By Frank D. Yturria
By Juan Montoya
Knowing the author personally, I had hesitated to write a review of Frank's book.
It is a well-known fact that I consider Charles Stillman, Mifflin Kenedy and Richard King – all of the contemporaries and associates of Francisco Yturria – as Robber Barons who ultimately dispossessed the rightful owners of their property in South Texas with the help of the Texas Rangers and have been portrayed as the saviours of civilization in paid narratives passing off as history.
Nonetheless, as I read Frank's book carefully, I came to the realization that writing about your ancestors forces your hand and makes you an apologist for people that you would otherwise see in a different light.
The first thing that strikes you as a contradiction in Yturria's book about his great-grandfather is that he wasn't his great-grandfather at all. And the next thing is that the book's title, "The Patriarch," is a misnomer of the first degree.
Francisco and Felicitas Yturria could not bear children for four years after they married and despite traveling to New Orleans to get expert medical advice, were told to forget about having offspring. The current batch of "Yturrias" are the descendants of an ill-conceived marriage between an Irish soldier who came with the invading U.S. Army and a poor Mexican woman from old Guerrero, upriver from Brownsville.
Yturria himself relates this in his tale. After the couple found out they could have no children, a friend advised them to look for a likely child to adopt.
In 1858, Dan Sullivan, a San Antonio businessman, offered to help them adopt one. He was talking about a child born to a Dolores Serna from her relationship with Sullivan's business agent, an Irishman who came with Zachary Taylor's army, one Daniel Louis McGraw. So in reality, Frank and his brother Fausto and the descendants of his grandfather Daniel are really McGraws.
"It took some persuading, but the arrangements finally were complete," Yturria writes of the couple's first adoption.
According to his account, the friend told Francisco that "You and your wife have so much to offer a child, much more than a poor family can...They might consider letting you adopt the child since you could give him all the things she never will be able to."
Francisco and Felicitas arranged for McGraw to deliver the boy – and named him Santiago – after Francisco's younger brother. The boy died from a fever a year later.
The boy's father had "moved on," and the couple contacted S. G. Cole, a friend in Edinburg, and "arranged" to adopt Dolores Serna's second child. She was "understandably hesitant" to part with her second child.
Negotiations continued until November 1860, when Yturria accompanied by a priest fetched the 18-month-old child. The boy's name was Daniel and he traveled with his mother to Brownsville because she was still breast feeding him. She remained with the boy for a short time and weaned him before returning to Guerrero.
He spent the closing months of the Civil War in 1865 with his mother before returning to Brownsville. After helping her financially "for at least a number of years," they ruptured all contact with the biological mother.
"As far as I know, my grandfather (Daniel) never reestablished contact with his birthmother, nor sought to discover her ultimate fate or that of his father," Yturria writes. "Neither did my father, nor have I, as yet."
Yturria outlines the methods used by his ancestor along with King, Kenedy and Stillman to acquire huge amounts of land. Even though he assures us that everything was on the up and up as they swallowed huge estates from the heirs of the original grant holders, most historians are not as charitable. They cite instances where "questionable" methods were used to cheat the heirs of their valuable lands.
However, Yturria claims that his ancestor went the extra mile to convince the heirs of land-grant families like the Cavazos family to sell him and his partners thousands of acres for a song.
In the history books, Yturria is known as a "Civil War profiteer and banker," son of Capt. Manuel Maria and Paula Navarro (Ortuzu) Yturria, was born in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico, on October 4, 1830. He was married to Felicitas Treviño, daughter of Ygnacio Treviño, an original Spanish land grantee in Cameron County, Texas. True to form, both Kenedy and King also married to daughters of families who inherited land grants and used that relationship to buy off the rest of the family members.
Yturria began his career in business by working as a clerk for Stillman, the founder of Brownsville, Texas, and by purchasing lands adjoining those of his wife's inheritance.
As a top aide to Stillman, Yturria was involved in the formation of Mifflin Kenedy and Company, the Rio Grande river boating monopoly that Stillman financed and that Kenedy and King operated. Yturria became the leading cotton broker of Matamoros during this time.
He not only established and operated the Francisco Yturria Bank of Brownsville under a private charter, he also owned and established a mercantile house in Matamoros.
For his business friends in Brownsville during the Civil War, Yturria became the registered owner of record of boats belonging to King, Kenedy, and Stillman, allowing their boats loaded with cotton and bound for European ports to sail past vessels of the Union blockade flying the Mexican flag.
In 1864 Emperor Maximilian of Mexico knighted Yturria and appointed him customs collector on the Rio Grande, a position he held until 1867.
When the Civil War ended, Stillman, King, and Kenedy fled to Matamoros and to Yturria's protection; in 1867 they returned to Brownsville, and Yturria fled to Europe to live in France. He returned to Brownsville two years later to again take over his many business enterprises and continue his service to his old friends Stillman, Kenedy, King, and others.
At the time of his death Yturria owned 130,000 acres in Cameron, Hidalgo, Willacy, Kenedy, and Starr counties.
The vast Punta del Monte Rancho was the headquarters of an 85,000-acre tract of land in Willacy and Kenedy counties, which produced 2,000 steers per year. Yturria would travel by boat to New Orleans and by train to Kansas, where he sold his cattle; he returned to Texas by way of New York, where he made his deposits in the Hanover National Bank.
He was one of the wealthiest and most influential men of his time in southwest Texas. Yturria died on June 12, 1912, in Brownsville.