Sunday, October 2, 2011

In Search of Sam Houston Burris

According to the Torbitt Document, two men from Mexico--Sapet and Alfredo Cervantes--had, eleven years prior to the assassination of President Kennedy:
positioned themselves in a field adjacent to the rear of [anti-George Parr attorney, Jake] Floyd's house and when Buddy Floyd, Jake's 19 year old son who resembled his father, started out of the house to the garage, Cervantes mistakenly shot Buddy through the head, killing him. Cervantes, Sapet and Nago Alaniz, George Parr's personal lawyer, were indicted for the assassination and for conspiracy to murder. Sapet was caught before he could cross the Mexican border and was given a 99 year sentence. Cervantes crossed back into Mexico where he found his Division Five assassination group and although Mexican authorities arrested him, political pressure was brought to bear and Alfredo has remained a free man in Mexico despite sixteen years of constant effort to extradite him by Sam Burris, the Alice District Attorney. Burris and Bill Allcorn, Special Assistant Attorney General of Texas, were unable to convict Nago Alaniz, but one of the conspirators gave Bill Allcorn pertinent information. The accomplice told Allcorn that there were twenty-five to thirty professional assassins kept in Mexico by the espionage section of the U. S. Federal Bureau of Investigation; that these men were used to commit political assassinations all over North, South and Central America, the East European countries and in Russia; that these men were the absolute world's most accurate riflemen; they they sometimes took private contracts to kill in the United States; that the contact man for employment of the riflemen was a man named Bowen posing as an American Council of Christian Churches' missionary in Mexico; that you could reach Bowen through the owner of the St. Anthony's Hotel in Laredo, Texas.
Jake Floyd, of course, was an avowed enemy of Parr's political and criminal empire in south Texas. His death was avenged by another young attorney who arrived on the scene at Alice, Texas, the year before Floyd's son was murdered. The subject of this current research is that young attorney in Jim Wells County, Sam Burris, who spent 16 years in an attempt to have Alfredo Cervantes extradited from Mexico to stand trial for the murder of Buddy Floyd. Mexico rejected the extradition for two main reasons, disputing that Cervantes had become a U.S. citizen while in Texas and refusing to extradite because he would face the death penalty not available in Mexico.

Who was Sam Burris, and what can be learned about him?

Sam Houston Burris graduated, first, from Texas A and I in Kingsville and then obtained a law degree from the University of Texas in 1951; he then returned home to Alice, Texas located in Jim Wells County near the famous King Ranch. He wasted no time in becoming county attorney and ran for district attorney in 1954. Once he took office as D.A., he wrote a letter to conservative John Ben Shepperd, the Texas Attorney General, appointed by Governor Allan Shivers, concerning certain actions of George Parr's political cronies, which he suspected were violations of Texas law.

Burris Family Background

According to his 2008 obituary, Sam Burris was born in Pleasanton, Texas (about 40 miles or so south of San Antonio) to Jean Holland (sometimes called John H.) and Anna Ruth Burris.  A Texas birth record indicates a son younger than Sam, named Jean Howard Burris, was born in Bexar County to Jean H. and his wife, Ruth La Reaux (or LaRoe?) in 1934; later public records indicate that this John H Burris, lived in Alice, Texas in the early 1990's. (Possibly he changed the spelling of his first name from the French spelling "Jean" to John, as members of her family spelled their names as LaRoe, rather than the "La Reaux" spelling shown on the birth record.) 

Further evidence of the family's history is presented in a January 1938 notice in the Laredo Times: Mrs. J. H. Burris (Sam's mother) was in attendance at the celebration of her grandparents' 65th wedding anniversary--Aaron L. and Hettie J. (Wilson) Hale. The Hales had two daughters married to men named A.E. LaRoe and Daniel Reid LaRoe, both of San Antonio. The notice reported that Mrs. Burris (actually the daughter of Dan R. and Mary E. Hale Laroe) had three children named "Connie Jean, Sammy and John Burris," of Alice, Texas. There were two other Hale daughters named in the society item, living near the Hales, in Laredo--Mrs. J.B. [Emma Hale] DaCamara and Mrs. Ross Swisher. 

