Val Verde County Historical Commission

Val Verde County Historical Commission

William H. Dodd
Frontier Rancher, Businessman & Justice of the Peace

Doug Braudaway
Southwest Texas Junior College
207 Wildcat, Del Rio, Texas 78840

Langtry is a small town on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Rio Grande in western Val Verde Country. The town is best known as the home of the Judge Roy Bean, but the town was home to many other people—amongst them, William H. Dodd, the man who led the town for three decades.

“William Henry Dodd was born in the District of Lady Wood in Birmingham, England, on July 1, 1868 to Henry Samuel Dodd and Dorcas Willington Dodd. His father was an electric plate worker. William had four full siblings and three half-siblings.”

“He probably came to the U.S. by way of New York in 1887. He apparently returned to England in 1889 because on Dec. 10 of that year he entered into an agreement with John Ashby and William John Cross to become partners in the trade of stock raising in Dimmitt County [southwest of San Antonio]…. This partnership was dissolved Oct. 22, 1893. Cross received compensation, while Dodd and Ashby were to continue in partnership. This agreement was signed July 3, 1894. By then Dodd and Ashby were ranching in Val Verde County.” “Just when this partnership dissolved [the family doesn’t] know.” “He [and his wife] lived on the Pecos Ranch, later known as the Babb ranch and the Jess Cox ranch. Dodd later bought the Graham Ranch from Hal Hamilton and sold it to C.O. Schnaubert and Son in 1925.”

After the Dodd family moved to Langtry (which itself was only a few years old), William Dodd quickly became one of the young town’s leaders. “He succeeded Mr. Fielder as postmaster and opened up a little grocery store next door to where he later built the W.H. Dodd General Merchandising Building. Mr. Dodd tried to sell everything needed by the people of the community, including food, clothing, drugs, shoes, notions, hardware, ranch supplies, newspapers, etc.” Lillie Burdwell Shelton, a Langtry old-timer remembered that “Mama would give us a dime and we could go to Mr. Dodd’s store to buy something else [for lunch]. Sometimes it was Dime Brand condensed milk…[and some] days we would buy a nickel box of crackers and a nickel’s worth of cheese.” Dodd’s Store also offered “horseshoes and nail, men’s shoes and Lydia E. Pinkham’s tonic for ailing women.” The Dodd store (W.H. Dodd General Merchandise and Post Office) was the center of the community. “For many years the only telephones in Langtry were at the Dodd store and their residence.” L’ada Upshaw met her husband there as Bert McDowell stepped into Dodd’s Store having been posted there as a Customs Officer (before the Border Patrol was organized).

Dodd got into the mercantile business by purchasing the Upshaw General Mercantile store. George Upshaw had been murdered by Sam Bean, the judge’s son. The buyout appears to have been friendly and supportive because Mrs. Upshaw, and on occasion some of the Upshaw children, worked for the Dodds.

Dodd also did business with Mexicans and, in particular, Mexican revolutionaries who came across the Rio Grande to town. “During this time [of the Mexican Revolution] those fellows over there had no ammunition, and Mr. Dodd got it for them. There was a customs officer at Langtry then, but the Mexicans could take food and clothing across the river. They were not allowed to take other things such as arms and ammunition across, though. Of course the Mexicans sure liked peanuts, so they would come to the store and buy a big bag of peanuts. Mr. Dodd would put a big handful of thirty-thirty cartridges in the bottom of the sack and a bunch of peanuts on top. The Mexicans would come out of the store and walk down the street toward the river eating peanuts and go on across the river. Two or three hundred of those Mexicans making a couple of trips each across the river soon had enough ammunition to do some good.”

Dodd also found other ways to make a living in the bare land of the Pecos. “Mr. and Mrs. Dodd [not only] owned the General Store in Langtry but [also] a rooming house…. He also had a business of collecting siempre vivas plants…. These looked like dried up weeds but when put in water they spread out their lacy fronds into a beautiful plant that filled a flower pot. In gathering these plants, he employed several men who gathered them in tow sacks and put them in a small adobe house on the place where they [were] assorted as to size and packed for shipment. These made beautiful houseplants for tenement dwellers as they required very little care.” The Dodds’ provided lodging for people suffering from tuberculosis. “Here was fresh air, pure milk and sunshine.”

