On this day in 1933, country music pioneer Jimmie Rodgers, nicknamed "the Singing Brakeman," died in New York City at the age of thirty-five. Rodgers, born in Mississippi in 1897, worked as a brakeman on railroads throughout the South and learned songs from black railroad workers, who also taught him to play the banjo and the guitar. A severe case of tuberculosis, contracted in 1924, forced Rodgers to retire from the railroad. In 1927 he signed a contract with the Victor Talking Machine Company, and his records catapulted him to almost immediate fame. He recorded 111 songs altogether and sold twenty million records between 1927 and 1933. Rodgers enthralled radio, recording, and stage audiences with his performance of songs that seemed to catalogue the varied memories and experiences of small town and rural Americans. To seek relief from tuberculosis, Rodgers moved to the Hill Country and in 1929 built a $50,000 mansion in Kerrville, but left there to live in a modest home in San Antonio in 1932. Among the many performers who either knew or were influenced by Rodgers are Mance Lipscomb, Freddie King, Ernest Tubb, Lefty Frizzell, Tommy Duncan, Kenneth Threadgill, and Bill Neely.
On this day in 1975, a confrontation occurred between union organizers and El Texano Ranch, in Hidalgo, Reynosa, Mexico. The event led to a spontaneous strike during which a ranch supervisor fired upon the strikers and their supporters. The strike lasted throughout the melon harvest and spread to the Trans-Pecos and Panhandle. Many strikers were arrested. As the strike continued, a core of Valley farmworkers supported the foundation of the Texas Farm Workers Union as a local that would be accountable to them. The TFWU was established under the leadership of Antonio Ordendain in August 1975.
On this day in 1942, John Romulus Brinkley, controversial medical charlatan, died in San Antonio. Although Brinkley never earned a diploma he was licensed by the state of Arkansas and set up a medical practice in Milford, Kansas. In 1918 he began performing his controversial "goat gland operation," designed to restore male virility and fertility by the implantation of goat glands. "Doc" Brinkley became extremely wealthy. In 1923 he constructed the first radio station in Kansas, KFKB, and in 1928 was attacked for diagnosing illnesses and prescribing medicines over the radio. Consequently, in 1930 he lost both his medical and broadcasting licenses. He responded by entering the governor's race, hoping to appoint new members to the medical board. He came extremely close to winning. In 1931 he received authority from Mexican officials to build a powerful transmitter at Villa Acuña, Mexico, across the river from Del Rio, Texas. Two years later he moved his entire medical staff and facilities to the Roswell Hotel in Del Rio. He used his station, XER, to entice his listeners to visit his clinic or buy an array of expensive gimmicks. Estimates are that he took in $12 million between 1933 and 1938. During this period his conspicuous display of wealth--a lavish mansion, expensive cars, planes, yachts, and diamonds--was second to none. In 1938 he moved his medical activities to Little Rock, Arkansas, but maintained his residence in Texas. About that time he lost a libel suit, fought numerous malpractice suits, and battled the Internal Revenue Service over back taxes. In 1941 he was forced to file for bankruptcy.
On this day in 1837, the executor of William Barret Travis's estate placed a notice offering fifty dollars for the return of an escaped slave named Joe in the Telegraph and Texas Register. Joe, born about 1813, was one of the few survivors of the battle of the Alamo on March 6, 1836, in which his master was killed. Accounts of Joe's departure from the Alamo differ, but he later joined Susanna W. Dickinson on the way to Gen. Sam Houston's camp at Gonzales. Joe was brought before the Texas Cabinet and questioned about events at the Alamo. He was then returned to Travis's estate near Columbia, where he remained until April 21, the first anniversary of the battle of San Jacinto. On that day, accompanied by an unidentified Mexican man and taking two fully equipped horses with him, he escaped. Presumably Joe's escape was successful, for the notice in the Telegraph and Texas Register ran three months before it was discontinued. Joe was last reported in Austin in 1875.