What Mattered in Mercedes 100 Years Ago
By Eileen Mattei
Often we forget that history is more than headlines about politics and wars. Reading advertisements in old newspapers gives us a glimpse into the lives of Mercedes residents 100 years ago and the things that interested them.
I paged through the Mercedes Tribune’s classified ads and display ads for August 18, 1920, and for 1918 online at the City of Mercedes’ Digital Portal. The city had been in existence for more than 10 years by then, and its economy revolved around agriculture.
Sellers paid a penny a word to place classified ads. Since few people had telephones (those who did had two-digit numbers), potential buyers would go the address or write a letter.
Mr. P. Brennan had 200 mules to select from: “One week free trial on any one sold.”
J. W. Thompson, an experienced farmer, wanted to rent 40 acres that had “teams, implements, seed and water furnished. Will work on halves. See my present crop or ask my neighbors.”
Who was taking a nap when this happened? “Strayed 2 brown mules … Necked together when last seen. Mare in good flesh. Reward.” A Weslaco man offered $10 reward for two lost bay horses.
Florence Settles listed a saddlehorse for sale. Fred Buehler wanted to sell a “fresh family cow, big milker.”
You have to wonder about “For sale: 16 acre corn crop in the field, Mile 16 West tract.” Did the farmer get sick or die?
Fred Johnston of Panchita Ranch in Lyford ran two ads that make me think he was getting out of farming or at least downsizing. “Selling few blocks of land on North side Mile 18… Best ranch lands in the Valley. A bargain. Come see me before they are all gone.” And “Horses, mules, all kinds of livestock and irrigated ranchlands.”
The Mercedes Café sought “fresh eggs and poultry of all kinds—highest cash price.”
An improved 40-acre farm on the main river road south of Mercedes was for sale at $300 acre.
In comparison, a 2.5 acre tract two blocks from the new high school had an asking price of $3,500 and was recommended for a home and orchard.
Owner Claribel Schenck offered desirable lots for home builders on Missouri, Ohio and Texas Avenues with frontages of 50, 75, or 100 feet. An owner in Indiana put up for sale or trade 40 acres in the West Tract with 20 acres in crop, house and citrus. “Would trade for town property.”
A listing under business opportunities said: Corn mill complete with 15 hp Fairbanks-Morse engine, belting and shafting. Was there no demand for milled corn?
The Sample and Salvage Store at the corner of Ohio and 4th St. wanted to buy second-hand furniture. Do you think people who sold to him were upgrading or moving away?
Also listed for sale: Ford Roadster in good condition at Crawford & MacVean’s Garage. One notice read: Found: Goodrich tire on rim on Ohio Avenue. Recover at electric plant.
Farm buyers continued arriving in Mercedes on homeseeker trains organized by land companies. A 1918 story noted that a “W. E Stuart Land Co. train arrived with 132 people who are busy looking over the West Mercedes tract of 30,000 acres. The J.C. Engleman Land Company train is also in with an unusual large number of homeseekers. This company has already sold nearly all of its holding at Donna — more than 10,000 acres in less than a year. “
That helps explain the big display ad for Overland cars placed by car dealer L. Hoyt. The Overland cars were hired out to taxi potential land buyers around to fertile, irrigated fields where farmers were “planted” to talk about the multiple crops they were growing in the Magic Valley. The ad read, “Get one of these cars, put it in the land runs, and pay it out. Others have done it. Why not you?” Think of it as early-Uber.
Hoyt had the Willys Six, a 7-passenger, 6 cylinder touring car, that boasted 45 hp and 120 inch wheel bases, for only $1465, including war tax. The Country Club model held four passengers, had wire wheels and reversible seat for $950. The Light Four, a 5-passenger, 32 hp touring car, listed for $895 including war tax.
Many display ads were addressed to farmers. Carlisle and Jones promoted “a carload of extra good mules, well broke and ready for work, at reasonable prices. Every mule’s guaranteed to be as represented. Ask at Carlisle Meat Market. “
The ad for Aker & Jones Buyers and Shippers read “Always in the market for your vegetables. We pay cash.” Wetegrove & Co. announced they were “ready to buy all varieties of vegetables in bulk at market prices.”
H. O. Wyland of La Feria ran a large, eye-catching ad Pigs! Pigs! Pigs! for his purebred Spotted Poland china pigs. He also offered eggs for setting from White Leghorn chickens.
Broomcorn, used to make brooms, was a trendy Valley crop 100 years ago. One large ad offered first class broomcorn seed “with a germination rate of 98% when planted at three pounds of seed to the acre.” The fibrous brush sold for $400 per ton.
The history of Mercedes is found in the stories of individuals who lived here.