When actress Lillie Langtry arrived in Langtry, the whole town turned out. Dodd, as leader of the community, led the reception. “Justice of the Peace Dodd, a quiet, interesting man, introduced himself, and then presented Postmaster Fielding, Stationmaster Smith, and other persons of consequence…. Justice Dodd then welcomed me in an apt speech, and, after recounting the history of the town from its inception, declared that it would have been the proudest day in the late ‘King’ Bean’s life…. It was a short visit, but an unforgettable one…. I was presented later with Roy Bean’s revolver, which hangs in a place of honour in my English home, and bears the following inscription: ‘Presented by W.D. Dodd [sic], of Langtry, Texas, to Mrs. Lillie Langtry in honour of her visit to our town…. Kindly accept this as a token of our regards.’”

W.H. Dodd was the government’s representative in Langtry for many years. His family believes he was naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 1899, but Dodd was already serving in governmental posts before that time. He served in a number of capacities, but he seems to have shied away from seeking political power. Repeatedly, though, he seems to have been the person who is there, in Langtry, to solve problems and get things done. The available records (there are some gaps) record that Dodd served in the following positions—

Election Judge for Precinct 5, November 1892;
County Commissioner, Precinct 3, November 1894;
Election Judge for general elections in Precinct 5, February 1899;
Election Judge for school elections in Precinct 5, April 1901;
Justice of the Peace for Precinct 5, May 1903 (this was an appointment by the Commissioners Court “to fill the unexpired term of Roy Bean deceased”);
Justice of the Peace for Precinct 7, November 1904;
Election Judge for Precinct 6, August 1905 (the voting or election precincts were realigned every few years, and precincts were added or deleted; hence the occasional change in the number designating the Langtry area.);
Election Judge for Precinct 6, February 1906;
Justice of the Peace for Precinct 5, November 1906;
Justice of the Peace for Precinct 5, November 1908;
County Commissioner, Precinct 3, December 1910 (Dodd was appointed following a resignation);
Justice of the Peace for Precinct 5, December 1910;
Acting County Judge, May 1912 (this was an appointment by the Commissioners Court);
Justice of the Peace for Precinct 6, November 1914;
Justice of the Peace for Precinct 6, November 1916 (Dodd failed to qualify for the position, but in February 1917, the Commissioners Court appointed him for the job anyway);
Justice of the Peace for Precinct 9, December 1918 (the Minute Book states that no election was held but does not say why; perhaps the influenza pandemic was responsible; the County Commissioners appointed Dodd);
Election Judge, February 1921;
Republican Precinct 6 supervisor, February 1922 (at another time, Dodd was mentioned as a Democrat; it is possible that a switch to the Republican Party resulted in fewer election wins in the later years; in the 1928 election, Dodd lost 21 to 1; it is likely that he was the first and possibly only Republican eligible voter in Langtry);
Election Judge, February 1924;
Election Judge for Precinct 6, July 1933.

Dodd led a May 1909 citizens’ committee that petitioned the Commissioners Court to levy a new school tax. The request was to levy twenty-five cents on each hundred dollar valuation of property to be applied to the Langtry school. The measure carried unanimously the next month. Dodd was also one of the two men representing Langtry in petitioning the Commissioner Court to make adjustments in a public works near Highway 3 and the railroad line. W.H. Dodd also worked for the federal government, principally as postmaster, but he also reported Rio Grande water flow to the International Boundary Commission.

The governmental record only offers one aspect of W.H. Dodd’s community leadership. “Mr. W.H. Dodd served in many capacities besides Justice of the Peace and postmaster. He…doctored [townspeople], married them, and held services over their dead.” Dodd took care of snake bites, burns, and broken arms. He also took care of rusty nails and teeth needing to be pulled. Dodd “was almost like a chaplain around Roy Bean’s saloon, because he was good on the Bible and things like that.”

