San Antonio 'Tricentennial Minute' For January

Feb 12, 2018

From the land of the bees, to the first woman to serve as mayor of a major metropolitan city, to defining the word “Maverick,” San Antonio’s history is as varied and colorful as the people who inhabit the Alamo City.

This is Texas Public Radio’s San Antonio Tricentennial Minute, a look back at 300 years of Alamo City culture, one day at a time, written and produced by David Martin Davies.

For the month of January:

Jan. 1, 1941

Owen Kilday was sworn in as Bexar County sheriff. He will be the longest serving sheriff of Bexar County – until 1962. Kilday designed the badges for both the San Antonio police and the sheriff’s department. He was also the chief of police for San Antonio and was famously fired by Mayor Maury Maverick. The two had a long standing feud. Kilday was known for his brutal tactics especially against people of color, and frequently turned billy clubs, tear gas, riot guns and water hoses against the Pecan Shelling strikers of 1938. The shellers turned to the courts for protection Judge S. C. Taylor turned them down.

Jan. 2, 1952

This was the first full day of San Antonio's new style of city government  — one run by a city manager under the direction of a nine-member City Council.

In October of 1951, San Antonio voters approved — by a two-to-one margin — the adoption of the new city charter.

Promising to make San Antonio the best run city in the nation, C.A. Harrell was hired as the first city manager. Eyebrows were raised over his $30,000 annual salary. That's about $290,000 in today’s dollars. Harrell lasted a year and a half before being ousted in a donnybrook over sick pay. For his last month on the job, he was paid one dollar.

 

Jan. 3, 1913

The San Antonio, Fredericksburg and Northern Railway Company was chartered with the mission to connect Fredericksburg with San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway Company.

The railroad was the product of 25 years of determination by the citizens of Fredericksburg to establish a railroad connection to its city.

Its construction required building 24 bridges, and digging a tunnel 920 feet long — one of only six railroad tunnels built in Texas. The service ended in 1942. The tunnel still remains and is now home to millions of bats.

 

Jan. 4, 1964

San Antonio was making progress with its plan for a complete expressway system. Interstate 35 had become the first metropolitan interstate in Texas to be completed. I-10 West of downtown was now finished inside Loop 410. And I-10 East was under construction from W.W. White to East Houston. But 281 North hit a decade long detour with protests, lawsuits and Congress expressing concerns about cutting through parkland. Federal dollars were dropped for the key four miles in question. City and state funds made up the difference the freeway construction rolled on and opened Feb. 7, 1978.

 

Jan. 5, 1837

Bexar County was created by the Republic of Texas Congress. Today’s boundaries are very different. The county once encompassed almost the entire western portion of the Republic of Texas. On some maps its boundary lines included parts of New Mexico and up to Wyoming. But after statehood on Dec. 29, 1845, Bexar was carved up and 128 counties were eventually created from the initial map. The name Bexar comes from a pre-Roman fort in Spain that in the 11th century was occupied by the Moors and the name is rooted in the word "bees" – it could mean “Land of Bees.”

 

Jan. 8, 1839

Samuel Augustus Maverick was elected San Antonio Mayor. Maverick was a Texas lawyer, politician, land baron and a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence. In 1942, Maverick was captured by invading Mexican troops in San Antonio and marched to Mexico. He was offered his freedom if he would denounce Texas independence, which he refused. Eventually he was freed and returned to Texas, bringing with him the chain which had held him in prison.

A century later, in 1939, his grandson Maury Maverick became mayor.

 

Jan. 9, 1842

San Antonio was in a panic. Because of Mexico’s refusal to recognize the independence of Texas after the victory of the revolution and the Treaties of Velasco, the fledgling republic was in constant fear of Mexican forces coming to reclaim the lost territory. That fear became reality on Jan. 9, 1842, when General Mariano Arista issued a letter from Monterrey announcing his invasion plan and promising amnesty and protection to all who remained neutral in the upcoming struggle. It would be two more months before the Mexican troops arrived in San Antonio.

