In telling the story of a long-ago crime and its tragic results, de la Garza sheds new light on the interethnic struggles that defined life on the U.S.-Mexico border a century ago.
Series: Jack and Doris Smothers Endowment in Texas History, Life, and Culture, Number Eleven
"Esto no es cosa de armas" (this is not a matter for weapons). These were the last words of Don Francisco Gutiérrez before Alonzo W. Allee shot and killed him and his son, Manuel Gutiérrez. What began as a simple dispute over Allee's unauthorized tenancy on a Gutiérrez family ranch near Laredo, Texas, led not only to the slaying of these two prominent Mexican landowners but also to a blatant miscarriage of justice.
In this engrossing account of the 1912 crime and the subsequent trial of Allee, Beatriz de la Garza delves into the political, ethnic, and cultural worlds of the Texas-Mexico border to expose the tensions between the Anglo minority and the Mexican majority that propelled the killings and their aftermath. Drawing on original sources, she uncovers how influential Anglos financed a first-class legal team for Allee's defense and also discusses how Anglo-owned newspapers helped shape public opinion in Allee's favor. In telling the story of this long-ago crime and its tragic results, de la Garza sheds new light on the interethnic struggles that defined life on the border a century ago, on the mystique of the Texas Rangers (Allee was said to be a Ranger), and on the legal framework that once institutionalized violence and lawlessness in Texas.
2004 Luciano Guajardo Award
Webb County Heritage Foundation
- List of Illustrations
- Part I. August 1912
- Part II. A Matter for Weapons
- Part III. So Great a Prejudice
- Part IV. A Jury of His Peers
- Epilogue. August 1917
- Works Cited
It was still early August, and the maximum temperature readings at the Fort McIntosh weather station on the banks of the Rio Grande hovered between 104 and 105 degrees Fahrenheit, but the people of Laredo, Texas, and the surrounding border area had begun to anticipate the end of the dog days of summer. The trains arriving in Laredo were brimming with passengers who, perhaps optimistically, had already concluded their summer vacations. On Saturday, August 10, for example, the Laredo Daily Times reported that Mrs. Justo S. Penn, wife of the publisher of the Times, and her children had returned from a three-week visit to friends in Bustamante, Nuevo León, in northern Mexico. Bustamante is located at the edge of the Sierra de Bustamante, at a higher altitude than Laredo--no doubt the reason why the Penn family chose the spot to escape the worst of the border summer (Municipios 78). Bustamante was also on the railway line between Laredo and Monterrey, Mexico's most important northern city.
And whereas Mrs. Penn (née Alicia Herrera) traveled north on the tenth of August, a few days later, on Wednesday, August 14, the Laredo Daily Times reported the presence, en route to Mexico City, of Gustavo Madero, Mexico's finance minister, who had spent several weeks in Galveston, Texas, "enjoying life at the seaside." In hindsight, Gustavo Madero's sojourn by the sea may appear like fiddling while Mexico burned, for even then, in the summer of 1912, his brother, the president of Mexico, Francisco I. Madero, was battling insurrection from Emiliano Zapata in the south and from Pascual Orozco in the north, as the Daily Times also reported in various issues spanning August 9 to August 15. However, the Laredo Daily Times apparently missed the opportunity to interview Gustavo Madero, since no mention is made of any comments made by him during his stopover. This omission might have been due to the absence of the newspaper's editor and publisher, who had left for San Antonio on the day before. Justo S. (Justo Sabor, born James Saunders) Penn had traveled on the International and Great Northern Railway on Tuesday, August 13, accompanied by Webb County Sheriff Amador Sánchez, to attend the State Democratic Convention held in San Antonio. Both were delegates from Webb County, according to the Daily Times.
Laredo in 1912 was well served by the railroads. Four lines had had depots there since the 1880s. The International and Great Northern was "one of the principal feeders to Jay Gould's great southwest system [and had] its southern terminus at the foot of Eagle Pass street [where it had] built large and commodious freight and passenger depots, besides round and coach houses," according to a pamphlet published in 1889 by the Laredo Immigration Society (Tarver 9). Coming from the other direction, the Mexican National Railroad had its northernmost terminus in Laredo, a distance of 837 miles from Mexico City. According to the same promotional pamphlet of the Immigration Society, the Mexican Railroad had built in Laredo "one of the largest, most elegant and costly depot buildings in the state. . . . It is equipped with palatial sleeping and dining cars, and its scheduled passenger time between Laredo and the City of Mexico will be 36 hours" (Tarver 10).
Travelers coming from Mexico City to Laredo on the Mexican Railroad could continue north on the I&GN, as the International and Great Northern was known, to Saint Louis, Missouri, via San Antonio, stopping along the way at little settlements such as Webb that had sprung up as railroad towns between Laredo and San Antonio (Green, Overview 13). Or they could travel east from Laredo toward Corpus Christi and the Texas Gulf Coast on the Texas-Mexican Railroad, passing Tex-Mex railroad towns such as Aguilares, which had started out as a Mexican ranchería in the early nineteenth century (Shared 67). Up the river from Laredo, railway service was provided by the Rio Grande Eagle Pass Railroad, which traversed a distance of some twenty-five miles to the Santo Tomás mines (Green, Overview 16).