Dodd’s wife Lula never served in government office, but her influence and leadership in Langtry was also substantial. Among other things, the Dodd restaurant was her domain. “Mrs. Dodd, with the help of a pretty Mexican girl, ran the rooming and boarding house. She always stood in the [dining] room door and rang a hand (dinner) bell calling the boarders to their meals. She always served seven different foods for dinner: meat, 4 vegetables, salad and dessert. All well cooked and seasoned.” She was also probably the only woman in Langtry who put up with Judge Bean and let him eat at her table (in the boardinghouse). “Roy Bean ate there all the time,” remembered the Dodd’s son Cross. She also made carbonated soft drinks, called soda water, which presumably were sold in the store since, “I don’t think they had any soft drinks at Roy Bean’s saloon.”

“[Mrs. Dodd] was a wonder in some ways. She was the leading spirit in the town planning festivities for the younger folk [and] parties for everyone: Fourth of July, Easter, Christmas, and worked ceaselessly for their success. She always saw to it that there was a public Christmas tree strung with tinsel and long strings of pop corn and a filled stocking for every child.” Both Dodds kept track of all the children in town and knew them by name, and when Bean wanted to give out Christmas presents, he relied on the Dodds to provide the information to him.

Dodd also proved to be something of a historian and was also a well-known source of information about Langtry. When stories about the more famous Judge Bean were published, Dodd was often cited as a source. “In 1930 Everett Lloyd began working on a book about Roy Bean, and he received photos and information from Dodd for this project.” He also kept artifacts of the Bean legacy, Bean’s “law book, notary seal, and guns. These were kept in the Dodd family until 1973 when they were placed in the Judge Roy Bean Visitor Center on permanent loan.”

Dodd and his family repeatedly welcomed people to the community. “The Dodds were home loving, good neighbors, Helpful in every way to the stranger who happened to be stranded there as was sometimes the case. Yes the Dodds were exemplary citizens of this small settlement.” The relationship with the community crossed both sides of the ethnic divide. “Mr. Dodd was ‘Willito’ to the Mexican inhabitants and they all loved him.” Dodd learned to speak Spanish after arriving in the area and insisted that his sons learn it as well. “His bi-lingualism probably helped a great deal in his later success and influence.”

William H. Dodd’s death was front page news in 1935. He died during the afternoon of November 22 at the age of 67. The “small Englishman” was survived by his wife and four children: William Cross, born October 18, 1895; Harold Thomas, born June 19, 1897; Dorothy Doris, born May 4, 1899; and Herbert Arthur, born October 5, 1903. Their children and grandchildren have scattered across Texas but still maintain ties with the old home town. Dodd’s store is now gone, but the remains of the home stand along Torres Street in the center of town, and his store and post office safe can be seen at the gas station there in Langtry.

Langtry is full of stories, many of which have yet to be told. It is time to tell them.

 

Bibliography—
Dodd Family, Untitled biographical sketch based on family memory, provided by Bill and Pat Dodd.
J. Marvin Hunter, “Judge Roy Bean Had a Rival,” Frontier Times, March 1939, page 237.
Lillie Langtry, The Days I Knew, New York: George H. Doran, 1925, pages 194-100.
L’ada (Upshaw) McDowell, “A Texas Love Story,” unpublished manuscript, page 13, copy in possession of author.
“Pioneer of Langtry Dead,” Del Rio Evening News, November 23, 1935, page 1.
Jack Skiles, Judge Roy Bean Country, Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 1996.
Vashti Skiles, “Dodds,” Comstock Friends and Neighbors, Comstock Study Club, no date.
Mary Uzell, Telephone Conversation with author, on or about October 10, 2002.
Val Verde County, Commissioners Court Minute Book #2; Book #3; Book #4.
Val Verde County, Record of Election Returns, Book #1; Book #2.
Whitehead Memorial Museum, La Hacienda, 1976.

