Location: San Benito, Cameron County, Texas
Surnames/tags: Robertson, Cameron County Texas, History San Benito, Texas
Col. Sam's Letter to the Highland School 6th Grade Children
In 1931 Col. Sam Robertson was working on his last project, Del Mar Resort on Brazos Santiago Island, when he recieved a letter from the Highland School 6th grade children “asking for something of interest which happened in the Highland Community long ago,”
The Colonel sat down and penned this reply:
- “I do not think that anything of interest happened at Highland from the dawn of creation until about 1793 when the King of Spain gave the Concepión de Carricitas Grant, containing about 75,000 acres, to E. and B. (Bartolomé and Eugenio) Fernandez, Spanish noblemen and distinguished soldiers, for their services to Spain and, in further consideration, that they colonize the property."
- "Highland School is in the center of this vast tract. The Fernandez brothers established their colony along the Rio Grande. The colony grew very slowly but steadily first under the Republic of Mexico until 1846 when General Zachary Taylor’s army came to the border and invaded Mexico. Many descendants of Don Bartolo and Don Eujenio Fernandez still live along the Rio Grande around Las Rucias, Carricitas, Landrum’s Ranch and La Paloma."
|Battle of Palo Alto, Painting by Carl Nebel|
- "When General Taylor came in 1846 and fought the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palmas, he moved his army up the Rio Grande occupying both sides of the river and he recruited many teamsters, bull whackers, hunters and others from among the Mexican citizens who lived on the old Carricitas Grant. Many of these stayed with his army until the end of the Mexican War when they returned to their homes along the Rio Grande."
- "Colonel Stephen Powers, an officer of General Taylor’s army, became greatly interested in the Lower Rio Grande Valley while soldering here and came back to Brownsville and settled down when the war was over. Colonel Powers was a very able lawyer and judge as well as soldier. He started the practice of law in Brownsville and soon gained the confidence and respect of the Spanish and Mexican people who lived on both sides of the Rio Grande."
- "He was employed by the descendants of the Fernandez brothers to protect their property, interests and secure the confirmation of their rights and title to their lands in the Concepción de Carricitas Grant. At this time these lands were not worth 10 cents per acre."
- "The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which was signed by the United States and Mexico at close of the Mexican War conveyed to Texas all of the country between the Rio Grande and Nueces rivers."
- "By terms of this treaty, the U.S. and Mexico were to protect the Indian and Mexican people in this region in all of their property rights."
- These former citizens of Mexico by treaty became American citizens with all the rights, privileges and duties of American citizens."
- "Judge Powers received about one-half of the entire grant for his legal and political services in securing confirmation of title by the Supreme Court of Texas and the state legislature to the heirs of the Fernandez brothers."
- "The heirs took their portion in strips, each heir’s portion being fixed by decree of court. These strips run from the river back to the baseline about one and a half or two miles from the river."
- "Judge Powers took his portion in lands back to the baseline which were considered of small value. The judge bought out several heirs and acquired quite a body of land on the Rio Grande known as Rancho Cipres where James Landrum now lives (1931)."
- "Judge Powers had four daughters, Mrs. Combe, Mrs. Landrum, Mrs. Hicks and Mrs. Agnes Brown and to these ladies he gave all his land in the Concepción de Carricitos. The Highland school now sits on property inherited by Mrs. Francis Powers Landrum."
- "Captain Richard King and Mifflin Kennedy came with a fleet of schooners to Point (now Port) Isabel with supplies and recruits for Taylor’s army. They then built light draft steamboats, which drew only about 15 inches of water and which they operated from Brownsville to the mouth of the San Juan (river) and at high water to Roma to bring up supplies for General Taylor’s army."
- "King and Kennedy were comrades-at-arms and friends of Colonel Powers. They also settled at Brownsville and did a commercial business with steamboats on the Rio Grande and sail boats from Point Isabel to Brownsville forwarding freight inland to West Texas and northwest Mexico."
- "At the same time, King and Kennedy started their immense cow ranches reaching from the Arroyo Colorado to Corpus Christi. There still lives in the brush near La Paloma, Rafael Moreno who was a cabin boy on one of King and Kennedy’s boats. Rafael is now (1931) over 90 years old."
- "These boats continued to operate until 1874 when construction of the Mexican National Railway put them out of business. There were steamboat landing at San Ysidro, now La Paloma, Rancho Cipres, Las Rucias, Rancho Galveston and Santa Maria. These old boats did not carry much freight but, according to old Rafael, they had splendid whistles and bells which could be heard as they came up and down the river from Rancho Cipres to as far out in the jungles as Delicias Ranchito, a group of three jacals (grass huts) near where Tommy Kamitana’s orchard now is."
