Singing Freedom’s Song – Texas, the Irish and the War for Southern Independence – Part IV – The Anaconda Plan

CSS Alabama enters Table Bay at 10:00 AM August 6, 1864. She is increasing speed in order to capture the Sea Bride before she can escape to within one league of S.African territorial waters. Commissioned by Ken Sheppard of South Africa

When the Alabama’s Keel was Laid, (Roll Alabama, roll!),
‘Twas laid in the yard of Jonathan Laird (Roll, roll Alabama, roll!)
‘Twas Laid in the yard of Jonathan Laird, ’twas laid in the town of Birkenhead.
Down the Mersey way she rolled then, and Liverpool fitted her with guns and men.
From the western isle she sailed forth, to destroy the commerce of the north.

On the 11th of January 1863, less than two weeks after Southern forces liberated Galveston, the CSS Alabama under Captain Raphael Semmes sank USS Hatteras  after a heated and close night engagement some thirty miles off Galveston . “My men,” reported Semmes, “handled their pieces with great spirit and commendable coolness, and the action was sharp and exciting while it lasted; which, however, was not very long, for in just thirteen minutes after firing the first gun, the enemy hoisted a light, and fired an off-gun, as a signal that he had been beaten. We at once withheld our fire, and such a cheer went up from the brazen throats of my fellows, as must have astonished even a Texan, if he had heard it.” The damage to Alabama was so slight ”that there was not a shot-hole which it was necessary to plug, to enable us to continue our cruise; nor was there a rope to be spliced.” Hatteras went down in 9 1/2 fathoms, Alabama saving all hands. Other Union ships in the Galveston area steamed out in vain in chase of the raider. Semmes observed: ”There was now as hurried a saddling of steeds for the pursuit as there had been in the chase of the young Lochinvar, and with as little effect, for by the time the steeds were given the spur, the Alabama was distant a hundred miles or more.”

This is certainly an exciting account of one of the more exciting naval episodes of the War for Southern Independence. At the beginning of the war northern forces were under the command of Brigadier General Winfield Scott who had earned the nickname of “Old Fuss and Feathers” for his insistence on military appearance and discipline in the army which consisted mostly of volunteers. When the Civil War began in the spring of 1861, Scott was 74 years old and suffering numerous health problems, including gout and dropsy.  Scott’s physical infirmities cast doubt on his stamina; he could no longer even mount a horse to review the troops and his weight had ballooned to over 300 lbs – prompting some to use a play on his sobriquet of “Old Fuss and Feathers,” instead labeling him with the moniker, “Old Fat and Feeble.” However feeble he was this architect of the genocide against the Cherokees as well as other military adventures of the age of manifest destiny had one last scheme to punish the Virginians [although he was one himself] who would not kowtow to Lincoln’s new world order.

Winfield Scott's ANACONDA plan

Having been slighted by “the very finest soldier I’ve ever seen” – Robert E. Lee – and his refusal to lead an army invading his home state Scott drew up a complicated plan – the Anaconda plan – to defeat the Confederacy by blockading Southern ports and then sending an army down the Mississippi Valley to outflank the Confederacy. It is ironic that public derision of the plan coupled with Scott’s own inability to lead due to age and infirmity led to his being replaced by General George Brinton McClellan, a former New Jersey governor, whose Peninsula Campaign in 1862 ended in failure, with retreats from attacks by General Robert E. Lee‘s smaller Army of Northern Virginia and an unfulfilled plan to seize the Confederate capital of Richmond. The most interesting aspect of McClellan’s war was his statement on invading the western part of Virginia that, “Notwithstanding all that has been said by the traitors to induce you to believe that our advent among you will be signalized by interference with your slaves, understand one thing clearly—not only will we abstain from all such interference but we will on the contrary with an iron hand, crush any attempted insurrection on their part,” which certainly seems to give the lie to the pious ejaculations of the administration.

