Post, Planned as a Utopia

C. W. Post was an inventor. His imagination ran the gamut—designing better farm implements, improving digestion with breakfast foods, creating a model town, and making rain by detonating dynamite—a genius who lived before folks talked about bipolar. They called him peculiar.

Born in 1854, Post grew up in Illinois, attended two years of college at the future University of Illinois, and at seventeen dropped out of school to work as a salesman and manufacturer of agricultural machines. He married at twenty, had a daughter, Marjorie Merriweather Post,

Post and daughter, Marjorie Merriweather Post

and during the next fifteen years, he secured patents on farm equipment such as cultivators, a sulky plow, a harrow, and a hay stacker. The periods of intense work, followed with bouts of depression, led in 1885 to Post suffering his first nervous breakdown.

Leaving his stressful manufacturing occupation, Post moved his family to Fort Worth in 1886 where he bought a 200-acre ranch, began a real estate development company that laid out streets, built homes, and constructed a woolen mill and a paper mill. A second breakdown came in 1891 followed by extensive travel in search of a cure. Post entered a sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan, run by John Harvey Kellogg, a medical doctor who used holistic treatments that focused on nutrition, enemas, and exercise. Dr. Kellogg, along with his brother, invented corn flakes as a breakfast cereal. Following Dr. Kellogg’s regime, Post soon recuperated, and because he decided that coffee was poison, he devised a breakfast cereal drink called Postum. In 1897 he created Grape Nuts cereal, and in 1904 he called his new corn flakes Elijah’s Manna until the religious community complained. The name soon became Post Toasties.

Post and his wife, after living apart for several years, divorced the same year that Post Toasties hit the market, and Post remarried before the year was out. His breakfast foods business was raking in millions. Advised by his doctor to move to a drier climate, Post bought 225,000 acres of ranchland in the Texas Panhandle that sprawled onto the Llano Estacado, which was known as the Caprock, one of the largest mesas on the North American Continent.

Birds Eye View of Post City

In 1907, he platted his vision of a model community at the foot of the Caprock. Calling his new town Post City, he threw himself into his new business. He charged the Double U Company (meaning double utopia) with fulfilling his grand plan—a place where ordinary families could purchase a home or a farm site at a reasonable price and finance the place with little money down and low monthly rates. Although Post hired a manager for the enterprise, he directed every minute detail of the new town from his homes in Michigan and later in California. For three years he raced back to Post to solve each problem, bouncing eighty miles from the nearest railhead over unpaved ruts in mule-drawn hacks to reach his flourishing village. The Santa Fe Railroad finally reached Post City in 1910. Meantime, the new town had to be built from scratch on the semi-arid plains. Post purchased two-dozen freight wagons and mules to haul the supplies for building the infrastructure and constructing every home and business. He provided plans for the houses, mostly bungalows, which he favored, and for the aesthetics, including shade trees planted thirty feet apart on each side of the highway for two miles leading in and out of town. He built a school, churches, and a department store. He took great pride in the hotel, insisting that Postum and Grape Nuts be served at every breakfast. He tried, unsuccessfully, to force the workmen whom he hired from the surrounding ranches to eat his special breakfast diet. He paid excellent wages, but he was demanding, expecting the same perfection from those who worked for him as he required of himself.

Parks sprouted over town, Bermuda grass covered the lawns, and orchards began producing fruit. Determined to keep out the bad element, Post hired someone to see that his model community did not serve alcohol in any establishment, and if a business did not follow the guidelines, it was shut down immediately. Brothels, of course, were not permitted.

