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Abilene replaces Buffalo Gap as seat of Taylor County
October 23, 1883
On this day in 1883, the new railroad town of Abilene became the Taylor county seat. Taylor County was organized in 1878 with Buffalo Gap as the original seat. When the Texas and Pacific Railway began to push westward in 1880, several ranchers and businessmen met with H. C. Whithers, the Texas and Pacific track and townsite locator, and arranged to have the railroad bypass Buffalo Gap. They agreed that the route would traverse the northern part of the county and consequently their own land, and that a new town would be established between Cedar and Big Elm creeks east of Catclaw Creek. C. W. Merchant apparently suggested the name Abilene, after the Kansas cattle town. By 1890 the city had a population of 3,194; in 2000 it had 115,930 residents.
First Texas Cavalry, USA, embarks on Rio Grande campaign
October 23, 1863
On this day in 1863, the First Texas Cavalry, USA, left New Orleans for South Texas as part of the Union effort to interdict the lucrative trade between Confederate Texas and Mexico. The First was one of two regiments of Unionist cavalry from Texas to serve in the Civil War; the Second was formed in Brownsville after the Rio Grande campaign got underway. Loyalty to the Union was anything but a major consensus in Texas during the Civil War. A total of 1,915 Texas men served the Union cause, in contrast to the many thousands who served the Confederacy. Brownsville was a center of Unionist sentiment. Significant numbers of civilians who supported the North fled to the lower Rio Grande, where a provisional state government was set up under Andrew J. Hamilton, and where Edmund J. Davis and others recruited cavalrymen for the North. Davis had formed the First Texas Cavalry, USA, in New Orleans in 1862. In November 1864 the regiment was merged with the Second into the First Texas Volunteer Cavalry. This new twelve-company regiment engaged in patrolling and reconnaissance duties until the end of the war, and was mustered out of service on November 4, 1865.
Plane crashes into religious shrine
October 23, 1970
On this day in 1970, the lower Rio Grande Valley town of San Juan made international headlines when Francis B. Alexander smashed a rented single-engine plane into the Virgen de San Juan del Valle Shrine. The town of San Juan was organized in 1909 by John Closner near his San Juan Plantation. In 1949 Father Joseph Azpiazu brought to his San Juan parish a replica of the image of Our Lady of San Juan, venerated at San Juan de Los Lagos in Jalisco, Mexico. The image is a statue about three feet high, clothed in traditional robes. Soon the church became a place of pilgrimage for many Mexican Americans in Texas; on weekends hundreds of pilgrims would come to San Juan to pray. The crowds grew, and in 1954 the construction of a larger shrine was completed and dedicated by Father Azpiazu. On the day of the 1970 crash the pilot had reportedly radioed a warning that all Methodist and Catholic churches in the lower Rio Grande Valley should be evacuated, then twenty minutes later struck the shrine, which at the time was occupied by more than 130 people. The pilot was the only fatality. Two priests were able to save the statue of the Virgin, but damages to the shrine were estimated at $1.5 million and were a devastating blow to the community. A mass effort was initiated to reconstruct the church. In April 1980 San Juan again made international headlines when the new shrine was dedicated; the televised ceremonies were shown nationally on the Spanish Information Network.
posted by Jeff - 10.22.2011 - The Texas State Historical Association