The LaRoe family seemed to congregate around the Atascosa County arena, where Mrs. Burris' uncle, James Laroe, had tragically killed himself and a son in 1937. 




After this horrendous event, however, Mrs. Burris may have been more amenable to leaving Pleasanton. It was at about that time that Sam's family had moved from Atascosa County to Alice, where he attended grade school and had graduated from high school. 



Census records reveal that his father, Jean Burris, and a brother named Carlos were engaged in farming in Atascosa County in 1920. It would have been during that farming venture that he had met and married Ruth La Reaux/LaRoe. For a time they lived in San Antonio with their first two children--Sam, or Sammy as he was called, and Connie Jean, before the subsequent birth of John Holland Burris, Jr. in 1934. Sammy's maternal grandfather, Dan LaRoe was a railroad engineer and had taken his young family to Mexico after young Ruth (Mrs. Burris) was born around 1897. Undoubtedly Ruth had learned to speak fluent Spanish living in the foreign country during her youth. Her younger siblings, Dan Jr. and John H. LaRoe, were actually born in Mexico in 1920 and 1922, but the family returned to Texas before the youngest child, Emma Lou, was born in 1925 and later married John Victor Huntress, Jr. of San Antonio.



Ruth LaRoe's grandparents, the Hales, lived in Lockhart (Caldwell County), Texas before 1900 and later moved to Laredo. Ruth's aunt, Emma Hale, had married J.B. (Bernie) DaCamara in Laredo.  The Laredo Times reported in 1931 that they owned a cottage in Corpus Christi named "J. B. Emma," located close to the "Breakers Hotel on North Beach, and is a mecca for friends to visit. For many years, Mr. and Mrs. DaCamara have entertained groups of intimate friends for a week at a time throughout the vacation months."



Emma Hale's mother-in-law, Laura Gravis DaCamara, had been born in Corpus Christi, Texas in 1848 to John Allen Freeman (and Irenah Hall) Gravis. Seemingly an official in the Republic of Texas, he was born in Germany in 1810, though some of the family genealogists locate his family in Pennsylvania rather than Germany; perhaps he was a traveling diplomat. 
He was, however, a hotel proprietor according to this Corpus Christi Caller's website entry:
J.A.F. Gravis, a [Battle of] San Jacinto veteran, opened the California House in 1849, a hotel for Gold Rush prospectors coming through. His hotel was at Chaparral and William. Gravis, a bricklayer, and his partner H.W. Berry built many of the early shellcrete structures. After Gravis died of yellow fever, his widow Irenah married Berry and they turned the hotel into a boarding house. Mrs. Berry’s sons would ring a bell to summon boarders when meals were ready.


Irenah had married Henry W. Berry by the time of the 1870 census. In the interim between 1870 and 1880, Laura Gravis had married Jose Bernardino DaCamara, a dentist, had two children--Harrison and Marie (also called Harry and Mamie in some records)--and moved to Brownsville, Texas. Five years later, the Florida census recorded Laura residing in Volusia County (without her husband), in a household with her three children and a 75-year-old woman named E.A. DaCamara, presumably her mother-in-law. By 1900 she had returned to Texas, where she reared the children with help from her spinster sister, Hettie, in Corpus Christi. In 1898 Harry Da Camara was reported to be a member of the Texas Treasury department.


The following item appeared in the December 19, 1909 edition of the Laredo Times:
Mrs A. L. Haile [sic], mother of Mrs. J. B. DaCamara who with her daughter Miss Jessie [Hale], have been on a several weeks visit to Mr. J. B. DaCamara and family, left yesterday for their home in Monterrey.
Bernie's father had been born in Massachusetts in 1837, his own father having emigrated to America from the Portuguese archipelago of Madeira and married a young Baltimore girl named Eliza Wheeler. Born in Maryland in 1882 before his parents headed west for Texas, Bernie's father was one of many DaCamara men who bore the name of Jose Bernardino. In fact, one J.B. DaCamara was even reflected in the 1860 census in Texas. DaCamara, like Gravis, was a very old family in Texas.