But downriver from Laredo, connections with the sister settlements founded by Don José de Escandón in the middle of the eighteenth century--Revilla (later renamed Ciudad Guerrero), Mier, Camargo, and Reynosa--still depended on the state of the dirt cart roads and on the flood stages of the Rio Grande, since they were all across the river in Mexico.
Revilla, of the Escandón settlements the closest to Laredo in both distance and age, had produced the seed--some would say the flower--of many of Laredo's prominent families. Of these Laredo families it was often said that they were of Guerrero and Laredo, because their ancestral homes had been built in Guerrero when it was still called Revilla and when both banks of the river were in the same country. The situation of the family of Don Francisco Gutiérrez Garza was typical of the border area. Don Francisco and his wife, Manuela García de Gutiérrez, lived in Ciudad Guerrero, but their son, Manuel, and their daughter, Adela, lived in Laredo with their respective spouses and children. It is not clear at what point or points Manuel and Adela had moved to Laredo, or if it had been done gradually or as a sudden event precipitated by the political upheaval following the Madero revolt in 1910 and the end of the thirty-year rule of President Porfirio Díaz. However, the move was a logical one, since the family ranches were in Zapata and Webb Counties.
The situation of these binational families is better understood if we remember that at the time of the settlement of this area, the Rio Grande did not divide two countries but was merely an obstacle for ranchers with lands and cattle on both sides of its banks. Francisco Gutiérrez and Manuela García had been born and grown up in Guerrero and had married and raised their family there, but the lands which they had inherited from their ancestors were on the north--or east, on that stretch of the river--side of the Rio Grande/Río Bravo, in what is now Zapata County. Don Francisco descended from the original settlers of Revilla, one of whom, Bernabé Gutiérrez, had been awarded a grant of land in 1767, the earliest date for land titles in that area.
Land titles along the Rio Grande south of Laredo originate from the General Visita of 1767, the official survey that granted lands to the settlers, known as the General Visit of the Royal Commission to the Colonies of Nuevo Santander.
The results accomplished by this Commission are among the strongest influences left by the Spaniards in the Texas Valley and the Acts performed are, perhaps, the most far-famed events in Spanish colonial history of northern Mexico. Even descendants of primitive Spanish settlers date the beginning of time on the Rio Grande from the "General Visita." This is not surprising when one considers that it is from this year that all Valley grants of land date their origin. (Scott 62)
The same historian, Florence Johnson Scott, goes on to describe the results of the actions of the commission on the settlers, particularly those in Laredo and Revilla:
The lands surrounding and opposite the original towns were included in districts known as the jurisdictions of Laredo, Revilla, Mier, Camargo and Reynosa. The Jurisdiction of Laredo included eighty-eight porciones [a measure of land, roughly equivalent to a league, fronting the river], although more than twenty were left vacant due to the fact that there were so few settlers there. At Revilla, which later became Guerrero, there were sixty-eight porciones, all of which were adjudicated; these fronted on both the Salado and the Rio Grande rivers....
While practically all of the settlers lived on the south bank of the Río Grande, where they built their homes and cultivated their fields, many of them chose the porciones north of the river for their ranching lands....
These ranchers were accustomed to cross the river in canoes, and the length of time that they were away from their families depended on the season of the year, and the amount of work to be done on the ranches. Cattle and sheep herders protected their interests when they were absent. (68-70)
Jack Jackson, in Los Mesteños, adds this description: "The typical rancher [along the Rio Grande] either built a casa fuerte of stone or stayed in town, placing the ranch in the hands of a trusted majordomo--often a nephew, son-in-law, or other relative" (444).
After 1821 it was the government of the Republic of Mexico that made grants of land in Texas, among them the Charco Redondo Grant, awarded in 1835 to Anastacio García, Manuela García's grandfather, and located in modern-day Zapata and Jim Hogg Counties (Guide no. 91). In addition to inheriting her share of this property, Manuela acquired the shares of other heirs, and in this manner she and Francisco put together the Rancho San Juan, some 6,000 acres in Zapata County.
Following Texas's independence from Mexico, it was the Republic of Texas first, and later the State of Texas, that made grants, as well as sales of land, to individuals. Francisco Gutiérrez Garza was among those individuals. Not content with merely inheriting land or buying the interests of fellow heirs, he had also begun purchasing land in Webb County made available by and through the State of Texas. Since the 1870s he had acquired sizable tracts northeast of Laredo and had continued to do so during the first decade of the twentieth century. By 1912 Don Francisco had accumulated approximately 6,000 acres in Webb County, which comprised a ranch he called La Volanta, according to the Webb County Probate Records. Manuel Gutiérrez García, his son, had also acquired some eight sections of state land (a section contains 640 acres) in Webb County, near his father, as of 1912.
