Diplomatic rift after 1931 Ardmore shooting topic of virtual lecture next week

Michael D. Smith

Before 2006, Lee Card had never heard about the Ardmore incident that caused a diplomatic dustup between the United States and Mexico. Now he is one of the few people to have a deep understanding of the brief police investigation that left two young men dead and two local sheriff’s deputies in the middle of an international row.

The June 1931 incident will be the subject of a virtual lecture next week hosted by the University Center of Southern Oklahoma and led by Card. The lecture is part of the center’s Lifelong Learning seminars and was originally scheduled to be held in March but was postponed due to COVID-19.

Card first became aware of the incident after reading a newsletter about Oklahoma history and later chose the topic for his master’s thesis in 2006. “I spent days going through (former Gov. Bill) Murray’s papers and the newspapers. I read a lot of books about Mexico,” he said. 

Three college students from Kansas — Emilio Cortes Rubio, Manuel Gomez and Salvador Cortes Rubio — were returning to Mexico after completing the spring semester in 1931. The trio drove through Ardmore and had stopped at a root beer stand near the intersection of E Street Northwest and 12th Avenue Northwest.

Meanwhile, two Carter County deputies were nearby investigating a burglary and spotted the young mens’ vehicle. The two deputies, Bill Guess and Cecil Crosby, started to investigate the men when something went wrong.

“All of a sudden, gunshots ring out. Guess said these kids pulled a gun on him and he shot and killed both of them. They were dead on the spot,” Card said.

The Daily Ardmoreite front page from June 8, 1931. A shooting hours before this edition was printed left two men dead and started a diplomatic crisis between the United States and Mexico. The incident will be the subject of an online lecture Tuesday, Sept. 15.

The killing of Rubio and Manuel Gomez almost immediately caused international tension considering they were part of wealthy Mexican families; Rubio was the nephew of Mexican President Pascual Ortiz Rubio. Card said then-Gov. Murray immediately sought for the deputies to be convicted and, in the weeks following, often meddled in the investigation and trials.

“There’s a telegram that (Murray) sent within an hour after he would have heard of it saying basically these officers are in the wrong,” Card said.

The incident prompted a letter from President Herbert Hoover to his Mexican counterpart the following day, an apology from the U.S. State Department, and Card said a frenzy of reporters descended on Ardmore — with a then-population under 16,000 residents — to cover the trials.

“Here we are, relatively small town in Oklahoma, and this incident became an international incident. And for good reason,” Card said.

The deputies were later acquitted but the incident was just one of many instances of extreme violence in Carter County during the early years of the Great Depression. Card said the deputies were likely jumpy based on a string of local law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty during the months leading up to June 1931.

A memorial to county law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty stands in the rain on Wednesday. Three of the officers listed were killed in the months leading up to the June 1931 shooting, and Lee Card believes violence at the time contributed to the incident.

“The lesson to me is how routine things can all of a sudden become huge. This was a routine stop and all of a sudden it's an international incident,” Card said.

Card will lead the lecture over an online Zoom meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 15 at 7 p.m. Those interested in the free event can sign up on the UCSO Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/University.Center.Southern.Oklahoma/. A link to the lecture will be posted to the social media page on Monday.