Tuesday, January 24, 2012


The Patriarch
By Frank D. Yturria
319 pages

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.


Anonymous said...

The "Robber Barons" are still with us today. The Kardenas Klan has stolen land from people for years to make their profits. The buying and selling of land...by hook or crook....is a major part of the US and Valley economy. It is easy to take land from people who are ignorant and that has been a major key (and remains so today) or real estate transactions. Information is power...knowledge is power...and those who remain ignorant and don't do their homework get the sharp end of the fork. To criticise Frank Yturria for something that goes on today...is hypocritical. Why not attack the modern "robber barons" who manipulate the system to gain power and wealth. Juliet Garcia is a "robber baronesse"...she has used the ignornance of the local population to make herself rich and powerful. Information is power and as long as people are "bothered" by education, they will be taken advantage of by those who read, pay attention and education themselves about the opportunities to make money. How is Yturria any different from Renato and Mary Rose Kardenas???

Anonymous said...

Bola de rateros who now want to make themselves honest by acting like European royalty.
We do not have royalty in this country so start acting like the rest of us or go to Europe and see if the REAL royalty will even spit on you.

Anonymous said...

U spreak of the spanish land grantees as a bunch of ignorant peons. they were a tough bunch who were the only europeans who were able to survive the hardships of this land. unfortunately, due to the circumstances of unrest, they were "land rich but cash poor".
as a matter of fact, early in the grant process, the strong grantees acquried land from the weak grantees by showing the spanish crown that their weaker brethren were not keeping up their grants as agreed upon. so were these stronger families, such as the ballis, robber barons as well?
years later, when they had plenty of land, but little cash, they sold partitions off to survive.
Dona josefa cavazos not only sued stillman and won when she thought she had been cheated out of the land on which this city sits, but she also sued the federal government and her estate later won a settlement for the settlement of fort brown without permission.
if king and kenedy married into spanish land grant families, and adapted to the spanish culture and raised kids in the spanish ranchero tradition, how can you say that they were robber barons without indicting the spanish families, from which they gained their initial fortune? it seems that you are basing your opinion of them soley on their anglo names.
good book review however!
may i recommend a book called "i would rather sleep in texas" it gives a vivid history of brownsville, as well as the founding of hidalgo county.

Anonymous said...

Being European to some is like being royalty and superior---that is deluded and provincial thinking at its best.
It's always" My aunt Chepita was of european ancestry"
Yeh right but what about your good for nothing son or your skanky daughter?
Some people want to live by their supposed high class ancestry because their current status leaves alot to be desired.
Live in the present and stop digging up your past european heritage because no one really gives a rat's ass. People laugh behind your back due to your high society attitude.
Who cares about Hidalgo county?
Always remember that whoever writes these histories had an agenda and can twist the truth as they please.
Todos somos patas rajadas!
Lets be proud of what we accomplish today and not live on the supposed laurels of the past.

Anonymous said...

Let me see how this works. Informed and intelligent folks came down here and took advantages of the opportunities available to them, and made money doing so.

The uninformed and ignorant did not take advantage of the opportunities, remained poor and feel like they got shafted.

So, the folks who did were are Robber Barons and the folks who did not are some kind of victims.

El Pinche Gringo

Anonymous said...

These guys built our economy, and that of Matamoros. King and Kennedy said they bought up land grant titles, because they had no where to put all the cash they were making in international commerce. Brownsville's banks were too small, and insecure, to trust with all their millions. Can't blame them for wanting a safe place to stick their millions.

They made their money in shipping and international commerce. They probably made nothing off their ranch investments. Profits were realized by their heirs.

Iturria got rich when they had to reflag their vessels to the Mexican flag. Iturria was the trusted Mexican national, which they needed to fake ownership of their vessels.

Today we would call him a presta nombres.

Anonymous said...

Land Grants from Spaniard Government, with no respect to Indians or England. Then a Civil War and then the Alamo, but yet these people are not touched and history alleges unlawful actions to keep rich land by their ancestors. Today, the general public with Anglo Ladies leading the group are labeled as people who worship the unearned wealth, prestige and power of these people, even though one side is humble, the other sides spouse is outspoken vocal and is guilty of cowardly acts in the political arena with no respect for the hundreds of thousands of decendants of the area. If a group or a lawyer with guts would research and investigate this fortune of these wealthy ranch owners, who continue filthy rich after three generations, one would find state and fedral laws that would show that the Federal Government truly ownes all that real estate and the revenue from the last 50 years that has turned generations into a cess pool of arrogance starting off with the former airline maid.


Anonymous said...

If these guys built our economy, why did they stay to live here and see it through. They grabbed the cash and ran. And, that bank than Yturria deposited money was in New York and owned by Charles Stillman's son, James Stillman. That money never went back into our economy. It was put to build up City Bank of New York or now CitiBank as we know it, and the Federal Reserve.