Many people have deep roots in La Grulla, Texas as is the case with my wife’s family. Her ancestors arrived at or near La Grulla back in the 1860’s starting with her 2nd great grandfather Jose Encarnacion del Refugio Perez whom was born in General Teran, Nuevo Leon. It is unknown if he returned back to Mexico but what is clear is that his son Jose Francisco Perez did stay and did make a life in this area. He even married a local girl Paula Contreras whose life was cut short by a snake bite back in 1921 dying in La Grulla. Leaving behind 5 small children and a one year old baby. You can see a picture of Continue reading
David Cantu shares with us stories about his life and the very important people that he has meet along the way, specially those that left an impression on him. This post contains three unique stories and a poem that are full of feeling, love, and character.
A mother’s prayers are forever
1918 was the year that the notorious plague had invaded the Rio Grande Valley, hundreds of our people died in the span of a few years. Our Maternal grandmother Martina Cantú contracted the notorious flu shortly after giving birth to our uncle Juanito and never recovered from her illness. On her death bed she made two requests, one of her Co-Madre Paulita Contreras and the other of her elder son Nieves Flores. Paulita and Eulalio would take the three year old Merced and raise him and Nieves would adopt the baby Juanito, both death bed wishes were complied with a lifetime of love and devotion.
Eulalio and Paulita were delighted as they themselves had no children at all. Their word was their bond; they did not need any papers to comply with Martina’s dying wish. Merced came to live in La Grulla Texas as a Contreras. He grew up as a Contreras and went to school as a Contreras, and on June 21st, 1941 he even married our mother as a Contreras. The first five of our eight siblings were born under the last name of Contreras, years later we would have to go to court to reclaim our birthright legal last names.
It was not until the Draft Board solicited our father’s presence for service that Mama Paulita reminded him that he could not go to war because he was a Mexican Citizen and when he refused to report for induction he became a fugitive and moved to Mexico. Since his hometown of Villarreales Tamaulipas was just across the river from La Grulla it was quite easy for him to swim the river at night and visit us frequently. I remember his whistling in the middle of the night signaling that he had just crossed the river.
My sister Hilda was born on October 3rd 1942 and our father was apprehended in April of 1943 and processed through the federal system resulting in serving three years of prison time at La Tuna Federal Prison in Canutillo Texas. After serving three years at La Tuna he was sent to the Starr County Jail for per-release time. That is where I met my father, I remember quite well how much my mother suffered, her pride kept her from sharing her grief and she would cry each night not knowing where our next meal would come from or where we would be spending the next night; my first memories of my dad come into my re-collective focus as I remember climbing the stairs at the Starr County Jail yelling at him that I was coming to see him. Upon his release sometime in 1946, he was deported to Mexico where Papa Lalo our grandfather, owned a small house five houses down from where our mother had been raised. The house had once belonged to his sister Paula Contreras de Duarte, Paula had died in 1920 from a snake bite that resulted in the same flu that had killed our grandmother Martina and the house where she lived was now vacant so he gave the house to our mom and dad. That is where our family had its first official residence
In San Miguel we lived about five houses down the street from my grandfather’s house. I recall walking back and forth between our house and my grandfather’s home. Just beyond our house lived Abelino El Carnicero; he would butcher cows, calf, hogs, chickens and goats all day long, his business was run out of his backyard and he had all of the neighborhood dogs trained to respond to his whistle at his own will time and command. About three times a day he would gather all of the waste product from his butchering and face the south and whistle, every dog and cat that lived south of his business would come running and they would clean all of the waste meat, fat, blood and bone in the huge trough located at the bottom of the two acre tract. The next time he would face the east and whistle and the same thing would happen, the last whistle of the day was to the west and the dogs from that part of town would come running. Abelino was a friend of my grandfather that had followed our uncle David to the Mexican Revolution and went on to become one of Pancho Villa’s Dorados, they called him “El Mocha Orejas” he was quite the neighborhood hero from his Revolutionary days and his waste management dog operated service kept his place clean all day long. His place, as well as ours and my grandfather’s backed up to the Estuary “El Estero” and there were no houses to the north, the estuary ran all the way to the river.
