by Allene Mandry, contributing writer
What a glorious history Uvalde County has! Lawmen, outlaws, a Texas governor, a famous educator and military school founder, a construction giant, an evangelist, and three Hollywood stars once walked the streets of Uvalde, and, over in Sabinal, a country singer gained fame in Nashville. And, of course, John Nance Garner, former vice-president under Roosevelt, proudly called Uvalde home.
No one is around to remember lawman Pat Garrett, who lived in Uvalde from 1891 to 1900, but a historical marker on West Main marks the spot where his house once stood. His barn still stands on Fort Clark Road. In the same decade, Wesley Peacock, founder of Peacock Military Institute in San Antonio, was the principal of Uvalde High School from 1891 to 1894.
And who can forget John King Fisher? A rancher, outlaw, and lawman, he abandoned his outlaw life and became a deputy sheriff of Uvalde County in 1881 and later acting sheriff in 1884. His new life came to an end when he and noted gunman Ben Thompson were involved in a shootout in San Antonio. One can pay respects to Fisher who is buried in the Pioneer Park Cemetery at the intersection of North Park and Florence streets.
Many of you who attended West Main most likely sat in the same antiquated desks as Henry Bartell Zachry, a 1918 UHS graduate, and Dolph Briscoe, a 1939 UHS graduate, rancher, and banker, who later became governor. Zachry was an engineer, contractor, philanthropist, rancher, and business leader, and founder of H. B. Zachry Company, one of the country’s largest construction companies.
While Zachry was getting an education, Uvalde natives Willis, Wylie “Doc,” Jess, and Joe Newton were serving time in different prisons for various crimes. This didn’t deter their dreams of later forming their own gang which, between 1919 and 1924, robbed 87 banks and six trains across the US and Canada. In 1924, along with two Chicago gangsters, a Chicago racketeer, and a postal inspector, they committed the largest train robbery in history, netting them more than $3 million.
Jess, escaping arrest, headed for San Antonio with some of the loot, but, after getting drunk, he forgot where he hid the money. All eight of the men served time for the robbery, but, afterwards, the Newton boys returned to Uvalde to live out their lives peacefully, at least, for a while.
Doc made a bungled attempt at breaking into a bank in 1968 but was not arrested because of his age. He died in 1974. Willis was implicated in a bank robbery in Brackettville in 1973 but was released. He died in 1979.
Joe Newton, who died in 1989 at the age of 88, became the owner of a gas station and cafe in North Uvalde. The skeleton of the building still stands at the corner of Highway 83 and Highway 55. Nancy George Looper, who worked for many years at the Country Junction across from Joe’s gas station, recalls that Joe Newton would walk over every morning and get a sausage biscuit.
Sue Carper Capt recalls that Joe Newton’s wife, Mildred, managed the lunch counter that was in the basement of Carper’s Dept. Store. Jack Molloy remembers that Mildred Newton later worked at Alan Carmichael’s Uvalde Rexall Drug Store on Getty. “She was a real lady, pretty, but very quiet.”
Warren Massey of Sabinal, who knew both Joe and Willis Newton, recalls that Joe had a non-speaking part in the film “The Alamo,” which was filmed at Brackettville. Massey describes Willis as a “real card.” He remembers that Willis, who then lived about five blocks from Joe’s gas station, had silver dollar pieces in his sidewalk but was always complaining about the “thieving people” who would try to pry the money out of the sidewalk.
Jack Molloy recalls Willis driving around Uvalde in a powder-blue Cadillac convertible, always chauffeured by a pretty young lady.
Lola Bailey Hill, who possesses one of the Newton’s windows in her decor, remembers seeing Joe on television when he was a special guest on the Johnny Carson show in 1980.
George Speir’s father Fred Speir, co-owner of Walgreens at one time, bought Willis Newton’s 17 acres in 1967 and lived there until he died in December of 1998. Speir says the property was located at the corner of Rio Grande and the Old Leakey Highway, which is now County Road 401.
Speir recalls, “There were all kinds of stories about buried treasure and coins embedded in the front porch. People used to jokingly ask my dad if they could go out there and dig around a little.”
Wylie “Doc” Newton lived at one time at 535 N. Park, today the site of an assisted living facility. Mary Louise Fitch Dickehut, who also lived on North Park at the time, remembers that Wylie, too, had silver dollars embedded in his sidewalk, plus he had a stuffed German shepherd in his picture window which was illuminated by a light.
All four brothers, as well as their parents, are buried in Uvalde cemeteries. A fifth brother named Billy wandered away from home in 1935, became lost, and died. His body was found eight months later. Another brother Tull, wounded in WWI, died in 1977 and a sister Ila died in 1973.
It’s ironic that Matthew McConaughey, another famous Uvaldean, played the part of Willis Newton in the 1998 film “The Newton Boys.”
McConaughey, born in Uvalde on Nov. 4, 1969, lived at 518 N. Getty as a small child. His grandparents at one time lived north of Uvalde. McConaughey’s family moved away briefly to San Antonio and then moved back to North High Street where they were neighbors to Louis and Sue Carper Capt.
Mrs. Capt recalls that Matthew attended St. Philip’s Episcopal School kindergarten and that his mother, Kay, also taught there. At the time Matthew’s father had a Texaco Station on West Main. The McConaugheys later moved to Longview where Matthew graduated in 1988.
Ben Kinchlow, another notable Uvaldean, was born in Uvalde in 1936. Kinchlow, son of Harvey Kinchlow, an African-American Methodist minister, served in the U.S. Air Force for 13 years and then received a Master of Business Administration degree before becoming the co-host of The 700 Club from 1975 to 1988 and again from 1992 to 1996. Kinchlow attended Nicholas School in Uvalde when Uvalde schools were segregated.
