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Hi, my name is Sara Cross, the county coordinator, and I would like to welcome you to the Duval County TXGenWeb Project. I'm very glad you stopped by and hope that you find this website useful for your genealogical research. I may not be able to help with specific research questions, but should you have any questions or comments regarding the Duval County Genealogy Project, please e-mail me at [email protected]. Please note, I do not live in Duval county so personal research requests can not be honored. Sorry for any inconvenience but I would be more than happy to get you in the right direction for research you need help with.

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Brief History of Duval County

Parent Counties:  Live Oak, Nueces and Starr
Organized:  1858
County Seat:  San Diego

Duval County is located in south central Texas and is bordered by Webb, LaSalle, McMullen, Live Oak, Jim Wells, Brooks and Jim Hogg counties.  The county seat is San Diego and it is the biggest town, population wise, in the Duval County.  One of the earlier inhabitants of Duval County were the Venado Indians which are part of the hunters and gathers of the Coahuiltecan tribe that were in the area during the 1700s.  The Coahuiltecan's were forced to move from the area with competing tribes of Apache and Commanche Indians as well as by the Spanish who moved into the area for exploration.

Julián Flores and his son, Ventura, obtained the deeds to the San Diego de Arriba and San Diego de Abajo grants in 1812 from the Spanish government which totaled eighty leagues.  Ventrua sold a portion of land from San Diego Creek to Pablo Pérez in 1848 where Pérez established Perezville which would later be called San Diego.  A road was built from Corpus Christi to Laredo in 1848 by Henry Lawrence Kinney and William Leslie Cazneau which went through San Diego.

"In 1858 the Texas legislature formed Duval County, which originally embraced 1,887 square miles, from parts of Nueces, Live Oak, and Starr counties. County organization did not occur until eighteen years later. The county was named for Burr H. Duval, who fought in the Texas Revolution and was killed in the Goliad Massacre.qqv Duval County has always been somewhat off the beaten track of development" (Handbook of Texas Online, Duval County, Texas).

A church was built in 1867 by Father Claude Jaillet, which was the only church between Corpus Christi and the Rio Grande in which one could worship.  Duval County evolved into a place that would be considered "wild and dangerous place" since Alberto Garza, an outlaw, and sity of his men operated horse-stealing and cattle skinning in 1873 (Handbook of Texas Online, Duval County, Texas).  In April 1878, Indians from Apache, Lipan, Kickapoo, and Seminole pillaged ranches and murdered people on their way through Webb and Duval counties.  This event was known as the "Great Raid of '78" and were never apprehended.

"A legend of more recent vintage holds that Francisco (Pancho) Villa may have buried two saddlebags of silver in the area. The county was finally organized in 1876, and San Diego was selected as the county seat. James O. Luby, the first county judge, dominated Duval County politics for most of the next three decades. When Luby defected from the Democratic to the Republican party, he almost singlehandedly made the GOP an important factor in Duval County politics. The battles between the Botas and Guaraches ("boots" and "sandals," or Republicans and Democrats) were often ferocious" (Handbook of Texas Online, Duval County, Texas).

Luby was also known for moving to the area after the Civil War to start sheep ranching with Walter W. Meek. Sr.  When the railroad was built in Duval County and into Webb County, the sheep business started to boom due to the Texas Mexican Railroad that helped move animals and other trade items to the area.  Sheep ranching was very big in Duval County until a "mysterious plague" killed the sheep (Handbook of Texas Online, Duval County, Texas).  President Grover Cleveland eliminated a tariff on imported wool which caused the sheep ranching industry to snowball in the area.

