by Arturo Longoria, McAllen
It was the strangest conglomeration of human riff-raff that has ever been my lot to behold....” So opined writer and journalist Virgil N. Lott, who in 1909 left his job with the Galveston News to establish a newspaper in the small Rio Grande Valley town of Monte Christo. Lott yearned for adventure, but not even tall tales of South Texas bandits and cowboys could prepare him for what he found.
“It was the West,” Lott later wrote, “the glorious last Frontier...and to my young mind, fresh from the staff of one of the big city dailies, there immediately arose visions of a wonderful field for local color for western stories....”
Five days after arriving in Monte Christo, Lott began publishing The Monte Christo Hustler, one of the early English-language newspapers in South Texas. Six months later, the writer moved to Mission. (Monte Christo eventually went bust from excessive salt in its artesian wells.) In 1911, with Bob Jeffreys, he founded The Mission Times. In 1918, Lott moved to Roma to work for the U.S. Immigration Service, and later the U.S. Customs Service.
Though he retired in 1949, writing was in Lott’s blood, and together with Mercurio Martínez Sr., he wrote The Kingdom of Zapata (1953), which detailed the history of Falcon Lake and Zapata County. In 1957, Lott and local historian Virginia Fenwick wrote People and Plots on the Rio Grande, which sought to debunk borderlands myths and legends. Citing his dedication to recording the region’s history, the San Antonio Express dubbed Lott “Old Man Rio.” Virgil Lott died in McAllen in 1960.
From the January 1998 issue.