Luby was Duval County trailblazer

Luby Store in 1876. Louis De Planque photo.

At the age of 30, James O. Luby had already travelled from England to New York, then to Havana, followed by New Orleans, Brownsville and finally San Diego, Texas. He had fought in the Civil War for the Confederacy, been taken prisoner, was released and reenlisted again, taking part in the Battle of Palmeto Ranch, the last battle of the Civil War. He had served in the Mexican Liberal Army, served with the noted Texas Ranger John “Rip” Ford, and directed attacks against Indian and bandit raiders. He had served as postmaster and justice of the peace and was elected county judge. Not bad for a young man in a hurry to make a name for himself in the Texas frontier.

Manuel Ancira building served as first Duval County Courthouse.

Manuel Ancira building served as first Duval County Courthouse. (De Planque photo)

On December 4, 1876, the young county judge presided over the first meeting of the new Duval County Commissioners Court. They held their first meeting at Luby’s store, which doubled as the town’s post office. Others present at that first meeting were County Commissioners Frank Gravis and and Rafael Salinas. They presented their election certificates to Nueces County Judge Joseph Fitzsimmons.

A week later, on December 11, 1876, the court reconvened and and authorized Luby to secure and “iron cage” for use as a jail. They also approved the purchase furniture and seats for the court. Gravis was named a committee of one to work with N.G. Collins to rent the building owned by Manuel Ancira of San Diego for a courthouse for 12 months. They appropriated the first $400 from occupation tax for rent for the courthouse to be paid $100 quarterly. With several other stores operating in the small town of San Diego, Ancira must have seen this as a good opportunity.

All this time, Luby had been reading law books and was admitted to the Bar in 1879. He was reportedly a Select Master in the Masons and an Elk. He was active in every social and business group in Duval County. In addition to his law practice, Luby continued to be active in his store where he bought and sold millions of pounds of wool. He also had acquired thousands of acres of land and was a prosperous rancher.

In March 1883, Postmaster Luby installed the first telephone in San Diego. He hung wire from the post office to his law office and found it to be a “great convenience at no expense.”

On November 2, 1880, Luby was reelected county judge. In 1884, Republican President Chester A. Arthur named him as Customs Collector at Brownsville, serving until 1886. The Corpus Christi Caller thought Luby might not take the position because he would have to give up a lucrative law practice.

It was at this time that Luby became quite active in Republican politics. He supported R. B. Rentfro of Cameron County for Congress, proclaiming in a nominating speech that his opponent Democrat William Crane would not win a single county. Crain prevailed in the election.

To be continued…

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