Martinez, Mercurio, 1876-1965

Identity area

Type of entity


Authorized form of name

Martinez, Mercurio, 1876-1965

Parallel form(s) of name

Standardized form(s) of name according to other rules

Other form(s) of name

Identifiers for corporate bodies

Description area

Dates of existence


Mercurio Martinez, school teacher, rancher, legal researcher, public spirited citizen, and authority on the history and genealogy of Zapata County, Tex., was born in San Ygnacio, Zapata County, Tex. on October 27, 1876, and died in 1965. He descended from Spanish-Mexican pioneers who had settled on the banks of the Rio Grande Riverin the mid-eighteenth century.

Don Mercurio's great-great grandfather, Bartome Martinez was one of the original settlers of Revilla, Tamaulipas, Mexico in 1750. He served as Alcalde of this frontier ranching settlement for 30 years. Revilla, the town of origin for many Zapata County families, was renamed Guerrero in honor of General Vicente Guerrero after Mexico achieved independence from Spain in 1821.

Luis Uribe, another of Don Mercurio's great-great grandfathers, was one of the founding settlers of Laredo, Tex., but moved from there to Revilla about 1755. A third ancestor, Juan Jose Gutierrez, was the owner of San Jose Ranch, an extensive holding on the banks of the Rio Grande near Revilla. Don Juan Jose had three daughters, each of whom either married or mothered a successful south Texas pioneer. Mercurio Martinez was descended from the families established by all three of Don Juan Jose's daughters.

Viviana Gutierrez married Jesus Trevino, an ambitious young man who had migrated to Guerrero from Marin, Nuevo Leon. Between 1830 and 1832, Don Jesus Trevino purchased lands on the north bank of the Rio Grande from the heirs of Jose Vasquez Borrego. The Borrego Grant was made in 1750, but the area had remained sparsely settled partly because of Indian raids and the fact that Borrego and his heirs also had enormous holdings in Coahuila where they spent most of their time. Jesus Trevino became acquainted with Jose Maria Marfil Vidaurri, the grandson of Jose Vasquez Borrego, when Don Jose Maria came to Guerrero in 1828 in order to clear the title to the Borrego lands located in what was to become Zapata County, Texas. The titles to these lands had been lost or destroyed during the Mexican War for Independence, but the claim of the Borrego heirs was declared valid by the Guerrero city council, of which Trevino's father-in-law, Juan Jose Gutierrez, was a member.

Jesus Trevino moved his family to Texas and established the settlement of San Ygnacio in 1830. His holdings of approximately 125,000 acres included the entire San Ygnacio sub-division of the Borrego Grant.

Another of the Gutierrez daughters, Ignacia, married Jose Dionicio Uribe, the son of Luis Uribe. She was widowed early and moved across the river with her young sons. One of these sons, Blas Maria Uribe, married Juliana Trevino who was his third cousin and the daughter of Jesus Trevino and Viviana. Don Blas Maria eventually acquired more than half of his father-in-law's holdings and became a highly successful rancher and merchant. His daughter, Maria de Jesus Uribe, was Don Mercurio's mother.

The third daughter of Juan Jose Gutierrez married Antonio Martinez, son of Don Bartome, the original Alcade of Revilla. Their son, Cosme Martinez was born in Revilla in 1811. He married Magdalena Gonzales in 1829 and the couple remained in Tamaulipas while their children were growing up. However, in 1859, Don Cosme purchased one quarter of the Dolores subdivision of the Borrego Grant and, together with his children and their families, established the small settlement of Dolores. Rancho Dolores was located near the river a short distance from the ruins of the hacienda de Dolores which had been established by Jose Vasquez Borrego in 1750, but abandoned by 1814.

One of Cosme's seven children, Proceso Martinez, had moved to Nuevo Laredo as a young man. Proceso helped his father establish the settlement of Dolores in 1859, but moved to Laredo during the American Civil war. There he prospered while running a store and operating a ferry boat. In 1869, however, he married his distant cousin Maria de Jesus Uribe, and settled in San Ygnacio. He was a storekeeper there and was also active in long-distance trade along the border. Among his contributions were the introduction of the first steel plow, kerosene lanterns, corn planting machines and cotton cultivation to the San Ygnacio community. He was also active in local politics.

