The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 85, July 1981 - April, 1982 Page: 133
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Origins of the Parr Machine
the state senator. In Leslie's view, "the county clerk couldn't merely
write a man into the penitentiary." The district attorney was still will-
ing to prosecute Parr for election fraud, the county judge for embezzle-
ment, the treasurer for making improper payments, and several lesser
officials on related charges, but he objected to the proposal of Lasater's
lawyers for a change of venue to San Antonio or Amarillo. When Les-
lie and the attorneys failed to agree on a site for the trials, the judge
chose Hidalgo County, a part of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, where
political corruption and the manipulation of the court system to pro-
tect Democratic politicians were long-standing practices.23
The insurgent cause suffered another blow when the district attor-
ney accused the members of the grand jury of leaking information to
Lasater's attorneys and receiving instructions from them. At the
prosecutor's request, Judge Taylor reprimanded the jurors, and even
threatened to put them in jail. Lack of respect for proper legal proce-
dure was not limited to the Lasater camp, however. On December 9,
1915, Archie Parr and the Duval County sheriff stormed into the grand-
jury room and removed some financial records that the jurors and
23Ibid., June 18, 1915; Glasscock vs. Parr, Supplement to the Senate Journal, 1919, pp.
754-757 (quotation). Hidalgo County fell under the control of the Democratic boss John
Closner, who practiced a brand of corruption almost as blatant as Parr's. Both Closner
and Parr were closely aligned with James B. Wells, the dominant political figure in
Cameron County and the leading lawyer in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Over the years,
Wells was involved in several cases of legal manipulation that shielded Democratic
politicians from convictions for criminal activities. The most notorious of these cases was
the defense of Starr County boss Manuel Guerra and several of his associates against
murder and conspiracy charges after the killing of a U.S. customs agent in 19o7. In 19o09
Monta J. Moore, a special agent for Texas governor Thomas M. Campbell, offered the
following assessment of the legal system in Starr County: "The criminal laws of Texas are,
in the main, administered in Starr County for the single purpose of serving the 'cabal.'
This influence selects the personnel of the grand and petit juries, which do not dare to
take action or render verdicts contrary to 'the powers that be.' The 'cabal' have the
power to grant immunity to their supporters for any outrage that they may perpetrate
and to indict and punish by fine or imprisonment those who give trouble though guilt-
less of crime...." Moore to Campbell, May 9, 19og, Wells Papers.
Similarly, an assistant U.S. attorney, Noah Allen, condemned James Wells for his role
in the Guerra conspiracy case and cited Wells's close cooperation with John Closner, who
rewarded a witness in that case with a political appointment after the witness reversed
his testimony to the advantage of Guerra. Allen to Theodore Roosevelt, July 3o, 19o8,
John N. Vann Appointment File, Treasury Department, RG 56, NA. By 1915, that wit-
ness, A. Y. Baker, was serving as the sheriff of Hidalgo County. Texas, Secretary of State,
Biennial Report of the Secretary of State of the State of Texas, 1914 (Austin, 1914), 93.
In view of this background of political corruption and legal manipulation throughout
the Lower Rio Grande Valley, the Duval County insurgents were hardly reassured by
the transfer of the Parr case to Hidalgo County. For discussions of these topics, see
Anders, "Bosses under Siege," 402-403, 412, 454-456, 633-634 (corruption in Hidalgo
County under John Closner); 133-141 (the Guerra case); 94-96, 146-147 (other instances
of legal manipulation).
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 85, July 1981 - April, 1982, periodical, 1981/1982; Austin, Texas. (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101208/m1/167/: accessed August 25, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.