The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 84, July 1980 - April, 1981

Boss Rule and Constituent Interests:
South Texas Politics During the Progressive Era
EVAN ANDERS*
DURING THE FIRST TWO DECADES OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, PRO-
gressive insurgents battled conservative Democrats for control of
Texas politics. Like reformist campaigners across the nation, the Texas
progressives agitated for government regulation of corporations, a
fairer distribution of the tax burden, and most importantly, the elimi-
nation of political corruption. According to these critics, public mo-
rality had collapsed during the series of pro-business, conservative
gubernatorial administrations that followed the Populist upheaval of
the mid-i89os. Some of the most conspicuous displays of political
abuse occurred in one section of the state-the southeastern tip be-
tween the Rio Grande and the Nueces River.
For most of the Progressive Era, a loose coalition of Democratic ma-
chines dominated the politics of the South Texas counties of Cameron,
Hidalgo, Starr, and Duval. The pervasiveness of corruption and vio-
lence in this border region appalled contemporary reformers. All of
the bosses systematically violated the election laws of the state by paying
the poll taxes of their Mexican-American followers, recruiting ineli-
gible aliens to vote, marking the ballots of illiterate voters, and tamper-
ing with the results when necessary. Regular Democrats, as well as Re-
publicans and independent insurgents, hired gunmen to intimidate
voters and the opposition, and a grim record of armed confrontations
and political killings unfolded. From 1890 through 1912, nine political
figures met violent deaths. The victims included a Hidalgo County
judge, a Cameron County sheriff, a Duval County treasurer, a Browns-
ville city marshal, and a district judge. Following the killing of a cus-
toms agent in 1907, a federal grand jury indicted the Starr County
boss, Manuel Guerra, and his brother, the sheriff, for conspiring to
murder the federal official, but the two defendants won acquittals. In
addition, the machines embezzled funds from the county treasuries.
The foremost practitioners of graft were Archer (Archie) Parr of Duval
*Evan Anders is a visiting assistant professor at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 84, July 1980 - April, 1981. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101225/. Accessed August 29, 2014.