FIRST MAYOR OF CORPUS CHRISTI
AND FIRST SHERIFF OF COUNTY
REST IN OLD BAY VIEW CEMETERY
By E. T. Merriman
In my last historical article on the old cemetery and some of the pioneers, special mention was made of Wm. L. Rogers as one of the leading men of this section. There were others here in the early days deserving of special mention. To begin with, take Judge B. F. Neal, the first mayor of Corpus Christi, elected in 1852. Judge Neal was an able lawyer; in the early days he was appointed special judge of this district, at that time the 4th judicial district. During the war in the early sixties he was elected captain of a company here, called “Neal’s Company.”
He was an influential citizen, active and willing to assist in any enterprise for the advancement of the town, a good booster, establishing a newspaper here before the civil war, called the “Nueces Valley,” resurrecting the paper in 1870, the writer entering the business that year, going into Judge Neal’s office on the west side of Artesian park as an apprentice. The Judge did not publish his paper very long the second time, selling his office the same year to the republicans who had elected a governor, Edmund J. Davis, of Corpus Christi, who lived on Broadway – a residence afterwards purchased by Col. N. Gussett, when Gov. Davis moved to Austin. As far back as 1848 Judge Neal was here on the alert looking after business for Corpus Christi, establishing the first stage line between this city and San Antonio, going to the Alamo City as the agent of the Corpus Christi Transportation company, remaining there for some time, interesting the businessmen of that place to get their goods by way of Corpus Christi, this port being the nearest and cheapest those days, though the depth of water was only sufficient for light draft vessels. What the San Antonio merchants did then they are going to do again – order their goods shipped by way of Corpus Christi as soon as the deep water port is opened, a saving to them when it is done of over three hundred thousand dollars a year in freight charges, it is estimated, with two railroads and a highway between the two places.
Judge Neal, who died in this city years ago, is buried in the old cemetery with only a little headboard to indicate his last resting place, on it the name, “B. F. Neal.”
H. W. BERRY
One of the best known men here in the early days, a pioneer of the pioneers, was H. W. Berry, the first sheriff of Nueces county, in 1846, when the county was organized, Nueces county at that time embracing all the territory south of Nueces river, extending as far west as Laredo and to the Rio Grande on the south, the commissioners’ court at its first meeting fixing the rates of ferriage at Laredo, Rio Grande City and Brownsville.
This old timer, who was a captain of a ranger company, here with Col. Kinney – the founder of Corpus Christi, was undoubtedly a great leader and a man of influence, almost running the town and county, judging from the offices he held, holding the office of sheriff several terms, mayor of the city several terms – in 1854, 1857, 1860-61-63, and was postmaster of the city in 1854. Capt. Berry was a great democrat and had many admirers.
He was a great friend of U. S. Grant, and a rival of his when Gen. Taylor’s army was stationed at Corpus Christi in 1845-46, Grant at that time being a dashing young lieutenant. Hearing something of the story the writer called on the captain at his home in 1884 to get it from first hands.
Capt. Berry said; “Yes, it is true, and I want to tell you Grant came near getting my girl away from me. She was good looking and about the only American girl here, and I took her out riding often, letting her ride my little black pacing mare. One day Lieut. Grant came along and said, ‘Captain, I would like to borrow your little mare this evening.’ I told him that he might take her and a few hours later I saw the lieutenant taking my girl out riding up the beach. Grant came the second time and I loaned him my mare, but not the third time. I told him that I needed the animal. The fact was, the young lady scarcely talked to me when I went to call on her. I saw at once that the gallant lieutenant with his handsome uniform and brass buttons was winning my girl away. I offered to take her out riding again; she consented to go.
“The lieutenant had not been around to take her out riding. She might make him jealous. but my mare was no where to be found. Riding out one day with Capt. McCook, he said, ‘there is your mare, Captain, standing over there.’ i did not recognize her at first, she was so disfigured – mane and tail shaved, a trick of Grant’s. I got her out and when I went to see the young lady and go for a ride, she positively refused to go, saying she would not ride such an ugly animal. Lucky thing for me it was that the United States army was ordered to move on towards Mexico shortly afterwards. It was ‘easy sailing’ after Grant left here, and I soon married the pretty miss.”
By this union one son was born, the late Robt. H. Berry, of Beeville. After the death of Capt. Berry’s wife the Captain married the widow Gravis by whom he had three more sons, all three living here now, the eldest being the present jailer of Nueces county.
Capt. Berry was a brave man, proving it in the very days when he and others had a fight with the Indians near the Santa Gertrudis ranch. It is said that the “red skins” had shot the horse from under Guadalupe Cardenas, one of Capt. Berry’s men. Seeing Cardenas down on the ground and the Indians rushing up to kill him, the Captain dashed by, pulling the unfortunate man up on the horse he was riding as he went, carrying him to a place of safety. Capt. Berry, who died here in 1888, is buried on yonder hillside, in the old city cemetery.
There are many old pioneers deserving of extended mention sleeping their last sleep in the old burying ground. Several of the streets of Corpus Christi are named after them – Lawrence street, Mann street and others; Lawrence street after Dr. D. H. Lawrence, a pioneer physician, and Mann street named for Wm. Mann, one of the leading business men, as proven time and again by reference to the files of old papers – a man of big business, the Corpus Christi Star, published here in 1848 giving him great credit for his untiring efforts in making a success of Col. Kinney’s trade with Mexico, expediting with others the longest train of wagons loaded with merchandise for Chihuahua that ever left Corpus Christi. Wm. Mann and Co. were agents for the New York and Corpus Christi Packet Line of fast sailing vessels, putting goods from the North into Mexico by way of this port.
H. A. Gilpin, who first came here in 1829, when there was not an inhabitant to be seen anywhere around, and who left here after walking along eh bluff, admiring the beautiful bay, came back again, and in 1848 was doing an immense business here with Mexico, taking from this section over six hundred mule loads of goods to Zacatecas. As far back as 1833 Judge Gilpin as agent for a Matamoros house, landed at Copano $80,000.00 worth of goods for Mexico, according to the Corpus Christi Star. In the early days the merchants of Corpus Christi not only shipped goods to Mexico on a large scale for the means of transportation they had, but they went down into Mexico and solicited trade, getting much business from that country to seek this port. The merchants were “go-getters,” the kind Corpus Christi is going to need when this city gets to be a deep water port.
Source: Corpus Christi Caller, June 8, 1924
Transcription by: Rosa G. Gonzales