By the end of the war, despite the fact that five out of every six ships that attempted to elude the blockade did, it was Scott’s plan enforced by the butchery of Lincoln, Grant and Sherman that finally defeated the South. Thanks to the blockade runners it was a near run thing and Galveston and Texans played crucial roles in the financing and operation of blockade runners and the foreign diplomacy that supplied the South with so much for so long. This entry will survey some of the more prominent people involved in the blockade running operations, their relationship to Texas and will also shine a light on little known episodes in the Texas and Mexico relationship. It is certainly a part of the war that did not end in 1865 and had repercussions that were being felt as late as 1916.

Headquarters of the CSA Signal Corps at Galveston

On Post Office Street in Galveston there is a three-story building that served as the local headquarters for the CSA Signal Corps. During the war it was the tallest building on the island and enjoyed a position that was both out of range of the union ships attempting to enforce the blockade by regular shelling of the civilian population and close enough to the water to give the lookouts stationed on the roof a panoramic view from Bolivar Roads on the east to San Luis Pass on the west. The height of the building was very important. An average person standing on the ground could look out to sea and have an effective range of vision of about three miles. That same person, on the rooftop of this building, would have an effective range of vision of about twelve miles and, with a crow’s nest on a roof mounted mast, they might have seen as far as forty miles – all of which assumes clear weather. Given that these distances would have allowed departing blockade runners a two to four-hour jump on any pursuit vessels the importance of a deep water port immediately on the coast becomes very apparent.

The first blockade runner we came across was William Leslie Black who would not become a Texan until well after the war – when he would rise to prominence as a goat farmer after a career that had included a period as a stock trader and a commodities future trader in both of which he was responsible for helping in the formation of some of the principal exchanges – who started out the war as part of the Louisiana volunteers, who fought at Shiloh and was wounded. After a lengthy recuperation, and a promise to his mother not to rejoin the Confederate Army, he used his British passport to help run cotton to England which was one of the main ways the South financed their bid for freedom. Joining his brother in the Bahamas – where his family had moved its trading operations for the duration – he joined forces with Thomas E. Hogg, older brother of James Stephen Hogg who was later governor of Texas,  a considerable writer and poet in his own right and, as a newspaper editor after the war, instrumental in ending the military occupation of Texas in 1874.

Stephen Russell Mallory the Irish Catholic Senator from Florida who served as the Confederate Secretary of the Navy

The Confederate States Secretary of the Navy Stephen R. Mallory had on 7th of May 1864, commissioned Hogg to organize an expedition intended to wreak havoc on the union’s Pacific commerce. Mallory ordered Hogg to Panama, where he and his group were to board  the Guatemala,  a federal trading and passenger steamer operated by the Panama Railroad Company. On the high seas, they were to seize control of the ship and outfit it for cruising against union vessels in the Pacific.

Black enlisted in the Confederate Navy, went to Havana, where Hogg completed the organization of the expedition and  sixteen members of the party, including Black, signed an oath, pledging that “strict secrecy will be observed, and . . . actions so governed as to be free from suspicion.” The mission was launched mission in the October 1864 when Hogg, Black, and five others departed Havana for Panama and planned to board the Guatemala before it sailed on the 26th of  October. The remaining members of the party traveled in small groups to the Guatemala ‘s several Central American docking points and intended to board the steamer as it landed at its regular stops, thus, gradually reuniting to commandeer the vessel.

Proving that a secret between two people is a secret no more – let alone one between sixteen! –  union officials soon learned of the plans and set about defeating them. The members were taken prisoner with no regard for the foreign passports that many of them carried and were held on the union man-of-war, USS Lancaster. The union admiral then petitioned Jose Leonardo Calancha, the President of Columbia – of which Panama was a province at this time, for permission to transport them back across the Isthmus of Panama whence they could be sent to one of the union prison camps [remember this is 40 years before there was a Panama and 50 years before there was a Panama Canal]. The request was denied in part because the Central and South American Republics were more closely – if not officially – allied with the Southern Cause and so the men were sent to San Francisco where they became the first prisoners of Alcatraz, an honor usually reserved until after service on a stock exchange and trading commodities futures but then again Black had a reputation for being precocious.

