With the outbreak of revolution in northern Mexico in 1910, federal authorities and officials of the state of Texas feared that the violence and disorder might spill over into the Rio Grande valley. The Mexican and Mexican-American populations residing in the Valley far outnumbered the Anglo population (Texas State Historical Association, 2021). In addition, the discovery and publication of the Plan of San Diego, increased tensions between the Anglo and Mexican-American (Tejano) population in 1915.
As documented by John Randall Peavey (deputy sheriff, chief scout for the U.S. Army border troops, assistant chief of the Valley sector of the U.S. Border Patrol, and Texas Ranger) the Rio Grande Valley resembled an "armed camp" with "nearly every man carrying a six shooter rifle or shot gun". Because of his patrol activities, which took him to every part of the Valley, and his keen interest in the development of the area, he was also cast in the role of historian.
The Plan of San Diego
The Mexican Revolution was seen as an opportunity to bring about drastic political and economic changes in South Texas. The most extreme example of this was a movement supporting the "Plan of San Diego," a revolutionary manifesto written on January 6, 1915. The plan, drafted in a jail in Monterrey, Nuevo León, provided for the formation of a "Liberating Army of Races and Peoples," to be made up of Mexican Americans, African Americans, and Japanese, to "free" the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, and Colorado from United States control. The revolution was to begin on February 20, 1915. Federal and state officials found a copy of the plan when local authorities in McAllen, Texas, arrested Basilio Ramos, Jr., one of the leaders of the plot, on January 24, 1915. (Texas State Historical Association, 2021)
Although the Plan of San Diego didn't itself come to fruition, its consequences and history reverberated. It brought to the forefront a mobilized Mexican community that resisted the status quo, represented political motivations playing out from macro to micro scales, and resulted in increased stigmatization and violence against people of Mexican descent along the border. (Manoukian, 2023)
With no signs of revolutionary activity, state and federal authorities dismissed the plan as one more example of the revolutionary rhetoric that flourished along the border. This feeling of complacency was shattered in July 1915 with a series of raids in the lower Rio Grande valley connected with the Plan of San Diego. These raids were led by two adherents of Venustiano Carranza, revolutionary general, and Aniceto Pizaña and Luis De la Rosa, residents of South Texas. The bands used the guerilla tactics of disrupting transportation and communication in the border area and killing Anglos. In response, the United States Army moved reinforcements into the area. (Texas State Historical Association, 2021). One such raid taking place at Ojo de Agua Ranch in Abram, Texas, just 5 miles southwest of Mission.
site of the Battle of Ojo de Agua
A mile north of the Rio Grande and five miles southwest of Mission in southwest Hidalgo County you’ll find the small “ghost” town of Abram, Texas. The site was near the route of the original military highway from Brownsville to Fort Ringgold and was on part of the common grazing grounds of old Reynosa, Tamaulipas. Later the Ojo de Agua ("Watering Hole") Ranch was established on the site. The community was named for Abram Dillard, Texas Ranger and prominent citizen of the area of Ojo de Agua Creek. An Abram post office was established in 1901. In 1904 the railroad was built a few miles to the north to avoid river flooding. In 1914 the settlement had fifty residents and three businesses. Through the 1930s and 1940s the population was seventy-five. In the 1950s and 60s the population was between 100 and 125 inhabitants. A colonia developed beside Abram over two or three decades; in 1990 its 927 residents lived in 206 dwellings and received water from the La Joya Water District. In 1990 Abram and the colonia had an estimated total population of 3,999. The colonia is variously called Abram, Ojo de Agua, or Chapa Joseph. In 2000 the community was listed as Abram-Perezville and had a population of 5,444.
Battle of Ojo de Agua
The outpost at Ojo de Agua was Army radio station commanded by Sergeant Ernest Schaeffer, and was manned by approximately ten cavalry soldiers and eight men from the Signal Corps. The attack began around two o’clock in the morning, and the outnumbered and outgunned garrison was quickly overwhelmed. Sergeant Schaeffer was killed, and Sergeant Herbert Smith, who had already received three wounds, assumed command. The raiders also robbed the post office and set fire to the home of George Dillard (son of Abram Dillard). Because radio communication had been knocked out early in the attack, the defenders were unable to call for assistance. Two riders dashed off toward Mission, eight miles away, to get help. A Cavalry Company commanded by Captain Frank Ross McCoy was dispatched from Mission to go to the aid of the Ojo de Agua outpost. Captain W. J. Scott, who was stationed at Sam Fordyce, happened to be out on a training exercise with twelve new cavalry recruits about two miles away. They heard the gunfire and also rushed to the scene. Scott’s men arrived first and, attacking from the west, were able to drive off the raiders. McCoy’s force arrived as the raiders were withdrawing, and saw little or no fighting. One civilian and three American soldiers were killed. Eight American soldiers were wounded. The raiders suffered five killed and at least nine wounded.
Many years later, a young school teacher at the Ojo de Agua ranch school, Minnie Milliken, wrote an eye-witness acount of Ojo de Agua raid. “…we were awakened by what seemed like thousands of shots around and over our house and bloodcurdling yells of ‘Viva Villa!’ We jumped out of bed and hurriedly dressed. ..We could hardly hear our voices for the whine of shots around our house. ..I think there were 40 or 50 of the bandits who started the attack on the Dillard home about a block from us. Mrs. Dillard and her little boy left their house by the back door and went to the school house and began ringing the bell. As soon as she had left her home, the bandits set fire to it, which lighted up the whole area. In the meantime, there was a fierce battle being fought. This was around the soldiers’ camp, a short distance from our house....The firing started, I suppose, about 15 minutes before 2 o’clock. It continued until nearly daybreak...”
Following this incident, the United States vastly increased its military presence along the border. In 1916 and 1917, large numbers of troops were stationed in camps throughout the Valley.
Fatalities directly linked to raids in the Rio Grande Valley were surprisingly small; between July 1915 and July 1916 some thirty raids into Texas produced only twenty-one American deaths, both civilian and military. More destructive and disruptive was the near race war that ensued in the wake of the plan as relations between the Whites and the Mexicans and Mexican Americans deteriorated in 1915–16. Federal reports indicated that more than 300 Mexicans or Mexican Americans were summarily executed in South Texas in the atmosphere generated by the plan. Economic losses ran into the millions of dollars, and virtually all residents of the lower Rio Grande valley suffered some disruption in their lives from the raids. Moreover, the plan's legacy of racial antagonism endured long after the plan itself had been forgotten (Texas Historical Association, 2021). You can read more on the history of racial violence on the Mexico – Texas Border at refusingtoforget.org.
Dead Mexican bandits. The Portal to Texas History. (2009, February 27). https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth43194/
John R. Peavey Scrapbook, UTRGV Digital Library, The University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley. Accessed via https://scholarworks.utrgv.edu/johnrpeavey
Manoukian, M. (2023, January 24). How the plan of san diego changed America drastically. Grunge. https://www.grunge.com/278432/how-the-plan-of-san-diego-changed-america-drastically/
Texas State Historical Association. (n.d.). Plan of San Diego. https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/plan-of-san-diego
The history. Refusing to Forget. (2023, January 17). https://refusingtoforget.org/the-history/
V. Carranza. The Library of Congress. (n.d.). https://www.loc.gov/item/2014699797/