With all this land, the father and the son faced the problem of the distances that separated the ranches in the two counties, as well as the distance from their home in Guerrero to the various ranches. Don Francisco's brother, Julián, and his sons had also bought several tracts in Webb County, close to their relatives. According to the 1910 census of Webb County, Julián Gutiérrez, then sixty years old, lived in Laredo with his wife, Catarina García, and their four children: Estanislao, 32; Pilar, 25; Laureano, 23; and Francisco, 17. The men listed their occupation as farm or ranch work, and Julián stated that he had immigrated (with his family, presumably) to Texas from Mexico in 1899. It was Julián and his sons, then, who most likely looked after Francisco and Manuel's land and cattle in Webb County, while Manuel and his father probably tended the property in Zapata County, making only periodic trips to La Volanta, such as for roundups and branding.
However, the situation in Webb County must not have been satisfactory to Don Francisco, even with the help of his brother and nephews, because in 1911 he leased La Volanta to A. J. Landrum of Laredo. In July of the following year, though, Manuel received the disturbing information that someone else, not Landrum, was in possession as tenant of La Volanta, and he made this fact known to his father. The discovery had upset Don Francisco to the extent that he made preparations to travel to Laredo to consult an attorney and to meet with his son there. For Don Francisco, preparing to leave Guerrero was not a simple matter. Before doing so, he was required to obtain official leave to absent himself from the municipality, since he served on the Guerrero city council or ayuntamiento as alcalde primero, a title that subsequently caused the newspapers much confusion.
Traveling from Guerrero to Laredo was no easy feat. There was no railroad that ran downriver from Laredo. The trip from Guerrero to Laredo presented two options, neither comfortable nor secure. Travelers could either cross the Río Bravo by chalán, or ferry, from Guerrero to Zapata and proceed from there upriver along a dirt road that was barely fit for carts, or they could follow a similarly bad road on the Mexican side of the river up to Nuevo Laredo, and there cross the river on the relatively recently built International Bridge. Of the two possibilities, the latter was probably the preferable, since the ferry crossing was always chancy, and this risky venture still had to be followed by a long and uncomfortable ride, perhaps on horseback or, at best, by cart.
As an illustration of the condition of the road from Laredo to the south, we read that, as late as 1914, the mail bound for Zapata and Laredo from downriver--and vice-versa--was carried on horseback because that was the fastest means to use on the existing road. Virgil N. Lott and Mercurio Martínez recount this process in their book, The Kingdom of Zapata:
Every day, except Sunday, the canvas bags with newspapers and other small parcels and the leather pouches with letters and first- class mail arrived at Zapata late in the afternoon from down river. Here the men rested at night, but six o'clock the next morning, rain or shine, cold or hot, the mail left Zapata for San Ygnacio, where another rider, his mount saddled and ready, after receiving the mail for up-river points was off at a bound. Here the Zapata man exchanged his tired mount for a fresh horse, received the down-river mail and was back in Zapata by four in the afternoon. The up-river rider was met at Becerro Arroyo, twelve miles distant from Laredo, where he was relieved of his mail by a rider from La Posta; both men returned to their respective stations. At La Posta (exchange station), a rider from Laredo picked up the mail, relieving the La Posta man. (38)
Despite the lack of roads in the downriver communities, the Laredo business elite preferred to concentrate its efforts on road improvements to the north of the city. The Laredo Daily Times of August 16, 1912, carried an editorial, "For Good Roads," that urged the proposal to link Laredo with San Antonio by highway, although a rail connection already existed between the two cities. The editorial read in part: "A project is now on foot to link Laredo with San Antonio by a highway which shall . . . provide an efficient roadway for all kinds of wheeled-traffic. It is to be hoped that the citizens of Laredo will take definite action [toward] the early completion of the Laredo-San Antonio highway."
To the south, travel by automobile between Laredo and Zapata was probably possible in 1912, but just barely so. An old-time Zapata resident, Beatriz C. Izaguirre, reminisced about an automobile trip between the two locations, circa 1920:
One day my sister, brother and I went with my father and my mother to Laredo on business. This was when there were no paved roads in Zapata County and the roads were only trails in the countryside. We had to stop the car when we saw another car coming in the opposite direction, as the roads were so narrow. The roads were also very bumpy and we had to travel very slowly. We would shake all the way even though the maximum speed was 15 to 20 miles per hour. . . . It was not only hard to drive because the roads were rough, but besides that, there were several arroyos we had to go through in order to get to Laredo. If it happened to rain that day, you could not come back the same day. The arroyos were full of water and one had to wait for the water level to subside. (Izaguirre 39)
At this point we must make an educated guess and assume that Don Francisco Gutiérrez and his wife would have opted to travel from Guerrero to Laredo in August 1912 on the road that ran parallel to the river on the Mexican side. Because both river roads--on opposite sides--were on the whole equally bad, the couple would have preferred to cross the river on the International Bridge that joined both Laredos, rather than trust their luck with the more risky chalán from Guerrero to the settlement of Zapata (both the county and the county seat were called Zapata). Francisco and Manuela would have traveled to Nuevo Laredo, most likely by mule-drawn wagon, since automobiles were then a rarity in Guerrero and even in Laredo horse- and mule-drawn wagons still outnumbered autos.