While they arrived in San Francisco on the 31st of December 1864 their trial did not begin until the 22nd of May 1865 – more than a month after Lincoln had been shot. Despite the war being over they were tried before a military commission for having “violated the laws and usages of Civilized war” [sic], were found guilty and were sentenced to be hanged which was commuted to “confinement in the State Penitentiary at San Quentin, California . . . each for the term of ten years.” Fortunately for Black his family, having transferred their wealth to the Bahamas, was able to “lobby” President Andrew Johnson who issued a full pardon after which Black, to his credit, travelled to Washington where he “arranged” for pardons for the remainder of the group. After his career in the financial markets of New York and St. Louis he took up ranching on the Edwards Plateau where he and his managing partner, Douglas Shannon, operated the BS Ranch [you can not make this stuff up] and passed into the glorious history of Texas. For those of you who are purists and insist on a Galveston connection his ranch and grave are both in Menard County which was formed from Bexar County by the state legislature in 1858 and named for Michel Branamour Menard, the founder of Galveston.

A.D. Vance or Advance length 230', beam 26', draft 12', speed 12 knots. A schooner-rigged, side-wheel steamer built at Greenock, Scotland by Caird & Co., Advance was launched on 3 July 1862 as the Clyde packet Lord Clyde. She was jointly purchased by the state of North Carolina and the firm of Lord Power & Co. to serve as a blockade runner.

Crossing the Sabine River coming west from Calcasieu Parish we arrive in the little town of Orange, the home of Alexander Gilmer, born in County Armagh, Ireland in 1829 and one of the most successful blockade runners of the war. Partnering with M. J. Kopperl, a Galveston merchant, Gilmer made six or more successful voyages to Havana, Belize in the British Honduras and Matamoras, Mexico hauling out loads of cotton, and returning with munitions, gunpowder, medicine, provisions, and flat-iron.  In August 1862, the blockade ship USS Hatteras captured one of his schooners and on the 21st of  January 1863, Gilmer was aboard the Confederate gunboat Josiah H. Bell, during the offshore battle that captured the union blockade ships Morning Light and Velocity.  Blockade running was not all victories nor was it without danger as Gilmer lost five schooners  off the Texas coast with all hands.

Moving on to Galveston itself we learn that there were blockade runners and there were blockade runners – the distinction being between those who provided, outfitted and supplied cargoes for the vessels and those who actually faced the perils of the sea to man the ships, deliver the cargoes and return with the munitions and materiel needed by the South in her bid for freedom. An example of the former was John Henry Hutchings one of the founders of Ball, Hutchings, and Company the premier banking firm in Galveston who had been responsible, immediately before the war, for floating the bond issue that allowed the completion of the railroad bridge from the mainland to Galveston. During the war, showing the natural prudence of bankers, they moved their operations to Houston – out of range of the union guns – where the partners were active in importing arms and other war matériel, exporting cotton, and running the blockade on a large-scale. Hutchings also served as state judge and commissioner of the Confederate States court and at the end of the war the firm relocated back to Galveston, where Hutchings served as president of the Galveston Wharf Company.

CSS Stonewall off Ferrol, Spain 1865

Another of the merchant blockade runners – who made actual voyages – was  Cornelius Ennis, whose father’s family had emigrated from Ireland, and who had served as mayor of Houston. During the war he ran cotton through the blockade to Havana, Cuba, then to England via Mexico and at his own expense he purchased an ironclad steamer, the Jeannette, for $40,000 in gold which was used  to carry the rifles, gunpowder, percussion caps, clothing, and other equipment he bought in Havana for the Southern Cause. His successful blockade running enabled him to expand his cotton-export business after the war, when he opened a branch office in Galveston with Frank Cargill who married one of his daughters before going into grain trading. His eldest daughter married Alfred H. Belo, president of the Galveston Daily News after which he acquired the Dallas Morning News all of which became the basis of today’s media conglomerate the Belo Corporation.

