Val Verde County Historical Commission

Val Verde County Historical Commission

Torres Family
Founders of Langtry

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

The town of Langtry was originally a point on the Rio Grande named Eagle’s Nest. The name’s origin was a large nest assembled by a golden eagle often seen sailing the updrafts above the canyon of the Rio Grande.1

At the time of Langtry’s founding, the land between the Rio Grande and the Pecos River was owned by the Torres brothers. Cesario Torres, born 1837, had been a prominent resident of San Antonio before moving west across the Pecos. He had graduated from St. Phillips College with a degree in civil engineering. After he moved west he surveyed land for the government; for every square mile surveyed, he would be awarded an acre of public land. He and his brothers Bernardo (born 1839) and Juan (born 1835) Torres constructed the first irrigation project on the Pecos River and were growing wheat, barley, fodder and vegetables near the Pontoon Crossing of the Pecos hoping to sell their produce to travelers.2 The farming community lived in “underground holes”; the “tenants lived like rodents. One can visualize a trench with a mat of mesquite limbs and dirt. A stovepipe or chimney protruded through the roof to allow the smoke from an inside fire to escape.” The tenants used “the ancient plow consisting of a long beam, at one end of which a pointed stick is secured at an acute angle.” The water for the irrigation project was diverted from the Pecos as a result of a rock and brush “dam” constructed fourteen miles above the Pontoon Crossing Four thousand wagon-loads of rock were dumped into a narrow point in the channel “through ‘primitive engineering’ and pioneer perseverance.” Despite Indian raids and climate, fifty Mexican families had six-hundred acres under cultivation in 1878. The project died after 1882 when the railroad replaced the westbound wagon trains.3

Another Torres irrigation project would lead to the Torres’ ownership of the Langtry area. In 1875 the brothers organized the Torres Irrigation and Manufacturing Company in response to a newly-passed state law promoting such projects; although, they had previously relied upon squatters’ rights to claim ownership. The brothers and a man named Felis Garza constructed another irrigation project near Comanche Springs, three miles northeast of Fort Stockton. In 1868 and 1869 the men had preempted 160 acres each and built an irrigation ditch 1,885 yards long to their holding from Comanche Creek under the name Torres Comanche Creek Irrigation Company. Through 1874 they constructed several thousand more yards of canal and lateral ditches.4 There, the brothers did make money selling goods, grain and animal fodder to the U.S. Army.5

By the mid-1870s, the brothers were “prominent citizens of Fort Stockton. And in 1881 Cesario and Bernardo supervised the election in which the town Fort Stockton received its name.”6

Bernardo Torres was granted a significant parcel of land for his participation in these community projects. “For these developments, he had received from the state thirty-seven sections of land [literally 23,680 acres], a portion of which he located at the [junction] of the Pecos and the Rio Grande and on the route of the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio Railroad line. There he built one wooden shack and two adobe buildings on a ledge 300 feet above the Rio Grande.”7

Bernardo Torres picked the site and waited for the railroad. He died April 4, 1882, but his family assumed ownership of his share of the land. Cesario Torres acquired title to lands up the Pecos and established the 7D Ranch and the land near the great eagle’s nest, for which the town was originally named. Jesus Pablo Torres, one of Cesario and Juanita Garza’s nine children, is recorded to have been the first permanent resident of the site and later was said to have “really and literally owned the town.” Torres Spring in a nearby canyon provided a sure supply of good water. A dam and pump to lift water to the town resulted in the name Pump Canyon. When the railroad approached, the site saw a population boom. First came the railroad construction crews, then GH&SA (Southern Pacific) employees and, later, ranching families. The construction crews moved on, but the rest stayed, and the community of Langtry grew.8

(Speculation suggests that Langtry was something of a wedding present, a stake with which to start his own family. None of the other Torres children are recorded to moved to the area. The date of J.P.’s San Antonio wedding, June 1, 1889 to Pauline Bilhartz refutes the wedding present theory; however, the townsite could still have a stake with which to start a career and marriage.9 Pauline was a resident of Castroville, her family being from Alsace-Loraine. J.P.’s job with the railroad is reported to have been inadequate to support wife and family.10)

Cesario Torres and C.C. Gibbs of the GH&SA Railroad filed a deed/plat of the town of Langtry. This document formalized the deal made between Cesario and the company—Torres gave the railroad much of the land at Langtry, a strip 150 wide through the center of town as well as the land around Torres Spring (the spring in the well-remembered Pump Canyon). The Southern Pacific Railroad then laid the track and established a depot.11 Cesario Torres had also served as one of the very first Pecos County justices-of-the-peace, years earlier in 1875.12