There is no record that Manuela accompanied her husband on this trip, but this too can be safely assumed because, barring an illness or some personal calamity, this would have been the most natural course of action. Francisco and Manuela's two children and all their grandchildren now lived in Laredo. If Francisco went through the trouble of making the problematic trip to attend to business in Laredo, then Manuela would have gone with him to visit their family.
Francisco and Manuela had had six children, but of this number only two had survived to adulthood: Manuel, the oldest, and Adela, the youngest. Adela married Ernesto Flores in Guerrero in 1900, while Manuel married Francisca Peña, also in Guerrero, in 1895, according to the marriage records of the parish of Nuestra Señora del Refugio of Guerrero, Tamaulipas. Manuel and Francisca had seven children, to whom their grandmother, Manuela, was affectionately known as "Mamelita"--a contraction of "Mamá Manuelita"--and they were eager to see her that summer.
That summer of 1912 Manuel, Francisca, and their seven children were at their San Juan Ranch, not in Laredo, so Manuela and Francisco would have stayed with their daughter. However, even if that had not been the case, Manuela would probably still have stayed with Adela when she came to Laredo. It would have been more natural for Manuela to feel more comfortable at her daughter's house than at her daughter-in-law's. But her situation was more complicated than the traditional one with tension between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, for the two women were also first cousins, although Manuela was twenty-one years older than Francisca.
Francisca was the daughter of Juan Martín Peña and his wife, Virginia García. Manuela's parents were José María García and María Gertrudis Peña. Juan Martín Peña and Gertrudis Peña were brother and sister. Therefore, Francisca and her husband, Manuel Gutiérrez, were first cousins once removed. Although marriage between cousins was often permitted--indeed, it would have been difficult to avoid in those small communities--it was not always well received, and there appears to have been some friction between Manuela and Francisca due to this cause, according to one of Francisca's granddaughters.
The personalities of the two women may also have had something to do with any tension that existed between them. Photographs of Manuela and Francisca hint at the strong will that animated each of them. One photograph taken around 1900, of Francisco and Manuela in middle age, shows a prosperous-looking couple. As was the custom at the time, he is sitting while she stands by him, an unfurled fan in her hand. He is a broad-chested man, with a confident air in his posture and strong hands that reveal a lifetime of physical work. A steel rod seems to run down Manuela's back, the result perhaps of the corset that also produced the wasp-waist--a slender woman with a proud carriage. Her face is delicately molded, with deep-set blue eyes, but her hands, like her husband's, reveal a lifetime of work. The wedding portrait of Francisca, taken in 1895 when she was twenty-two, shows a dark-haired "proud beauty" in a white lace mantilla. Her flashing eyes, which appear dark in the photograph, were actually blue, like Manuela's. With such an attractive cousin, it was understandable that Manuel had not looked elsewhere for a wife.
That summer of 1912 Manuel and Francisca and their seven children were in Zapata County, at the San Juan Ranch, which his parents had put together out of Manuela's share of the inheritance of the Charco Redondo Grant and what they had bought from other heirs. The Charco Redondo had comprised at the time it was granted in 1835 more than 22,000 acres, but with the large families that were prevalent then and the passage of several generations, individual heirs often received at most a few hundred acres (Guide no. 91). The San Juan Ranch encompassed more than a quarter of the original grant and required, as well as deserved, the frequent presence and direct attention of the owners. But there were only two men to oversee the approximately 17,000 acres in Webb and Zapata Counties. In addition, there was Francisca Peña's ranch, Sabino Verde, in Guerrero.
When Juan Martín Peña died in 1908, Francisca and her younger sister, Esther, had been his only heirs, since Juan Martín had been a widower for many years. The sisters had inherited adjoining ranches on the banks of the Río Sabinas, near Guerrero, which were named for the sabine trees (sabinos) growing along the river: Sabino Verde for Francisca and Sabino Seco for Esther. With Francisca and Manuel in Texas, the care of Sabino Verde would have fallen either to her father-in-law or to Lorenzo de la Garza, Esther's husband, since both men were in Guerrero.
The summer of 1912, then, found the Gutiérrez men concerned with the management of their lands but still able to enjoy the benefits of their comfortable position. Manuel and Francisca and their children were at the San Juan Ranch for both personal and business reasons. Even in those days when most people lived in rural areas or in small towns, it was considered healthy, particularly for children, to go to the country during the summer vacation from school. At the San Juan Ranch, Manuel and Francisca's brood, which ranged in age from fifteen to one, could run free at play and at work, al aire libre, breathing in the fresh country air that was supposed to undo the ravages of the stuffy air in town. They could drink foaming warm milk, almost directly from the cow, and eat freshly picked fruits and vegetables.
Of course, it was not all play for the children; they were expected to help their parents, according to their age and sex. The oldest was a girl, Virginia, named after her maternal grandmother. In the early days of August 1912, Virginia was already anticipating the arrival of her sixteenth birthday on August 22. Soon after that she would be returning to the Ursuline Convent School in Laredo, where she was to begin her senior year. Virginia had been a boarding student at the Ursuline Convent while her parents were living in Guerrero, but now she could enjoy her school days while enjoying the warmth of living with her family as well.
