How serious the bandit threat was is a matter of opinion. Both old timers and the younger generation cherish the terror of recounting or hearing bandit stories.

Others among the early settlers are more skeptical. Many people sum up the bandit days as "about eighty percent hysteria, fear and rumor, and about twenty percent performance."

Second Iowa Regiment San Benito, Texas Nov. 17,1916. Road is Robertson St., at the far end of the road, the tower of the San Benito Bank & Trust Co. can be seen.

Photo courtesy of San Benito Historical Society

That the raids did take place is certain. Atrocities were committed on both sides. But increasingly it appears the Valley was simply suffering the same lawlessness that plagued other areas as the American West developed.

The local bandit days happened more recently simply because the Valley was settled more recently. The bandits fled to Mexico because Mexico was close.

Was the army needed? Some say yes and some say no. But whether by necessity or by design, the soldiers came to the Valley, and their presence exerted a calming influence among the local population. But it did not stop the depridations. During that period, San Benito was flooded with troops. The 12th Cavalry was assigned to Ft. Brown, and sent a detachment which camped in Boulevard Heights. The 26th Infantry camped where the post office now stands. Then there were the national guard units from Tennessee, Oklahoma, the Dakotas and other states.

Because of the bandit raids, loyal Spanish-speaking citizens who shared the wrath of the English-speaking population, had a double concern. A large number of people were becoming nervous and suspicious of anyone who spoke Spanish. Vigilance committees were forming, and lynch law was coming close.


The Valley also had a large German population at the time, including Sam Robertson's first wife, Adele. And in that population was a group of shadowy figures which seemed to come and go. There is some suspicion that many of these may have been connected with the General Staff in Berlin, particularly since German advisors were prominent in the Mexican Revolution.

Spanish-speaking workers found it advisible to get letters of reference from their employers, which they kept in their possession constantly in case of being waylaid by vigilantes.

The late Mrs. Hermia Cottrell recalled a man employed by her father, Dr. C.M. Cash, who lost his letter while on the job near Rio Hondo. He made his way to San Benito by back trails, avoiding rangers and vigilantes. He had just reached the post office site when he was caught by a mob. Fortunaltely, Dr. Cash happened by and prevented a lynching.

The trouble provided the perfect climate for those who hated Mexicans and for pathological killers, of which there were several. Two quasi-legal ways of killing a man were the "jail escape" and "resisting arrest."

On the morning of September 14, 1915, the bodies of three Mexicans were found shot in the back some distance from San Benito. The report stated they had escaped from jail during the night. The San Antonio Express raised its eyebrows at this, and noted the same fate had befallen at least half a dozen other men confined to the San Benito jail in the previous six weeks.

But blood was shed impartially. Contractor Stanley S. Dodds barely escaped with his life from an encounter with bandits that cost the lives of two other English-speaking residents. Dodds, an assistant engineer named Smith, and two laborers, Jesus Esparza and Ventura Rodriguez were working on the Los Fresnos pump on the morning of September 1, 1915, when they were surrounded by about 45 bandits.

Photo from "Rio Grande Heritage" by Robertson


They were led to a place called Agua Prieta, east of San Benito, where the outlaws killed and cooked a steer. After lunch, the party encountered a farmer name Donaldson, who was also taken captive. The decision was made to kill the three "gringos."

But Dodds had friends in Rodriguez and Esparza, who kept pointing out how well he had treated them. He also found an unexpected friend in one of the bandits, who pointed out Dodds had helped him after he had been wounded in the seige of Matamoros in 1913. In addition, Esparza reasoned one Mexican does not necessarily harm another, and told the group Dodds was the son of a Mexican father and a German mother. So while Donaldson and Smith died before a bandit firing squad, Dodds remained alive. Meanwhile, word of the capture had reached San Benito, and a search party had ben organized. The searchers drove into the bandit camp, and in the ensuing gunfight Dodds and his two employees escaped.

Eventually the bandit and vigilantee days wound down, but one thing cast a shadow over everything: World War II.