built up on stilts to be above high
water. During the early part of the
Civil War Clarksville thrived on
the trade of the Confederate blockade-
runners, but in 1863 it was
captured by federals, who held it
most of the time until the end of
The Port of Brazos Santiago was
located on Brazos Island in what is
now Cameron County, across Brazos
Santiago Pass from the south
end of Padre Island.
By 1867 the north end of Brazos
Island was a well-developed
military port with three wharves
on Brazos Santiago Pass, a railroad
south to Boca Chica and on to
Whites Ranch on the Rio Grande,
four barracks, a hospital with four
outbuildings, two gun emplacements,
numerous warehouse buildings,
and a lighthouse. After the
Civil War the troops left Brazos Island,
and the small town of Brazos
On October 7, 1867 an intense hurricane struck the mouth of the Rio
Grande with great fury and devastated the towns of Clarksville, Texas,
Brazos Santiago, Texas and Bagdad, Tamaulipas, Mexico. In 1874, another
storm roared ashore at the mouth of the Rio Grande River. A storm
surge of over twenty feet inundated much of the shore from the mouth
of the river north. These natural disasters spelled the end of the Lost Cities
of The Rio Grande Valley and very little physical evidence remains
today to prove their existence.
January 2015 ...
Early Development of the Rio Grande Valley as an Agricultural Center
The lower Rio Grande contains
good agricultural land, the region
being a true delta and the soil varying
from sandy and silty loam
through loam to clay. The area of
about 43,000 square miles witnessed
a tremendous development
in a period of about thirty years
from the late 1800s to through the
This spectacular development is
attributable to two factors: the introduction
of irrigation on a large
scale in 1898 and the building of
the railroad in 1904.
Before that time the Valley was
little more than quasi-desert rangeland.
When the Spanish first occupied
the area around 1750, they
settled on the right bank of the river
and divided the area north of the
river into great cattle-ranch grants.
The first American settlement in
the area was Brownsville, which was founded as a result of the invasion
of Zachary Taylor and the
United States Army in the Mexican
War (1846). The town, which
sprang up around Fort Brown, remained
practically the only settlement
of size or distinction in the
Valley for over half a century.
The coming of the railroad and irrigation
made the Valley into a major
agricultural center. In Hidalgo
County, land that had been selling
for 25 cents an acre in 1903, the year
before the St. Louis, Brownsville
and Mexico Railway arrived, was
selling for $50 an acre in 1906
and for as much as $300 an acre
A large-scale migration
of midwestern farmers in the teens
and twenties, matched by a growing
surge of Mexican immigration
during the same period, led to dramatic
population growth in Valley
The population of Cameron County
grew from just over 16,000 in
1900 to 77,540 in 1930; that of Hidalgo
County climbed from 6,534
in 1900 to 38,110 in 1920 and just
over 77,000 in 1930. By 1930 the
population of the four lower Rio
Grande valley counties exceeded
After the arrival of the railroad in
1905 the town of McAllen began
developing. With the introduction
of an irrigation system vegetable
farming was now possible. The
Valley became a truck garden center
for tomatoes, cabbage, carrots,
potatoes, beets, corn, green beans,
Cotton and sorghum became important
staples early on, but the
most important crop in the region
is citrus fruit.
Introduced commercially in the
region in 1904, citrus fruit culture has survived severe freezes in
1949, 1951, 1961, 1983 and 1989.
Soon McAllen had a hotel, a grocery
store, a Presbyterian church, a
bank, and a weekly newspaper. In
1916 after bandits caused border
trouble 12,000 soldiers were sent
here to restore law and order. Business
boomed with the increased
The Casa de Palmas Hotel, opened
in 1918 and served as a business,
social, and civic center for the Rio
February 2015 ...
THE "MAGIC VALLEY"
When it comes to understanding how
the Rio Grande Valley became The Magic
Valley, two pioneers stand in the forefront:
John H. Shary and Lloyd Millard
John H. Shary
John Harry Shary, the son of Bohemian
immigrants was born on a Saline County,
Nebraska, farm on March 2, 1872. At
the age of 22, John joined a California
redwood lumber firm for which he traveled
throughout the United States and
particularly in Texas.
and 1910 he and
George H. Paul developed
acres in the cotton producing
area around Corpus Christi,
operating from out-of-state offices with
special trains transporting prospective
buyers to South Texas on a weekly basis.