Virginia, Manuela García's oldest grandchild, was already a budding beauty and undoubtedly her grandmother's favorite. It is quite probable that it was Manuela who paid for Virginia's schooling with the Ursulines. But although surrounded by affection, Virginia would not have led a pampered existence, particularly at the ranch. She and her thirteen-year-old sister, Adelina, would have been expected to help their mother with the domestic chores, at the very least caring for the younger children.
For fourteen-year-old Francisco, the oldest boy, summertime would have been devoted to helping his father and the ranch hands with their work. For the men, summer was the time to carry out improvements on the land, when fences and corrals were built or mended, dams reinforced, and wells dug. Lorenzo de la Garza's family, for example, would repair to their ranch, Sabino Seco, in the summer months, as he related to his son in a letter dated May 17, 1922: "Yo pienso ir por los meses de julio y agosto a pasar las vacaciones en el rancho y ver que trabajo realizo estando allá la familia" ("I plan to spend the vacation months of July and August at the ranch and see what work I can accomplish while the family is there").
The family, even the young children, would all have been involved in harvesting the produce from the cultivated plots, such as beans, corn, squash, and melons, which augmented the usual diet of meat, milk, cheese, eggs, and tortillas, both corn and flour. The women and the girls, however, would always be careful to wear sunbonnets and long-sleeved garments to protect their complexions from the sun. Those summers at the ranch were a happy time for the families along the border, idyllic in many ways but never idle.
However, according to one of Virginia's daughters, when young Virginia learned in early August that her father was preparing to go to Laredo to meet her grandfather, she was ready to return to the city. She wanted to see her grandparents, perhaps spend her birthday with them. She particularly wanted to visit with her doting grandmother, for she had no other. Her maternal grandmother and namesake, Virginia García, had died at the age of twenty-nine, leaving two orphaned little girls, Francisca and Esther, and her oldest grandchild knew her only from photographs.
But Manuel Gutiérrez refused to allow his daughter to accompany him to Laredo. Perhaps he was too preoccupied with the business at hand, the reason for the trip, to view the occasion as a happy family gathering. The situation at La Volanta was a worrying one and required serious deliberation. According to the lease that Don Francisco had made with A. J. Landrum in May 1911, which was to run until May 1915, Landrum was to make quarterly rent payments in advance. Presumably Landrum made the payments throughout 1911 and at the beginning of 1912. However, it appears that the lease payment due on April 1, 1912, was not made.
Don Francisco does not seem to have taken any immediate action on the missed payment. Perhaps he was willing to be accommodating because A. J. Landrum appeared to be a respectable family man. The San Antonio Express had reported on Sunday, July 7, 1912, on the wedding of one of Landrum's daughters in Laredo: "A pretty wedding took place at the home of Mr. and Mrs. A. J. Landrum, 1814 Victoria Street . . . when one of the pretty daughters of the home, Miss Bessie Landrum, became the bride of Charles Virgil Kyle of San Antonio."
Don Francisco and his son did become concerned when a check for $450.26 was forwarded by Ernesto Flores, Adela's husband, to Manuel at Aguilares, Texas, a settlement on the Texas-Mexican Railway and the closest post office to the San Juan Ranch. The check was drawn on the Stockmen's National Bank of Cotulla, Texas, and was dated July 6, 1912. It was made payable to Manuel Gutiérrez (not Francisco) and was signed by Alonzo W. Allee with the notation "Six month lease April 1 to October 1."
Manuel communicated this change in the state of affairs to his father in Guerrero. Don Francisco then made plans to go to Laredo and asked his son to meet him there. The lease with Landrum had been drafted by a lawyer. It was typewritten and in a legal format, using legal terminology. The lawyer is not identified, but in the recent past--in 1909--when the right of Don Francisco and Manuel to hold the land they had purchased from the State of Texas had been challenged by the state itself, they had turned to E. A. Attlee, a member of the long-established firm of Attlee and Attlee of Laredo and a former mayor of the city, for help in responding to the state. It is possible, then, even probable, that it was Attlee who prepared the lease for Don Francisco in 1911. One curious detail of this lease is that it was witnessed by T. C. Mann, one of the attorneys who later prosecuted Alonzo Allee. We can infer from this detail that T. C. Mann was either the attorney who prepared the lease--a somewhat unorthodox, not to say unethical, procedure if he was both attorney and witness--or, more likely, an associate of Attlee and Attlee.
Regardless of the authorship of the 1911 lease, Don Francisco and Manuel turned again to a lawyer in August 1912, or at least to a scrivener, who made the necessary changes--such as substituting Alonzo Allee's name (which was spelled "Alonso" Allee) for A. J. Landrum's--but retained the same basic terms, such as rental payments, in the new lease. There is an intriguing clue as to the authorship of this lease in the spelling of the lessee's name: the scrivener wrote Alonso, which is the Spanish form of Alonzo W. Allee's name, which may lead us to think that the scrivener's first language was Spanish. Alonso was also the name of one of Manuel's children. This document, unlike the earlier lease, is handwritten in beautiful script, such as lawyers, lawyers' clerks, and educated persons used then. The change from mechanical to manual writing is not significant in itself, though, since legal documents were drafted in either form at that time, as a perusal of courthouse records shows.
