Key West Cubanitas Are Avenged

In 1870, another incident occurred in Key West that indirectly touched the family. A famous journalist, Gonzalo Castañon, owned a pro-Spanish newspaper in Havana, La Voz de Cuba. Castañon penned vile editorials on Cuban women and their lack of morality in Key West and suggested in his editorials that all native Cubans should be exterminated, leaving Spaniards to repopulate the island. These sentiments created a furor among Cuban Creoles in Key West.

His newspaper’s editorial on the fallen women of Key West was rebutted by the Key West Cuban paper, El Republicano, published by an older gentleman, Juan Maria Reyes.

Castañon decided to confront Reyes in person, writing his will before embarking on the ship, Alliance, for Key West on the evening of Friday, January 28th, 1870. He wanted an encounter with Señor Reyes, blithely unaware of his enemy’s impending visit.

Castañon, two friends, and his physician, Dr. Esteban Pinilla, arrived in Key West at seven in the morning the following day, registering at the Russell Hotel on Duval Street. One of Castañon’s two companions went to the newspaper office, inquiring as to whether Señor Reyes could meet with the visitor from Havana. Señor Reyes agreed to meet Castañon, and went unarmed.

“You are director of El Republicano?” inquired Castañon.

“Indeed, I am,” Señor Reyes responded.

“Did you send me a telegram and a letter indicating you did not receive the article I sent you?” Castañon continued, more threateningly.

“I did not receive the article to which you refer, Señor Castañon,” Reyes responded.

The Spaniard, filled with rage, slapped him in the face. Castanón’s friends intervened and ushered Reyes, a defenseless old man, out of the room.

The incident produced a firestorm in Key West. Most Cubans were still angry about Castañon’s previous editorials on the dubious morality of Cuban women, and Castañon was brought up on charges and a bond of two hundred dollars was posted against him.

On January 31st, a group of young Cuban men came to the Russell Hotel, asking to meet with the editor to get an explanation of what had occurred earlier with Señor Reyes.

The conversation became heated, and one of the men shot Castañon, killing him. The young man, Mateo Orosco, screamed: “Cuban women, you’ve been avenged. Viva Cuba!”

Orosco escaped from Key West with a thousand-dollar bounty on his head. The other young men were incarcerated.

Castañon’s body, returned to Havana in a casket, was promptly interred on February 2nd in the Espada Cemetery. The Peninsulares made angry public comments about the Key West Cubans and conducted a series of civil disturbances as a result of this strange man’s assassination.

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