Antonio Rodríguez was a Mexican national who set out on his twentieth birthday to make a living as a ranch hand in Texas.
His life, the town of Rocksprings, Texas, and international relations would be irreparably altered on November 2nd, 1910 when Effie Henderson was found dead on her front porch, sparking a man-hunt in Rocksprings for her murderer.
With conflicting memories of the event and without trial, a group of Mrs. Henderson’s family members, neighbors, and local officers apprehended Antonio Rodríguez. He was placed in jail. He was not tried. A group of local residents removed Rodríguez from the jail. They marched him to the edge of town. They tied him to a tree and burnt him alive.
Antonio Rodríguez was lynched.
The untimely deaths of these two people, Mr. Rodríguez and Mrs. Henderson, sparked international debate. In Mexico, people were enraged at the absence of the judicial system. Protesters took to the streets, targeting American properties. In America, while Spanish-language newspapers reported on the lynching and concerned themselves with the failure of the state to provide adequate protection for people of Mexican descent, most English-language newspapers ignored Rodríguez’s death and instead reported on the destruction of American property in Mexico by the protesters.
The divergent responses to Henderson and Rodríguez’s deaths contributed to growing international tensions. The incident evoked responses from high ranking government officials in both Mexico and the United States, including the Presidents. Most government officials protested the unfair treatment of their interests: for Americans, the loss of property at the hands of protesters; for Mexicans, the lack of protection for people of Mexican descent.
Rodríguez’s death also lead to non-governmental international conversations. For instance, the American Spanish-language paper, La Crónica organized El Primer Congreso Mexicanista to address issues facing Mexican-Americans. Attendees organized La Gran Mexicanista de Beneficencia y Proteción, an (ultimately short-lived) organization intended to address many of these issues.
While the deaths of Henderson and Rodríguez sparked activity on an internal scale, locally, Rocksprings’ citizens were left to deal with the memory of the tragedy as well as lingering hostility.
Among Rocksprings’ residents, accounts of the deaths of Henderson and Rodríguez varied. Many upheld Rodríguez’s innocence, some blamed Henderson’s husband, others believed Rodríguez was responsible for Mrs. Henderson’s death. Many say the town was cursed after Rodríguez’s death, resulting in a 1927 tornado that ripped through Rocksprings, killing seventy two people. Some say it was a curse from God as a punishment for lynching, some say it was a curse from Rodríguez himself.
Over a century since Antonio Rodríguez and Effie Henderson’s deaths, Rocksprings still grapples with the legacy of the tragedy. In 2010, on the hundredth anniversary of the deaths, Rocksprings residents, both Anglo and Mexican Americans, gathered for a memorial service for both Rodríguez and Henderson. During the service, the priest led the residents in a prayer for the souls of Rodríguez and Henderson, for both of their families, for the persons who brought them harm, and for residents of the area to release any lingering grief about past events. He ended his sermon by asking for God to give the residents of Rocksprings the strength to forgive and heal past crimes.