Although no pictures of the Jeannette have survived she was very similar to the CSS Stonewall built by Arman of Bordeaux, France. On her way across the Atlantic she was intercepted by the USS Sacramento and the USS Niagara either of which outgunned her but neither of which enjoyed her four and one half-inch thick armored belt. Captain Craven [sic], the union commander, allowed her to proceed unmolested but by the time she reached Havana the war was over and the Spanish Captain-General handed her over to the United States government who sold her to the Shogun of Japan only to have her seized on her arrival at Yokohama by the emperor and used to attack the shogun’s stronghold. She finished her somewhat dubious career as part of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

The USS Harriet Lane converted to a Southern blockade runner

At the Battle of Galveston on the 1st of January 1863 the USS Harriet Lane was captured by Southern naval forces and was repaired and converted to a blockade runner. The ship had been named for President Buchanan’s niece who had served as the old bachelor’s hostess while he was in the White House. It is indicative of the gallantry of the South that they saw no need to rename her and by the 10th of March 1863,  after her cannon had been removed to lighten her,  she was dispatched with a load of cotton for Havana. It may be argued that the whole war was a vindictive act on the part of the union but that was especially true in the case of this vessel where men-of-war were posted on the approaches to Havana to retake a now unarmed vessel. Her attempt to flee was thwarted and her master destroyed her cargo and grounded his vessel in order to save his crew.

Another Houstonian who served  as a blockade runner was John William Blount Lawrence who had served his state  first in March of 1842, at the time of the Rafael Vásquez invasion,  when he joined a company of volunteers from Milam County and marched to Columbus. The 1842 battles in which Mexican troops under first Vasquez and then Adrian Woll twice occupied San Antonio led to retaliatory raids in which the Texans, under Alexander Somervell, occupied the border towns of Laredo and Guerreo. When some 300 members of the Somervell force set out to continue raids into Mexico, ten days and twenty miles later, the ill-fated expedition surrendered at the Mexican town of Mier where most were shot without ceremony or benefit of clergy. The desire of Mexico to invade and occupy Texas, and her concrete steps in that direction, served as an immediate impetus for both the treaty of annexation by which Texas joined the United States and the American war with Mexico. Like so many Texas patriots during the civil war in 1862 he twice ran the federal blockade en route to British Honduras, and in 1864 he was captain of a company of Harris County home guards. Later, he supplied commissaries for Texas troops across the state line in Louisiana.

Maybe the most famous blockade runner out of Galveston was Thomas B. Chubb who had been born in 1811 and had brought arms to Sam Houston early in the Texas Revolution and had arrived in Texas in 1836 to accept an appointment as admiral of the Texas Navy. He had gone to sea at six or seven with the U. S. Navy and was no stranger to the slave trade having  made a trip to the Congo and returned with 400 blacks to sell in the West Indies and was accused of having  acquired free blacks as crew members in Boston whom he  sold into slavery in the South. He and his brother operated a shipyard near present day Baytown, Texas where the Harriet Lane was refitted and he provided the Southern Cause with five vessels as well as being a member of the militia group that watched for enemy vessels from a tower on the CSA Signal Corps building in Galveston.