Impressed by the commercial potential
of citrus-growing experiments in the
lower Rio Grande Valley region John
Shary bought and subdivided more than
50,000 acres of land in the Valley and installed an irrigation system.
With the financial help of Jesse H.
Jones he bought most of the early experimental
citrus groves, especially grapefruit,
and from them he harvested some
of the early commercial citrus crops after
World War I.
John became very influential in the
Valley. He headed numerous commercial
firms, including banks, land companies,
and newspapers, and was a director of the
Intercoastal Canal Association and the
St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico Railway
Company. John and his wife Mary
lived on the Shary Estate in Sharyland,
northeast of Mission. They also maintained
homes in Omaha, Nebraska, and
Branson, Missouri, thus qualifying them
as what we today call "Winter Texans".
Lloyd M. Bentsen Sr.
In 1918, heeding medical advice, Peter
and Tena Bentsen left their homestead
in Argo Township, South Dakota and
drove by car for 17 days and 1,675 miles
to Sharyland, Texas. They were accompanied
by their son Lloyd and his wife,
Dolly. Arriving penniless, Peter Bentsen
rented a place in Mission and began
working as a land agent for John Shary.
Lloyd and his brother Elmer Bentsen
became the premier colonizers and developers of Hidalgo County, which
led all counties of the United States in
cotton production and raised a good part
of the Valley's 1948 $100 million citrus
and vegetable crop. In 1952 the county
centennial program described the contribution
of Lloyd and Elmer's stake in the
county's economic development. The
Pride O Texas citrus trademark contributed
substantially to the fortune that the
Bentsen family began amassing.
Elmer and Lloyd were principals in the Elsa
State Bank, Elmer a president and director
and Lloyd on the board of directors.
Lloyd was also a principal in the First
National banks of McAllen, Mission,
Edinburg, Raymondville, and Brownsville.
He served as president of the Rio
Grande Valley Chamber of Commerce
from 1944 to 1946
and was instrumental
in uniting and
and Willacy counties.
Later in life he
became sensitive to
preserving the natural
environment of the Valley and donated
land that became the Bentsen-Rio
Grande Valley State Scenic Park
May 2015 ...
The Forgotten Americans ...
The Story of Rio Rico
In 1906 the Rio Grande Land and Irrigation
Company owned the tract of land south
of Mercedes, TX which is now known as
the Horcon Tract. Located on this tract of
land was a small Texas town called Rio
Rico. Owners of the company were concerned
that the Rio Grande River, the official
boundary between Texas and Mexico,
would shift its course leaving their new irrigation
pumping station high and dry.
Without legal authorization, they diverted
the river's course manually by blasting and
digging a new channel north of the town of
Rio Rico. When all was said and done, Rio
Rico, TX was left south of the river.
American authorities charged the company
with violating treaties with Mexico that
forbade artificial water diversions. Those
treaties also stipulated that while such diversions
might change the course of the
river, they did not change the international
boundary. The company paid a $10,000 fine
in 1911, and also paid $2,000 to survey and
mark the international boundary in the nowdry
Even though the tract of land was legally
still a part of the United States, its location,
now south of the river, caused it to come
under the jurisdiction of Mexican authorities
in the area.
Local Texans paid little attention to this
situation. In fact the town of Rio Rico prospered
as a gambling community during the
prohibition years. A Chicago syndicate, rumored
to have ties to Al Capone himself,
developed Rio Rico in 1928. They built a
greyhound race track and saloons and welcomed
Texans to come and enjoy themselves.
Some say that they may have smuggled
narcotics out of Mexico by hiding the
drugs under the blankets placed over the
dogs after a race.
For 10 cents, anyone could cross a two
lane, 260-foot suspension bridge built in
1928 linking Rio Rico, on the south end of
the bridge, and Thayer, Texas.
"The story goes, in one year they paid back
the bridge completely on that 10-cent fee.
