John S. Cross, a Brownsville merchant and rancher, was born on August 16, 1816, the third of seven children of John and Margaret Joiner Cross of South Carolina. Some sources suggest that he was a black man or had some black ancestry, while others make no mention of race. He arrived in Brownsville in 1850 and began raising cattle. He settled in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, in 1857 and opened a dry-goods and general store there during in 1862, having been forced to abandon his cattle business in 1859 due to raids and thefts. His Matamoros establishment eventually came to occupy a half block in the heart of the town and included a warehouse for arms and ammunition, lumber, and furniture from which heavy shipments were made in carts to towns in the interior of Mexico. By 1892 Cross was the owner of a Matamoros bakery that supplied the needs of a large portion of the population. He eventually accumulated an estate valued at over $100,000.
Following a pattern already well established by border merchants of conducting operations on both sides of Rio Grande, Cross established a Brownsville operation. In 1880 he formed a partnership with his son Meliton (or Middleton), J. S. and M. H. Cross. They opened a lumberyard and wholesale stores in Matamoros and operated a branch store in Brownsville. The Brownsville wholesale house made riverboat shipments as far as Roma. Cross also renewed his stock-raising operation, which, by 1892, amounted to 3,000 cattle as well as horses and mules, on 9,000 acres. As late as 1906 Cross had a home and a commercial building constructed for him in Brownsville; both buildings still exist, as does the mansion built in American style for Meliton in Matamoros in 1885. Cross probably died after 1906 but before 1921, when the home was sold.
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Betty Bay, Historic Brownsville: Original Townsite Guide (Brownsville, Texas: Brownsville Historical Association, 1980). John Henry Brown, Indian Wars and Pioneers of Texas (Austin: Daniell, 1880; reprod., Easley, South Carolina: Southern Historical Press, 1978). W. H. Chatfield, The Twin Cities of the Border and the Country of the Lower Rio Grande (New Orleans: Brandao, 1893; rpt., Brownsville: Brownsville Historical Association, 1959). Loren Schweninger, Black Property Owners in the South, 1790–1915 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990).
Ranching and Cowboys
Ranchers and Cattlemen
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
“Cross, John S.,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed June 27, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
December 1, 1994
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: