From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject A Migrant Appears to Have Been Lynched in South Texas
Date October 12, 2021 12:00 AM
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[The incident serves as a reminder that over the past two
centuries, hundreds of migrants and Texans of Mexican descent have
been murdered. ] [[link removed]]

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Bill Minutaglio
October 7, 2021
Texas Monthly
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_ The incident serves as a reminder that over the past two centuries,
hundreds of migrants and Texans of Mexican descent have been murdered.



The tragedy, at first, seemed a familiar one in the ragged brushlands
of South Texas. Border Patrol agents late last week spotted a badly
decomposing body in a patch of trees on a ranch in Brooks County,
about an hour north of McAllen and the Mexican border. Nearly one
hundred other migrants’ bodies
[[link removed]] had
been discovered in the county this year, but this one was hanging from
a noose that had been fashioned from the remains of a shirt and was
tied to a limb on a rugged old oak tree. His head lolled to one side,
and his feet were missing, perhaps eaten by coyotes or other animals.
Some clothing was found folded nearby. So were identification cards
for a Mexican male.

Thursday, Brooks County sheriff’s deputies said they had made a
positive identification of the body. They have contacted Mexican
consular officials, but will not release the name of the
man—described as being in his twenties—until family members in
Mexico have been notified. Brooks County sheriff’s deputies are
treating the case as a homicide investigation, while not ruling out
the possibility of suicide, and are hoping witnesses will emerge.

After Breitbart and _Newsweek_ reported on the incident, Joaquin
Castro, the congressman from San Antonio, took notice. He tweeted
[[link removed]] last
weekend: “This appears to be a lynching of a Mexican man in South
Texas. I will request an FBI investigation if one has not
commenced.” Castro, who appears to be the only high-profile official
to acknowledge the incident thus far, also called for politicians to
stop using rhetoric describing migrants as “invading” the country.
This year, Governor Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan
Patrick have framed
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arrival of thousands of migrants from Central America and Mexico in
exactly that way—as an invasion.

As law enforcement determines exactly what happened to the man found
dangling from the tree, echoes of the past are sounding again. Given
the imprecision of reporting over time, and the intentional
whitewashing of history, it’s impossible to know the exact number of
lynchings that have taken place in Texas, but they have occurred since
the days of the Republic of Texas. Some historians estimate there have
been over seven hundred lynchings
[[link removed]] in the state—and perhaps
countless more—with hundreds
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Mexicans or Texans of Mexican heritage.

A century ago, when migrants were seeking safety from the violent
uncertainties of the revolution in Mexico, they were sometimes met by
mobs armed with chains, ropes, and guns. They were tortured and beaten
all along the border. Often, anyone with a “foreign” name, U.S.
citizen or not, was in danger of being singled out. Many of the
attacks followed heated statements from public officials that Texas
was going to be overrun by desperate migrants surging across the
river, and that the intruders were going to be bringing a host of
plagues—crime, disease, poverty, and even socialism. It was
rhetoric similar to that of Patrick, who told
[[link removed]] Fox
News host Laura Ingraham in mid-September that allowing migrants into
the U.S. constituted “a silent revolution by the Democrat Party and
[President] Joe Biden to take over the country.”

In 1910, a posse hunted down a migrant vaquero named Antonio
Rodriguez, accusing him of shooting a rancher at her home in
Rocksprings, 140 miles west of San Antonio. He was put in a local jail
that was swarmed by a mob that tortured him and set him on fire.
Governor Thomas Campbell neglected to act, at first, until he received
marching orders from Washington to launch investigations and keep
Mexican officials in Texas safe. A year after Rodriguez was lynched, a
group of white men came for Antonio Gómez, a fourteen-year-old from
a migrant family in Milam County, seventy miles northeast of Austin.
Within three hours of being accused of murdering a local man, he
was abducted
[[link removed]],
dragged by a chain, and strung up on a ladder leaning against a
telephone pole.

