Duval County


An Epic Narrative of Liberty and Democracy

Coming September 2024!!!

In Texas, to hear the words “Duval County” evokes Archie and George Parr, politics, and corruption. But this does not represent the full truth about this South Texas county and its Tejano citizens. Duval County Tejanos accentuates the significance and meaning of place, showcasing Tejanos as historical actors, not bit players. This cultural region comprises la familia, las costumbres, la fe católica, y las comidas. And we must not leave out la política. Tejanos were engaged in community life: they organized politically, cultivated land, and promoted agriculture, livestock raising, the local economy, churches, schools, patriotic celebrations, and social activities.

Americano newcomers sought to start and develop a trade economy, but Mexicanos wanted to make sure they held on to their land. The Civil War stunted economic and governmental development but did not prevent the population growing in numbers and diversity, including the arrival of Americanos in more significant numbers. Still, old-time pioneers and newcomers joined hands to build a faith community, develop schools, improve transportation, and bring commerce to serve their needs.

In 1876 Duval County citizens formally petitioned Nueces County for the opportunity to organize themselves. When the railroad rolled into the county seat, San Diego, in 1879, their world changed forever. During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the Duval County economy exhibited vitality and adaptability—sheep and cattle raising and cotton farming anchored and sustained the local economy. Moreover, Texas land programs opened opportunities to previously landless Tejano farmers.

Duval County Tejanos continued to be alarmed as Americanos were cementing their political influence out of proportion to their numbers. In the 1870s Tejanos pursued organized politics to attain fairness and acquire political power corresponding to their population. In the twentieth century the political atmosphere intensified as Tejanos pushed forward their agenda of assuming their proper role, consistent with their numbers. Ultimately, the Americano actors were replaced by new faces more willing to share in the power structure, both politically and economically, and Tejanos achieved political strength commensurate with their numbers. 


This is a thorough and impressively researched study of the history of Duval County. The piece is so strikingly researched that it is likely to remain the definitive study of the subject for decades to come. 

Jerry Thompson, author of Tejano Tiger: Jose de los Santos Benavides and the History of the Texas-Mexico Borderlands, (1823–1891)


“Cárdenas’s book is the first scholarly history of San Diego and Duval County, the most complete study of Duval County to date. It offers a cogent history of the development of not only the political structure but also the land and cattle attraction to the Anglo capitalists who later dominated the county. This is a new approach primarily because the author’s intensive study of county voting in the 1890s clearly illustrates his major theme that Tejanos were not merely pawns to an Anglo political boss but viable agents of election activities and results.”

Andrés Tijerina, author of Tejano Empire: Life on the South Texas Ranchos


Duval County Tejanos represents another contribution to the exciting and informative scholarship that is unearthing history at the grassroots level and showing that ordinary people have always had a hand in advancing the general state of life. More to the point, it is an essential corrective to the tenacious story that the Mexican-origin people of Duval were historical objects manipulated for decades by a ring led by corrupt Anglo politicians. In advancing the case that Mexican Americans shared in shaping Duval County’s history as co-agents, this masterful project overturns that erroneous depiction.  


Arnoldo De León, Distinguished Professor of History Emeritus

Angelo State University, San Angelo, Texas