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home : perspectives : historico chaparral by tony bill April 15, 2014

4/10/2013 9:00:00 AM
J. T. Canales and the 1919 Texas Ranger Investigation
Part three of four
J. T. Canales
J. T. Canales

(Part three of a four-part series)

Testimony of Attorney Thomas Wesley Hook

During the 1919 Texas Ranger Investigation conducted by a joint committee of the Legislature, State Representative J.T. Canales levied nineteen charges against the Rangers. Interestingly enough there was an additional charge filed in person by one of the ninety citizens that testified before the Investigating committee. Thomas Wesley Hook, a lawyer from Kingsville, Texas, testified that he was assaulted by two Texas Rangers at the Courthouse of Brooks County, Falfurrias, Texas.

The confrontation was a result of a petition prepared by Thomas Hook, at the request of "Mexican" citizens of Kingsville who were protesting and seeking relief from the abuse of law enforcement officers in Kingsville. The priest of the Mexican neighborhood Catholic Church approached Hook seeking his legal assistance in preparing a legal document protesting the arrest of several "Mexican citizens" and inquiring about the "disappearance" of two of those Mexican citizens at the hands of law enforcement officers.

Hooks complied with the request and prepared a petition that addressed "the indiscriminate killing of Mexicans in this State lately, without a trial, many of whom we believe were wholly innocent, and all of whom are presumed so until proved guilty; you see that we have reason to believe that our liberty and even our very lives are menaced. One or more of us may have incurred the displeasure of someone, and it seems only necessary for that someone to whisper our name to an officer, to have us imprisoned and killed without an opportunity to prove in a fair trial, the falsity of the charges against us. We have reason to believe that we may be denied, not only the right of trial by jury, and the right to be face to face with witnesses against us, and the right to counsel, and the right to cross-question the witnesses accusing us, and the right to produce evidence of our innocence, but we, some of us who sign this petition, may be killed without even knowing the name of him who accuses."

The petition continued: "..let us point out that the great majority of the people of the Mexican race living in this city (Kingsville) and county, are honest, law-abiding and peaceful citizens, who labor for good order, community betterment and culture within their modest sphere. It is the right, guaranteed under the United States of America Constitution, to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, that each of us, and of these, expected. It is those rights which have been ruthlessly and violently denied. And we look to you, the constituted authority, the custodian to whom is entrusted the safe guarding of such rights to all, to safeguard such rights to us."

The petition was signed and copies were sent to the governor of Texas and the President of the United States.

Attorney Thomas Wesley Hook testified before the joint committee investigating the Texas Rangers and stated that several months after filing the petition, he was at a session of the District Court for Brooks County, sitting in "the attorneys enclosure of the District Court room" when a "man whom I afterwards learned was Texas Ranger Capt. John Saunders walked over to the table where I was standing and asked me if my name was Hook. I said 'yes, sir.'"

Capt. Saunders then said to Hook, "When you are at leisure I would like to see you."

In his testimony before the joint committee Attorney Thomas Hook recalled that he laid down some legal papers and followed Capt. John Saunders out of the courtroom and into the hallway where the Texas Ranger asked him, "Are you the (expletive deleted) that wrote that petition at Kingsville?"
Hook responded "I took data that was furnished me by a Mexican and put it in the form of a formal petition."

Capt. Saunders countered, "Don't you know that all that stuff was a damned lie?"

Hook quickly answered, "No, I don't, and more than that I believe it was all true."

Hook testified that Capt. Saunders "then drew his pistol, keeping the handle of it in his hand, and came down at me with his right hand. I warded the pistol off with my left and he recovered himself and came down again and again I caught his pistol and warded it off. He came down again and that time the second Ranger...grabbed my left hand with which I was warding off the pistol. However, I managed to free it and to ward off the pistol, and the Captain, he came down the fourth time with his pistol. I said then, 'you are a pretty officer to attack an unarmed citizen with a pistol.'"
Hook continued, "By then or about that time I made the statement, 'what is the matter with you, are you drunk?'

Capt. Saunders answered "Do I act as though I were drunk?"

Hook remarked, "You smell as though you were."

About that time deputy sheriff L. N. Porter and court reporter J. B. Dodson came upon the disturbance and Capt. Saunders stepped back and apologized to Hook, "I beg your pardon, I didn't know you were unarmed.."

Deputy Sheriff L. N. Porter then approached Hook and said, "Hook, he has done all he can, he has apologized, let him go." Porter then pushed Hook back into the District Courtroom.

Captain John Saunders was dismissed from the Texas Ranger force after members of the joint committee expressed outrage with his conduct. The bodies of the two Mexicans who had "disappeared" somewhere between Kingsville and Brownsville were never found. An investigation by the United States Department of Justice determined that the two had been killed by "State officers."


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