Mercurio Martinez was one of six children born to Don Proceso and Maria de Jesus. He grew up in San Ygnacio were he attended the local school, helped his father in the mercantile business, and assisted in tending the family crops and herds. His mother died when he was ten years old, and his father did not remarry.

At the age of twelve, Mercurio began to study guitar and violin. Within three years, he was frequently employed as a musician at dances, weddings, and other local fiestas. Music remained an avocation throughout his long life, and he wrote numerous "corridos" or ballads which were based on historically significant events in the Zapata County area.

In July, 1894, young Mercurio left home to work as the assistant foreman of a group of three hundred cotton pickers employed in the fields near Hearne, Texas. He returned home in December and assisted in his father's various enterprises until August, 1895. He then enrolled at St. Edward's College in Austin, Texas where he studied business and telegraphy. In addition, he continued his study of music during his college years (1895-1898). While in college, Mercurio received some financial aid from A. M. Bruni, an Italian immigrant who had achieved wealth and power in Laredo.

Mercurio graduated from St. Edwards in June, 1898, with a degree of Master of Accounts which is equivalent to a B. S. degree in Business Administration. At the age of 22, he returned to Zapata County where he passed the examination for a teaching certificate. Between 1898 and 1907, Mercurio taught school in the Dolores settlement where many of his paternal kinsmen lived. According to autobiographical accounts, he moved to the county seat of Zapata in 1908 in response to a written petition from local parents that he come there as a teacher.

Before this move, however, tragedy entered his life. Although not mentioned in any of Mercurio's accounts of his own life, some of the genealogical records he compiled show that his first wife, Maria Christina Uribe, died about 1907 and that an infant daughter soon followed her mother to the grave. Nearly 30 years were to pass before Mercurio Martinez was blessed with the two children who brought joy to his old age.

Upon moving to the town of Zapata in 1908, Martinez was appointed principal of the local schools by County Judge A. P. Spohn. He served as principal and teacher from 1908 until 1911 when he resigned to become Zapata County treasurer and the administrator of the County School Depository. Martinez held this position through 1916. By this time he had married his second wife, Guadalupe Uribe, a sister of his first wife, she was nearly 15 years his senior. No children were born of this marriage.

In 1917, Martinez was appointed Sanitary Inspector of Zapata County by the State Health Department. During his two years term, he actively attempted to reduce conditions which led to the spread of contagious diseases. From 1919 until 1921, he devoted his time to farming and ranching. Although he continued to supervise his lands and rental properties throughout his life, Martinez accepted a position with the Laredo law firm of Hicks, Hicks, Dickson and Bobbitt in 1921, and moved to Laredo.

This firm changed names several times during Martinez's tenure as the active partners changed. Martinez's duties included work as bookkeeper, cashier, auditor, translator, interpreter, abstracter, and investigator. His knowledge of kinship networks and histories of land ownership in Zapata County was an especially valuable asset to the firm. He also served as a Notary Public and remained active in politics, primarily as a supporter for various candidates among the Zapata County electorate.

The second Mrs. Martinez died in 1935. Two years later, Mercurio married Cristina Trevino, originally of Guerrero, Tamulipas. His only son, Mercurio Martinez, Jr., was born to this marriage in 1937. A daughter, Rosa, was born a few years later.

Mercurio Martinez retired from the Laredo law firm in 1942 at the age of 66 but continued to work with local lawyers on occasional cases having to do with land ownership. Interests in the history of the region his forebearers had pioneered led him to cooperate with Virgil Lott of Roma, Texas, in writing a county history, The Kingdom of Zapata, which was published in 1953. Active participation in the work of the Laredo Historical Society and the Texas State Historical Association occupied some of his time.