  • CSS Royal Yacht b:1855 (refitted at Goose Creek Nov 1861 till Oct 1862) – no record of registration to date – Apr 15, 1863 captured as a blockade runner in Key West Florida with 97 bales of “her best cotton”.
  • CSS Henrietta – sloop, registration in Galveston – involved in skirmish July 1, 1864 – Captured as a blockade runner off Tampa, Florida by the USS Merrimac with a load of cotton.
  • Marguereta – schooner, no record of registration to date
  • Bagdad – 1864 schooner, no record of registration to date
  • Altha Brooks – schooner, registered CSN Mar 28, 1863
  • Phoebe – schooner – built prior civil war, registered CSN Nov 28, 1864, named after Thomas’ first wife

The CSS Royal Yacht pursued by the USS William G. Anderson

All of the vessels were built at the Confederate Naval Works of Goose Creek which was located on land Chubb and his brother purchased in 1854. The brothers  purchased approximately 56 acres on the east bank at the mouth of Goose Creek from Mary Jones, wife of President Anson Jones. The last ship built by the Chubb’s was the Coquette in 1891 after which the Gaillard family eventually purchased the land  and established Gaillard’s Landing.  The Gaillard homestead was east of the landing.  The Gaillard holdings eventually gave way to the oil fields known as the Goose Creek Oil Field – the beginning of Humble Oil and Refining which grew into Exxon.

Chubb’s flagship was the schooner Royal Yacht which displaced a mere 40 tons, had a six-foot six-inch deep draft, a crew of fifteen and was armed with one twelve pound cannon. The Royal Yacht and the Henrietta engaged in a Battle with superior Union forces November 8th, 1861 and Thomas was captured, imprisoned at Fort Lafayette in the North, and condemned to death for engaging in the slave trade – which while both true and certainly less than admirable – had been perfectly legal when he did it. Not only did Lincoln have no use for the fourth amendment but he also thought habeas corpus was no longer necessary and that ex post facto laws might be convenient as well – what a brilliant legal mind! Fortunately for Chubb the threat by Jefferson Davis to execute ten men to avenge Chubb, should he be hanged, was taken seriously and he was exchanged for some of Mary Todd Lincoln’s relatives who had elected to stay in the South but were something of an embarrassment to both sides. After the war Chubb served as the harbor master in Galveston.

Today when we think of Texas ports we think of the places that have been dredged to accommodate tankers and container ships drawing forty feet of water and more. In fact ships like this did not exist until after the second world war – the USS Missouri drew only 34 feet of water light and the USS Maine drew only 22 feet 6 inches – and there were many places where, as an early paddle wheel skipper said, “Give me a big enough freshlet and I’ll push my boat all the way to the spring where she starts!” The Texas coast is like no other stretching some 367 miles as the crow flies along an arc that makes up the northwestern edge of the Gulf of Mexico, there are actually over 3,300 miles of shoreline along its islands, bays and river mouths which include 360 access points to Texas bays and the Gulf of Mexico within 16 of the 18 coastal counties. In the 19th century there was steamer service as far inland as Navasota and La Grange and many of the ports that were busy then, like Port Caddo, Swanson’s Landing,  Jefferson and Indianola – the scene of two civil war battles – are no longer in service today.

Corpus Christi was a shallow draft port – maybe a vessel drawing as much as six feet of water could make it across the mud flats in the bay on a spring tide – and the efforts to dredge a deeper channel, first by slave labor and then by steam dredge, had not been successful. One of the first dredging contractors had been John Marks Davenport Moore who had come from Georgia by way of Alabama where, in 1855 he became president of the Alabama Coal and Mining Company, which provided the first steam dredge to Dean S. Howard Company for the Corpus Christi ship channel in 1858.  Due to financial reverses in Alabama he wound up coming to Corpus Christi with the dredge and during the civil war he was involved with obtaining gunpowder for the Texas Military Board, in blockade running, and in commerce with Mexico when he was appointed purchasing agent for arms and munitions for the Military Board in Mexico by Governor Francis R. Lubbock. After the war he became the driving force in creating the Port of Corpus Christi which was naturally sheltered especially as so many coastal cities – like Indianola – were eventually abandoned due to recurring storms. He was twice elected mayor in appreciation of his efforts.

Battle of Mobile Bay, 5 August 1864 Oil on canvas (40" x 66") by Xanthus Smith (1839-1929), signed and dated by the artist, 1890.

