Mexican folk hero shoots Brownsville marshal
On this day in 1859, Juan Nepomuceno Cortina shot Brownsville city marshal Robert Shears, who had brutally arrested a former employee of Cortina's, and set off what became known as the first Cortina War. Cortina, born in Tamaulipas in 1824, moved with his wealthy family to the Brownsville area while he was still a child. There he came to hate a clique of judges and Brownsville attorneys whom he accused of expropriating land from Mexican Texans unfamiliar with the American judicial system. He became a hero to many, though he was indicted at least twice by a Cameron County grand jury for stealing cattle. Several months after shooting Shears, Cortina rode back into Brownsville at the head of forty to eighty men and seized control of the town. John Salmon (Rip) Ford and Robert E. Lee were among the military leaders who became involved in the subsequent conflict. Finally, in December 1859, Cortina retreated into Mexico. After Texas seceded from the Union, he reappeared on the border and started the second Cortina War. In May 1861 he invaded Zapata County, but was defeated by Santos Benavides and again retreated into Mexico. In 1871 the Texas legislature denied a petition seeking Cortina's pardon because of his service to the Union during the Civil War, and stockmen in the Nueces Strip accused him of heading a large ring of cattle rustlers. Subsequent American diplomatic pressure led to Cortina's 1875 arrest and removal to Mexico City. He died in 1894.