Concepción García, 1919

Concepción García, (9) Shot and Killed by U.S. Soldier on the Rio Grande near Havana, 1919

In April 1919, nine-year-old Concepción García lived in Texas to attend school. She became ill and needed to return home to Mexico to recover. With the help of her mother, Maria, and aunt, Concepción attempted to cross the Rio Grande into Mexico. As Concepcíon’s father, Teodoro, looked on from the Mexican bank, he witnessed Lieutenant Gulley of the U.S. Cavalry firing at his family. Concepcíon was shot and died from her injuries. A court martial investigated the shooting and found that Gulley was guilty of manslaughter for firing on unarmed persons. Despite the court finding, acting on the advice of the board of review, the judge advocate general, and the secretary of war, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson ordered the lieutenant freed. Lieutenant Gulley was restored to military duty in September 1919.
Concepción García’s parents filed a claim through the 1923 U.S.–Mexico General Claims Commission. They charged the U.S. government with the wrongful death of their daughter and denial of justice for failing to punish a U.S. border agent. Hearing the case on December 3, 1926, the General Claims Commission discussed the duty not only of municipal and federal authorities but also of soldiers to eliminate any reckless use of firearms. For U.S. soldiers on the U.S.–Mexico border, the commissioners referred to U.S. Military Bulletin No. 4 of February 11, 1919, stating that “firing on unarmed persons supposed to be engaged in smuggling or crossing the river at unauthorized places, is not authorized.” Moreover, General Order No. 3 dated March 21, 1919, outlined that “Troop commanders will be: held responsible that the provisions of Bulletin No. 4 . . . is carefully explained to all men.”
The commissioners found that states should be punished for “such offenses as unnecessary shooting across the border without authority.” The commission obligated the U.S. government to pay an indemnity on behalf of Teodoro García and Maria Apolinar Garza. The tribunal decided, “An amount of $2,000 without interest, would seem to express best the personal damage caused by the claimants by their killing of their daughter by an American officer.”