- "In addition to the river boats, hundreds of two-wheel bull-drawn carts hauled freight up the Military Road to Santa Maria, Fort Ringgold, Fort Mackintosh and beyond, but the longhorn cows, deer, coyotes, Mexican lions, javelinas, wild pigeons, turkeys and chachalacas, which lived happily in the jungle along the resaca where your school now stands, were not disturbed by the commerce which passed up the Rio Grande and Military Road."
- "There was a big hackberry grove which the Mexicans called Palo Blancal which is now called Landrum Park. Hundreds of wild turkeys and tens of thousands of wild pigeons made their homes in the big trees and great droves of deer and javelinas came to drink at the small lake which was always filled from the overflow of the river."
- "There was a very dim trail which wound through the jungle from Las Rucias to Rancho Delicias thence to La Palmita Ranchita, Los Burros well near here where the Central Power and Light Co. power station now is, thence to Napolita, Los Comos and Paso Real, where General Taylor’s army crossed the Arroyo Colorado."
|"Jacal" by Robert Runyon|
- "All these fine sounding ranchos were little two or three jacal settlements."
- "There was a school at La Palmita Ranchita (now Lock No. 2) in 1904. The professor could speak at least 20 or 25 English words. The chamacos (youngsters) at all these brush ranchitos ran naked until they were six or eight years old and were wild as rabbits. The older people were kind and most hospitable. They lived an easy life. There was plenty of game in the jungle and chili (pepper) grew wild."
- "They all had a few horses and goats. They kept goats for milk and cheese and to raise cabritos. They had chickens and a pig or two. They sold hides and skins to purchase ammunition, coffee and clothing. There was plenty of wild bee honey for sweetening. There were no knives, forks, spoons or napkins. A tortilla was used in the place of a plate, knife, fork and spoon and was eaten after the frijoles and coffee to save dish washing."
- "The principal sports were horse racing and chicken fighting. The society dames smoked shuck cigarettes instead of Luckies and played monte instead of bridge. There was a wonderful orchestra at La Palmita and the younger society set danced on the ground without shoes to the music made with two bass drums, a bamboro (pair of cymbals) trumpet and Jew’s harp."
- "They served delicious refreshments — turkey, tamales, stewed javalina con chili, barbecued venison, chachalaca, cabrito and armadillo roasted in its own shell, delicious confections made of watermelon and pumpkin rinds and tender cactus candied in wild honey. The wild honeybee made delicious honey from ebony and white mesquite blooms. Their nests were paper like hornets nests not wax like tame bees."
- "Between the Mexican and Civil wars there were a few bandit raids and the yellow fever, but this did not disturb the people who lived in the Highland district."
- "When the Civil War came in 1861, many of the settlers along the Rio Grande joined General Lee’s command... but the one or two Mexican families and millions of wild animals that lived in Powers’ pasture where Highland School now stands, were not much disturbed by the Civil War."
- “This region got its first real shock in June, 1904, when I crossed the Arroyo Colorado with an army of Irish, Negro and Mexican laborers and some old wheezy wood — burning locomotives, pile drivers building the railroad through the jungles to Bessie, now San Benito, and on to Brownsville. All the wild animals and young and old Mexicans were scared to death of these wild Irish, Negroes and locomotives and their fears were well founded for it meant so–called civilization and progress was about to arrive and these people’s happy lives were about to end.:
- "The wild animals were killed and ran away and these real Americans whose ancestors had lived happily in the jungles for a thousand years, had to go to work with pick, shovel and hoe or go bootlegging for an existence. They are now often unable to find work with which to buy corn and frijoles. I am not overly proud of my part in helping to bring progress and civilization to this region to help ruin the lives of those who were here before me."
- "In June, 1904, while laying the railroad track through Bessie, I made the acquaintance of Oliver Hicks and James Landrum of the Powers Estate and made a verbal contract to build the San Benito irrigation canal, the town of San Benito and to purchase thousands of acres of land from the owner of the old Powers Estate. They knew I had no money at that time. I was on crutches with a broken leg and several broken ribs and had to get around on my old white horse which would lay(sic) down to let me get on his back. But these gentlemen had through two long year to put over the San Benito project."
- "...a few days after meeting Mr. Hicks and Mr. Landrum, I rode up the Fresno resaca through the Quates Ranch into Rancho Viejo Resaca near your school and on the river near Las Rucias and selected the route to what was to be the San Benito canal."
- "The following two years, I spent a large part of my time in surveying and raising the capital to put over the San Benito project. Finally, in November, 1906, after having finished the Santa Maria canal, first section of the Mercedes canal, and a railroad contract for the T. & B. V. R. R. on all of which jobs I had made some money, I moved in my team outfit from Mercedes and started construction of the San Benito canal."