Port Isabel lighthouse at South Padre Island

In the 1800s, the low-lying Texas coast made charting a seagoing course extremely difficult, and a number of captains requested that something be done. The Port Isabel Lighthouse was constructed in 1852, near sites of  Mexican War Battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma. Daniel Constant La Roche I who was born in Honfleur, Normandy, France, in the 1820s and went to sea as a young man had settled in the 1850’s at Point Isabel. At the start of the war La Roche enlisted in the Confederate Navy and was captured during the battle of Mobile Bay. Escaping he made his way to Bagdad in Tamaulipas, Mexico on the mouth of the Rio Grande across  from Clarksville, Cameron County where he helped to run cotton through the federal blockade.

Bagdad was unique since the Rio Grande was considered international water by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo signed in 1848 between the United States and Mexico and was thus exempt from another of Lincoln’s fiats that he would hold blockade runners “amenable to the laws of the United States for the prevention and punishment of piracy,” and being full of ships and sailors there is probably some justification in the New York Herald’s description of it as, “an excrescence … Here congregated . . . blockade runners, desperadoes, the vile of both sexes; adventurers . . . numberless groggeries and houses of worse fame. … decencies of civilized life were forgotten, and vice in its worst form held high carnival . . . while in the low, dirty looking buildings . . . were amassed millions”. Bagdad went back to the shifting sands after the war and La Roche went back to the coasting trade in Texas where his grandson, Daniel Constant La Roche III, would help turn South Padre Island into the tourism center that it is today.

The Confederate Naval Ensign - The Stainless Banner - in 1864 a red border was added opposite the Cross of St. Andrew making it The Bloody Banner

We started this entry with a discussion about the CSS Alabama, the famous Confederate vessel built in England, and certainly England had reasons for siding with the South in her bid for freedom. The civil war caused great poverty in Lancashire, England where the major industry was cotton processing and weaving and the cotton used was almost exclusively from the South and the supply interruption caused by the union blockade reduced the whole region to starvation levels, affecting over half a million people. While the Confederacy was never officially recognised by the United Kingdom, with cotton importers Frazer Trenholm in Rumford Place acting as the unofficial Confederate embassy, Commander Bulloch of the Confederate Navy was based in Liverpool and provided ships, crews for the ships, armaments and provisions of war of all kinds for the Confederacy.

In the best traditions of the British government – although officially neutral but willing to seize ships that were too blatantly being built for the Confederacy, especially with Lincoln’s threat of war on British territories and interests in the Americas – many vessel were built and delivered while officials equivocated, temporized and delayed. Liverpool’s involvement in the conflict was so deep that after the war the USA demanded vast reparations for the damage caused by the many Confederate ships and especially the Lairds built CSS Alabama. Known as the Alabama Claims, an arbitration panel in Geneva, awarded the U.S.A. $15,500,000. To put this into perspective that is the cost of 159 CSS Alabama’s – a whole fleet which is about what the Confederate raider accounted for, some 200 prizes in all. This was rather harsh and admitting no guilt the British government apologised for the loss caused by the ships – but didn’t pay anything!

While no nation ever sent an ambassador or an official delegation to Richmond they all maintained their consuls in the South whom they had appointed before the outbreak of war – many of them in Galveston – and all applied principles of international law that recognized the union and Confederate sides as belligerents. Confederate agents were allowed to work openly in British territories such as in Hamilton, Bermuda where a Confederate agent openly worked to help blockade runners. Some state governments in northern Mexico negotiated local agreements to cover trade on the Texas border and it is this world of diplomacy with special emphasis on the Texas and Mexico connection that will conclude this entry.