Two big problems plagued the place—water and weather. Post had wells and reservoirs dug, hauled and piped water from the top of the Caprock, all without sufficient success to meet the needs of the growing community. Stories he had read of the rainstorms that occurred after major battles in the Napoleonic Wars and the tales that Civil War veterans told of rain following heavy cannon fire, led to his rainmaking experiments. In 1910 he tried attaching two pounds of dynamite to a kite and igniting it, then decided that was too dangerous. He placed four-pound dynamite charges along the rim of the Caprock and detonated one every four minutes for several hours. In 1912, Post exploded 24,000 pounds of dynamite and a little rain fell after that “battle,” the term Post used for each effort to force rain from the clouds. Success was intermittent—sometimes light rain fell, other times it did not. He had almost instant rain after he placed 3,000 pounds of dynamite in 1,500 sticks; however, critics said Post held his experiments during the time of the year when rain usually fell.

By 1914 Post was again suffering from overwork, exhaustion, and abdominal pains. He remained at his California home, claiming to wean his town from his constant attention. The public realized for the first time that Post was not well when he canceled a speech in New York that he was scheduled to deliver denouncing President Woodrow Wilson’s income tax law. In March, a private railroad car raced from California to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where Post had surgery for acute appendicitis. The surgery was called successful, but after Post returned to his California home, his health did not improve. Convinced he had stomach cancer, Post committed suicide on May 9, 1914, some accounts say from a gunshot wound.

Post bronze in front of the Garza Courthouse in Post.

Marjorie Merriweather Post, heiress

Marjorie Merriweather Post, his twenty-seven-year-old daughter, inherited his businesses and his vast fortune—one of the largest of the early twentieth century. She used her business acumen, which she had learned at the side of her father, to expand his enterprises into the General Foods Corporation, becoming the wealthiest woman in America. She lived the lavish life of a socialite, an art collector, and an internationally recognized philanthropist.

Post Script to the story: Marjorie Merriweather Post and her second husband Edward F. Hutton, built Mar-A-Lago in 1924 to better accommodate their entertainment needs. Upon her death in 1973, she willed the 17-acre site to the National Park Service to be used as a presidential retreat. Businessman Donald J. Trump purchased the property in 1985.

Mar-a-Lago

 

Victoria, A Mexican Colony

Soon after winning independence from Spain in 1821, Mexico began issuing empresarial grants, contracts allowing men to bring settlers into Mexico’s northernmost state of Texas. Ironically, of the forty-one empresarial grants issued between 1821 and 1832, only one went to a

Don Martin De Leon

Mexican. Don Martín De León and his wife Doña Patricia De León were wealthy descendants of aristocratic Spanish families who had immigrated to New Spain in 1750. De León received his empresarial grant in April 1824 to settle forty-one Mexican families “of good moral character” on the lower Guadalupe River. He had been in Texas since 1805, operating ranches along and south of the Nueces River and driving huge herds of cattle to market in New Orleans.

De León’s land lay southwest of Stephen F. Austin’s grant, the first and most successful of the colonies. De León named his settlement Nuestra Señora Guadalupe de Jesús Victoria, after the first president of the Republic of Mexico. The families began arriving in 1824 and received a town lot, one league (4,228 acres) of land for grazing, and a labor (177 acres) for farming. Upon completion of the colonization, the empresario received five leagues.

One of De León’s sons-in-law platted the town of Victoria, and the empresario designated the main street “La Calle de los Diez Amigos” (The Street of Ten Friends) for the ten homes of citizens who were charged with the welfare of the settlement. Three of the ten friends were his sons-in-law and two were his sons. Not all the colonists were Mexicans; sixteen families, primarily Irish immigrants, also settled in the colony.

A devout Catholic, De León brought in priests from La Bahía (present Goliad), Nacogdoches, and San Antonio until the founding in late 1824 of St. Mary’s Catholic Church. The colonists built a school and a fort, organized a militia, and started a courier service with its Austin Colony neighbor.

De León’s five-league ranch, which spread along Garcitas Creek in present southeastern Victoria County, probably included the land where the Frenchman La Salle built Fort St. Louis in 1685. Many claim DeLeón’s cattle brand, which he had

De Leon Cattle Brand

registered in 1807, was the first in Texas. It consisted of a connected E and J meaning “Espiritu de Jesús, the brand used by Jesuits for hundreds of years and adopted by the De León family in Spain.

