was considered a hero by the Mexican people; to the Anglos he was
the "sheriff killer" and needed to be hung.
In the summer of 1901, Gregorio Cortez killed two sheriffs in south
Texas and became one of the most hunted fugitives in the history
of the Lone Star State. His hero status among the Mexican folks was
mainly because of his ability to elude the formidable Texas Rangers.
According to information found in The Handbook of Texas, Gregorio
Cortez was born on June 22, 1875, near Matamoros, Mexico. His family
moved to Manor,
Texas, in 1887 and it was there that the young man began to learn
his trade as a vaquero and farmer.
Cortez worked in Gonzales,
Karnes, and several
other counties in this part of the state. Most people who were acquainted
with him felt that he was a likable sort and many just couldn't understand
how he happened to get on the bad side of the law.
It was on June 12, 1901, that Cortez's troubles began. It seems that
the sheriff of Atascosa
County requested help from Karnes
County Sheriff, W.T. "Brack" Morris in locating a horse thief.
The Handbook of Texas states that Sheriff Morris along with Deputies
John Trimmell and Boone Choate started questioning residents in the
Kenedy, Texas, area.
The horse thief was described as a "medium-sized Mexican." Unfortunately
for Gregorio Cortez, he fit that description; but then so did many
others in the area. One individual had told Sheriff Morris that he
had recently traded a horse to Cortez for a mare. The officers suspected
that the mare might have been stolen.
The lawmen confronted Cortez at his home on the W.A. Thulmeyer ranch
about ten miles west of Kenedy.
The young Cortez, along with his brother, Romaldo, rented land from
Thulmeyer and raised corn.
Most accounts indicate that Deputy Boone Choate was acting as interrupter
and misunderstood Cortez's answers to Sheriff Morris' questions.
man can arrest me."
When Cortez said
they had no reason to arrest him, Choate told Morris that he (Cortez)
said, "No white man can arrest me." After that response, the sheriff
pulled his gun and wounded Gregorio's brother and barely missed hitting
Cortez. It was then that Cortez shot and killed Morris. Cortez made
his escape, but members of his family including his wife, children,
and mother were taken into custody. Reports indicate that they were
Cortez' reply may have been misunderstood
Now on the run, Gregorio Cortez made his way into Gonzales
County where he had friends near Belmont.
It was at the home of Martin and Refugia Robledo that he hoped to
hide out for a while. The Handbook of Texas reports that the Robledo
home was located on land owned by a Mr. Schnabel.
It was at the Robledo home that a posse led by Sheriff Glover of Gonzales
County found Gregorio Cortez. A gunfight ensued and as a result,
Glover and Schnabel were killed. When it was all over, Cortez had
escaped capture and was on the run again.
Cortez walked 100 miles to the home of another friend, Ceferino Flores.
He was given a horse, saddle, and provisions. From here, the "sheriff
killer" decided to head for Laredo,
By now, the young fugitive had a price on his head. The citizens of
put up a $1,000 reward for his capture. And it wasn't as easy for
him to evade capture around Laredo
because many of the law officers in the area were Tejanos. He was
hunted by hundreds of men in posses; including Sheriff Ortiz of Webb
County and assistant city marshall Gómez of Laredo.
It is interesting to note that while Cortez was on the run, many Anglo-Texans
began to admire him; in fact one San
Antonio newspaper was greatly impressed by his "remarkable powers
of endurance and skill in eluding pursuit."
Gregorio Cortez was finally captured on June 22, 1901, after he was
betrayed by one of his acquaintances. This man, Jesús González, led
a posse to Cortez. According to The Handbook of Texas, Gregorio Cortez
had been on the run ten days from the time he had killed Sheriff Morris.
While he was in custody, Cortez faced numerous trials. A mob of 300
men threatened to lynch him before officers turned them away. Also
during this time, his brother Romaldo Cortez died in the Karnes
County Jail from the gunshot wound he received in the encounter
A Gonzales County
jury found Cortez guilty of killing Mr. Schnabel. He was given a fifty-year
sentence. But on January 15, 1902, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
reversed the Gonzales verdict. He was then given life in prison for
the murder of Sheriff Glover.
The Handbook of Texas reports that Gregorio Cortez had spent time
in eleven jails in eleven counties. It also states that while he was
in prison, he worked as a barber. Cortez was evidently a model prisoner.
He was well liked by his jailers and he had a lot of support on the
outside from both Anglo and Mexican groups.
Attempts to obtain a pardon for Cortez began soon after he went to
prison. Governor Oscar B. Colquitt finally granted him a conditional
pardon in 1913. After his release from prison, Cortez went to Nuevo
Laredo to join up with Victoriano Huerta and fight in the Mexican
On February 28, 1916, Gregorio Cortez died of pneumonia.
After his death, many people were interviewed about Cortez. Some said
that he really was a horse thief; as were his father and brothers.
Others declared that he was just the victim of racism which was so
prevalent at the time.
One thing we do know, for ten days, Gregorio Cortez was a very resourceful
man and until the time he was betrayed; he outwitted and eluded many
a good lawman.
July 2003 column
* * * *
Note: A movie was produced about Gregorio Cortez in 1982. As I understand
it, some of the scenes for that movie were shot in Gonzales
at the Old
Jail Museum. The movie, "The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez" is on
video and you can probably borrow a copy from your local library.