La Salle Co

Raid of 1878

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On Sunday, April 14, 1878, a band of Mexicans, Indians (Kikapoo, Lipan and Seminole) and a white man , believed to be their leader, crossed the Rio Grande River, from the State of Coahuila, Mexico near Apache Hill, about forty-five miles North of Laredo. Their first act was to kill two vaqueros in the employ of Prospero Guerra and Justo Guerra. This was near Apache Hill in Webb County. They took the main road down the Rio Grande and about dusk killed Jorge Garcia. They stole his horse, saddle and his goat-skin leggins and drove off his saddle horses. Then they continued down the Rio Grande to within fourteen miles of Laredo, where they changed course and headed North toward the Nueces River. At the ranch of Dr. Henry Spohn they stole horses to mount all of their party. They seemed to appear at all the ranches in the area, stealing the best horses. The band was estimated to have thirty or forty members. in Webb County they wounded Tomas Solis at the "Rancho de los Machos" .

After leaving the Rio Grande they traveled approximately 60 miles to Fort Ewell on the Nueces River, and then followed the river East approximately fifteen miles, and on April 17, 1878, reached the ranch of William H. Steele, known as the "Palo Alto". By this time they had a large drove of horses. At the Palo Alto they killed John Steele, who was a very pious man and would not carry a gun. Mrs. William H. Steele's two young sons, Richard and George Taylor, were captured and carried off. They were later found murdered. Mrs. Steele managed to escape across the river with the rest of her children. At the Palo Alto the band of raiders, also killed Martin Martinez and Florentine Leo and wounded Venturo Rodriguez.

After leaving the Palo Alto, the band continued down the Nueces river toward San Ygnacio, near the McMullen - Duval County line. The vanguard of the party met E.C. Moore and his cousin, Frederick R. Moore. The young men put up a valiant fight, but Frederick R. Moore was killed around 3 p.m. on April 17, 1878.

The raiders headed southeast toward the "Toribio Rancho", located about thirty-six miles from Fort Ewell. In this area they killed Vicente Robeldo, the chief shepherd for T.W. Gillette and stole or destroyed everything. They wounded Tomas Zunega and left him for dead. They changed course and came to the "Rancho Soledad" , where they killed Guadalupe Basan on April 18, 1878. Shortly afterward, they killed a shepherd and his wife. Their bodies were tied together, dead and swung upon a horse, which was turned loose and never found. Later, that same day they attacked the ranch of Capt. Richard Jordan, the "Charco Escondido" and killed his son, John Jordan and Antonio Valdez.

When Frank Gravis heard the news of the attack, he immediately began to spread the alarm and form a party to follow the raiders. A courier was sent to the commanding officer of the U.S. Troops at San Diego, at the request of Capt. Jordan.

The next day the raiders met Margarito Rodriguez about ten miles west of the Charco Escondido and mortally wounded him. It was from Rodriguez that it was learned that the leader was a white man, whether Mexican or American, he could not tell.

In Encinal County, the raiders met a cart driven by two small boys. They destroyed its contents and stripped the boys naked. Later they encountered a wagon train, but were driven off after killing a mule. They shot a shepherd, Jose Maria Canales, at "Quijotes Gordos" around noon on April 19th and cast his body upon the live coals of his campfire. All this time they were being hotly pursued by Frank Gravis and his party. In the evening , Gravis overtook the main body of the raiders, as they converged together in Webb County to cross the Rio Grande. Gravis charged gallantly, but the Indians frightened his Mexican allies and they retreated. He continued the skirmish, but reinforcement to the raiders compelled him to retreat to the woods. The raiders did not follow, but continued with haste to the Rio Grande, strewing the trail with the clothing previously stolen on their route.

The raiders had been in Texas for six days and left eighteen, known dead, and five wounded. Others were reported dead by several witnesses.


Map coutesy of the Steele family. Story by Nora Tyler, based on information from the "Texas Historical Association Quarterly", entitled "The Mexican and Indian Raid of 1878". The article is composed of 15 affidavits and letters from the witnesses, sent to the State & U.S. government, asking for better protection in the future.

Mail to Tom Graham: wm1@historicdistrict.com

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