 

Jan. 10, 1887

Major Jacob Lyons was given command of of a battalion of African American infantry stationed in San Antonio. Lyons was born into slavery in Virginia in 1844. During the Civil War, he enlisted and served in the U.S. Army in Key West, Florida. Throughout Lyons’ tenure as commanding officer, he organized training camps, precision drill exhibitions and led marches through downtown San Antonio and other Texas cities in parades.

Lyons pressed the state for support for the African American volunteer troops and was able to negotiate equipment, rations and pay for the troops from the U.S. Army during encampments at San Pedro Springs.

 

Jan. 11, 1954

San Antonio Attorney Gus Garcia argued before the U.S. Supreme Court the case of Hernandez v. Texas.

Known as the “Class Apart” case, it focused on the systematic exclusion of Mexican Americans from juries. In 1948, Garcia filed the suit Delgado v. Bastrop ISD, which made illegal the segregation of Mexican American children in Texas public education.

In Hernandez, the Supreme Court unanimously decided that Mexican Americans had equal protection under the 14th Amendment. Garcia was so compelling that Chief Justice Earl Warren gave him 16 extra minutes for his argument.

 

Jan. 12, 1943

The Hertzberg Circus Collection debuted at the San Antonio Public Library.

Before it was the Briscoe Western Art Museum — at the downtown corner of Market and Presa — it was the Hertzberg Circus Museum. Before that, it was the city’s first public lending library, a Carnegie Library established in 1903. Local attorney and state senator Harry Hertzberg created one of the largest collections of circus memorabilia in the nation, which includes items from P.T. Barnum, Tom Thumb and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. The museum was closed in 2001 and the collection was released to the Witte Museum.

 

Jan. 15, 1970

The San Antonio City Council recognized Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday with a resolution and a moment of silence. The council instructed the city manager to study the possibility of renaming a street after the slain civil rights leader. But a motion that the city observe Jan. 15 as a holiday in King’s memory failed without discussion. Texas first celebrated King's birthday as an official state holiday in 1991. It had become a national holiday in 1985. On Jan. 19, 1987, San Antonio held its first official Martin Luther King Jr. march.

 

Jan. 16, 1977

San Antonians woke up to the news that after electing City Council members citywide for 25 years, voters approved representation by district. With a 20 percent voter turnout, the charter change barely passed but with overwhelming support from the West and South sides.

The single district plan was pushed by the Department of Justice, which said San Antonio violated the Voting Rights Act by annexing Northside areas to dilute Mexican American voting strength. In the initial district elections, five Latinos and one African American won seats on the council — a city hall majority.  

 

Jan. 17, 1976

San Antonians vote 4-1 in favor of stopping the construction of a “Super Mall” over the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone. The special referendum was spurred by a petition drive by the Aquifer Protection Association to override a City Council zoning vote. The landslide election made protecting the city’s source of drinking water an issue that city leaders would have to deal with. However, a follow-up campaign which called for the public purchase of Bexar County’s recharge zone failed.

 

Jan. 18, 1965

The U.S. Supreme Court rules unanimously in favor of San Antonian John Stanford. On Dec. 27, 1963, San Antonio police raided Stanford’s home, which also served as a mail order bookstore specializing in communist literature. Stanford had refused to register as a communist, which was required by the 1951 Communist Control Act. However, the case resulted in a major SCOTUS decision that clarified that the Fourth Amendment rules regarding search and seizure apply to state governments.

 

Jan. 19, 1922

Lila May Banks Corckrell was born in Fort Worth. She would become the first woman mayor of a major American city. In 1963 she was offered a place on the Good Government League ticket. She was listed on the ballots as Mrs. S. E. Cockrell jr. and won a spot on City Council. And then was re-elected three times. In 1975 Cockrell was elected mayor and in 1977 was first to be elected mayor by popular vote. She ran for mayor again and won in 1989. Leaving office in 1992, Lila Cockrell continues working to improve city parks and public libraries.

