Monday, December 28, 2009

The Dueling On The Stairs

By LL Moore

In July 1977, my mom and I had one of our frequent infamous fights. Over what? Who knows, that part is long forgotten. But the words she said are not. She told me, “I will be so glad when you leave then all my problems will be solved.” That was a Friday. At work that night, my supervisor found me huddled in a corner crying. Partially through our conversation she gave me the name of her aunt and uncle and insisted I catch the first bus to Salt Lake City, UT on Monday morning. “At least then you will have a chance at life” she told me. That Monday I was boarding a Greyhound bus with $200 and two suitcases bound for Salt Lake City, UT. It was a journey that would help me begin to understand my past.

As a young girl in Texas, I had heard the countless stories of the family champions and heroes. In the short years I knew my grandmother Grace; I do not recall her ever mentioning any thing of her parents. It was a taboo subject us children were not allowed to inquire about and we didn’t. Later through my genealogical research, I learned it was a part of our family history that everyone would rather forget.

On a morning of August 1914, a mysterious man arrived in Brownsville, TX from Alice on the St. Louis, Brownsville & Mexico passenger train. According to T. J. Shanahan, the manager of what is referred to as the Valley Hotel on Levee Street, the man asked for recommendations of somewhere to eat. Mr. Shanahan directed him to a place down the street and the mysterious stranger returned later to the hotel and registered under the name of “Emmett Burgess”. In registering he smeared his place of residence as if to hide it. He asked Mr. Shanahan for some stationery and retreated to his room for the afternoon.

At approximately 4:45 that afternoon, Mr. Shanahan had been speaking with Mr. Burgess and then settled down to his desk to take on the day’s tasks. Mr. Burgess sat on the balcony at the top of the stairs. Upon hearing footsteps coming up the stairs, Emmett Burgess walked to the balcony overlooking the stairs and began to shoot at the two men. In a matter of minutes two men were dead and one wounded.

On Monday August 17, 1914 the Brownsville Herald Newspaper Extra headline read:
H. G. Dubose Assassinated
Shot down by G. J. Schoenbohm of Alice

An extra edition of the Brownsville Herald was produced on this day to cover the story that went around the nation. Stories also appeared in major newspapers across the country including Salt Lake City, UT, Oakland, CA and San Antonio, TX.

According to newspaper reports of The Brownsville Gazette, H. G Dubose, Chief of the US Immigration Office and his brother E. (Ed) M Dubose, US Customs Inspector, were responding to a note that came from a mysterious Emmett Burgess. Mr. Burgess claimed on the note that he had some information regarding a case that Ed Dubose was working on. Ed Dubose questioned folks around town, regarding “Emmett Burgess” but when no one knew or heard of him, he acquired the assistance of his brother H G Dubose, and came prepared for a possible ambush. Ed Dubose escaped with a wounded leg but was charged with killing of G. J. Schoenbohm. He was later acquitted. H. G. Dubose had four bullets in him, and was killed. G. J. Schoenbohm held 15 bullets in his bullet ridden body. Schoenbohm was also disguised with brown hair die on his hair and eyebrows, was wearing brown gloves, shaved his moustache and wore shaded glasses to complete his disguise. It was only through a letter on his personage and a casual friend he was able to be identified.

On Tuesday, August 18, 1914 the title read, Two Homes Mourn Fathers’ Loss. G. J. Schoenbohm was my great grandfather; his oldest daughter Grace, my grandmother. According to the 1910 census, Gerhard J. Schoenbohm was listed as a father and husband, living in Alice Texas, and married to Carrie. Together they had six children: Grace, Marguerite, Gerhard Jr., Lottie, Katherine and Johnny. Gerhard was born in Germany and was a rail road agent. From further research, I know he was born in Bremen, Germany, and came to the United States at 10 weeks old. He was 21 years old when he married my great grandmother, 17 year old Carrie Valls Linn. They were married for 18 years. In addition to his family duties, he served as an agent to the Texas-Mexican Railroad. Reportedly, he was well liked and well known along the rail route. His oldest daughter Grace was my grandmother.

