Emilio Garcia, Cuban Revolutionist, Had Exciting Career in Early Tampa
By D. B. McKay
An interesting figure in the early life of Tampa's Latin colony was Emilio Garcia, fierce Cuban revolutionist, gambler and alleged murderer. Though yet a boy he was active in the Cuban war for independence from Spain known as "The Ten Years War." He was on the ill-fated steamship Virginius when it was captured by the Spanish man-of-war Tornado near Jamaica Oct. 31, 1873, on the charge that it was about to land men and arms in Cuba. History records that the Virginius was towed into Santiago, where her commander, Capt. Joseph Frye, and all on board the ship were tried and adjudged guilty of aiding the revolution and were ordered shot. On Nov. 7 Captain Frye and 36 of his crew were lined up before a firing squad. Emilio was one of the 36, but just before the command to fire was given he was pulled out of the line—probably on account of his youth. The others were killed, as were 12
more the following day. The incident came very near causing war between the United States and Spain. At the time Spain was a republic, under President Castelar. President Grant ordered our Navy made ready for war, diplomatic relations were on the point of severance and the demand for war was coming from all parts of the country. The Virginius was flying the United States flag when captured, but it was decided by the State Department that the flag was improperly used. However, the vessel was surrendered to our navy and 18 men of the crew-surviving were liberated, and that closed the case. The old steamship, being unseaworthy, foundered in a storm while trying to make an American port. The crew was rescued and landed in New York.
Story of Garcia
But, while the story of "The Virginius Affair," is very thrilling, I started out to tell the story of Emilio Garcia as I remember him. He was not a
large man, but was very powerful. Having lived dangerously since a boy, he gave the impression that he was always on the alert. A prominent citizen who knew him intimately and had seen him in many dangerous situations, once told me that Garcia was absolutely without fear. He had heavy red mustaches which seemed to bristle when he was angry or excited. During his residence here his home was in a two-story house on the corner of Chestnut and Albany Sts., West Tampa. His family consisted of his wife, a son and daughter and a sister. He usually rode a pacing pony which he had imported from Cuba, with a saddle so large that it covered the animal from withers to rump and with large pistol holsters on each side of the pommel, made of fine leather and richly ornamented—the saddle probably cost more than the pony. He was the acknowledged boss of the gambling "industry" in West
Tampa and Ybor City, and several old-timers who were familiar with his habits have told me that when he was out on a tour of the gambling places to collect his tribute he used a buggy, and that many times they saw the floor of the vehicle covered by canvas sacks stuffed with money. He was engaged in "big business," and something usually happened to any of the operators who failed to "come across" or attempted to thwart him. On these collection trips he was always accompanied by a burly Cuban—his body guard.
Tried for Murder
I do not recall that Emilio was ever arrested for his gambling operations. It is probable that none of his victims dared to make complaint or to testify against him. But he was the defendant in two murder trials and strongly suspected in other killings. His first trial was in this county about 1889. He was accused of the murder of Manuel Martinez in a riot at the Knights of Labor Temple in Ybor City, and was acquitted. Shortly after his acquittal of this charge he moved to Key West, and there became very active in promotion of the Cuban revolutionary cause. The Spanish government also had agents in Key West and feeling between the two groups was very bitter. Jaime Mira one of the Spanish agents, was killed
and Emilio Garcia and two others were indicted for the crime. Garcia engaged Col. Hugh C. Macfarlane to defend him and Thomas Palmer was the prosecuting attorney. These two were outstanding in criminal law practice in Florida, and the case attracted a great deal of attention. Following a preliminary hearing at which Garcia was bound over without bail, a writ of habeas corpus was sued out returnable before Circuit Judge Mitchell in Tampa. When word of this proceeding reached Key West a riot occurred, and to placate the rioters the sheriff of Monroe County promised that he would not attempt to take Garcia off the island in response to the writ—and kept his promise, the trial occurred at the Spring term of circuit court in 1892 and resulted in a verdict of guilty. The verdict was set aside by Judge Mitchell upon motion for a new trial, and in connection with his order granting the motion, the judge made the statement that in his court "the jury in any capital case was always composed of 13 men." Four Trials
The second trial of the case was held at the Spring term in 1893, and resulted in a mistrial.
The third trial was held at the Fall term in 1893 and resulted in a verdict of guilty. On appeal to the supreme court the judgment was reversed on numerous grounds, one of
which was that the motion for change of venue on the ground that Garcia and his co-defendants could not obtain a fair trial in Monroe County-should have been granted. As a result of this opinion of the supreme court change of venue was granted and the fourth trial of the case was held in Lee County. The fourth trial resulted in an acquittal.
After his acquittal Emilio returned to Tampa and resumed his "business" activities as well as his efforts for the freedom of Cuba. When the island was wrested from Spanish control in 1898 he disposed of his interests here and returned to his native island with his family. Fie digd_ in Cuba about three years after leaving Tampa. His son is now living in Mexico.
A pioneer citizen of West Tampa told me a story recently which he said was typical of Garcia's methods: A gambling house operator had objected to paying tribute, so the boss decided to have him "removed." he paid a cigarmaker a fancy price to make a box of fine cigars, poisoned then [them] and presented them to the man he wanted out of the way. The cigarmaker did as he had agreed, but later he became frightened and warned the man before he had smoked any of the cigars.
An incident of the first trial of Garcia in Key West was the
3 TAMPA TRIBUNE Note: This was the end of the article on Emilio Garcia. There was another story called Florida's Age that followed the story on Emilio Garcia. indictment of Colonel Macfarlane on the charge of carrying concealed weapons. Judge Mitchell refused to receive the indictment, and that ended the matter—but Macfarlane never forgave Palmer for permitting the grand jury to bring in the bill. My association with Colonel Maclarlane during his long residence here was very intimate, and I never knew him to carry a weapon—to defend himself.
To wind up this already too long narrative 1 have one more story involving Colonel Macfarlane and Emilio Garcia: At the time Garcia was confined in the County Jail on the charge of murdering Martinez another client of Colonel Macfarlane also charged with murder was a prisioned [prisoner] there. There was violent feeling against this man and rumors reached Macfarlane one night that a mob was organizing to take him from jail and lynch him. Fearing that the jail would not be properly defended he hurried there and persuaded the deputy sheriff in charge to release the prisoners from their cells and arm them to defend the place. The leaders of the mob were advised of what awaited them if an assault was made— and they promptly dispersed.
This article was retyped for genealogical purposes by Cheryl A. Sanchez-Sivers on October 4,1998 and is an exact replica of the article in the Tampa Tribune.
Mira Was Not A Spanish Spy
By D. B. McKay
I have received two vehement letters from Key West, repercussions from the story I wrote about the sensational career of Emilio Garcia in Tampa and in the island city. In that story it was stated that Col. H. C. MacFarlane, his counsel based his defense of Garcia on the theory that Jaime Mira, the man he was accused of murdering, was an agent of the Spanish government. This I know to be true—that the defense was based on that theory. But I am convinced by these letters—one from Dario Garcia, an accountant, and the other from Jose P. Mira, son of the murdered man—that this theory was unfounded. Both writers insist that Jaime Mira was an active supporter of the Cuban revolution, and that the real reason for his murder by Garcia was that he was obstructing the looting of a valuable estate by Garcia and a gang of his confederates. Jose Mira presents his case convincingly, and I believe he is correct.
Note: This was written as an aside in a portion of an article that was written by Mr. D. B. McKay. The title of the article is "Shipwrecked Spaniard, Slave of Indians, Tells of White Man's Early Day in Florida." The article on Jaime Mira was found in the second column of this article