José Agustín Quintero was one of those fortunate sons either blessed or condemned to live in interesting times. Born in Havana, Cuba, on May 6, 1829 he wound up at Harvard where he  became friends with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Ralph Waldo Emerson returning to Cuba around 1848 to enter law practice. He became involved in the rebellion against Spain for Cuban independence started by Narciso López and was court-martialed and sentenced to death but escaped from Moro Castle and fled to Texas where, in 1856, he became editor of the San Antonio Spanish-language newspaper El Ranchero. Quintero traveled widely throughout Texas and northern Mexico and he met Governor Santiago Vidaurri of the state of Nuevo León y Coahuila in 1859 in Austin.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted in the Quitman Guards of Texas but when his company was sent to Virginia, he was reassigned to the diplomatic corps, and President Jefferson Davis appointed him confidential agent of the Confederate government in Mexico. Largely as a result of his close and valuable working relationship with Governor Santiago Vidaurri of the state of Nuevo León y Coahuila  the Matamoros trade was opened up for Texas and the Trans-Mississippi Department. More than 320,000 bales of cotton (about one-fifth of all Confederate cotton exports) were shipped out under the noses the union blockade at the mouth of the Rio Grande and exchanged for valuable war materials in England and Europe. After the  war Quintero accepted a position with the Galveston News, but soon moved to New Orleans, where he practiced law,  wrote for the New Orleans Daily Picayune,  served as  consul for Belgium and Costa Rica, and at the time of his death around September 8, 1885, was editor of the Picayune.

Captain Richard King

If you have heard of Texas – and who hasn’t? – the odds are pretty good that you have also heard of the King Ranch and both its founder and the ranch itself played their roles in the war. Richard King was born in New York City on the 10th of July  1824, to poor Irish parents and left home and shipped as a stowaway on the Desdemona for Mobile, Alabama. Discovered he was  taken in and schooled in the art of navigation and pursued steamboating on Alabama rivers where he was a pilot by age sixteen.

In 1842 King enlisted with Capt. Henry Penny for service in the Seminole War in Florida and met Mifflin Kenedy, who became his lifelong friend and business partner. King plied the muddy waters of the Apalachicola and Chattahoochee rivers until 1847, when he joined Kenedy on the Rio Grande for Mexican War service. Commanding the Colonel Cross, he served for the war’s duration transporting troops and supplies. King remained on the border after the war and became a principal partner in the steamboat ventures with Kennedy and their firms dominated the Rio Grande trade on a nearly monopolistic scale for longer than two decades. By all accounts King was an experienced river boatman and a hardy risk-taker, who thought that he could take a boat anywhere “a dry creek flows,” who was also an innovator who designed specialty boats for the narrow bends and fast currents of the Rio Grande.

The King Ranch - In South TexasWhen Abraham Lincoln was in the House of Representatives he was among those who attempted to fix the Mexican border with the United States as the Nueces River rather than the Rio Grande. Fortunately there was a Southerner in the White House, James Knox Polk, who heeded the voice of  Sam Houston – who knew a bit more about Texas –  and fixed the boundary at the Rio Grande.  King first bought land in the Nueces Strip in 1853, when he purchased the 15,500-acre Rincón de Santa Gertrudis grant from the heirs of Juan Mendiola, who held the land under an 1834 grant from the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico. In 1854 he purchased the 53,000-acre Santa Gertrudis de la Garza grant from José Pérez Rey, who held title under an 1808 grant from the crown of Spain. These two irregularly shaped pieces of wilderness became the nucleus around which the King Ranch grew.

During the Civil War he  entered into contracts with the Confederate government to supply European buyers with cotton and in return they supplied the Confederacy with beef, horses, imported munitions, medical supplies, clothing, and shoes. By placing his steamboats under Mexican registry and moving operations into Matamoros, he successfully avoided the union blockade. In an effort to stop this trade, union forces captured Brownsville in late 1863 and raided the King Ranch, looting and destroying most of it on 23rd of December but  King  had left before the raid and resumed business as soon as the Confederates under John S. (Rip) Ford reclaimed South Texas in 1864. King went to Mexico at the war’s end but returned after “securing” his pardon – with a generous contribution –  from President Andrew Johnson in late 1865.