One of the great achievements of Mercurio's long and vigorous life was his role in the salvation of the community of San Ygnacio. The decision to build the great Falcon Dam in 1949 marked the doom of the ancient towns along the river south of Laredo. Guerrero in Mexico and Zapata, Lopeno, Falcon and other communities in Zapata County, Texas, were to be lost forever under the waters of a reservoir which would bring life to dry soils farther down the valley. The lands, the old stone homes, the churches, the places familiar to six generations of men and women, and even the cemetaries where the ancestors lay buried were to be inundated by the waters of the river which had beckoned the first pioneers. Men fought this fate and were accused of blocking progress. In the long-run "progress" won, and the dam was built. What this meant to the people of the region is clear in their words which describe the filling of the reservoir. Among them it is known as the Great Flood.

San Ygnacio, then a community of about one thousand, was far enough upstream from the dam to be spared submersion in a watery grave; however, the town-site had been condemned as part of the federally administered area around the new lake. Bull-dozers rather than water were destined to destroy the last remnants of an ancient heritage. The community united, and in April, 1951, the 75-year-old Don Mercurio Martinez was appointed chairman of the "Committee for the Preservation of San Ygnacio." He communicated the passion of his people to the lawyers who worked with him and the other committee members. A petition was drafted in eloquent language befitting the circumstances and signed by the people of San Ygnacio. Through the good will of men like Congressmen Lloyd Bentsen and Senators Tom Connally and Lyndon B. Johnson, the order to destroy San Ygnacio was rescended.

With this victory behind him, Don Mercurio turned to the task of helping the stricken people of the towns whose doom remained sealed. He worked as a key agent of the International Boundary and Water Commission in contacting the many citizens of Zapata County who were resettled on higher ground. His notes reveal that he attempted to convey their requests to the authorities.

When this work was completed, Don Mercurio retired again to the maintenance of his scattered farms and ranches and the administration of his numerous rental properties in Laredo, San Ygnacio, and New Zapata. He corresponded frequently with those of his tenenats who worked part of the year as crop-pickers in the north, as well as, with his children who went away to college. He located Zapata County landmarks for his associates in historical societies and wrote accounts of family history so that these things would not be lost to time. Assisting friends and relatives in the preparation of wills and other legal documents and taking people on tours of San Ygnacio occupied many hours. During the tours he pointed with pride to the stone houses with ancient beams which had been floated down the Rio Grande from New Mexico so very long before when his grandparents were young.

At last he was in his late eighties and must not have had much energy left for his papers. Very few are dated past 1963, when he was 87 years old. Yet, even in 1965, the year of his death, he was still planning and dreaming. His last papers are the plans for the construction of a small dam on one of his ranches in Zapata County. They are dated 1965.

Mercurio Martinez, 1876-1965, as revealed in his papers, was a complex and fascinating man. His autobiographical accounts, written in stilted legal English, reveal only parts of the framework of his life. Since his prose in Spanish flows with great freedom it is regretable that he did not leave the story of his life in his mother tongue. He was a man of two worlds. That which is revealed about him in the papers written in English conveys primarily the legal mind, the businessman with expertise in accounting, the efficient face presented to the larger society in which he lived. In the relatively few documents preserved in Spanish, he is a different man. His "corridas" are songs of the heart as it wonders about man's destiny. It is hard to believe that the beautiful Spanish ballad of the doomed Zapata was written by the same man who wrote the official notes in English on the property holdings and expectations of Zapata residents for the International Boundary and Water Commission. With very few exceptions, it was only in the Spanish language that Mercurio Martinez revealed himself as the emotional, human person that he was.

As a man of two worlds, Mercurio Martinez has left scholars of the future a rich heritage for the understanding of a time and a place. There is a loss because he did not come to terms completely with his bilingual heritage. He tried to leave his written heritage primarily in English, but, in spite of his technical mastery of the language, he apparently did not accept it as a language for expressing the feelings and emotions which make history truely comprehensible. He left us too little in Spanish, possibly because he thought that he had to leave his record in English for it to count in his native land. His papers reflect this, and that is also an historical lesson.


Legal status

Functions, occupations and activities

Mandates/sources of authority

Internal structures/genealogy

General context

Relationships area

Access points area

Subject access points

Place access points


Control area

Authority record identifier

Institution identifier

Rules and/or conventions used


Level of detail

Dates of creation, revision and deletion




Maintenance notes

  • Clipboard

  • Export

  • EAC

Related subjects

Related places