 

Attachments—
Picture from La Hacienda showing W.H. Dodd.
Picture from Judge Roy Bean Country showing Dodd and Roy Bean.
Picture from La Hacienda showing Dodd with some special customers.
Page from booklet published in 1900 showing advertisement for Dodd’s store.
Postcard showing Dodd’s store.
Postcard image showing Dodd’s store with the Dodd home behind it.

 

Endnotes--
1 Dodd Family, Untitled biographical sketch based on family memory, provided by Bill and Pat Dodd.
2 Dodd Family, Untitled biographical sketch.
3 Vashti Skiles, “Dodds,” Comstock Friends and Neighbors, Comstock Study Club, no date, page 211. After eldest sone Cross graduated from Texas A& M, he joined Dodd in the ranching business for a time. He also worked in the state Geological Department in Del Rio and Austin. Ibid, pages 211-212.
4 Vashti Skiles, “Dodds,” page 211.
5 Jack Skiles, Judge Roy Bean Country, Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 1996, page 127.
6 L’ada (Upshaw) McDowell, “A Texas Love Story,” unpublished manuscript, page 21.
7 Jack Skiles, personal communication to DLB, November 23, 2002.
8 McDowell, “A Texas Love Story,” page 13.
9 Skiles, Judge Roy Bean Country, pages 21-23, 162-163.
10 Jack Skiles, Judge Roy Bean Country, Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 1996, page 182.
11 McDowell, “A Texas Love Story,” pages 22-23; Skiles, Judge Roy Bean Country, pages 176-177, 189. Siempre vivas are also called resurrection plants. Dodd granddaughter Mary Uzell and her sisters used to gather the plants (either or both of two species: Selaginella lepidophylla, and Selaginella pilifera) on the bluffs above the rivers. Mary Uzell, Telephone conversation to DLB, about October 10, 2002.
12 McDowell, “A Texas Love Story,”, pages 15-16.
13 Lillie Langtry, The Days I Knew, New York: George H. Doran, 1925, pages 194-100.
14 Dodd Family, Untitled biographical sketch.
15 VVC, Commissioners Court Minute Book #2, pages 6, 141, 256, 319, 370, 435, 450, 583, 587; Book #3, pages 24, 25, 111, 127, 132, 215, 299, 354, 363, 364, 469; Book #4, pages 91, 122, 193, 514, 551; VVC, Record of Election Returns, Book #1, pages 31, 64, 73, 83, 92, 105; Book #2, pages 17, 23, 28. Son Harold served for a short time in the elective positions once held by his father: Election Judge in 1925 and Justice of the Peace for Precinct 6 in 1932. Son Herbert did not run for elective office but was appointed County Sheep Inspector in 1927 and 1928. VVC, CC Minute Book #4, pages 193, 240, 309, 353; Record of Election Returns, Book #2, page 28.
16 VVC, Commissioners Court Minute Book #2, pages 583, 587; Book #4, page 551.
17 Skiles, Judge Roy Bean Country, page 189.
18 Vashti Skiles, “Dodds,” page 213.
19 Mary Uzell, Telephone conversation to DLB, about October 10, 2002.
20 Skiles, Judge Roy Bean Country, page 21.
21 Skiles, Judge Roy Bean Country, page 189.
22 McDowell, “A Texas Love Story,” page 23.
23 Skiles, Judge Roy Bean Country, pages 23, 30-31, 128.
24 McDowell, “A Texas Love Story,” page 23.
25 Skiles, Judge Roy Bean Country, page 30.
26 J. Marvin Hunter, “Judge Roy Bean Had a Rival,” Frontier Times, March 1939, page 237.
27 Dodd Family, Untitled biographical sketch.
28 Vashti Skiles, “Dodds,” page 211.
29 McDowell, “A Texas Love Story,” page 24.
30 Vashti Skiles, “Dodds,” pages 214.
31 Dodd Family, Untitled biographical sketch.
32 “Pioneer of Langtry Dead,” Del Rio Evening News, November 23, 1935, page 1.
33 McDowell, “A Texas Love Story,” pages 22-23.
34 Dodd Family, Untitled biographical sketch.