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Columns | "They shoe horses, don't they?"

The Short but Eventful Life of
Adrián J. Vidal

by Brewster Hudspeth
While you might not be familiar with the name Adrián J. Vidal, you might recognize the name of his stepfather - Mifflin Kenedy. Kenedy was, of course, the partner and lifelong friend of Richard King. These two made large fortunes in shipping and warehousing along the Rio Grande and then wisely invested their money in land. Lots of land (under starry skies above).
Mural of Adrian J. Vidal
Adrián J. Vidal
by Muralist Daniel Lechon
Photo Courtesy Kenedy Heritage Museum, Sarita
Adrian was born in Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico in 1840. His biological father was a Col. Luis Vidal. After the Colonel's death, Adrian's mother Petra (Vela) moved to tiny Mier - a village on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande. Mier is remembered primarily for being the pivotal site of the misguided Sommervell or Mier Expedition of the late 1840s.

One day (or night) in Mier, The widow Petra caught the eye of Mifflin Kenedy who had come there on business. The business engagement turned into a wedding engagement and Mifflin and Petra were married in 1852 in Brownsville. Little Adrian was then at the volatile age of twelve. He had four siblings.

Adrian immediately and predictably fell in with bad company. Despite (or because of) his age he wasted no time establishing a reputation on both sides of the river for drinking, whoring and gambling - not necessarily in that order.

At the age of twenty-one, the Civil War gave him the opportunity to drink, gamble and go whoring in distant places. He traveled to San Antonio and enlisted as a private. The Confederate "Brass" recognized his invaluable knowledge of the border so they promptly sent him back home as a Lieutenant of a company of militia. His primary mission was to guard the mouth of the Rio Grande.

After capturing a Union gunboat, Vidal (since promoted to Captain) was guaranteed a bright military future - that is, if the South won. But still under the influence of adolescence, Vidal let his frustrations get the better of him. Insufficient supplies, nagging military obligations, and arguments with superiors kept Adrian in a foul mood. Finally one order or another became the last straw and Captain Vidal and his command mutinied in early 1863.

When General Hamilton Bee sent two soldiers to recall Vidal, Adrian raised the stakes by shooting them. One man was killed while the other rode back to Bee to tell the tale. The dead man happened to be the son of the Texas Adjutant General - which raised the stakes yet another notch. Now, seriously wanted, Vidal went for broke and turned bandit, raiding ranches, hanging a few people and taking sanctuary in Mexico.

Vidal and his men soon grew bored so they decided to give the military another try. By this time the area was under Union occupation. It didn't matter a whit to the Vidalistas. They enlisted as "Vidal's Independent Partisan Rangers" and patrolled the Nueces Strip as scouts.

But Adrian soon found out that the Union commanders were just as demanding as Confederates. Both sides liked to receive reports every now and then. In 1864, Vidal felt the same old frustrations coming to a head. Although he had submitted his resignation, he didn't have the patience to wait for an answer. He and his men crossed into Mexico to join Benito Juarez' rebellion against the foreign-born Emperor Maximillian.

Vidal's commanding officer here was another famous border personality - General Cortina. Adrian never grasped the concept of a "good" reputation. In his new command he instituted a "take no prisoners" policy. When he was later captured at the village of Camargo by Imperial troops - his latest bad reputation was firmly held against him.

Mifflin Kenedy learned of his stepson's capture and quickly went to negotiate a ransom. But his captors knew Vidal and although a ransom was tempting, they didn't look forward to fighting him again - whatever uniform he might be wearing. They formed a firing squad and Mifflin Kenedy arrived in time to take Adrian's corpse back to Brownsville.

The Kenedy family became famous for raising horses and cattle - but Adrian's entry in the family history is one of a black sheep. Nevertheless, he has his own entry in the murals of the new Kenedy Museum in Sarita. On the south wall of the museum - housed in the former office of the Kenedy Pasture Company - a striking image of Adrian Vidal appears, replete with a pistol in his waistband.

Another part of the mural illustrates his death by firing squad.

© John Troesser
"They shoe horses, don't they?"
March 10 , 2004

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