- "First work was done near Lock No. 2. I continued on this canal construction until 1913."
|Alba Heywood's "Model Farm"|
- "In 1907, the three Heywood brothers, Judge Batts, Mrs. Ed. Rowson, William Stenger and Mr. Swanson came in with me and we formed the San Benito Land and Water Co. with a capital of $500,000."
- "Later we sold the company’s bonds for $1,050,000, sold town lots and thousands of acres of land at a good profit, used every dollar of all this money in development of the San Benito project."
- "The stockholders who stayed with the company never saved a dollar of their capital and there was some loss to bondholders but I had ten years of hard, interesting work, made some enemies and many friends."
- "Early in 1917, I left the country for the American Army in France, broke but happy. Thus ended my part of the crime of building the San Benito project."
- "After the formation of the San Benito Land and Water Co., thousands of men grubbed out this jungle, killed the snakes, ticks and fleas, killed most of the wild animals and birds and scared the balance away."
- "The first orchard was planted near Highland in 1908. H. G. Stilwell, Sr., now of Brownsville, started the San Benito Nursery, planted alfalfa, red clover, grapes, bananas, coconuts, pineapples, pears, oranges, lemons, kumquats, aguacates, Japanese plums, none of which did well. A hard frost ruined most of the fruit and the clover and alfalfa died out. Mr. Stilwell also put out English walnuts, almonds, pecans and Japanese tung nuts. But he was succeeded by a cotton farmer and the trees died."
- "Colonel Coleman quit and went to Florida but his orchard still carries on. The country around Highland settled rapidly from 1908 to 1913. But alfalfa, sugarcane, fruit, low markets, boll weevils and other things discouraged many farmers who were forced to quit the country. The canal got in the hands of receivers, and bandits from the Mexican side of the river raided the country and sacred away more people in 1915 and 1916 but the Army came to the border in 1915 and business got good by 1917."
- "In 1910 and 1911, in order to encourage land sales, I promoted and built the San Benito and Rio Grande Valley Railway from Sugarland through Rio Hondo, San Benito, Highland, La Paloma, Carricitos, Los Indios, Rangerville to Santa Maria and from Madero through Mission to Monte Carlo. This railroad was called the spiderweb and the “Back Door Railroad.”
- "I sold the railroad to the Equitable Trust Co. of New York for the account of B. F. Yoakum and associates. I made a nice profit on its construction and put it all into the San Benito project and lost it but the railroad is still here and has been acquired by the Missouri Pacific System. The little railroad operated with a gasoline motor car for passengers and express and did a good business until put out of business by autos and trucks. It always used steam locomotives for freight service."
|VA. Guard at San Benito by Robert Runyon|
- "The World War coming on in 1914 in which America joined in 1917 and the shipping of 125,000 soldiers to the Valley in 1915 and 1916 made a period of about 14 years of great financial prosperity for the Valley and the nation. This prosperity built on the killing and destruction of millions of people caused wild speculation, lavish extravagance, foolish spending and the voting of enormous bond issues which you, your children and your grandchildren won’t have paid off for many years. Us older folks have left you a heritage of debt, which to try to pay off you will have to study hard, work hard and think clearly and not try to get by on optimism, boasting, bragging and luck as most of us older people have done for 15 years."
- "It is up to you to prove that progress of 20th Century civilization, paved roads, the automobile, radio, picture shows , the 1930-31 system of education and what our President calls the ‘high plane of living’ is an improvement over the more primitive life lived by the people here previous to 1904."
- "In 1904, it was my good fortune and privilege to be a guest at Rancho Cipres at the Landrum home on the Military road. This was the most, delightful, hospitable home it was ever my privilege to enter. They had a dozen servants, well fed, happy and contented and all loved their dear patron who was a real father, protector to all his people. In 40 years he never had a lock on home or storehouse."
- "During the bandit troubles, the young girls stayed at home under protection of the servants as safe as if in Washington, D. C. but on this ranch there was discipline, all obeyed orders and no one touched a thing which did not belong to them. No traveler ever passed Rancho Cipres who was not invited to rest, feed his horse in the corral and dine with the family. There were flowers, good music, splendid food and soft beds and a royal welcome for all."
- "It is up to you young folks to make the Highland District as happy as it was previous to 1904. By hard work, hard study, wide reading and the substitution of sound thinking for optimism and boasting and trusting to luck, I have confidence you will do this and win."
- Del Mar, Texas,
- Dec. 1, 1931,
- Sam A. Robertson.
|Sam A. Robertson|
[http://www.texasescapes.com/MikeCoxTexasTales/232-Valley-Talk.htm Valley Talk Samuel Arthur Robertson by Mike Cox]
Map showing tracts of the San Benito Land & Water Co. and others situated in Cameron County, Tex., 1911