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Brewster County exposes "dummy town"
February 08, 1910

On this day in 1910, a Brewster County grand jury exposed the Progress City swindle. The grand jury, led by well-known cattleman and Sul Ross State University founder Joseph D. Jackson, reported on the Progress City Town Site Company. This bogus organization sold town lots for Progress City, an “imaginary town” situated in the Santiago Mountains about forty miles southeast of Alpine. Unsuspecting buyers across Texas had already purchased more than 1,000 lots for $1.50 each without realizing that the site was along a remote and rugged trail only accessible by horseback. The Progress City Town Site Company consisted of John L. Mauk and Lee R. Davis of Waco, who had gained title to the land from William Poole. The grand jury admitted that prosecution was probably pointless, but did accomplish its goal of exposing the caper while making clear the innocence of the people of Brewster County.

Violence presages end of notorious red-light district
February 08, 1887

On this day in 1887, "Longhair Jim" Courtright, former town marshall of Fort Worth, was killed in a gunfight with Luke Short. This was one of the most famous gunfights in western history--and, contrary to the movie legends, one of the few face-to-face shootouts. The duel was the first of two events that drew increased hostile attention to the hive of brothels and bars known as Hell's Half Acre. The second was the discovery of a murdered prostitute named Sally, two weeks later. Before these violent occurrences, even legitimate businesses had resisted reform of the Acre because of the money it brought in. But the deaths of Courtright and Sally brought renewed and ultimately successful cleanup efforts.

Last Franciscan in early Texas relinquishes missions
February 08, 1830

On this day in 1830, José Antonio Díaz de León, the last Franciscan missionary in prerepublic Texas, reluctantly complied with the Mexican state government decree that missions be secularized--that is, turned over to diocesan authorities. Díaz de León had been appointed ad interim president of all the Texas missions in 1820, three years before the Mexican government ordered their final secularization. Díaz de León declined to comply without instructions from his superiors in Zacatecas, the first in a series of delays that lasted seven years. Díaz de León surrendered the San Antonio missions to the Diocese of Monterrey in 1824. In 1826 he was officially named president of the Texas missions. But Anglo settlers wanted the mission properties, and in 1829 the town of Goliad (formerly La Bahía) obtained a new decree to enforce secularization. Díaz de León continued to resist, but on February 8, 1830, he finally surrendered the last remaining missions. The mission lands, as he had expected, were soon made available to colonists. The bishop of Monterrey assigned him a parish post in Nacogdoches. Díaz de León was murdered on November 4, 1834. He was the thirty-first, and last, Zacatecan missionary to die in Texas. In 1926 the German author Robert Streit published a historical novel about Díaz de León; the work remains untranslated.