On this day in 1859, Juan Nepomuceno Cortina shot Brownsville city marshal Robert Shears, who had brutally arrested a former employee of Cortina's, and set off what became known as the first Cortina War. Cortina, born in Tamaulipas in 1824, moved with his wealthy family to the Brownsville area while he was still a child. There he came to hate a clique of judges and Brownsville attorneys whom he accused of expropriating land from Mexican Texans unfamiliar with the American judicial system. He became a hero to many, though he was indicted at least twice by a Cameron County grand jury for stealing cattle. Several months after shooting Shears, Cortina rode back into Brownsville at the head of forty to eighty men and seized control of the town. John Salmon (Rip) Ford and Robert E. Lee were among the military leaders who became involved in the subsequent conflict. Finally, in December 1859, Cortina retreated into Mexico. After Texas seceded from the Union, he reappeared on the border and started the second Cortina War. In May 1861 he invaded Zapata County, but was defeated by Santos Benavides and again retreated into Mexico. In 1871 the Texas legislature denied a petition seeking Cortina's pardon because of his service to the Union during the Civil War, and stockmen in the Nueces Strip accused him of heading a large ring of cattle rustlers. Subsequent American diplomatic pressure led to Cortina's 1875 arrest and removal to Mexico City. He died in 1894.
On this day in 1903, a proclamation was made from the steps of the Texas Capitol offering a $50,000 prize for the discovery of a way to rid Texas of the boll weevil. This small snout beetle had been ravaging cotton crops in Mexico for at least two millenia. Its introduction into Texas seems to have been first announced by Charles W. DeRyee of Corpus Christi in a letter dated October 3, 1894. It had reached all of East Texas by 1903 and by the 1920s had spread north and west to the High Plains. The insect continued to spread through Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, the Carolinas, Tennessee, and Virginia. Calcium Arsenate was found to be reasonably effective against it, and during the 1920s fluorides were introduced. Since the weevil does not survive well on the high plains of Texas, this region proved to be more favorable to future cotton production. The 1903 prize was never awarded to anyone.
On this day in 1956, crusading San Antonio priest Carmelo Antonio Tranchese, known as "El Padrecito," died of a heart attack. Tranchese was born in Italy in 1880, entered the Jesuit order in 1896, and came to the United States in 1911. He became pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church on the West Side of San Antonio, which was home for the majority of the city's 82,000 Mexican Americans, in 1932. Most worked as unskilled laborers for area companies, particularly the local pecan-shelling industry. Working conditions and wages were poor, and the living environment consisted of dilapidated housing and disease-infested neighborhoods. Tranchese immediately championed programs that brought improvements. He supported local strikes and was particularly active in soliciting provisions and establishing breadlines for pecan workers who struck in 1935 and 1938. Tranchese's most noted accomplishment, however, was his role in bringing a federal housing project, the Alazan-Apache Courts, to San Antonio.