On the evening of June 19, 1911, Antonio Gómez, a fourteen-year-old Mexican American boy, was lynched by a group of white vigilantes following the murder of Charles Zieschang in Thorndale, Milam County, Texas. Zieschang, a local garage owner, was standing outside a saloon with several other men, including Constable Robert L. McCoy, when Gómez walked by whittling a shingle with a small knife. After the saloon owner, William Stephens, chided Gómez for littering the sidewalk with wood shavings, Zieschang snatched the shingle from Gómez’s hand and cursed him repeatedly. Gómez reacted angrily and lunged at Zieschang and stabbed him in the chest. Zieschang died from blood loss within about twenty minutes.
Gómez attempted to flee but was immediately apprehended by Constable McCoy and taken to the town jail. Meanwhile, a large crowd gathered on Main Street to investigate the commotion. At the news of Zieschang’s death, they became agitated, and a group of approximately forty men began to assemble outside the jail. Realizing the danger, McCoy took Gómez from his cell and tied a small trace chain around his neck. A resident of the town, Wilford Wilson, asked if McCoy needed help, and the two men left, with McCoy ordering the gathered citizens not to follow them.
What happened next in the events that led up to the lynching and the lynching itself remain in dispute. Testimonies given by witnesses at a court of inquiry were inconsistent, with the number of people involved in the lynching varying from four to sixteen and with the identities of the people present in dispute. Instead of a transcript, the court summarized the consistent facts throughout each witness’s testimony. At later trials, the testimony of witnesses did not always match the summary provided at the court of inquiry.
Constable McCoy, with Wilson’s assistance, planned to hide Gómez from the mob in a nearby cotton gin while Wilson left to find a vehicle to transport Gómez to the safety of the county jail in Cameron, Texas, about twenty-three miles away. The three later rendezvoused at the residence of G.W. Penny, but Wilson was unable to obtain a vehicle. McCoy then left to find a car himself.
According to Wilson, shortly after McCoy left, a group of four to six men appeared outside the gates of the Penny residence and demanded that Gómez be handed over to them. When they refused to leave, Wilson took Gómez and escaped into an alley behind the house. As Wilson and Gómez ran down the alley, they encountered another group of men, one on horseback and three more on foot. The man on horseback grabbed the chain still around Gómez’s neck and rode off, dragging the boy behind him. Wilson ran into town to find assistance but encountered the men again. The group had a ladder by a telephone pole, and Gómez had been beaten and suspended from the ladder. Three other men, Reverend J. L. Watson, E. A. Johnson, and Buck Bonds, also came across the scene but did not interfere. Wilson left to inform Justice of the Peace Woodsbury Norris of what was happening and identified Z. T. Gore, Jr., Garrett Noack, Harry Wuensche, and Ezra Stephens (the son of saloon owner William Stephens) as members of the lynching party. Constable McCoy, J. P. Norris, and two other men arrived shortly afterwards to remove Gómez’s dead body from the ladder. Less than three hours had passed since Zieschang’s murder.
The Associated Press reported the story of Gómez’s lynching which ran on newspaper headlines nationwide the next day, often with conflicting, inaccurate, or exaggerated information about the crime. The June 23 edition of the local newspaper, the Thorndale Thorn, covered both Zieschang’s death and the lynching of Gómez. The San Antonio Express published an article that ran the next day that inaccurately stated Gómez was eighteen and was lynched by a mob of 100 people. La Crónica, the Spanish-language newspaper in Laredo, published an article that condemned the lynching death of Gómez as an act of cowardice. The writer was critical of the German community in Texas and stated that people in Mexico were boycotting stores owned by Germans. The Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt reported the death of Zieschang in German and stated that his killer was brought to justice swiftly, referring to Gómez’s death as a hanging. The New York Times also published a story about the reaction of the Mexican government, which condemned the lynching and demanded those who lynched Gómez be punished.
On June 21, Texas Governor Oscar B. Colquitt, at the urging of San Antonio city councilman Francisco A. Chapa, ordered a court of inquiry in Cameron to move the case along as quickly as possible. The court of inquiry was held on June 22 and 23 under Justice of the Peace Ed English, who ordered the arrest of four men: Z. T. Gore, Jr., Ezra Stephens, Garrett Noack, and Harry Wuensche. A grand jury indicted the four men for murder on October 24. The men were each tried individually; the charges against Wuensche were dropped, and the three others were acquitted.
The practice of lynching was all too common in Texas in the decades following the Civil War and Reconstruction. It claimed victims of all races, but predominately affected racial and ethnic minorities. The lynching of Mexican Americans, particularly in South Texas, increased precipitously in the first decades of the twentieth century, due in large part to a reaction in the Anglo community against the increased immigration and instability caused by the Mexican Revolution. While historians have uncovered hundreds of documented cases of mob violence against Mexican Americans, few had as much impact as the lynching of Antonio Gómez. Perhaps only one other lynching of the period—that of Antonio Rodríguez—stirred up as much emotion in the Mexican American community. While the Rodríguez lynching was infamous for its sheer brutality, the Gómez lynching was equally appalling because of the age of the young victim.
In the wake of Gómez’s death, the Agrupación Protectora Mexicana was organized in San Antonio in June 1911 to provide legal protections for ethnic Mexicans under threat of illegal violence. Local chapters of this organization soon began forming across the state. Additionally, Clemente and Nicasio Idar, editors of La Crónica, called on Mexican American leaders throughout Texas to attend El Primer Congreso Mexicanista in Laredo from September 14 to 22, 1911. This meeting united mutual aid societies, journalists, labor organizers, and community leaders across the state to form an organization known as the Gran Liga Mexicanista de Beneficencia y Protección (Great Mexican League for Benefit and Protection). It also inspired Jovita Idar to organize the Liga Femenil Mexicanista. These organizations were among the first to unite early Mexican civil rights activists across the state and, although they were short-lived, would inspire the eventual formation of organizations such as the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), and the American G.I. Forum.