Cesario Torres is one of the men responsible for turning saloon-keeper Roy Bean into the judge known as the Law West of the Pecos. Torres held the position of Pecos County’s County Commissioner Precinct #2 (from 1875 to 1886) when the territory west of the Pecos River was still under the jurisdiction of that county. The Commissioners Court heeded the call of the Texas Rangers at Vinegarroon that a court was needed onsite and appointed their recommended candidate—Roy Bean.13

In a sense, the Torres’ are also responsible for the location of Roy Bean’s saloon. While the railroad was given the land it needed for its facilities, the other land around remained in the hands of J.P. who required persons buying their properties to refrain from reselling to Bean. This restrictive covenant effectively forced Bean to build his saloon on the railroad right-of-way (or leave town). When Torres blocked Bean’s access to the town’s water supply, Bean responded by tapping into the railroad’s water tank.14

Both Cesario and J.P. were among the area’s most prominent ranchers. J.P., however, lived in town in the building that served as store and saloon. The Torres Store is listed as one of the four principal stores in town. “Mrs. Beulah Farley, postmaster at Dryden, remembers the Torres store where drygoods and groceries could be bought and every kind of medicine or remedy was available – including calomel, castor oil, conneras, senna tea and borox. Cotton flannel outing was sold by the bolt and rope sold from huge coiled spools. Apple cider was stored in large kegs in the back.”15 The store was also on the main street in town which was known as Torres Street.16 Cesario apparently never lived in the Langtry area, in town or out in the country.

J.P.’s first foray into the political realm seems to have been as road supervisor and as election judge in the 1892 election. The road supervisor made recommendations as to the placement of public roads and offered the approval to the commissioners court that the road had been built according to state standards. As election judge, he oversaw the Langtry elections and voting procedures. Considering the animosity, it is odd that he would be working with fellow election Roy Bean.17

The year 1896 proved to be a good one for J.P. Torres. He challenged the legendary Roy Bean for the position of justice-of-the-peace and won—sort of. Bean ran unopposed in 1894 and was shocked when Torres decided to challenge him two years later. In grand Texas tradition, fraudulent voting was rampant on both sides with people voting twice and non-residents brought in to cast ballots. Bean was the master, but Torres matched him trick for trick.18

The fraud was bad enough that the election official in the area did not know what to do. The county officials down in Del Rio did not know what to do either. “An account of the failure of the officers of election precincts nos. 4 & 5 to forward a certificate to the County Judge certifying to the fact that one Louis Le Man [?] who held the election at Juno Prict No 4 and A.H. Delay who held the election at Langtry, Texas Box No 5 were, in the absence of the regularly appointed presiding officers, the parties or persons who held said two election, all which the law requires it is ordered by the [Val Verde County] Court that the vote in the said election precincts be not counted.”19

County Commissioners voided the election and on November 13th appointed Torres to the position of Langtry Justice-of-the-Peace.20

Torres won the subsequent election of 1898. The 1898 election required the county sheriff’s intervention to keep Bean from preventing Torres supporters from voting.21 This election victory proved to be a first; J.P. Torres was the first Hispanic elected to any public office in Val Verde County (which had been organized in 1885). Bean, however, took back the seat in 1900.22

J.P. Torres died in 1909, and the 1910 Census confirms that the J.P. Torres family had left Langtry at that time, but J.P. and Pauline (or Paulina) had had four children by 1900: Laura, born 1890, James, born 1891; Arthur, born 1894; and Frank, born 1899. J.P.’s family returned to San Antonio to be close to family.23

The Torres family offers another true Texas story involving Roy Bean, his idol Lily Langtry, and Torres daughter Laura. Bean died never having met Ms. Langtry. He had, however, invited her to visit, which she did a year after his death. The train pulling Ms. Langtry’s personal car arrived in Langtry January 4, 1904. The train only stopped for a few minutes, but during that time the townspeople greeted her with warmth and presents. Among the presents was a bouquet of flowers presented by Laura Torres, daughter of J.P., representing her class in school.24

The old judge, saloon-keeper and showman Roy Bean attracts most of the attention when visitors stop in at Langtry, high on the bluff overlooking the Rio Grande. Nevertheless, many other people had a hand in building the community. It is long past time for some of those people to be recognized. Several applications for the Langtry area are underway. But for now, it is time to place a historical marker for the Torres Family of West Texas, founders of the legendary town of Langtry.

