Killing of sheriff precipitates ballad tradition
On this day in 1901, Gregorio Lira Cortez shot and killed Karnes County sheriff W. T. Morris and fled. The apparent misunderstandings that led to the killing, and the extended pursuit, capture, and trials of Cortez made him a folk hero. His exploits are celebrated in many variants of El Corrido de Gregorio Cortez, a popular ballad that has inspired books and at least one movie. Cortez, a Mexican native, was farming near Kenedy in 1901, when Sheriff Morris and his deputy, Boon Choate, questioned him about a stolen horse. With Choate interpreting, a misunderstanding apparently occurred that caused Morris to shoot and wound Cortez's brother Romaldo, after which Cortez shot and killed Morris. While newspapers followed the subsequent manhunt, Cortez became a hero to many Hispanics and some Anglos. Violent reprisals and a series of trials and appeals followed. During them, Cortez was held in eleven jails in eleven counties, after which he was finally granted a conditional pardon and released in 1913. The corrido lionizing him was sung as early as 1901.