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The Killing of Clemente Vergara

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On Feb. 15, 1914 the body of South Texas rancher Clemente Vergara was found hanging from a tree. Vergara owned a ranch near Palafox, Texas, which was on the Rio Grande in what is now Webb County. He allowed his horses to graze on an island in the Rio Grande, land that was disputed by the United States and Mexico. Vergara suspected that Mexican soldiers had stolen eleven of his horses from the island. He and a nephew crossed the Rio Grande to meet with several soldiers who called the two men over. Vergara was struck on the head and carried to the Hidalgo garrison, while his nephew escaped and returned to the United States. Vergara's wife and daughter crossed into Mexico on February 14 and found him severely beaten and jailed in the Hidalgo garrison. The following morning soldiers told the women that he had been taken to Piedras Negras.

Texas governor Oscar B. Colquitt and President Woodrow Wilson's administration disagreed on how to deal with the situation, with the former advocating the use of Texas Rangers to extradite Vergara's kidnappers if necessary. On February 16 the commander at Piedras Negras reported that he had ordered Vergara's release and the return of his horses; however, on February 25 witnesses told American officials that they had seen Vergara's body hanging from a tree near Hidalgo, and that it had been there since February 15. Vergara's body was finally "delivered" to his relatives in Texas on March 7. Vergara's murder outraged Texans and increased tension between Mexico and the United States.

Clemente was the son of Anastacia Herrera and Quirino Vergara. He had an older sister, Gonzala, and a younger sister, Eleuteria. He was married to Antonia Urteaga. He had a son, Jesus, and a daughter, Clara.

Here's the text of an article that appeared after Clemente's body was recovered:

"One of the most sensational dramatic and daring incidents to occur on the Texas border at a time when the complicated conditions already existing between the United States and Mexico have about become as intense as is possible was the work of ten men, fully armed and determined, who at about 2 o'clock yesterday morning left the town of Palafox, forty miles up the river from Laredo, crossed the Rio Grande to the Mexican side, proceeded to the Hidalgo Cemetery by a somewhat circuitous route in evading the federal soldiers on guard in the town of Hidalgo, and recovered from a shallow grave near the gate of the cemetery the body of Clemente Vergara, the American citizen and ranchman of this county who had been captured and executed by Mexican federal soldiers.

The details of the capture of Vergara on the forenoon of February 13, after he have been enticed to the Mexican side of the river from his ranch near Palafox, and of his execution on the morning of February 15 while ostensibly being taken to Piedias Negras, are facts that are still fresh in the minds of times readers, for the Times reporter has kept an almost continuous story going since the day of Vergara's capture up to Saturday last, when it was announced that the body of the dead man had been executed and would be recovered within a very few days.

When the news spread over this city yesterday morning that a body of ten men from the vicinity of Palafox had handed themselves together and fully armed and determined to recover the body of the victim had gone to the Hidalgo cemetery and exhumed the body, there was considerable suppressed excitement manifested, especially by those who readily realized the gravity of the actions. But there was a general air of satisfaction manifested over the dauntless act of the patriotic and daring squad of ranch employees who hazarded their lives to recover the body of their departed friend in order that it might be transferred to this side of the boundary line and laid to rest on American soil. Last evening the body was brought to this city for burial in the cemetery."

Clemente Vergara was buried in the Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Laredo. Here's a photo of his grave marker from Find-A-Grave.


clemente vergara's grave 1914.jpg

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