Rio History: Billy Hunts the Cutthroats

Special to the PRESS

After Taylor’s army advanced from Corpus Christi to the banks of the Rio Grande River in March of 1846, Roswell Denton was awarded the sutlers contract at Fort Polk which was situated where the Point Isabel lighthouse stands today. (Sutlers were merchants under contract to the Army who sold goods to the soldiers). Realizing he needed more inventory Denton sent an urgent message to his brother-in-law Patterson Rogers asking him to guide a train of goods to Taylor’s new encampment.

April 25, 1846 dawned bright and there was a sense of destiny in the air. In Corpus Christi, celebrations were commencing at the news that the town had been selected as the county seat of the newly formed Nueces County. (No public officials were elected however and the corporation was repealed. The town was not reincorporated until Feb. 16, 1852).

About 100 miles to the south, Patterson Roger’s train was encamped at Paso Real on the Colorado (near today’s Harlingen) when they were surrounded by 50 or more bandits from Reynosa, led by Juan Bali. After a promise they would be treated as prisoners of war, the party surrendered. Instantly, the men were seized and stripped of their clothing and bound in pairs. Unable to lift a hand in defense, the men were hauled atop the bluff where they each had their throats slit. The bodies were tumbled into the river below. Though he suffered a deep gash that severed his windpipe and stretched from ear to ear, young Billy Rogers was still alive when he was rolled into the water. Slowly and in constant danger of being discovered he managed to untie the ropes that bound him to his brother’s corpse. More dead than alive, he managed to dig himself into a hole along the opposite bank. From here he was witness to the atrocities that followed. The women of the group were treated badly and lived for several hours before they, too, had their throats slit. Their bodies were just as unceremoniously dumped into the Arroyo Colorado.

After the bandits left, loaded down with their booty, Rogers wandered for days, naked, bleeding and covered in insect bites. He swallowed rainwater by lying on his back and ate whatever berries he could find and continued staggering south through the thick chaparral. On the fourth day he came to a Mexican ranch about 40 miles from where the massacre took place. A young girl — Julia Corona — took him in and treated his wounds as best as she could but shortly after his arrival he was captured by Mexican soldiers and taken to Matamoros where he was thrown in jail. He would have died there had not one of Taylor’s junior officers, who heard of his plight, threatened to bombard Matamoros if he wasn’t freed. His gaping wound was treated by an Army doctor and Gen. Taylor dispatched a ship solely to return him to Corpus Christi.

While he was recuperating, Rogers learned Spanish. Later he returned to marry the young lady who nursed him back to health. With his strength back Rogers gathered a few supplies and slipped into the brush.

Billy Rogers was on the prowl, searching for any surviving members of Balli’s band of cutthroats.  One by one, he found and killed 20 of them by cutting their throats. Within several years all but one of the bandits who had been part of the Rogers Massacre were summarily dispatched. A slit throat became known as “Billy’s mark” along the border. The one bandit who survived Rogers’ revenge wisely left the area and lived to a ripe old age. But you can bet that every time he watched his barber strop a straight razor he must have felt a slight twinge fear.

His revenge complete, Rogers settled in Corpus Christi where he was elected sheriff and later was elected to the legislature.

William Long Rogers died on Dec. 17, 1877, at the age of 56, a full 31 years after his throat was cut on the banks of the Arroyo Colorado. He was buried in Bay View Cemetery in Corpus Christi. Many of his descendants still live in South Texas today.

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