Corruption was widely known in Duval County and part of that history is captured by Martin Donell Kohout in his artcle from The Handbook of Texas Online and is below:

"In the late nineteenth century Anglos made up less than 10 percent of the county's population but controlled most of the county's trade and politics. Ironically, it was an Anglo, a former cowhand and schoolteacher named Archer Parr, who turned this imbalance to his advantage by soliciting the Mexican Americans, whom his fellow Anglo politicians had traditionally ignored. These people, many of whom were desperately poor, gave up their political autonomy in exchange for county jobs and occasional cash disbursements of questionable legality from the county treasury. This arrangement, which one Duval County official called "frankly corrupt but fully benevolent," allowed Parr, and later his son George B. Parrqv, a free hand in running the affairs of the county, and became a way of life there. Parr was elected to the Duval County Commissioners Court in 1898, but he did not become the dominant figure in local politics until the assassination of the Duval County Democratic chieftain John Cleary in 1907. By the time Parr was elected to the state Senate in 1914, his control over the affairs of the county was virtually absolute. Yet his power did not go unchallenged. Duval County lost a portion of its land, including the town of Hebbronville, when Jim Hogg County was formed in 1913. Shortly thereafter, Parr made two additional attempts to divide Duval County.

Through the establishment of Pat Dunn and Lanham counties he apparently hoped to increase the patronage jobs and tax revenue at his disposal, but he was foiled both times. Between 1912 and 1918 Ed C. Lasaterqv, a wealthy South Texas rancher, and C. W. Robinson, the Duval County Democratic chairman, both attempted to bring Parr down, but neither succeeded. In 1918 D. W. Glasscock, with the support of Governor William P. Hobby and the Texas Rangersqv, came close to ending Parr's political career. But Parr ultimately prevailed after his fellow senators decided not to examine too closely the irregularities that had characterized Parr's dubious electoral victory over Glasscock.  The Parrs found it expedient to keep the people of Duval County dependent on their largesse, and so placed little emphasis on the state of education in the county. Duval County's 25.3 percent illiteracy rate in 1930 was the sixth highest in the state. Oil was discovered in the county in 1905, but not until a wildcat well came in near Freer in October 1928 did a full-scale oil boom occur.

By 1938 Duval County ranked third among the state's 254 counties in oil production, and by 1940 the population of the county reached an all-time high of 20,565. At that time, however, fewer than 7 percent of residents over the age of twenty-five had completed high school. George Parr, the "Duke of Duval," and his cronies became more deeply entrenched than ever, despite his imprisonment in 1936 for tax evasion. Duval County's reputation for political corruption peaked with Lyndon B. Johnson's election to the United States Senate in 1948. The famous Box 13, which gave Johnson his eighty-seven-vote victory, was actually in Jim Wells County, but the manipulation of the returns was almost certainly directed by Parr. In the 1900 presidential election Duval County went Republican, but since that time, thanks largely to the efficiency of the Parr machine and the customary tendency of Hispanics to vote for Democrats, the county has delivered majorities to the Democratic party on the order of 94 percent in 1916, 98 percent in 1932, 95 percent in 1936, 96 percent in 1940, 95 percent in 1944, 97 percent in 1948, and 93 percent in 1964. In fact, only once between 1916 and 1972 did the Democratic candidate receive less than 74 percent of the vote in Duval County; that year, 1956, a mere 68 percent voted Democratic. Even after the demise of the Parr machine in 1975 Democrats continued to dominate. In the 1988 and 1992 presidential elections 82 percent of the county's voters cast ballots for the Democratic candidate" (Handbook of Texas Online, Duval County, Texas).

For more information about the history of Duval County, please check out the articles in the County History Section and the rest of the article by Kohout on the Handbook of Texas Online site.

Compiled by Clarissa Loyd.  10 May 2012
Source:  Martin Donell Kohout, "DUVAL COUNTY," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hcd11), accessed May 10, 2012.
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Surrounding Counties

Webb  |  LaSalle  |  McMullen  |  Live Oak  |  Jim Wells  |  Brooks  |  Jim Hogg

TXGenWeb County of the Month Award

TXGenWeb has initiated a program to recognize the efforts of County Coordinators who provide outstanding resources and assistance to county visitors.  This program is The Mike Basham Memorial TXGenWeb County of the Month Award.  To see the Texas County Coordinators Memorial Page, please click here.

If you feel that Duval County or another Texas County should be nominated for this  prestigious award, please take a moment and nominate your county of choice.  To view the past and present, please visit the Mike Basham Memorial TXGenWeb County of the Month Awards and the Hall of Fame Awards.

Site Last Updated: June 20, 2017

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