From the beginning, De León, a wealthy and cultured man, looked with disdain at the Americans in surrounding colonies. His attitude and the preferential treatment he received as a Mexican citizen added to tensions among the neighboring settlements. The boundaries of his colony were not clearly drawn and in disputes with other colonies, the Mexican courts usually sided with De León. The ensuing squabbles led to hatred and mistrust between De León and Green DeWitt whose colony at Gonzales lay just to the north. And De León tried unsuccessfully to have the government annul the grant for an Irish colony to the south.

De León died at age 68 in the 1833 cholera epidemic, leaving his wife and ten children an estate of about a half million dollars. His sons completed the settlement, which made the De León and the Austin colonies the only two in Texas to fulfill their empresarial agreement.

The family members were strong Federalists and as troubles brewed with the Centralists government under the dictator Antonio López de Santa Anna, the De Leóns sided with the Texans who supported independence. The De Leóns took part in all the plans for the revolution; they served in the army or helped in other ways to aid the Texas cause. They contributed enough to the war that when Gen. José de Urrea occupied Victoria after the massacre at Goliad, the De Leóns were treated as traitors.

Despite their support, after Texas won independence, Anglo-Americans began coming into Texas looking for land and charging the De Leóns as Mexican sympathizers. After the murder of one son and the severe injury of another, the family, one of the wealthiest in Texas, left all behind and fled to safety in New Orleans. Three years later, the oldest son Don Fernando De León returned to Victoria and spent the remainder of his life in unsuccessful litigation for the return of the family’s property.

In 1972 a Texas historical marker was placed in Victoria’s Evergreen Cemetery honoring the De León family. Attendees at the dedication included Patricia De León, great-granddaughter of the empresario, and Dr. Ricardo Victoria, great-grandson of President Guadalupe Victoria for whom the town is named.

The Man Who Beat “Ma” (Miriam) Ferguson

Dan Moody

Daniel James Moody, Jr. set records for being the youngest, at age twenty-seven, elected as Williamson County Attorney; the youngest district attorney elected at twenty-nine; the youngest attorney general of Texas at thirty-two; and the youngest governor of Texas at thirty-four. He won the governorship by beating “Ma” (Miriam A.) Ferguson, Texas’ first female chief executive. Ma had won election after her husband Governor James Ferguson had been impeached and removed from office for corruption.

Dan Moody was a tall, redheaded young man in a hurry. He entered the University of Texas at age seventeen and began taking law courses two years later. He passed the state bar without graduating law school and served in the National Guard and the U.S. Army during WWI. When he returned to his home in Taylor after the war, his political career got underway. The circumstances that propelled him into state and national attention occurred while he served as district attorney of Williamson and Travis counties at the peak in 1923 of the Ku Klux Klan’s resurgence.

The national KKK preached white supremacy and hatred of blacks, Jews, Catholics, immigrants, gamblers, and people who broke the law. In Williamson County the Klan targeted a young salesman, R. W. Burleson, whose route through the area included staying at the home of a young widow. A Baptist preacher and anti-Catholic lecturer sent a note to Burleson that bore the seal of the Georgetown KKK No. 178. The note warned Burleson to end his relationship with the young woman. Burleson burned the note and threatened to kill any Klan member who bothered him.

On Easter Sunday in 1923, Burleson, the widow, and another couple were stopped on a country road by two cars bearing eight or ten men wearing robes and hoods. The men dragged Burleson from his car, hit him with a pistol, threw him in one of their cars, and took off with his feet still hanging out the door. They placed a heavy trace chain around his neck and tied him to a tree. Holding a pistol to his head as warning not to cry out, the KKK members removed his clothing, and used a four-foot long, three-inch wide leather strap to lash Burleson’s naked back with about fifty licks. Throughout the beating Burleson was questioned and threatened. Finally, he was loaded into a pickup, driven to the lawn of the Taylor City Hall and fastened by the chain to a tree. They poured tar or creosote over his head and body, and left him there in the darkness of early evening.