 

Attachments—
Plat of Langtry from Val Verde County Clerk’s Office, Map Book 1, page 70.
Closeup of the Langtry Plat signed by Cesario Torres and a representative of the railroad company.
Photograph of abandoned stone structure a short distance east of Langtry. Jack Skiles reports that old-timers told his father was the Torres residence before the town was platted.
Pages from Pecos County History reporting Torres service in county government

 

The map shows Langtry 60 miles west of Del Rio on US Highway 90. The Loop Road connects the highway with the Texas Department of Transportation Visitor Center.
The site photo shows the Torres Store Building in front of which the Torres Family marker will be placed. The site is visible from the Visitor Center, just 1.5 blocks to the east. The von Minden source reports that the Torres Building (store and residence) was constructed from old timber from railroad bridges.

 

Bibliography—
Bexar County Marriage Records, Book I (or J), page 9885.
Doug Braudaway, Railroads of Western Texas: San Antonio to El Paso, Chicago: Arcadia Publishing, 2000.
Garland Elaine Crook, “San Antonio, Texas, 1846-1861,” M.A. Thesis, Rice University, 1964.
A.E. Gutierrez, “Torres, Bean feud ends in friendship,” Del Rio News-Herald, April [?],1984.
A.E. Gutierrez, “Profiles in Achievement: Frank E. Torres,” Del Rio News-Herald, April 30, 1984, n.p.
Estelia von Minden, Untitled document in the files of the Val Verde County Historical Commission, undated.
Pecos County Historical Commission, Pecos County History, Canyon, Texas: Staked Plains Press, 1984.
Joe C. Primera, “Los Hermanos Torres: Early Settlers of Pecos County,” Permian Historical Annual XX (1980), pages 89-96.
C.L. Sonnichsen, Roy Bean, New York: McMillan Company, 1943.
Jack Skiles, Judge Roy Bean Country, Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press.
Donald and Anita (Torres) Smith, Interview, July 30, 2001.
Roy L. Swift, Three Roads to Chihuahua: The Great Wagon Roads That Opened the Southwest, 1823-1883, Austin: Eakin Press.
Terrell County Heritage Commission, Terrell County: Its Past, Its People, San Angelo, Anchor Press, 1978.
Val Verde County, Commissioners Court Minutes Volumes 1-2.
Val Verde County, Record of Election Returns, Book #1.
Clayton W. Williams, “The Pontoon Bridge on the Pecos, 1869-1886,” Permian Historical Annual, Volume 18, December 1978.
Clayton Williams, Sr., “The First Two Irrigation Projects on the Pecos River in Texas,” Permian Historical Annual, Volume 15, December 1975.
Williams, Texas’ Last Frontier,

 

