The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 79, July 1975 - April, 1976 Page: 374
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
The career of Warner P. Sutton demonstrates that the haphazard,
spoils-ridden personnel system of the nineteenth-century State Department
occasionally installed first-rate officials. Sutton was born and spent his early
life in Michigan, where he became a teacher and served eight years as
superintendent of schools at Saugatuck. As he remarked in his letter of
application for a consular post, he had a fair knowledge of French, Spanish,
and Italian, international law, and general consular duties. He seems to
have owed his appointment chiefly to the influence of a Michigan senator,
Thomas W. Ferry, chairman of the Senate Committee on Post Offices and
Post Roads, then as always a central exchange for patronage.?
Sutton may have had an easier time obtaining his commercial agency
than reaching its site. When he set out down the Mississippi with his wife
and baby daughter in the summer of 1878, he found New Orleans plagued
with yellow fever, and Galveston tightly quarantined. After taking his
family back to Michigan, and he braved the contagion at Galveston alone,
sought out transportation by schooner and wagon down to the border, and
crossed the Rio Grande with a special permit-an improvised, dangerous
journey like many others he was to make during his tour of duty. He arrived
at Matamoros in late October, having obtained a sixty-day leave from the
State Department for the extra travel. He was reunited with his family at
their new home just before Christmas.2
In the late i870s Matamoros was a polyglot town of about 5,ooo Latins,
Indians, Americans, and Europeans-plus an equal number of dogs and
twice as many rats, wrote Sutton. Its central section contained a few well-
built one-story brick buildings; most of the rest were adobe. One or two
main streets were paved with mesquite blocks and lined with brick side-
walks; the rest were dirt. During the day one might see many strange sights:
hard-looking beggars; teams of oxen yoked by the horns to two-wheeled
wagons piled high with small, crooked logs of wood or mesquite; even larger
wagons of corn or hides from the interior drawn by eight or sixteen mules
or horses and half coated with mud; and sometimes a conducta of mules,
loaded with silver from faraway Zacatecas, completing a three-month
'Warner P. Sutton to President of the United States, September 3, October I, 1877;
Thomas W. Ferry to President of the United States, February 20o, 1878; Unsigned
memorandum, United States Senate, March 2, 1878, United States, Department of State,
Applications, etc., Hayes Administration, Box 9o, Record Group 69 (National Archives).
The official name of Nuevo Laredo is Laredo de Tamaulipas, but the shorter, more
familiar name will be used here. Record Group 69 (National Archives) will hereafter be
cited as RG 69, NA.
2Sutton to Charles Payson, August 2, 1878; Sutton to F. W. Seward, August i6,
September 24, 1878; Sutton to William Hunter, October 18, 26, December 7, 1878
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 79, July 1975 - April, 1976, periodical, 1975/1976; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101203/m1/431/: accessed April 26, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.