The Rio Grande City Riot of September 1888 was set off by the arrest in May of Abraham Recéndez, a Mexican-American resident of Rio Grande City. He was arrested for robbery by Starr county sheriff W. W. Sheley and after the arrest was killed by Victor Sebree, United States Inspector of Customs and Sheley's companion, while allegedly attempting to escape. The incident led to public anger, particularly against Sheley, who previously had been implicated in the lynching of several Mexicans. Agustin and Silverio de la Peña organized a faction to oppose Sheley and used the murders to argue that he was a racist. They employed journalist Catarino Erasmo Garza, a Mexican who was in Corpus Christi agitating for opposition against Porfirio Díaz, to mount an editorial campaign against their political opponents. In editorials that appeared in El Comercio Mexicano, Garza charged that Sebree had assassinated an unnamed Mexican prisoner. Garza then moved to Rio Grande City and encountered Sebree during the September 1888 election, at which time Sebree shot and injured him. Garza sympathizers threatened to lynch Sebree and pursued him when he fled for refuge to Fort Ringgold. The post commander there ordered the 200-man mob to disperse, which they did. News stories, however, leaked that anarchy had broken out in the city and that armed men roamed the streets ready to cause havoc. News of the riot reached as far as Great Falls, Montana, where the Tribune headlined "Rumors of War" between White and Mexican citizens in Rio Grande City. The governor's office received a deluge of telegrams reporting on the bloody war being fought on the border and testifying that White lives were endangered. The secretary of state requested aid from the troops at Fort Ringgold, and the United States government ordered part of the Third Cavalry to reinforce them. Gen. David S. Stanley notified the governor that as commander of United States troops in Texas he was responsible for protecting lives and property at the scene and requested that the entire Texas Ranger force be sent to Rio Grande City. The governor wired the sheriffs of Cameron, Hidalgo, and Zapata counties to proceed to the city. He also ordered the San Antonio Rifles, the Belknap Rifles, and the Houston Light Guards to be ready to march on a moment's notice. The Bexar county sheriff joined the sheriffs of Hidalgo, Cameron, and Zapata counties, and eventually they had 250 men under their command ready to move into Starr County. The riot soon dissipated, threatened by the reinforced troops. Sebree remained in the position of United States inspector of customs.
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Biennial Report of the Secretary of State of the State of Texas, 1889. Arnoldo De León, They Called Them Greasers: Anglo Attitudes Toward Mexicans in Texas, 1821–1900 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983).
Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
Boundary Disputes and Ethnic Conflict
Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Alicia A. Garza,
“Rio Grande City Riot of 1888,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed August 11, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
June 1, 1995
Most Recent Revision Date:
January 19, 2021
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: