The Little Texas Grandmother
Ana is an amiga who lives in Mazatlán. During the Nalgas trip she told us about her abuelita who lives in a far-out village. You would like my little grandmother Ana said. Want to meet her? We accepted the invitation and several months later we drove into the sierra to a hidden pueblo to meet an old woman vieja.
We sit in tall straight-backed wooden chairs on the veranda. We see what is walking around the village of Macanudo. Veranda. Ver for to see. Anda for what is walking around. Veranda, to see what is walking around. It is cool and breezy and la platica is easy. All seated have blue eyes. The two slender Sinaloa women have lighter skin than the blonde Gringos. Ana is the granddaughter of the 101 year old vieja. The older woman is the cuentista. We listen while she tells. Occasionally the vieja will pause to enjoy a bite of red watermelon sandia sprinkled with red chile cola de rata, rat-tail chile.
Si Señor, yo soy Tejana. I am a Texan. My grandfather was a hacendado before and during the Texas Rebellion. Our land lay between Laredo and the coast. After the rebellion Grandfather Abuelo maintained the hacienda only with great difficulty. Then came the American War. Of course we lost everything then. Including Grandfather Abuelo. He was seized at our hacienda and dragged by horses along the road to Brownsville. At La Junta he was rangered after being forced to watch several ranchos burned. Grandmother gathered her family, including my newborn mother-to-be, and fled to Sinaloa. She wished to go to Guaymas, but everyone feared the Gringos would eventually seize that city, too. They did for awhile, but finally left to resist their own Southern Rebellion.
In sadness Grandmother died a widow in far away Sinaloa. By then the Gringos had exterminated the Indians and my mother succumbed to her urge to return to her Tejas roots that had been denied her. So just like her mother had done, my mother gathered her family and moved. They arrived back in Texas in 1892. My mother’s last daughter was born the following year, the child coming late and unexpected and with great difficulty on Mamá’s part. This new baby received more attention than had Mamá’s other children because the baby girl represented both the old tradition and the new hope. She was a Tejana. The new baby girl, of course, was me.
The Tejas to which we had arrived was still lawless. Brutality and racism appeared for the first time in the lives of my brothers and sisters. Despite Mamá’s heritage and wealth, she suffered along with the Mexicans. Initially welcomed to the Lutheran church, she was later expelled when it was suddenly assumed she was a light-skinned Mexican. Texicans admonished her to attend the Catholic church like Mexicans are supposed to do. Mamá was treated especially harshly by the land owners and merchants. Once she copied historical papers from the Duval county courthouse and took them to a town meeting where she read them. The forgotten records resurrected embarrassing history. After a quiet head-hanging moment, the Texicans suddenly recovered and converted their embarrassment into resentment and Mamá was escorted from the room by a pair of Rinches. None of the Texican townsfolk had wanted to know that it was Mamá’s father who had founded their original settlement and christened it after his British family name Freer.
Mamá died a heartbroken woman, her image of Tejas shattered. We buried her in the chaparral where once had stood the hacienda of her father. Now too the chaparral is gone.
Señora Freer paused her story here and looked longingly into the green sierra. Granddaughter Ana nibbled on her lower lip and stared blankly toward the bare feet of her frail abuelita. The Gringos sat perfectly still. Came the brush of solitude to paint gray the scene on the veranda. Down on the cobblestones the hens ceased their pecking and the guajolotes paused their gobbling and the hum of the village extinguished. Then down the canyon rushed a torrent of hot wind to scatter the corn husks and blow dust into the air so that it sparkled in the sunbeams as it settled after the stilling of the sudden gust. Señora Freer looked toward Ana and smiled contentedly before returning to her story.
When I was eight years old occurred an event which affected everyone. Within a year after it happened most of Mamá’s children left Tejas and returned to Sinaloa. I left with an older brother who came to Mazatlán. For nieta Ana I will tell about it.
My story is that of la gente, the people. So it is Lore. For others it has happened that a Tex-Mex scholar has documented the historical fact. This maestro carries a Mexican name that in Gringo is best translated as American Walls. He tells the story told him by Valeriano, a boy of eight years, first son of Gregorio Cortez. My tale is that of a young Tejana who knew Gregorio Cortez, or Asusordenes, as he was known amongst la gente.
Gregorio Cortez the legend was the seventh son of the seventh son and was born in Mexico on the Gemini-Cancer cusp in 1875. His family immigrated to Texas in 1887, landing near east Austin at Manor. He and his brother Romaldo were best friends and by age fourteen Gregorio had left home with his older brother to work on the surrounding ranchos. Life was hard and school a luxury the family could not afford. Gregorio married at age sixteen and immediately began a family of four. In 1901 he had rented and settled on a farm near Kenedy and was about to harvest a good corn crop when the Cherife Mayor, the High Sheriff, arrived in a surrey at the casa of Gregorio Cortez to spawn a legend.