Armed with this new lease, Don Francisco and Manuel set out for La Volanta, in northeast Webb County, to have the document signed by the new man in possession, Alonzo W. Allee. We do not know if Don Francisco--or Manuel--was familiar with the Texas law regarding subleases, or if either was acquainted with the terms under which Landrum had transferred his lease to Allee. Normally, leases are assignable or transferable to third parties under the principles that govern the Anglo-American law of property:
All leases, except leases at will [which this was not], may be assigned provided there is no restriction in the lease itself [there was not; the lease refers to "Landrum and his representatives and assigns"]. A leasehold interest in real estate is personal property and is transferable as such. Although a leasehold is personal property (a chattel real), it is also an interest in land and transfers must comply with the Statute of Frauds. Thus, if the assigned lease has more than one year to run, the transfer must be in writing in order to be enforceable [footnote omitted]. By an assignment, the tenant conveys all of his interest in the property to a third person for the entire term, whereas in a sublease the tenant conveys all or part of his interest for a period less than the entire term. (Cribbet 219)
However, under Article 5489 of the Revised Civil Statutes of Texas (1911), a tenant was not permitted to sublet without the landlord's consent. The law in question read:
If lands or tenements are rented by the landlord to any person or persons, such person or persons renting said lands or tenements shall not rent or lease said lands or tenements during the term of said lease to any other person without first obtaining the consent of the landlord, his agent or attorney.
We do not know if Landrum had assigned his interest to Allee or merely sublet La Volanta to him, or even if he had simply abandoned the lease, a possibility that cannot be discounted since Landrum seems to have missed the April and July payments in 1912. What seems clear is that Landrum had not obtained Don Francisco's permission to sublet La Volanta, and therefore Allee was a trespasser at La Volanta, without a lease to govern his presence or his status. In fact, Landrum had already breached the terms of his lease by failing to make the quarterly payments of $225.13 each due on April 1 and July 1. Allee's payment of $450.26, which he made on July 6, purported to relate back to April and extended until October, but it is doubtful that this payment cured the breach. It is also unclear whether in making this late payment Allee was acting as Landrum's assignee or as his representative under the terms of the lease, or even if such lease terms were effective in light of Article 5489.
This is not the time or place for an in-depth discussion of the fascinating ramifications of the property doctrine known as adverse possession, which has played an important role in landownership in Texas. Suffice it to say that adverse possession was very probably a major concern with Don Francisco Gutiérrez and his son when contemplating the presence of Alonzo Allee on their property. The relevant Texas statute in effect at the time was Article 5681 of the Civil Statutes, enacted in 1879, but according to the Texas Supreme Court in Houston Oil Company of Texas v. Jones, 109 Tex. 89, decided in 1917, the concept was an older one.
The court began by quoting the statutory definition of adverse possession: "Adverse possession is an actual and visible appropriation of the land, commenced and continued under a claim of right inconsistent and hostile to the claim of another." However, the court continued, the concept of adverse possession had already been propounded, even before the enactment of the statute, in 1875 in the case of Word v. Droughett, 44 Texas 365. In Word the court had held that the adverse claimant's entry upon the land must have been "with the intent to claim it as his own or to hold it for himself [citations omitted]" (Woodward and Hobbs 195).
It must be reiterated here that adverse possession was the legally sanctioned means by which individuals without title to land acquired not only possession of the land but also title to it, to the detriment of the legal owner. From the point of view of Don Francisco Gutiérrez, Alonzo Allee might be tendering a lease payment and thus behaving like a tenant and not an adverse claimant, but that was now. Who could foresee what he would do in the future, particularly since his presence at La Volanta was not governed by an enforceable lease?
The suspicion that Alonzo Allee's presence might be undesirable was not based solely on legal questions, nor was it entirely unfounded or unreasonable, although it might have been a case of the sins of the father being visited on the son. There appears to have been nothing known against Alonzo Allee around 1912, but it was an entirely different case with his father, Alfred Y. Allee, who, by most counts, had killed five men before he himself succumbed to a violent death at the hands of the Laredo city marshal, Joe Barthelow, in August 1896 (Ludeman 116-117).
Don Francisco and Manuel Gutiérrez, however, did not go see Alonzo Allee expecting violence, for they were not proposing to evict him from La Volanta. They were primarily concerned with the status of the lease. That was the reason for drafting a new document, inserting Allee's name as the new lessee. The Gutiérrez men wanted to clarify the situation, so that in the future there would be no ambiguities that could be resolved in favor of an adverse claimant. There should have been no reason for Alonzo W. Allee to resort to violence--but he did.
Newspapers often have trouble keeping all the facts straight. The Laredo Daily Times knew that a double killing made for a big story, and it reported the main facts of the occurrence accurately, but it got lost somewhat in the whos and whys. On Thursday, August 15, 1912, the Daily Times carried on the front page the headline "TWO PROMINENT MEN KILLED: MAYOR OF GUERRERO AND HIS SON, PROMINENT RANCHMEN OF THIS COUNTY, KILLED BY ALONZO ALLEE."