Burleson freed himself, and with the chain still around his neck, he walked toward a light in a nearby boarding house. The law officers who were called testified that Burleson had cuts and bruises all over his body, that his back was raw. He had creosote or tar in his hair, ears, face, shoulders, and body. A machinist cut the chain from Burleson’s neck and the doctor used oil to remove the tar. The constable testified that blood soaked through the mattress on which Burleson was placed—the worst beating the constable had ever seen—“as raw as a piece of beef from the small of his back to the knees; and in many places the skin had been split and the flash was gaping open.”

Five men were arrested. The local Klan collected funds to retain the best legal team including a state senator and his brother. Enormous crowds and media from all over the United States came to hear the often lurid testimony in the trials of each defendant. By the time the last man was sentenced to prison, District Attorney Don Moody—the first prosecuting attorney in the United States to win a legal battle against the Ku Klux Klan—had launched his political career.

Despite the Klan’s opposition, Dan Moody was elected Attorney General in 1925 at the same time Miriam “Ma” Ferguson won her first election as governor. Within a few months scandals began developing over highway contracts. Moody took the case to court and proved that $32 million in contracts—three times their actual value—had been awarded to Ferguson friends. He sealed his political future by traveling to Kansas City and Dallas to retrieve about one million of the state’s cash and securities that had been paid for the contracts. Armed with claims of Ferguson fraud, the following campaign for governor was one of Texas’ nastiest.

As the campaign got underway, Moody married Mildred Paxton, a newspaperwoman, and the press labeled it the “Honeymoon Campaign.” While Dan Moody focused his charges against the Ferguson’s corruption, Jim Ferguson made speeches for his wife’s re-election in which he

Dan Moody and his wife, Mildred Paxton Moody

called Mildred a “lipstick” that would chase Moody around the governor’s Mansion with a rolling pin.

When Moody became Texas’ youngest governor, the inauguration was the first to be held outdoors; it was the first to be broadcast on the radio and received national coverage because of Moody’s fame; and it was the first Texas election that denied a sitting governor a second term.

As a reform governor, Moody served two terms. He ended the Ferguson’s convict-pardon policies, reorganized the state highway department, including a program for a connected network of roads, and cut the cost of highway construction by almost half. He also created an office to audit state accounts.

At the end of Moody’s second term, he returned to a private law practice. He came in third in the 1942 race for the U.S. senate, his only political defeat, and he never again ran for public office.

He became known as an opposition leader to the New Deal and to the renomination for a fourth term of President Franklin Roosevelt. He supported Lyndon Johnson’s rival in his election to the U.S. Senate in 1948. As a Democrat, Moody supported Dwight D. Eisenhower for both his presidential victories and Richard M. Nixon for president in 1960. Dan Moody represented the conservative faction in the party that eventually led with the Nixon campaign to the wholesale movement in Texas of Democrats to the Republican Party.

Book Signing Invite

9781491709542_COVER.inddTo all you lovers of Texas history who faithfully read my weekly blog, I am sending a very personal invitation to two book signings for Stein House.  If you have been on board for a few months, you already know that Stein House is historical fiction (the history is accurate) set in the thriving Texas seaport of Indianola between 1853 and 1886.

I’ve already written about how I came to tell the story of Helga Heinrich the German immigrant and her children who sail into Indianola determined to overcome the memory and haunting legacy of Max, her husband and their papa, who drowned in a drunken leap from the dock as their ship pulled away from the German port.

The family operates Stein House for boarders of all stripes whose involvement in the rigors of a town on the edge of frontier influences and molds all their lives: the cruelties of yellow fever and slavery, the wrenching choices of Civil War and Reconstruction, murder, alcoholism, and the devastation wrought by the hurricane of 1886.

If you, dear reader, are in Sweden or Australia or India or one of the iced-over states in the U.S., I know you probably can’t make it to the book signings, so here’s my offer:  The publisher of Stein House has given me some free E-book stubs. If you would like to read Stein House, just let me know, and I’ll be tickled to send you the secret code for downloading a copy to one of your electronic devices.