In 1901, memory of the American War existed as a bitter scar to Texicans and Mexicans living along La Frontera. The bitterness bore special intensity in the zone between the Río Neches and the Río Bravo, the chaparral stolen from Mexico during the recent war. Law & Order in this area was the responsibility of the Texas Rangers, Los Pinches, the Rinches. Ranger rule quoted a customary Shoot first and ask later who you’re shootin’ at. ‘Specially if it’s a Meskin. Racial killings were prevalent and the situation gave birth to the feared expression He was rangered. The Rangers were all the King’s men. King Ranch that is. Los Rinches de la Kineña. The thugs of Richard King. Kingsville. Cattle baron. Otro gauchupine, another Got you penis.
So when the High Cherife arrived in his surrey he found Romaldo and Gregorio and he asked them about a stolen horse. In 1901, whenever anything had been stolen, it was customary to make the rounds of all the Meskin ranchos. The High Cherife had with him a Meskin expert, a Gringo who claimed to know about Meskins and speak Meskin. His name was Choate. Providence deemed that braggart Choate actually knew little Spanish and his primitive translation coupled with his inherited racism brewed a deadly potion for all but Choate himself. In the end the High Cherife was killed by Gregorio. Choate was unarmed and fled with the consent of Gregorio. Brother Romaldo had been shot in the face when he had laughed at the accusations from the quick-triggered Sheriff stemming from Choate’s imprecise racist translation. Following the shooting, Gregorio took his family of five, his soon to be widowed sister-in-law and his dying best friend brother to his mother’s house and then fled. Que vinieron de pronto los rinches.
The chase lasted about two weeks. Hundreds of Gringos joined in the manhunt. Mostly Gregorio outwitted his Rinche pursuit. At times he walked barefoot while Rinches searched his decoys. He rode three honey-colored mares throughout his flight. A couple of times he entered public places and ate while unknowing Gringos talked about him. This is how he learned of the fact that the Rinches had imprisoned his entire family and many of his friends for being part of a Cortez Gang. The accusation of the existence of a gang was a marketing device of the Express newspaper in San Antonio. It served to imprison Cortez family members for years. During his pursuit the Rinches committed atrocities against Meskins. Hanging Meskins who would not talk was a preferred practice. Ranchos were burned. When he was captured near the Río Bravo, Gregorio remarked So many Rinches for only one Mexican?
In the end the Mexicans betrayed their own paisano. Otra vez pasa el chingaquedito. A rurale who had heard of the $1000 reward told Ranger Rogers where Gregorio was camped and the Rinches took credit for the easy capture. The Judas Meskin bid adiós to his $1000 reward when the Rinches kept it and used the money to shore up lagging support in the Texas Congress to continue Rangers as a Texas institution. A few years later the Rinches were kicked out of the State budget and today remain a legend themselves, one currently named Walker, a proletariat Gringo wearing a common cachucha.
Gregorio Cortez became a legend. He spent the next eleven years in and out of court and a prison nightmarishly named Huntsville. He was acquitted of every charge except stealing a wild horse. Wherever he was tried the all-Anglo juries displayed racism such that his embarrassing presence impacted Professional Texas Justice so that Change stirred uneasily from her dormant den at Texas Hibernation. Now Gregorio Cortez, Gregory the Courteous, known as At-Your-Service, Asusordenes, has been gifted the permanence of death. He rests near Anson, Texas, dead of prison pneumonia three years after all the Rinche lawyers and Cattlemen juezes finished with him. Today he is remembered lo mejor, the best, in a corrido, and in tales told by children, Lore.
Rurales today seek heroes like Gregorio Cortez. A rurale hero is always a peaceful man finally goaded into violence by outside forces assisted by Malinche. Never does the hero win. His heroism is his resistance and the fact that he has stood up for his rights. Resolution rather than victory is the Mexican mode of heroism. There have been few victories for Mexicans. Never has Mexico won a war. Her most famous victory was when the Mexicans defeated the French in the battle for Puebla on Cinco de Mayo in 1862. Ever since Gregorio rode his honey-colored mare into legend, heroes have been missing in Mexico. Pancho Villa is recalled as a warrior rather than a hero because he lacked the essential quality of being a peaceful man. Modern rurales look toward their own group to produce heroes. Anxiously they await the arrival of nuevo Gregorio Cortez.
Stillness and Reflection join us on the veranda. Ana sits as a pale stone. Old Señora Freer seems an empty costal. The Gringos feel drained. After a long while Vieja Freer offers sandia con chile cola de rata and we once again look to see what is walking around in Macanudo.
A lecture on Texas Rangers by Mike Collins Midland, Texas. Here are three comments about the lecture: 1. “The settler shock troops of white supremacy in Texas – ie terrorists. Would that this presentation said anything about the terror campaign unleashed against Mexicans in S Texas during the early 20th Century. The “Rinches” were about domination and control within a thoroughly racialized economy.” 2. the Rangers went into mexico and stole cattle, herded them across the border and sold them. were do you think the Texas Cowboy came from? 3. Webb was a racist and stereotyped mexicans while painting the rangers in a “heroic” light.
Texas Rangers history