On this day in 1883, Peter Heinrich Mansbendel was born in Basel, Switzerland. He was apprenticed to a woodcarver at the age of ten and studied in Switzerland, France, and England. He immigrated to America in 1907 and moved to Austin in 1911. During the 1920s and 1930s leading architects in Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio would summon Mansbendel to put finishing touches on their most important projects. His fireplace mantels were especially popular. In addition to architectural detail work, he also made furniture and decorative household items. He frequently interpreted Texas themes, including historic persons, places, and events, as well as the flora and fauna of his adopted land. Among the most notable examples of his public work are the magnificent carved doors of the Spanish Governor's Palace and of Mission San José, both in San Antonio, and the portrait medallions of former University of Texas presidents located in the Texas Union on the University of Texas campus in Austin.
On this day in 1914, a mysterious fire destroyed the Duval County courthouse and most of the evidence of illegal activity by South Texas boss Archer Parr and his political machine. Parr arrived in Duval County in 1882 at the age of twenty-two. In 1907 he took command of the Democratic machinery and established himself as the political boss of Duval County. The key to his success was the Hispanic vote, which he controlled through a combination of paternalism, corruption, and coercion. He also converted the county treasury into a political slush fund for the benefit of himself, his associates, and his impoverished constituents, who received informal and modest welfare payments. In 1914 a preliminary audit of the county financial records conducted by his opponents revealed fourteen types of illegal activity, but the courthouse fire crippled the investigation. Undeterred, a local grand jury still indicted Parr, who had just won election to the Texas Senate, and ten Duval County officials on various charges of corruption. The cases, however, collapsed for lack of evidence. By the time of his death in 1942, Parr had used his control of Duval County to build a vast personal fortune, and his son George, who had pleaded guilty to income tax evasion in 1934 and had served a brief term in prison, was already in control of the political machine that continued to dominate Duval County until 1975.
On this day in 1754, Pedro de Rábago y Terán took over as commander of San Francisco Xavier de Gigedo Presidio, the military post at the San Xavier missions. He replaced José Joaquín de Ecay Múzquiz, who had been sent in 1753 to assist Capt. Miguel de la Garza Falcón in investigating the murder of a priest and a soldier at Candelaria Mission. Nothing better illustrates the animosity that often existed between missionaries and soldiers than events at the San Xavier missions. Felipe de Rábago y Terán, Pedro's nephew, had served so poorly that conditions at the missions were deplorable when Ecay Múzquiz arrived. The nadir had come with the murder of Father Juan José Ganzabal and the soldier Juan José Ceballos, on May 11, 1752. Commandant Felipe, who had debauched Ceballos's wife, blamed the violence on the Coco Indians. But evidence uncovered by Ecay Múzquiz and others strongly suggested that Felipe himself was behind the murders. When the elder Rábago y Terán replaced Ecay Múzquiz, he was unable to reverse the general decline. The San Xavier missions were abandoned in 1756, and their property was moved to Santa Cruz de San Sabá Mission, which was itself destroyed by Indians in 1758.