 

Jan. 22, 1991

For the second time, the Texas Supreme Court rules on Edgewood v. Kirby and again asserts that the property tax system of public school funding is unconstitutional and unfair. The case was first filed in 1984 by parents from San Antonio’s Edgewood ISD. They charged that the state’s method of funding public schools discriminated against students in poor school districts. A year later, Jan. 22, 1992, the Texas Supreme Court voted 7-2 that the legislature’s funding fix was illegal. In 1993, The Robin Hood “recapture” plan was adopted but the debate over school funding continues.

 

Jan. 23, 1913

San Antonio’s 4th Ward Auxiliary petitioned the City Council to come up with a sanitary way to dispose of household garbage. They complained the neighborhood open garbage pit was no long adequate. The organization also approved its “10 commandments of public health and general welfare of the people.” It included admonitions to citizens to cover garbage cans, cut weeds, plant trees and “Thou shall clean out the habitation of thy horse.” And “verily, verily, thou shalt pay thy poll tax tribute” and vote for necessary municipal improvements.

 

Jan. 24, 1905

The Texas House of Representatives passed House Bill One, which is titled “An Act to provide for the purchase and conveyance to the State of Texas of the land in the City of San Antonio known as the Hugo, Schmeltzer & Company property.” This was the long barracks of the Alamo that was being used as a grocery store. The state paid $65,000. In 1883, the state paid the Catholic Church $20,000 for the old Alamo church. Landscaping and a post office on the north were added to the plaza in the late 1800s.

 

Jan. 25, 1955

The Maverick family goes to court to stop San Antonio from building a parking garage at Travis Park. In 1870, Samuel Maverick bequeathed his orchard as a city park. In 1955, Maverick’s descendants claimed if the city used the land for anything but a park, they regained ownership. The city insisted it could use the land for any purpose. But Maverick, true to his name, never had a deed to the land and the city gift was an oral agreement. The Mavericks lost the case but public pressure forced the city to give up on the garage.

 

Jan. 26, 1924

The Ku Klux Klan operates a three day rodeo and carnival at the San Antonio speedway, located south of the city. The KKK had hoped to stage a parade through downtown San Antonio with members from across the state. However, fearing clashes and bloodshed with the local population, the City Council refused to issue the racist organization a parade permit. San Antonio was one of the few Texas cities not controlled by the Klan. Regardless, the KKK held its rodeo, which included initiation rituals and a cross burning.

 

Jan. 29, 1917

The Robert B. Green Memorial Hospital opens to the public. Named for Bexar County’s crusading progressive county judge, this charity and teaching hospital came online at a critical time in San Antonio’s history. It was the largest city in Texas at the time and bursting with new arrivals from Mexico, fleeing the revolution and with troops massing for America’s entry into World War I. Not long after opening the hospital, the city would face the influenza epidemic of 1918. The establishment of the Robert B. Green was the first powerful step in the creation of the University Health System that today is a nationally recognized academic and medical care service provider.

 

Jan. 30, 1967

The space race turns deadly in San Antonio at Brooks Air Force Base killing two – Richard Harmon and William Bartley Jr. The airmen were tending to research animals in a simulated space capsule when a spark ignited the pure oxygen atmosphere. The Brooks fire was tragically similar to the Apollo 1 flash fire. That happened three days before and took the lives of Gus Frisson, Roger Chaffee and Ed White, who was a San Antonio native and the first American to walk in space. The cause of both fires was the use of a 100 percent oxygen breathing atmosphere in the space capsules. Researches at Brooks had previously warned about the dangers of a pure oxygen environment but were overruled by NASA.

 

Jan. 31, 1938

After an announcing a 20 percent pay cut, 12,000 pecan shellers known as “nueceros” — who were mostly women — walk away from their jobs and initiate a bitter three month strike. At the time, San Antonio accounted for half of the nation’s pecan production. The pay was $2 to $3 a week, making it as one of the lowest waged jobs in the country. Working conditions were also difficult. Without plumbing and ventilation, it was associated with a high tuberculosis rate. Local labor and civil rights leader Emma Tenayuca was elected to lead the strike. Over 700 arrests were made to break the strike by Police Chief Owen Kilday. Eventually producers agreed to pay the minimum wage established by the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Vince Kong can be reached at vince@tpr.org or on Twitter @teamvincek