Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version



Published in Great Plains Quarterly 16:2 (Spring 1996). Copyright © 1996 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


Around midnight on 13 August 1906, gunshots suddenly rang out on the deserted streets of Brownsville, Texas. Unknown parties indiscriminately fired at a number of private residences, severely wounding a police officer, and into a nearby saloon, killing a bartender and slightly wounding a patron. Apparently all victims were Hispanics. When the ten-minute fusillade was over, witnesses claimed black soldiers from the Twenty-fifth Infantry stationed at adjacent Fort Brown were responsible for the outrage. Substantiation for their accusations seemingly came when civil and military authorities discovered expended military cartridges at the scene.

The Brownsville citizenry had not been happy when they received word that the black Twenty -fifth was to be stationed at nearby Fort Brown and several race-related incidents had occurred between soldiers and white townspeople- Brownsville was a southern town and Jim Crow laws prevailed. After the shooting, anger against the alleged soldier assailants quickly spread across the country. Understandably, debate in the national press divided along racial lines. Although it was never proved in a military court who perpetrated the shooting, President Theodore Roosevelt ordered the First Battalion of the Twenty-fifth, the entire garrison at Fort Brown, dismissed from the United States Army. The soldiers and their supporters fought those discharges for decades to come.