I have ten copies to give away. Of course, I am secretly hoping that you will like Stein House, and that you will write a gentle review, and that you will spread good words about Stein House to your many friends.  If you prefer a real, between the covers copy of Stein House, you can order it by clicking on the link on the right side of this blog.

Meantime, here’s the invite for dear readers who live in this neck of the Texas woods:

 Meet and Greet the Author at Barnes & Noble, Arboretum

10,000 Research Blvd., #158

Austin, TX 78759

Saturday, February 1, 2014

 2 to 4 pm

Meet and Greet the Author at Hastings Books

5206 N. Navarro

Victoria, TX 77901

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Noon to 4 pm

I hope to see you there. 

Backstory of Historical Fiction

In the early 1970s, while living on the Texas coast, I interviewed a ninety-four-year-old woman about her German ancestors who had come into Texas through the thriving seaport of Indianola.  Her family did not travel inland as so many other Germans had done.  Instead, they stayed and helped build the farming and cattle region along the central Texas coast.

My old black tape recorder made her nervous, which forced me to scribble notes as I listened to her account of those long-ago days.  She shared her memory of the 1886 storm that totally destroyed the thriving seaport of Indianola.  She was six years old when the hurricane hit, and fortunately her family lived several miles from Indianola.  She recalled her parents lowering her into a dry cistern during the storm.  She remembered her father climbing a ladder to the top of the cistern, lifting the lid and saying, “there goes the barn.”  Finally, he said, “there goes the house.”

Her stories kept stirring my imagination over the years as I delved deeper into the history of Indianola, which had become a ghost town as the result of that storm.  On Sunday afternoons, when we joined other families at the Indianola Beach to water ski and sail, I was captured by the desolate, flat shoreline where a lone shellcrete cistern weathered among the weeds, and the foundation of the old courthouse peeked above the waves just beyond the shore.

When I wrote Legacy, a coming-of-age novel set in a small Texas town during the last year of World War II, some of the imagery I captured from that long-ago interview became the words that Miranda, the young girl in Legacy, loved to hear about her grandpappy’s experiences on the Chisholm Trail:  “So many cattle being driven north that one trail almost ran into the next.  At night, when the cowboys settled down, they could see off ahead and way behind, little firefly flickers of other campfires dotting the countryside.

“Indians lined the way.  Never bothered them except to slip away with a loose cow or one of the extra horses.  Sometimes they rode past swarms of Indians standing along the trail like they were watching to see if the men might look away, give them a chance to pick up a meal for their whole outfit.

“When storms came and lightning flashed, the herds got scared and started to run.  They had to ride hard, turn the herd back onto itself.  Grandpappy said he never let himself think of the prairie dog holes his horses might step in as he rode.  He always laughed real husky and whispered, “if I’d thought of it, I’d a shook out of my boots right there in those stirrups.  No sir, a man’s got to do some things without thinking.”

She also told me that when she was a young woman, back before there was a causeway, she sailed her sloop across the bay to teach school all week.  If the weather was good on Friday afternoons, she sailed back for the weekend at her parent’s home.  Mrs. Watkins, one of the characters in Legacy, shared that story about her own girlhood.

But the one story I heard in that interview that haunted me all these years was something she mentioned only in passing:  A German woman and her children arrived in Indianola after watching her husband and their papa, who was drunk, leap back and forth from the ship to the dock.  As the ship pulled away, he fell to his death in the river.  That story filled my imagination and finally developed into Stein House, my latest historical novel, a family saga set in Indianola between 1853 and 1886. Helga Heinrich became that German widow who operates Dr. Stein’s boarding house overlooking the road to Texas’ interior and the fickle waves of Matagorda Bay. The colorful characters that live in the Stein House are entwined with the turmoil of the Civil War, the threats of yellow fever and the horror of the infamous 1886 hurricane. Stein House is a tale about Texas history that evolved from an afternoon interview almost forty years ago.  It is in production, and I will let you know when it’s published.  In the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some of the amazing history that took place on the Central Texas Coast.