That's how many people went over there,"
said Laurier McDonald, retired Edinburg attorney and local historian.
The town's resort status plummeted at the
end of prohibition in the mid-1930s. When
a storm washed away the bridge in 1941,
the town became just another small border
When the Rio Grande Land and Irrigation
Company paid the fines imposed and the
cost of surveying the international boundary,
they neglected to pay an additional $200
to place markers defining those boundaries.
After prohibition was repealed Rio Rico
faded into the past and became just another
sleepy border town. Persistent flooding
caused residents of the town to relocate farther
south to where it is presently located.
Mexican authorities continued to govern
the area even though officially it was still in
United States territory.
For three decades Texans virtually ignored
Rio Rico as though it never existed. Then in
1967 James E. Hill Jr. was writing a scholarly
treatise and stumbled upon the forgotten
EI Horcon Tract. Calling the tax assessor
of Hidalgo County, Hill asked if they
were collecting taxes on the Texas land. He
was told they weren't since the county had
no control of Rio Rico because it was south
of the river, Mexico territory.
Though the residents of Rio Rico were
nicknamed the Lost Americans, the Forgotten
Americans, nothing more was done
until Homero Cantu Trevino entered the
picture, walking into the Edinburg, TX law office of Laurier McDonald to inquire about
immigration papers. As fate would have it,
McDonald had been talking to the County
Tax Assessor and knew of the stories of Rio
Rico and the Horcon Tract.
When Cantu stated his birthplace as Rio
Rico, McDonald's interest was piqued. "As
far as I'm concerned, based on what you
told me, you're an American citizen," McDonald told Cantu.
As a result of this chance encounter and
the litigation that followed, Cantu was declared
an American Citizen by Interim Decision
No. 2748 in Hidalgo County.
In 1970, the U.S. ceded the territory to
Mexico in the Boundary Treaty of 1970, the
American-Mexican Treaty Act of October
25, 1972 authorized the U.S.'s participation
and the handover to Mexico took place in
At the announcement of Rio Rico being
American soil from 1906 to 1972, Rio
Rico became a virtual ghost town overnight
as residents flocked to the U.S. to gain their
rightful citizenship. From around the world,
non-Americans called, claiming Rio Rico
as their birthplace hoping for that elusive
U.S. citizenship. McDonald helped over
250 claim their legal rights as Americans.
If only the land and irrigation company
had paid the $200 for those silly little markers,
copious amounts of time and money
would have been saved.
On a final note... in 1978, Hidalgo County
received a check in the amount of $7,873
for back taxes for Rio Rico.
May 2016 ...
Crisis On The Border ... 100 Years Ago
Crisis is defined as a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger.
While the Valley has certainly faced a challenge during the past few years regarding the increasing numbers of Central American refugees, it can hardly be considered a crisis as referred to by mainstream media throughout the country. If you want to understand what a true crisis on the border is, you only need to go back in time one hundred years.
On the night of October 18, 1915, around 10:45 pm, the St. Louis, Brownsville & Mexico Railroad train suddenly derailed about seven miles north of Brownsville.
A group of sixty men swarmed the passenger cars shooting Anglos on sight. In a span of only about fifteen minutes the train's engineer and three passengers were killed and the fireman and three other passengers were wounded. The raiders made off with about $325 in cash in addition to jewels, watches and even shoes. They then headed across the Rio Grande returning to Mexico.
History books declare that the holdup was the work of Tejanos and Mexican renegades, using the chaos of the Mexican Revolution for their own purposes; to get money, to kill whites or maybe even to wrest control of the Southwest from America. But this was more than just an extreme case of banditry. The wreck and robbery was part of a Mexican invasion of Texas as laid out in the Plan de San Diego resulting in the Bandit War.
The Plan de San Diego called for a popular uprising of American Blacks, Hispanics and Indians in February 1915. They would capture Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and California which would all revert to Mexican control. Most alarming to American residents living near the border was the fact that the Plan ordered all Anglo males over the age of 16 to be killed.
