BROWNSVILLE, Texas – There are many unsung heroes in the history of the Rio Grande Valley. One fascinating character was Jose Fernandez Toral. He fled Santander, Spain at the age of 15 with his 13-year-old brother Miguel because it was their mother’s wish that they not be cannon fodder for Napoleon Bonaparte.
When Jose Fernandez came to Brownsville in 1848 he was under the tutelage of his uncle Don Jose San Roman. He was put in charge of a wagon train route from Matamoros to the Brownsville area and then to Monterrey and then San Luis Potosi. He quickly became one of the major players in commerce for this region. He got into the steamboat business, banking, and was a major success.
Jose Fernandez quickly became known as the person that you wanted to ship your goods with across northern Mexico. He quickly formed a friendship with Don Porfirio Diaz that lasted 30 years, and as one of the benefits of the meeting, Jose received a coffee plantation in Vera Cruz, where his children and grandchildren were born.
The landscape of Brownsville is dotted with all kinds of structures that are a solid part of its history. Jose Fernandez acquired many buildings in Brownsville that have the Fernandez name on them and his contribution to Brownsville is a colorful one. It is one that is filled with all kinds of unsung heroes and undertold stories.