On this date in 1859, William Menger opened his hotel, now a landmark, on Alamo Plaza in San Antonio. In partnership with Charles Philip Degen, he also operated a brewery on the site. The hotel is one of the best-known lodging houses in Texas. Its guests have included O. Henry (William Sydney Porter), Ulysses S. Grant, and Theodore Roosevelt. The building has been remodeled many times and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Menger continues to serve as a center for meetings and other social affairs.
On this day in 1899, Bull Town received the more refined name of Bovina when a post office was established. The community’s obvious connection to the cattle industry dates from its origin as the site of the Hay Hook Line Camp of the XIT Ranch in western Parmer County. In 1898 the Pecos and Northern Texas Railway steamed through the ranch, and cowboys unloaded feed at the XIT camp site. Cattle often gathered at the unfenced right-of-way, and the well-fed bovines lazed about the tracks, often causing delays for the railroad workers, who labeled the area Bull Town. The settlement’s more elegant alter ego, Bovina, boasted a cattle boom and, for a while, shipped a higher volume of animals than any other shipping point in the world. Those years of plenty continued beyond World War I, and throughout the twentieth century Bovina maintained an agricultural economy.
On this day in 1872, a Reconstruction-era grand jury indicted Republican governor E. J. Davis for "willfully, unlawfully and feloniously [making] a false and untrue tabular statement" of the election results for the Third District congressional seat. Dewitt Clinton Giddings, the Democratic candidate, won the election by a majority of 135 votes over his Radical Republican opponent, William T. Clark, but the state returning board delayed certifying the election because Davis concluded that fraud had taken place and called for an investigation. Republican officials charged that local Democrats had used intimidation to keep blacks from voting. The board decided to invalidate the vote from Limestone, Freestone, Bosque, Brazos, and Washington counties, giving the seat to Clark. The House seated Clark on January 10, 1872, but without prejudicing Giddings's right to contest. Congress agreed to take up the matter of the disputed election. Giddings worked diligently and uncovered a mass of evidence showing fraud on the part of the Radicals, but Clark, relying on the Republican majority in the House to support him, responded with little more than statements from party officials. The committee on elections concluded that Giddings was entitled to the seat. The House concurred in this report, and on May 13, 1872, Giddings took his seat. The federal circuit court found Davis not guilty.
On this day in 1938, 12,000 San Antonio pecan shellers, mostly Hispanic women, walked off their jobs to protest a wage cut, beginning a three-month strike. The pecan-shelling industry was one of the lowest-paid in the United States, with a typical wage ranging between two and three dollars a week. In the 1930s Texas pecans accounted for approximately 50 percent of the nation's production, with nearly 400 shelling factories in San Antonio alone. Working conditions were abysmal, and San Antonio's high tuberculosis rate--148 deaths for each 100,000 persons, compared to the national average of 54--was blamed at least partially on the fine brown dust that permeated the air. The original strike leader was Emma Tenayuca Brooks, a well-known figure in San Antonio politics. In March 1938 both sides agreed to arbitration and reached an initial agreement on hourly wages of seven and eight cents, but shortly thereafter Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act, which established a minimum wage of twenty-five cents an hour. Concerned that the new law would encourage mechanization and displace thousands of shellers, the Congress of Industrial Organizations sought an exemption for pecan workers. The Department of Labor, however, denied the exemption, and over the next three years cracking machines replaced more than 10,000 shellers in San Antonio shops.