It may surprise contemporary newspaper readers, accustomed to the ubiquitous qualifier "alleged," to note the refreshingly forthright manner in which the Daily Times identified the killer. However, the facts did seem to point to one conclusion: if three men had been alone in a room, and two were dead from gunshot wounds while the third was missing, the third man must have been the killer.
The Laredo Daily Times was an afternoon paper, and although the news of the tragedy reached the paper on the evening of the day of the killings, it was too late for that day's edition, as the story explained: "Yesterday evening, shortly after six o'clock, the sheriff's department received telephone advice from Encinal announcing that a double tragedy had been perpetrated at "El Alamito" ranch, a distance of 45 miles from Laredo in the northeast corner of Webb County and about 25 miles from Encinal."
A perplexing detail of the story is the reference to the place of the killing as El Alamito, when in all references to the land by Don Francisco or his representatives it was known as La Volanta. It is common, though, for ranches, like towns, to take their names from some prominent landmark in the vicinity. There was a creek in Webb County known as Alamitos Creek--alamitos, or little cottonwood trees, probably grew along it--which crossed some of Don Francisco's land. "El Alamito" may have been the old name of a ranch in the area, perhaps comprising part of the land that Don Francisco bought, and the name may have persisted among old-time settlers even after Don Francisco renamed it. "La Volanta" is a rather fanciful name meaning, according to the Diccionario de la lengua española of the Real Academia, "coche de las Antillas," a coach or carriage used in the Antilles. The locals may have been more comfortable with a ranch named after a creek or a tree than after something unfamiliar, and the name carried to the newspaper story.
The report from the Daily Times continued:
The dead men are Francisco Gutiérrez, mayor of the town of Guerrero, Mexico, and owner of the ranch where the tragedy occurred, and his son, Manuel Gutiérrez, a citizen of Laredo, and one of the most prominent ranch men and land owners of this county. The man who did the killing was Alonzo Allee, lessee of the ranch. The killing of Gutiérrez and his son occurred yesterday forenoon at about 11 o'clock, and the delay in getting the information here was by reason of the fact that a courier had to ride to Encinal, 25 miles distant, to telephone the officers in Laredo.
The first thing that strikes one on reading this paragraph is the prominence that the Laredo Daily Times accords to the dead men. Of course, the eminence of the victims makes the story more newsworthy, but a perusal of other Texas English-language newspapers of that era finds few Mexicans mentioned at all, and when they are the term "bandit" is usually appended to their names. The Brownsville Herald provides a sampling of the headlines of the era: "ALLEGED LEADER IN BANDIT TROUBLES CHARGED . . . WITH HORSETHEFT: ONE OF THE INDICTMENTS WAS AGAINST LUIS DE LA ROSA, ALLEGED BANDIT LEADER" (March 18, 1916), as well as "RANGER TIMBERLAKE KILLED BY MEXICAN BANDIT" (October 11, 1918). And even the Laredo Daily Times contributed this in 1913, referring to Gregorio Cortez, the hero of the eponymous border ballad: "NOTED CRIMINAL PARDONED" (July 23, 1913).
What is perhaps even more surprising than the attention the Laredo paper devoted to the killing is the fact that the story was also carried by the San Antonio newspapers. Obviously, the San Antonio press covered the border area to the extent of having a correspondent, or at least a stringer, in Laredo, and thus by Thursday, August 15, the day after the killing, the San Antonio Light carried the story, although much abbreviated:
RANCH MEN MURDERED
Sheriff's Posse Searching for Slayers in Webb County
Francisco Gutierrez and his son, Manuel, prominent ranch men and landowners in the northeastern part of Webb County, 45 miles from here [Laredo], were murdered yesterday. The details are not known. A sheriff's posse in automobiles is looking for a young man believed to be connected with the crime.
The correspondent is circumspect as to the details, but the story assumes that a crime had been committed and that it had been a murder. It also refers to "slayers" in the plural, most likely because there was more than one victim, although the sheriff's posse is reported to be looking for only one young man, without naming Alonzo Allee.
It was not until Friday, August 16, that the San Antonio Express reported the story: "TWO RANCH OWNERS DEAD: FRANCISCO AND MANUEL GUTIERREZ SHOT AT EL ALAMITO RANCH; ALONZO ALLEE, LESSEE, SURRENDERS."
The story, which had arrived by "Special Telegram" to the Express, related the facts of the killing and repeated the Laredo Daily Times's identification of Francisco Gutiérrez, saying: "The elder Gutierrez was also mayor of the town of Guerrero, Mexico, and owner of the ranch and was at the ranch on a visit with his son."
It would have been a matter of common knowledge, at least among journalists in South Texas, that under the old Spanish law which until the 1820s had governed from California to Patagonia, the office of alcalde referred to the highest civil authority at the local level. However, the law had changed somewhat under the Mexican Republic, and local governing councils, or ayuntamientos, were now organized in a different fashion. They were directly elected by the voters, for one thing. In the spring of 1912, Francisco Gutiérrez Garza had been elected to the ayuntamiento of Ciudad Guerrero, Tamaulipas, Mexico, as alcalde primero, the first in rank of three such officials, but he was not the mayor.