Diorama created by Jeff Underwood, photograph by Philip Thomae from the Collection of the Calhoun County Museum, Port Lavaca, Texas.

Diorama of Indianola in 1875, created by Jeff Underwood, photograph by Philip Thomae from the Collection of the Calhoun County Museum, Port Lavaca, Texas.

Gainesville Community Circus

strange_circus_0In 1930, when the Gainesville Little Theatre discovered a $300 deficit, the theatre board decided to solve the financial problem by organizing a burlesque circus using local residents as performers.   The editor of the Gainesville Register was an authority on circuses, townspeople visited professional shows for inspiration and ideas, and every member of the show spent their after-work-hours practicing.  The show proved so popular that it ran for three performances and the theatre ended up with $420.  From the beginning the entire operation was a volunteer effort—no one got paid—and they purchased their own costumes and made most of their equipment.

3201648-Gainesville_Circus_Wagon_at_the_Santa_Fe_Depot_GainesvilleNo one was turned down.  If a volunteer could not master the high wire or perform acrobatic tricks or swing from a trapeze, he could be a clown.  The tax collector and the postmaster created the clown gags. A local car dealer donated a stock car that an auto mechanic converted into a funny Ford, a trick machine that appeared to be driverless, squirted a stream of water from the radiator, blew horns, and rang bells.111gainesvillegroup

A junior college student went through four grueling months of exercises required to hang by her knees from a trapeze while holding in her “iron jaw” a girl spinning below.  A housewife and young mother learned to climb hand over hand up a rope and whirl high above the ring in a Spanish web.  An eleven-year-old girl wowed the crowds on the loop-the-loop trapeze and a gasoline station operator served as the principal bareback rider who stood on a galloping horse while balancing two girls on his shoulders.

gainesville_circus_3-2When visitors from nearby Denton saw the show, they invited the circus to perform for their 1932 County Fair, which launched The Gainesville Community Circus road shows.  After completing their regular day job, the circus performers drove to surrounding towns to present their three-ring circus under a big top.  Profits went back into improving trapeze rigging, expanding to seven tents, and adding a 22,000 square foot big top that seated 2,500.  The troupe purchased six ornamental tableau wagons, a calliope, and hundreds of costumes.

From 1930 to 1952 the circus offered 359 shows in fifty-seven different cities, cancelling only one in Ardmore, Oklahoma, in 1939 when a tornado destroyed the big top.  In 1937 over 51,000 spectators crowded Fort Worth’s Will Rogers Coliseum to see the traveling show and by 1941 it was touted as the third largest circus in the country.  During its twenty-five year history about 1,500 Gainesville residents performed in the circus.  Although a fire in 1954 destroyed the tents and equipment, the performers struggled to rebuild the circus.  After a few small shows, the troupe tried in 1958 to make a formal comeback but as the former circus president and chief clown said, “Television and air conditioning killed” the circus.

The memories are kept alive at the restored Santa Fe Depot Museum where photographs, costumes, and a 1937 Paramount Pictures newsreel shows a behind-the-scenes look at the famous Gainesville Community Circus.!2

Don Martin De Leon, Empresario

Soon after winning independence from Spain in 1821, Mexico began issuing empresarial grants, contracts allowing men to bring settlers into Mexico’s northernmost state of Texas.  Ironically, of approximately thirty empresarial grants issued between 1821 and 1832, only one went to a Mexican.  Don Martín De León and his wife Doña Patricia De León were wealthy descendants of

Don Martin De Leon

Don Martin De Leon

aristocratic Spanish families who had immigrated to New Spain in 1750.  De León received his empresarial grant in April 1824 to settle forty-one Mexican families “of good moral character” on the lower Guadalupe River.  He had been in Texas since 1805, operating ranches along and south of the Nueces River and driving huge herds of cattle to market in New Orleans.