It is widely believed that the man behind this sinister plot was none other than Venustiano Carranza, the brilliant, devious and ruthless de facto ruler of Mexico at the time. It is unlikely that he really believed that Mexico could regain control of Texas and the Southwest. But the Plan could get him diplomatic recognition from the US government. The key, of course, was to keep Carranza's role hidden from the Americans and to blame his rivals or his Tejano allies for the violence that was to come. He played on the arrogance of U.S. and Texas officials, who believed that no Mexican was smart enough to pull off such a deal.
In spite of the February start date, the offensive didn't really begin until July 1915. A band of 30 Mexican raiders roamed across south Texas, robbing and threatening residents, and killing at least one Anglo.
Under pressure from residents and commercial interests in the region Texas Gov. James Ferguson created Texas Ranger Company D and appointed Henry Lee Ransom as its first captain. Ransom was ordered to clean things up using all means necessary. With a "shoot first and ask questions later" reputation he was more than happy to comply.
On August 3, 1915 U.S. forces and a group of raiders battled at Aniceto Pizaña's ranch, about 18 miles north of Brownsville. Pizaña, along with former Cameron County Deputy Sheriff Luis de la Rosa, would become known as combat leaders of the Plan de San Diego.
In the town of Sebastian, on August 6, a store was robbed by bandits who captured and murdered two Anglos. Rangers and local law officers responded by attacking the ranch of a suspected Plan member, killing him and one of his sons.
Responding to reports that a Plan raid was in the works, a detachment from the Army's 12th Cavalry, along with some customs inspectors and the local deputy sheriff, went to Norias, home to the sub-headquarters of the legendary King Ranch. On the evening of August 8 about 60 riders attacked.
The American defenders held out for more than two hours, even though four of them were wounded. The bandit leader was shot and killed during the fighting and his followers decided to retreat, leaving seven Mexican corpses behind.
Tensions were running high. The Anglos were in fear of a local uprising, while Tejanos feared brutality from the Rangers. Governor Ferguson responded to the crisis on the border by increasing the size of the Ranger force and ordering almost all of it to south Texas.
General Frederick Funston, the commander of the Army's Southern Department, believed that more raids were imminent. He positioned 40 small Army detachments, a total of 2,500 men, throughout South Texas.
Brutality was present on both sides of the conflict. Some Tejanos and Mexicans who were thought to be tied to the Plan were simply killed, no trial necessary. The Mexicans attempted a number of assassinations of U.S. officials; a couple of which were successful. On September 24, nearly 100 Plan fighters, accompanied by Carranza soldiers, crossed the Rio Grande and attacked the town of Progreso. They looted and burned the place, and captured Army Pvt. Richard Johnson, taking him with them when they retreated back to Mexico. Johnson was executed, and two Carranza men removed his ears as souvenirs. His head was cut off and placed on a pole for the Americans to see.
On October 19, 1915 the United States gave diplomatic recognition to Carranza as president of Mexico. Five days later, he ended the Bandit War. True to his ruthless nature, Carranza abandoned his Tejano allies leaving them to be captured or killed.
It is not clear just how many people died during the four months of the Bandit War. Some estimates go as high as 5,000.
What is clear is that this was truly a time of crisis along the border and the challenges we face here today pale in comparison.
August 2016 ...
Pancho Villa's Forces Fire Upon American Pilots Near Brownsville
In September 1914 the 1st Aero Squadron
was organized based at North Island,
San Diego, California. In response to
tensions along the Texas - Mexico border
four pilots and three planes, Curtiss
JN-2s, were transferred to Ft. Brown in
Brownsville, Texas in March 1915.
On April 20, 1915 Byron Q. Jones took
off from Fort Brown with aviation pioneer,
Lt. Thomas D. Milling. Their mission
was to scout the forces of Pancho
Villa who were staging in the Mexican
city of Matamoros.
About 15 minutes into the flight, the
U.S. aircraft drew the attention of Villa's
forces, who opened fire with at least
one machine gun, as well as small arms.
Jones was able to maintain his composure
under fire. He opened the throttle
and nosed up, climbing to 2,600 feet to
avoid the gunfire. He maneuvered away
from the river and was able to return
safely to Fort Brown.
This marked the first time ever that an
American pilot was fired upon during an
aerial combat mission.