The Laredo Election Riot of 1886 was an incident in which two political clubs, the Botas and the Guaraches, were involved in what historian C. L. Sonnichsen assessed as “one of the biggest gun battles in the entire history of the American West” following a particularly contested municipal election. Various eyewitnesses estimated that at the height of the riot, more than 250 people were involved. Although the exact number of dead and wounded is not known, based on historic sources and reports, possibly thirty people died and forty-five or more were injured. Due to the widespread nature and contradictory accounts of the riot, only a few men were later indicted.
By 1886 Laredo was the site of intense political partisanship between the established Democrats under political boss Raymond Martin and a reform party formed in opposition to the establishment in 1884. Followers of the former were termed Botas (“Boots”), while the followers of the latter were known as Guaraches (“Sandals”), reflecting in very general terms the social standing of its members. The Guaraches lost handily in the first election in which the local parties ran against each other.
The campaign for the municipal elections of 1886 was tense and included multiple armed marches by both parties—the Guarache party even utilized an old cannon during these events. One death occurred the week prior to the election, which allowed the Bota sheriff Dario Sanchez to deputize between 50 and 150 Botas to keep the peace. The Guarache-leaning city marshal, Stephen Boyard, appointed a large number of Guarache policemen in response. The day of the election, April 6, was largely peaceful. However, multiple voters were arrested, largely for the crimes of voting illegally or drunkenness. Overall, the election was extremely close, but the Botas won the majority of the races.
In the aftermath of the election, tensions ran extremely high in Laredo, as the Guaraches fired off their cannon at quick intervals for most of the morning, and the Botas attempted to revive a practice from the previous election cycle in which they held a symbolic funeral and buried—in effigy—a guarache-style sandal. This led to a standoff when a large group of Guaraches attempted to prevent the “funeral march” from occurring. Attempts by the sheriff and local leaders of both parties to defuse the situation failed, as the Botas were not convinced to call off the march and the Guaraches refused to disband. After he recognized that the Bota march was inevitable, Sheriff Sanchez agreed to provide protection. Late in the afternoon on April 7, 1886, the Bota procession began.
Approximately 300 or more Botas marched down Iturbide Street, with half as many Guaraches following close behind, while a group of Guaraches with the cannon took control of a parallel street to prevent easy return into town. The procession headed east on Iturbide Street, turned on Flores Avenue, and then went south to Zaragoza Street on to San Augustin Plaza. Several Bota riflemen took position on nearby roofs, from which they acted with great efficiency once the fighting started. It is unclear who fired first, but within minutes of that first shot members of both parties opened fire on their opponents. The initial fighting lasted several minutes, and it was during this time that the majority of individuals were involved. Following a brief pause in the initial riot, additional exchanges occurred intermittently for up to an hour. Eventually, the fighting was stopped entirely when two companies of infantry from nearby Fort McIntosh arrived into town and placed Laredo under martial law to prevent further bloodshed and to prevent outlaws and bandits from the surrounding area from taking advantage of the chaos. Two days later, Texas militia and Texas Rangers arrived to keep order; the militia left a short time after arriving, but the Rangers did not leave for several months.
The extreme partisan politics of Laredo were not resolved for some time, and at least one revenge killing is recorded as a result of the fighting. In 1894, eight years after the disturbance, however, the Independent Club was founded. This new organization attracted former Botas and Guaraches and went on to dominate border politics until 1978.