Under the new municipal government scheme in effect in 1912, the chief executive of a municipality was (and still is) the presidente municipal. The Municipal Archives of Nueva Ciudad Guerrero, Tamaulipas, Mexico, contain the election results of the local election of 1912. The new municipal council consisted of the presidente municipal, Jesús García Benavides; seven regidores (aldermen), Juan García Martínez, Dr. Isidoro A. Nava, Antonio Ma. Benavides, Santiago Gutiérrez, Alfredo González, Juan B. Benavides, and Régulo Flores; two síndicos (municipal attorneys or prosecutors), Refugio Peña and José Ma. Salinas; three alcaldes propietarios, the first being Francisco Gutiérrez Garza, and the other two Lorenzo González and Reyes Gutiérrez; and three alcaldes suplentes, or alternates, Lucio Vidaurri, Diego Martínez, and Manuel Firons. As an interesting aside, we may note here that the jurisdiction known in Mexico as a municipality combines the functions of city and county government, so that the Municipality of Ciudad Guerrero, Tamaulipas, consisted not only of the city of Guerrero but also of several small communities. One of these communities was known as La Leona, where the voters in the municipal election of 1912 numbered twenty-seven, all of whom voted in favor of Francisco Gutiérrez Garza for alcalde primero.
Under Spanish and Spanish American law, alcaldes had exercised mostly a judicial function (Escriche 417). However, along the border the term alcalde came to be synonymous with "mayor." Thus the title and office that were attributed to Don Francisco in the newspapers are understandable. The municipal scheme of government under which Don Francisco was elected, though, had evolved after Mexico's independence from Spain had been consolidated in 1821. Escriche's Diccionario razonado de legislación y jurisprudencia describes the type of municipal government that existed in Mexico in the nineteenth century and explains that a certain latitude was permissible in the composition of the ayuntamientos:
El Ayuntamiento de Méjico se componía de seis alcaldes, diez y seis regidores, y dos síndicos con la denominación de 1o. y 2o.; pero el artículo 23 de la 6a. ley constit. dice: "El número de alcaldes, regidores y síndicos se fijará por las juntas departamentales respectivas, de acuerdo con el gobernador, sin que puedan exceder los primeros de seis, los segundos de doce y los últimos dos." [The Mexico City Council was composed of six alcaldes, sixteen aldermen, and two prosecutors; but Article 23 of the 6th constitutional law says: "The number of alcaldes, aldermen, and prosecutors shall be set by the respective departmental governing bodies, in accord with the governor; however, these may not exceed six in the first instance, twelve in the second, and two for the last."] (Escriche 344)
The function of the alcalde primero, Francisco Gutiérrez Garza's office, was more notarial than judicial. In May 1912, for example, Francisco Gutiérrez Garza's signature appears attesting to the execution of a deed of gift by which Francisca Salinas, Viuda de Salinas, a widow, conveyed the title to a house to her daughter. Earlier, in 1909, Don Francisco, as alcalde primero, was one of those attesting to the protocol of the intestacy proceedings in the Estates of Juan Martín Peña and Virginia García, the deceased parents of his daughter-in-law, Francisca Peña.
It is interesting to follow just a little longer the trail of mistranslations of the term alcalde in the stories of the killings of Francisco and Manuel Gutiérrez. On Saturday, August 17, we find the Spanish-language Laredo weekly paper, El Demócrata Fronterizo (which should have known better), carrying the story along the same lines as the English publications but adding its own brand of misinformation. The writer of El Demócrata knew that the office of mayor was equivalent in Mexican municipal government to the office of presidente municipal. This writer did not bother to find out the exact office that Don Francisco held in Guerrero, and relying instead on the stories from the Laredo Daily Times, he converted Don Francisco into the presidente municipal of Guerrero as he proceeded to relate the story of the killings:
Gran consternación causó en esta ciudad la noticia circulada el miércoles, de que en la mañana de ese día habían sido muertos en su rancho, cerca del Encinal, el Sr. Francisco Gutiérrez García [sic] y su hijo Manuel por un individuo de apellido Allee que tenía en arrendamiento un terreno de los Srs. Gutiérrez.
Don Francisco era Presidente Municipal de C. Guerrero, Tamaulipas, y había venido, con licencia del Gobierno, al arreglo de algunos asuntos particulares.
[The news circulated in this city on Wednesday that Mr. Francisco Gutiérrez García [sic] and his son, Manuel, had been killed on their ranch near Encinal caused great consternation. The killer is an individual named Allee who had leased the Gutiérrez land.
Don Francisco was the municipal president of Guerrero, Tamaulipas, and had come here, with leave from the government, to take care of some personal business matters.]
“I find this story interesting and captivating. I think it will be of general interest to the public because the story chronicles an important part of our history. It can serve to gauge the progress we’ve made in society and in our legal system. I strongly recommend it.Hon. Raul A.”
Gonzalez former Justice, Texas Supreme Court