The killings of Rodriguez and Gómez signaled the dawn of what some
historians call the “Hora de Sangre,” or the Hour of Blood: a
period, spanning into the 1920s, when hundreds of migrants and others
of Mexican ethnicity were brutalized or killed. In a one-year span,
from 1915 to 1916, three hundred Mexicans and Mexican Americans were
murdered in Texas, some researchers estimate.

The scalding language from politicians in the period no doubt stoked
anti-migrant sentiments, which helped to serve their careers.  In
1919, Congressman Claude Benton Hudspeth of El Paso said there were
“bandits” waiting to cross the border and that “you have got to
kill those Mexicans when you find them.” Congressman John Box of
Jacksonville went to the House floor in 1928 to talk about the
“illiterate, unclean, peonized masses moving this way from Mexico”
who must “be stopped at the border” because of their “unsanitary
habits” and “vices.” John Nance Garner, Franklin Delano
Roosevelt’s vice president and arguably the most influential Texas
politician of the early twentieth century, spoke of Mexican migrants
as inferior to U.S. citizens. 

As the violence against migrants spread, state officials implicitly
excused it, and sometimes endorsed it. In 1918, Texas Rangers accused
fifteen Texans of Mexican heritage—including two boys—of raiding a
ranch. The Rangers lined them up and shot them in Porvenir, a small
border community 170 miles southeast of El Paso. The executions
conducted by state police were set against the backdrop of the roiling
upheavals in Mexico, and the belief that bloody revolution was going
to be spilling across the border. Reports sent to Austin by the
Rangers and local ranchers suggested that those murdered in Porvenir
were “thieves, informers, spies, and murderers” and that justice
had been served.  

Of course, migrants were not the only Texans lynched. In 1893, Henry
Smith, a Black handyman, was set on fire in Paris, in northeast Texas,
after being accused of attacking a white child. The nightmarish
incident unfolded before a howling crowd of several thousand, some of
whom scrambled for souvenirs—pieces of the dead man’s clothing
that hadn’t been reduced to ash. The incident made national
headlines, with reporting led by crusading journalist Ida Wells, and
is credited with helping to awaken America to the scourge of racially
motivated mob violence.

Such killings have become less common, of course, but they persist. In
1998, a Black vacuum-cleaner salesman named James Byrd was shackled by
white supremacists to a pickup truck and dragged for three miles down
a bumpy lane in Jasper County, in southeast Texas—until his head was
severed. His executioners continued down the road to a Black church
and then tossed Byrd’s mangled torso in front of it.

Past governors often responded only belatedly to condemn lynchings,
while others did little to tamp down the fears and hysteria that might
fuel unofficial executions of Mexican Americans, migrants, and Black
Texans. In 1916, Governor Jim Ferguson did little to assail or even
truly examine the Waco lynching of teenaged farmhand Jesse
Washington. After Byrd was lynched in 1998, activists clamored for
Governor George W. Bush to support legislation that would impose
tougher penalties for hate crimes. Bush demurred, saying that Texas
was already willing to hand out stiff penalties. State lawmakers later
passed the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act and then-governor Rick Perry
signed it in 2001. Eight years later, Barack Obama signed a similar
national act. 

For months now, state leaders have doubled down on demonizing the
latest surge of migrants. “Carnage is being caused by the people
coming across the border,” Abbott said
[[link removed]] in
June. “Homes are being invaded. Neighborhoods are dangerous, and
people are being threatened on a daily basis with guns.” This
rhetoric may play well with a significant slice of Republican primary
voters. But it also risks incitement and, through the state’s
history, it has had deadly consequences.

_For almost half a century, Texas Monthly has chronicled life in the
Lone Star State, exploring its politics and personalities, barbecue
and business, true crime and tacos, honky-tonks and hiking. We hope
you enjoy the archive of classic Texas Monthly stories on this site,
as well as the half dozen new ones we add every day. _

_If you’re new to Texas Monthly, we hope you’ll like what you see
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