Jimmie Holland recalls that every summer Ben and other children from the black community would play baseball on various leagues but then disappeared when the school year began.
Gottlieb Langner, born in Kurznie, Poland, in 1864, served as pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Knippa from 1912 to 1944. He was the first president of Texas Lutheran College which had its origins in Brenham in 1891. Langner Hall at Texas Lutheran University in Seguin is named in honor of him.
Bettie Sue Wood and Walter Hillman Smith, the parents of Frances Octavia Smith – better known as Dale Evans – were married in Uvalde in 1911. Dale was born in 1912 at 726 Fort Clark Road on her grandparents’ 40-acre farm, where her mother had come to have her baby. By 1920 the Smith family had moved away, but, over the years, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, married in 1947, returned to Uvalde to visit relatives, many of whom are buried in the Uvalde Cemetery. No one living in the 1950s will soon forget Roy and Dale’s appearance at the Uvalde Centennial in 1956.
Dale’s Aunt Annie Merle married Needham Pulliam and lived at 243 Myrtle St. until her death. Mrs. Pulliam, who had no children, was a favorite of Uvaldeans and was often visited by Roy and Dale. Aunt Hallie Wood married James E. Willingham of Sabinal, and Aunt Rose Wood married Joseph R. Monkhouse. The Monkhouse’s daughter Virginia, who taught in Uvalde, married John Walton Raine.
Jane Fulmer Willingham, whose husband was a cousin to Dale, recalls the time when the entire family went to California to see Roy and Dale where they all swam in their pool.
“I couldn’t help sneaking a peek into one of their closets on a trip to the bathroom. I had never seen such an array of western boots! Once, when Roy and Dale were visiting in Uvalde, three of their children sang at First Baptist Church where my dad was the minister. As for Dale, she led a wild life before settling down with Roy.”
George Speir recalls that his grandparents Mr. and Mrs. George A. Kennedy had a party for Roy and Dale on one of their visits. “Ralph Harris, Dick Smith, and myself got to dress up in our ‘cowboy’ outfits to go meet them before the party started. We were each given autographed pictures. Mine said, ‘George, be a good boy for Roy Rogers.’”
Speir also remembers the time he met Dana Andrews, a major actor of the 1940s, who once lived in Uvalde where Andrews’ father was the minister at First Baptist. “My dad introduced Dana Andrews to me one afternoon after school at the soda fountain in my dad’s drugstore. He was passing through Uvalde and probably saw the name ‘Speir’ on the sign and stopped to visit my dad. This was around 1950 or 1951 because I had walked to the store from West Main School. I remember seeing a Cadillac convertible parked on Nopal Street beside the drug store.”
Carver Dana Andrews, one of 13 children, was born in Mississippi in 1909, but attended school in Uvalde, along with his brother Harlan. Sadly, two of his sisters, aged 2 and 9 months, succumbed to the measles and mumps while living in Uvalde and are buried in the Uvalde Cemetery. The siblings were all quite talented, including brother Steve Forrest, another popular Hollywood star.
Singer Johnny Rodriguez, an athlete and good student, graduated from Sabinal High School. Johnny’s mother’s maiden name was Davis, his mother Isabel being the granddaughter of Dee Davis whom J. Frank Dobie mentions in his book Coronado’s Children. The mother’s house still stands on North Pickford in Sabinal.
Despite being in jail by the time he was 18, Rodriguez rose to stardom in the early 1970s and was doing 100 concerts a year by 1976. Over the past 40 years he has released 35 albums and charted 45 singles and was honored to play at the inaugural ball for George H. W. Bush. Rodriguez recently performed at the Cailloux Theatre in Kerrville.
Warren Massey once played and sang with Rodriguez at the Ranch House Cafe in Sabinal. He recalls, “On Christmas Eve we used to all get together in Johnny’s back yard and play. He was a good kid. Real polite. He just went on a bad time for a while.”
Los Palominos, others
Other notables from Uvalde include Los Palominos, a Tejano music group formed by the Arreola brothers in 1986.
George Nelson, who attended school in Knippa and graduated from Uvalde High School, is a painter, sculptor, illustrator, archaeologist, writer, historian, and historical consultant whose main subject matter is Texas. He is author of the award-winning book “The Alamo: An Illustrated History.”
Joaquin Jackson, famed Texas Ranger, who helped launch Johnny Rodriguez’s career, and his wife Shirley, lived in Uvalde at one time with their two boys, before moving to Alpine.
Charles Schreiner may have established the famous YO Ranch in Kerr County, but it was Uvalde CPA Robert Coleman’s great-grandfather Y.O. Coleman who first owned the brand. Coleman remarked, “Years ago, Charles Schreiner III asked me if I was interested in purchasing any of the ranch. I wasn’t. He was the person who informed me that the ranch came from our family and sent me his research on the brand.”
Arthur Herbert “Jerry” Knippa of Knippa founded Texas Savings and Loan in 1947.
Dan Parman, who graduated from UHS in 1953, was a real estate developer, banker, and philanthropist, best known for helping to develop the Stone Oak subdivision in San Antonio.
And then there is Austin Taylor, a member of the Church of Christ who was a teacher, song leader, and publisher of over 200 religious songs. Also active in the Sabinal Singing School, Taylor died in Uvalde in 1973.
Many other Uvaldeans went on to excel in the fields of education, law, medicine, politics, and sports. One can certainly take great pride in saying “I’m from Uvalde.”
Allene Mandry was born in Uvalde where she attended elementary school before moving to San Antonio. Now a retired teacher, she has a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Education from Trinity University. She spends her time doing genealogy research and giving presentations on genealogy. Mandry and her husband, Arthur, live on a ranch near Camp Verde.
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