The story and trial received much attention throughout Texas, Brownsville and the rest of the nation. It had every right so, the news was big. The speculation of the cause of the shooting was domestic troubles. Too often what we forget in a story like this is that while only three people were the main characters of the show, there were several more people affected in two families.

For the Schoenbohm family, the rumors affected them greatly. Monie (Marguerite) was the second oldest child and left in her autobiography incidents of the after math of the shooting. Prior to the killing, they lived on 25 acres of land, and their father had planned to send her and her older sister (my grandmother) to college in the fall. Instead after the shooting, Monie tells the story “My father was killed the summer after I graduated from high school. He had planned on sending my sister and I to the university that fall to further our education. His death put an end to this opportunity.”

Monie also stated in her autobiography, “The circumstances under which my father was killed left our family practically ostracized from the community. Our former friends treated us as though we had some kind of plague”. To deal with these problems, the family left Alice, and settled in Corpus Christi, Texas. Leaving Alice meant leaving their problems behind them. What should have been part of a family history is also part of the history of Brownsville as it was remembered in a chronology series of “Record of Valley History” in The Brownsville Gazette in 1942.

Monie talked lovingly of her father and grandmother, but her mother was a different story. She goes on to tell that her mother was very domineering, with a temper. “From my earliest recollections, I remembered quarrels and disagreements between my mother and grandma (Papa’s mother made her home with us.) These quarrels upset me greatly.” From the problems of the parents, it was passed along to Monie on how she saw herself and life. In later years she reported similar behavior to her parents in ways of marrying a man like her mother who was domineering, and then having an “…unfortunate love affair that practically ruined my later life.”

Monie reported in her autobiography. “Another thing that upset me was the feeling that I was not liked as much as my sisters and brother. Everything I did was criticized severely, even to my looks. My mother, in her fits of anger, would tell me I was ugly, stubborn, talked too much and went way out of my way to make trouble with my brother and sisters.”

From my father’s side of the family where this line comes, I have seen the repeated behaviors and can understand the feelings of Monie. My own father was shot in Corpus Christi, Texas and although reported in the Corpus Christi Caller Times as an “Investigator Shot On Way To Work” there was much speculation as to the story that was told to the public and the circumstances that led up to the shooting. Rumors, like his grandfather, my great-grandfather; there were domestic problems among other issues.

Like Monie, leaving home I thought would resolve the problems in my family, but they did not. The low self esteem and comparison to others were stung into me by my own mother. Her telling me to leave was dealing with her frustration and I believed forced me to take a different road than my family had. This different road has allowed me (I hope) to break the mold that surrounded our family’s past.

Through the years the genealogical research of my family has helped me to understand that our lives mimic that of our own families and ancestors. Whether it is the heroes or the characters, part of them will always be part of each of us in someway. Me leaving did not solve any of my family problems, just as my grandfather shooting down two men solved his. I believe we all have a “dueling” in our lives, just not always on the stairs.


  1. I'm freaking out! If I'm not mistaken, this Gerhardt Schoenbohm you have written about is also my great grandfather on my mother's side. His father is Mehring Janjsen Schoenbohm and his mother is Margaretha Tomke Schroeder. They immigrated to the U.S. on a cattle boat. Here's a record of their immigration: What a story! I'll have to ask my mom about this.

  2. Glennys thanks for the comment!! I have quite a bit on the Schoenbohm do you come in through this line? I can be found on gmail by jmmfan1 if you want to write me!! This is exciting!! Laura

  3. I had heard that my, I believe, great-great grandfather, Mehring Schoenbohm, after he immigrated to the U.S. made his way to Austin. It is said that he had a carpentry business there and he worked on the grand staircase at the Driskill Hotel. All I have at the moment is word of mouth info. I went to Austin on Monday and took pictures of the staircase while there. That got me wondering so I started googling and came across your blog.

  4. Glennys I would love to see the pictures of the staircase. I seem to have remembered that as well. So I am curious....who is your mom? My Grandmother was Grace who was Gerhardt's oldest daughter. I put my email in the post above.