Don Francisco Yturria after being knighted by the Emperor Maximilian

Just south of the border is Estado Libre y Soberano de Tamaulipas, the Free and Sovereign State of Tamaulipas, and its principal port city,  Matamoras,  which shares the mouth of the Rio Grande with Brownsville, Texas. In 1824, after the Mexican War of Independence from Spain Tamaulipas was one of the nineteen founder states of the new United Mexican States. After the successful Texas Revolution lead to the creation of the Republic of Texas in 1836 the new Republic claimed as part of its territory northern Tamaulipas. After the revolution that started in Texas continued in Mexico,  in 1840, it became a part of the short-lived Republic of the Rio Grande – it was this, plus the revolution in the Yucatan which kept Santa Anna too busy at home to recapture Texas. In 1848, after the war between Mexico and the United States, Tamaulipas lost more than a quarter of its territory via the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. It is all very fine and well for presidents and diplomats to draw lines on maps and even the best fortified borders can be diaphanous things at best. South Texas is – and probably always will be – Hispanic in cultural if not national terms and it did not matter if the hidalgos or patrons had been born in New York City, like Richard King of the King Ranch, or were married to the daughter  of Ygnacio Treviño, an original Spanish land grantee in Cameron County.

Francisco Yturria was in fact  married to Felicitas Treviño, daughter of Ygnacio Treviño, an original Spanish land grantee in Cameron County and had begun his career  by clerking for Charles Stillman, one of the founders of Brownsville, and by purchasing lands adjoining those of his wife’s inheritance. He also anticipated Nafta by better than a century when he was the principal architect of Matamoros declaring itself an international free trade zone in 1858 which would have profound effects on both the war and the city’s future growth. As a clerk for Stillman, Yturria was involved in the formation of Mifflin Kenedy  Company, the Rio Grande river boating monopoly that Stillman financed and that Mifflin Kenedy and Richard King operated.   During the civil war he became the registered owner  of the boats belonging to King, Kenedy, and Stillman, allowing their boats loaded with cotton and bound for European ports to sail past vessels of the union blockade flying the Mexican flag allowing Yturria became the leading cotton broker of Matamoros.

In 1864 Emperor Maximilian of Mexico knighted Yturria and appointed him customs collector on the Rio Grande, a position he held until 1867 when Maximilian was deposed and shot in one of Mexico’s all too frequent upheavals. When the Civil War ended, Stillman, King, and Kenedy fled to Matamoros to Yturria’s protection – along with substantial numbers of Confederate office holders, generals – including John Bankhead Magruder – and troops who enlisted in the service of Maximilian. In 1867 King and his friends had purchased their pardons and returned to Brownsville. With the death of Maximilian Yturria fled to Europe and lived in France until he returned to Brownsville two years later to again take over his many business enterprises and continue his alliance with his old friends Stillman, Kenedy, King, and others. At the time of his death Yturria owned 130,000 acres in Cameron, Hidalgo, Willacy, Kenedy, and Starr counties.

Captain King's home rebuilt after having been burned by union troops

The King Ranch started out as a cotton plantation and it was only after the war that it became the premiere cattle ranch in the world and when Richard King died in 1885 at the Menger Hotel in San Antonio, he left a last instruction to his lawyer, “Not to let a foot of dear old Santa Gertrudis get away.” As an Irish pioneer rancher in Hispanic South Texas, King acquired the traits of a hacendado – a paternalistic bond with his vaqueros, and an identification with the ranch that transcended both cause and flag.  His name is linked to several revolutionary and filibustering efforts to form separate territories out of northern Mexico and in a letter written in 1894 to Robert Kleberg [King’s long time attorney and a South Texas grandee in his own right], Kenedy reminisced that “for almost fifty years, Captain King and I attempted to Americanize the border, without much success.” His heirs eventually expanded the King Ranch to some 1,000,000 acres with divisions in North and South America as well as Australia.

King Ranch Hacienda and HQ Today - Cannon from his steamship in the right foreground


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