Sam Burris' Mother's First Cousins

Bernie DaCamara's older brother, Harrison Gravis DaCamara, worked as a railroad agent in Laredo (the International & Great Northern), and the wedding announcement in 1930 for his son, Randolph Lawrence DaCamara, revealed that the newlyweds planned to live in Mexico City, where the groom ran a Dodge Brothers car dealership. Harry's eldest son (Randolph's brother) had the unfortunate first name of Shirley--given to him by his mother, the former Martha Shirley, whose father, Richard J. Shirley, had arrived in Texas from the Isle of Man in 1859. Mrs. DaCamara's brother was also a businessman in Mexico, proprietor of the Shirley Courts, as revealed in this news item from 1936:


James Shirley Of
Mexico City Here
Laredo Times

MARCH 13, 1936
"In 90 days I predict you will be able to leave Mexico City at five o'clock in the morning and be in Laredo by ten that night'', was the prediction of James G. Shirley, Mexico City business man who is here with Mrs. Shirley visiting her sister Mrs. H. G. DaCamara. Shirley is the owner of Shirley Courts, one of the finest tourist accommodation spots in Mexico City. He and Mrs. Shirley will leave here for visits in Detroit and Rochester, Minn. Shirley drove from Mexico City to Laredo and reported the finishing touches being put on the highway.



Other sources reveal that the Shirley Courts had a catering contract with Pan American Airlines and that it was the favored spot for Americans to stay in Mexico City. Mr. Shirley died in December 1945--with a short obituary appearing in the Laredo newspaper--but 30 years later the courts were seemingly still being operated by his heirs:
James G. Shirley, 57, operator of the Shirley Courts in Mexico City and one of the best known members of the American colony there, a brother of Mrs. Harry G. DaCamara of Laredo, died in Mexico City Friday, according to a dispatch from Mexico City to The Times Saturday night. He was a native of Corpus Christi, son of the late R J. Shirley. He established the Shirley Courts in Mexico City a number of years ago and among his many patrons were many acquaintances from Laredo, where he frequently visited as a guest of his sister.


The sister's son, unfortunately named Shirley DaCamara, was a teacher and coach of the Laredo High school until 1928, when he moved to Mexico City to work for with the Dodge Motor company where he was employed at the time of his marriage to Florence McGregor in April 1930. After their first daughter, Patricia, was born in Laredo later that year, the family moved back to Texas. They had another daughter named Priscilla.



Patricia studied at the University of Texas at Austin and joined the Alpha Chi Omega Sorority, and, after graduation in 1952, Patricia worked briefly for the United States Department of State in Washington, D.C. Marrying Lieutenant Austin R. Bryan, USAF, she would travel with her husband on assignments across the United States and around the world. With her education degree, she was able to teach Spanish, French, and ESL in the United States and abroad. She taught in Department of Defense Schools in Europe, in Hanau and Ramstein Germany; in International Schools in Athens, Greece, and Dhahran and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; and in public schools in Laredo and San Antonio, Texas.  Her husband in 1971 was a lieutenant colonel--in charge of the "entire aircraft maintenance effort at Webb [AFB] and control of 728 military men and 198 civilians," according to news reports in Big Spring, Texas.



Patricia, based on the important role her ancestors played in the history of Texas, was also a member of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. Because an ancestor, J.A.F. Gravis, fought in the Battle of San Jacinto, her male ancestors and siblings in that lineage would have also qualified to be members of the Sons of the Republic of Texas and be chosen as Knights of San Jacinto, a secret order on a par with Skull and Bones.


That is not to say, however, that the only Texas heroes that existed in Sam Burris' lineage could be found in the parentage of his mother's kin. There were equally impressive members of his father's side of the gene pool, even though he may not have socialized with them to the same extent. That, however, must be reserved for a later day.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Linda,

Did you see any reference to Howard Burris amongst all of Sam's kinfolk?

Linda Minor said...

Howard who? What are you trying to do, spoil the suspense? Just be patient and keep reading. Become a follower and you'll get notice of when new posts are added.

Linda Minor said...

I received an email from the granddaughter of Sam Burris, Jr., thanking me for writing about his efforts to rein in the bad guys in Duval County. Any other comments about his work or relationships would be greatly appreciated. The comment box is filtered by me, so any responses will be kept confidential upon request.

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