Map of Texas Colonies

Map of Texas Colonies

De León’s grant lay southwest of Stephen F. Austin’s, the first and most successful of the colonies.  De León named his settlement Guadalupe Victoria, after the first president of the Republic of Mexico.  The first twelve families arrived by October and the others, delayed by drought and floods in Northern Mexico, arrived the next spring.  Each family received a town lot, one league (4,228 acres) of land for grazing, and a labor (177 acres) for farming.  Upon completion of the colonization the empresario received five leagues.

One of De León’s sons-in-law platted the town and the empresario designated the main street “La Calle de los Diez Amigos” (The Street of Ten Friends) for the ten homes of citizens who were charged with the welfare of the town from 1824 to 1828.  Three of the ten friends were his sons-in-law and two were his sons.  From 1828 to 1835 alcaldes (mayors) governed the colony.  De León served as the first alcalde followed by two of his relatives.  Not all the colonists were Mexicans; sixteen families, primarily Irish immigrants, also settled in the colony.  A devout Catholic, De León brought in priests from La Bahía (present Goliad), Nacogdoches, and San Antonio until the founding in late 1824 of St. Mary’s Catholic Church.  The colonists built a school and a fort, organized a militia, and started a courier service with the neighboring Austin colony.

Victoria quickly became a cultural center as the family maintained contact with friends who were kings, emperors, and both military and political leaders in the United States.  The children and grandchildren were sent to schools in the major cities of Europe and the business of the colony was considered among the most substantial.  Cattle, horses, and mules were the primary business and the family corralled wild Longhorns and mustangs by the thousands.10friends650x335

De León’s five-league ranch, which spread along Garcitas Creek in present southeastern Victoria County, probably included the land where the Frenchman La Salle built Fort St. Louis in 1685.  Many claim DeLeón’s cattle brand, which he had registered in 1807, was the first in Texas.  It consisted of a connected E and J meaning “Espiritu de Jesús, the brand used by Jesuits for hundreds of years and adopted by the De León family in Spain.

De Leon Cattle Brand

De Leon Cattle Brand

From the beginning of his colony, De León, a wealthy and cultured man, looked with disdain at the Americans in surrounding colonies.  His attitude and the preferential treatment he received as a Mexican citizen added to tensions among the neighboring settlements.  The boundaries of his colony were not clearly drawn and in disputes with other colonies, the Mexican courts usually sided with De León.  The ensuing squabbles led to hatred and mistrust between De León and Green DeWitt whose colony at Gonzales lay just to the north.  And De León tried unsuccessfully to have the government annul the grant for an Irish colony to the south.

De León died at age 68 in the 1833 cholera epidemic, leaving his wife and ten children an estate of about a half million dollars.  His sons completed the settlement, which made the De León and the Austin colonies the only two in Texas to fulfill their empresarial agreement.

The family members were strong Federalists and as troubles brewed with the Centralists government under the Mexican Dictator Antonio López de Santa Anna, the De Leóns sided with the Texans who supported independence.  The De León’s took part in all the plans for the revolution; they served in the army or helped in other ways to aid the Texas cause.  They contributed so substantially to the war that when Gen. José de Urrea occupied Victoria after the massacre at Goliad, the De Leóns were arrested as traitors.

Despite their contributions, after Texas won independence, Anglo-Americans began coming into Texas looking for land and charging the De Leóns as Mexican sympathizers.  After the murder of one son and the severe injury of another, the family, one of the wealthiest in Texas, left all behind and fled to safety in New Orleans. Three years later, the oldest son Don Fernando De León returned to Victoria and spent the remainder of his life in unsuccessful litigation for the return of the family’s property.

In 1972 a Texas historical marker was placed in Victoria’s Evergreen Cemetery honoring the De León family.  Attendees at the dedication included Patricia De León, great-granddaughter of the empresario, and Dr. Ricardo Victoria, great-grandson of President Guadalupe Victoria for whom the town is named.

Map Legend:  De Leon’s Colony — Blue

Austin’s Colony — Yellow

DeWitt’s Colony — Orange

Irish Colonies — Green