The way it was: Moments in Valley History

By Rene Torres

  • Col. Charles A. Lindbergh brought the first air mail over the new route between the United States and Mexico in March of 1929 through Brownsville. This was the high spot in a day of momentous events in the history of aviation of Brownville.

    Charles Lindbergh at Brownsville Airport in 1929.


  • On January 30, 1941, the Rio Grande Valley, along with the entire nation said “Happy Birthday” to President Roosevelt.  In the Valley, six cities celebrated with evening dances. All funds collected went to fight the infantile paralysis virus. 


  • The first “tourist” In the Valley was Alonso de Pineda, who, in 1519, under order of Francisco de Garay, Governor of Jamaica, ran the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico and “discovered” the mouth of the Rio Grande. 


  • In January of 1931, a “drive” to get rid of the pesty coyote that roamed Padre Island was started.  Five hundred hunters from Valley towns and other sections as far away as Corpus Christi and Victoria joined the hunt.  By the end of the hunt—26 coyotes were killed


  • The Valley established a night law school in 1932.  The school was chartered by the State of Texas and met all requirements to form a private night school in Harlingen with a branch in Brownsville.


  • Pancho Garza was the lighthouse keeper that kept the Brazos Santiago Lighthouse light burning for three decades. He started his service in 1907 and retired in 1939.  He was born in Port Isabel 1877.

    A plaque dedicating the founding of the Rio Grande river’s mouth by Alonso de Pineda.


  • In July of 1942, the Valley conducted the largest manhunt looking for German spies.  The story was that a German submarine was seen off the Gulf Coast.  When the hunt was over, it was concluded that they sought “Spies” who were not there.  


  • The Gulf Coast was in the national spotlight when, in 1958, two coast guard boats stopped a 70-foot trawler off Padre Island and seized 35 Cuban rebels with a boat load with guns and ammunition headed to aide Fidel Castro. 


  • Coming from Mexico, Clark Gable and his wife, Kay, had reporters and autograph seekers hurrying to Brownsville’s airport.  The couple stopped here on a U.S. Customs check before they could move on to Los Angeles. (1959)


  • The mystery of the “lost city” of Padre Island was solved in 1931.  It was a ranch settlement known as ‘Los Tres Corrales,’ or the three corrals.  It was said that the ranch had been there since the 1870s.


  • The 1945 USA’s curfew aided in Matamoros’ night life.  The midnight order for US citizens caused a stampede into Matamoros.  The Bars, and clubs could not keep up with the American crowds, and in some cases had to turn them away.


  • Cameron County broke all Navy enlistment records in July of 1942.  All previous records were shattered when 50 Valley boys boarded a special train to Houston.  Although there had be a steady flow of applicants from the Valley—this group exceeded all records.  Women also enlisted in large numbers—The Waves.


  • Cameron County took a tremendous leap in population from 36,662 in 1920 to 77,486 in 1930.  While Hidalgo County did the same, increasing in population from 38,110 to 76,680.  Port Isabel had a population of 1,177 in 1930.


  • In 1937, Los Fresnos, which is 18 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, was one of the most important fishing shipping centers in South Texas. The city was Port Isabel’s nearest rail connection.


  • A story from the Brownsville Herald of 1946 suggested that maybe Abe Lincoln visited Brownsville during the Civil War.  In fact, James Lovell in the Dallas-Times Herald quoted Dr. Herbert Gambrell of the Dallas Historical Society as saying that there was circumstantial evidence that Lincoln visited Brownsville.  The name was discovered on an old hotel register. But Lovell admitted that maybe it was a Pinocchio story. 


  • Ulysses S. Grant and Abner Doubleday (inventor of baseball) were two notable officers that served under Zachary Taylor during the Mexican war 1846.  They saw action in the first two battles of the war at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma in Brownsville.  There were others that served under Taylor that became well known in the annals of U.S. history.


  • The Ku Klux Klansmen, 104 strong, paraded through the streets of Harlingen in 1921. Their appearance was the conclusion to a civic celebration held at that city.  Dressed in their usual garb—the knights of the invisible empire, marched displaying a fiery cross and U.S. flag.  In 1923 the Klan marched in a parade in San Benito. 


  • In 1953, Paul Harvey, nationally known commentator was the guest speaker at the graduation ceremonies at Brownsville High School.  One of his major talking points was about communism. 


  • On July 26, 1937, Texas Governor James V. Alfred, disclosed that 580 acres of marihuana or hemp in the Lower Rio Grande Valley had been destroyed, and announced  that the state henceforth would not permit the farming of such crop. 


  • Descendant of “Sitting Bull,” spends her last days in a Brownsville charity home.  Princess Wildflower Kihuee, granddaughter of the chief, was treated by the Sisters of the Holy Ghost.  She was interviewed in 1947 by Herald staff writer Gene Barton. 


  • Five relatives of David Crockett made their home in Brownsville—all were engaged in pumping water.  They were David’s great grandsons—they had the same pioneering spirit that brought the fighting Crockett to the Alamo.  (1930)


Editor’s note: Rene Torres is a retired assistant professor from the University of Texas at Brownsville, and Texas Southmost College. He has a long history in the Rio Grande Valley as an educator, sports historian, and humanitarian with a wealth of community service to his credit. 

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