1915 “bandit” investigation led to surprise finding

In October 1915, 18-year-old Jesus Martinez was arrested by an Army guard at the Brownsville train station on—well there was no reason to arrest him other than he was suspected of being a bandit, perhaps involved in recent attacks against innocent “Americans”. He was a Mexican, afterall. Martinez carried with him a letter that raised suspicions even more. The investigation into the contents of the letter led authorities to a surprising conclusion.

   mopac_loco_built1889Martinez had come down to Brownsville from Bishop, Texas to visit his sister. On the train he was befriended by 59-year-old Rafael Olivares who was on his way to Mission to visit family and friends. Olivares had started out in Kerrville, Texas and since he would be gone for some time he took along with him all his belongings, including a rifle and ammunition. He wrapped his rifle and stored it in his case. The attendant at the train station took this as a sinister act to hide his weapon and the Army guard he called agreed. Borth Olivares and Martinez were arrested.

Special Agent E.B. Stone of the Department of Justice questioned both men and came to the conclusion that no charges were warranted, but agreed with Army officers camped at Harlingen that they should be held until their stories were checked out. Both men had, indeed, provided much information that could easily be confirmed.

Martinez had been born in Robertson, Texas and was now living in Bishop. He worked at La Posta Ranch and said Mrs. King could vouch for him. Among his other references were a Kingsville policeman named Taylor and John Bolles a rancher in the Bishop area. His sister Benita Cruz and his brother-in-law Martin Torres could also confirm who he was.

Olivares provided as references Hidalgo County Deputy Gabriel Moralez, as well as Fabian Dianda, Alonso Garza, Bruno Trevino and Demetrio Villarreal, all of Mission. Agent Stone recommended, based on these references, that “he be turned loose.” The Army disagreed and Stone accepted their desire to check out his story.

On the train down from Kingsville, Texas, the two men had been approached by a third man who advised them not to get down at Harlingen because it was not safe. This was on Oct. 27, 1915, a week after Plan of San Diego rebels had derailed a train at Olmitos and killed three passengers. In response, citizen militias had summarily executed 10 “Mexicans”. Another Mexican was called out of his home and “riddled with bullets.” Five others had been arrested on the accusation that they were “bad men”.

Olivares, who intended to switch trains at Harlingen took the advice and went on to Brownsville where he intended to board a train to Mission the following morning. Since it was late at night, Martinez stayed with him, planning to go to his sister’s at daylight. They were arrested at 4:30 a.m.

What made this incident more interesting was the letter found on Martinez. The letter, Martinez said, was not intended for him but he had gone to the post office before leaving Bishop and was handed the letter. It turned out it was intended for another man named Jesus Martinez. The contents of the letter raised eyebrows with law enforcement authorities.

Los IndiosGeorge Martinez, the author of the letter lived at Los Indios, Texas—eight miles south of Harlingen—and was writing to his father about news of family and friends. He reported to his father that there were no people left in the ranches as most had been killed or left for Mexico in fear. Many were excited about the revolution. “The fighters,” he wrote, “have gone to El Ranchito.”

This last phrase caught the attention of authorities and Special Agent J.B. Rogers went to Los Indios to investigate. Clearly, they thought, “the fighters” were Mexican bandits involved in the Plan of San Diego. Rogers went to the ranch of J.L. Landrum at Los Indios and at the suggestion of Major Butler, the Army commander, he interviewed Avireto Anios who was a “trustworthy” military scout.

“It was thought better,” Rogers wrote in his report, “to have him brought to me and to question him rather than go among the Mexicans mentioned in the letter, on account of the excitement and terror among them.”

George Martinez, Rogers learned, was “a good man” and had “taken no part whatever in the recent troubles.” He was employed by the San Benito Land and Irrigation Company. The rest of the men mentioned in the letter were also “good men” working for the same company and none of them had anything to do with any of the disorder experienced in the area. They had left because “they were afraid of the Rangers.”

Agent Rogers concluded that by “the fighters” Martinez meant the Rangers who had rendezvoused at Los Indios about the time the letter was written. George Martinez was not referencing rebel fighters but aggressors with badges.

“This is a very good illustration of the conditions prevailing in the lower Rio Grande Valley,” Rogers concluded in his report.

(I will make a presentation and sign books at a meeting of the Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Genealogy Society at the Harlingen Public Library on Sunday, Aug. 21, at 2 p.m.)

2 thoughts on “1915 “bandit” investigation led to surprise finding

  1. This is a very interesting story, and I am glad that you are putting it in print. This is the sort of thing that I had only heard about in whispers, and with no specifics. In the public library, there were accounts by a Texas Ranger who was The Law, who went after Mexican horse thieves and murderers. I am glad that the truth is coming to light.

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