Endnotes--
1 Roy L. Swift, Three Roads to Chihuahua: The Great Wagon Roads That Opened the Southwest, 1823-1883, Austin: Eakin Press, page 288.
2 Another brother, Modesto, was not involved in the various irrigation projects. The three brothers in various forms and terms served in the military during the Civil War: Cesario as 1st Lt. In the 30th Brigade of the (Home Guard) Texas Militia, Bernardo served in the Confederate army until 1864 when he deserted to the Federal army in Brownsville, and Juan was a private in the 2nd Texas Cavalry. Donald and Anita (Torres) Smith, Interview, July 30, 2001.
3 Clayton W. Williams, “The Pontoon Bridge on the Pecos, 1869-1886,” Permian Historical Annual, Volume 18, December 1978, pages 12-15; Clayton Williams, Sr., “The First Two Irrigation Projects on the Pecos River in Texas,” Permian Historical Annual, Volume 15, December 1975, pages 2-6; A.E. Gutierrez, “Profiles in Achievement: Frank E. Torres,” Del Rio News-Herald, April 30, 1984, n.p. Donald and Anita (Torres) Smith, Interview, July 30, 2001. The Williams sources specifically state “St. Philip’s College,” but this cannot be since that college was not founded until 1898. Some unnamed school opened in 1852 in San Antonio offering civil engineering and must have the school in question. Garland Elaine Crook, “San Antonio, Texas, 1846-1861,” M.A. Thesis, Rice University, 1964. This source and others are in the possession of Donald and Anita (Torres) Smith of Fort Clark Springs, Texas.
4 In a completely unrelated article, but one that indicates how important a work the Torres’ canals were to several generations of Fort Stockton farmers, one finds this: “The springs also provided for hundreds of small farmers east of town. An intricate system of canals and sluice gates delivered the spring water to the crops. It was said that you could float in a tube from the spring to a spot fifteen miles east of town. But in 1955 landowners west of town…drilled wells and installed diesel pumps to feed their crops and newly planted pecan trees. Comanche Springs went dry. Without water, the people left and the farms disappeared. You can still see traces of the farms and where the canals were.” Joe Patoski, “Boone Pickens Wants To Sell You His Water,” Texas Monthly, August 2001, page 189.
5 Williams, “The First Two Irrigation Projects,” page 4; Williams, Texas’ Last Frontier, pages 128, 205-207; Gutierrez, “Profile in Achievement”; Joe C. Primera, “Los Hermanos Torres: Early Settlers of Pecos County,” Permian Historical Annual XX (1980), pages 89-96.
6 Skiles, Judge Roy Bean Country, page 154; Primera, “Los Hermanos Torres,” page 90.
7 Williams, Texas’ Last Frontier, page 275; Jack Skiles, Judge Roy Bean Country, Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, page 154.
8 Pecos County Historical Commission, Pecos County History, Canyon, Texas: Staked Plains Press, 1984, page 132; C.L. Sonnichsen, Roy Bean, page 98; Skiles, Judge Roy Bean Country, pages 78, 115, 156-160.
9 Donald and Anita (Torres) Smith, Interview, July 30, 2001; Bexar County Marriage Records, Book I (or J), page 9885. The family always remained close to San Antonio; J.P. returned to the city to find his wife.
10 Estelia von Minden, Untitled document in the files of the Val Verde County Historical Commission, undated.
11 A.E. Gutierrez, “Torres, Bean feud ends in friendship,” Del Rio News-Herald, April [?],1984. This same source states that Torres also conveyed the land the Pecos Bridge was built on, but the article is unclear as to which bridge. It would presumably be the bridge at the mouth of the Pecos.
12 Terrell County Heritage Commission, Terrell County: Its Past, Its People, San Angelo, Anchor Press, 1978, page 37; Skiles, Judge Roy Bean Country, page 160.
13 Skiles, Judge Roy Bean Country, page 10; Primera, “Los Hermanos Torres,” page 90.
14 A.E. Gutierrez, “Torres, Bean feud ends in friendship,” Del Rio News-Herald, April [?], 1984. The “friendship” does not show in another version of the rivalry. “Two war camps were established, the Eagle’s Nest Saloon, south of the railroad tracks, and the Jersey Lily, north of the railroad tracks. From the two camps the two men conducted guerilla warfare against each other for twenty years.” Primera, “Los Hermanos Torres,” page 94.
15 Estelia von Minden, Untitled document in the files of the Val Verde County Historical Commission, undated.
16 Skiles, Judge Roy Bean Country, pages 115, 162, 173, 179.
17 Val Verde County, Commissioners Court Minutes Volume 1, pages 586 and 596.
18 Record of Election Returns, Book #1, Val Verde County, Page 32; Sonnichsen, Roy Bean, pages 109-110. Stories of voter fraud abound including ballot box stuffing, the bringing of non-resident railroad men in for a day of drinking and voting and Bean’s burro who cast his vote in 1892, for Roy Bean, of course.
19 Record of Election Returns, Book #1, Val Verde County, Page 35, Return of General Election held in Val Verde County, Texas on this Third day of November A.D. 1896. This note appearing in the record book seems to be unique in Val Verde County election history.
20 Commissioner Court Minutes Book #2, Val Verde County, Pages 163 & 165. (Another prominent Val Verde resident, J.O. Taylor was appoint to the J-P post in Juno.) The Commissioner Court’s records do not explain how the Court came to its decisions. One can speculate that the Court members believed that Torres had the greater support of the community; the 1898 results bear out this conclusion.
21 Sonnichsen, Roy Bean, pages 110-111.
22 Record of Election Returns, Book #1, Val Verde County, Page 51. The vote totals (of “qualified voters”) are quite small to have such a ruckus; in 1898 it was Torres 26, Bean 15, and in 1900 Bean 19, Torres 10. Bean ran unopposed in 1902 but died before completing his term.
23 Estelia von Minden, Untitled document in the files of the Val Verde County Historical Commission, undated.
24 Skiles, Judge Roy Bean Country, page 166; Doug Braudaway, Railroads of Western Texas: San Antonio to El Paso, Chicago: Arcadia Publishing, 2000, page 80.