My mother was very cautious with the way she dressed me and would make sure I was always bathed and dressed in my best when I walked outside the house to go visit my grandfather. On this one occasion I must have been three or four years old but I recall that my mother had sent me to my grandfather’s place to bring back two quarts of freshly milked milk straight from the cow’s tits. My grandfather would take advantage of the opportunity to teach me how to milk a cow. He would sit on a stool and I would stand between his knees and begin pulling on the cows tits and finally he would grab one of the cow’s tits and spray milk in my face. I loved those moments with him. On this one day, I was on my way back with the two quarts of milk when suddenly Abelino whistled at the dogs from the east and before I knew what was happening the greatest stampede of hungry dogs ran around me or jumped over me knocking me down and spilling all of the milk on me and my clean outfit. I was terrified it seemed as if every dog in the world was in that stampede. The smallest ones along with the cats started licking the milk from my face when the larger ones had finally ran through and I thought they were going to eat me alive. All I remember is that I was kicking and screaming at the top of my lungs and my mother came running with a broom in her hand beating the hell out of the dogs.
It was not until we had settled down in Port Houston and I had become a busy shoe shine boy that someone gave me my first dog; it was then when I finally lost my fear of dogs.
It was at about this same time, when I was about four years old and we lived in Tia Nene’s old house in San Miguel, the joy of childhood kept me from seeing how very poor we were, we didn’t know we were poor, we didn’t know about such things as Christmas trees and giving and receiving presents like people do today, yesterday, today and tomorrow were almost identical. Our world revolved around our parent’s daily life and necessities of the day.
El Tio Chale
My Tio Chale, bless his soul, could hold a conversation in rhythmic rhyme for hours, he was simply a little boy with a golden heart, I always held him in the highest regard and viewed him as my older brother, we used to sleep on the porch at the rear of the old wooden house at Papa Meme’s property by the old Anahuac tree and he had an old huge battery radio he would listen to every night. That radio was his college and his university, he learned a lot from that radio. I remember that one Christmas he made up a song about a little colt he called “Carlitos El Potrillito” and he would sing it to me as a lullaby.
In 1953 after we moved to Port Houston I was placed in the third grade classroom of a Mrs. Wilson and it so happens that it was about Christmas time and she started to sing some Christmas songs to us. One of those songs that she sung was Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and it sounded identical to the song that my Tio Chale would sing to me as a little boy. I remember how proud I felt that my uncle Chale had written that song and I stood up and explained in my broken English/Spanish mixture. I got in trouble for arguing with Mrs. Wilson and trying to correct her on the lyrics explaining that the reindeer was really a potrillo named Carlitos and that he belonged to my uncle Tio Chale. She had no earthly idea of what the hell I was talking about, she thought I was crazy.
My mother was a dynamo of energy, an explosive personality that could change direction on a dime and continue forward without losing a beat or a step. She was driven by urgency to excel in anything she did. She was always prepared for any and all eventualities that life may throw at her. She carried a loaded pistol in her purse, even to mass on Sunday mornings. But when her day drew to a close, she was an easy-going and positive person with an outstanding outlook on how to go about daily life. No matter how poor we were, she knew how to live the beautiful life. But the beautiful life didn’t mean the luxurious life – to her it meant a relaxed, family-centric lifestyle every evening at 6:00 P.M. She would gather all of her children around her bed and pray the Holy Rosary with all of her children participating in the actual leading of the prayers.
After the Rosary we, the children would occupy ourselves with school homework or daily domestic shores as the occasion may require. Supper consisted of real food, natural, authentic and mostly produced in our backyard. Our concept of eating transcended “fast and cheap.” Mother was all about “slow food.” Dinners were unhurried and eaten around a table (not a TV or computer screen) with all of her family.
My mother’s family was very close knit, our Grandparents were always in her prayers, her sisters always remained close and the extended family was huge and welcoming. Now a days our children go away to college and settle down somewhere other than where they grew up, it tended to be the opposite in my mother’s days. Having family nearby was deeply valued. Having grandma, aunts, uncles and cousins visit in spite of the distances or drop by for dinner during the week or having a weekly extended family meal on Sunday was common and brought everyone together.
My mother was our “Commanding Officer” under her tutelage we learned the great communal feel that comes from the fact that we congregated outdoors as a family in parks and at picnics. Friends and relatives would meet up on occasions, creating a lively atmosphere.
Our daily routine was to rise and shine early, make up your bed, shower dress and arrive at the breakfast table with a smile and a hearty good morning, “Buenos Dias dele Dios” (God give you a good day) The idea of health and happiness went together it was more like the idea of maintaining a good public image. She hammered in our heads the idea that we dress our best when we go outside the house, we don’t get drunk in public, and we do not eat while we walk or wear pajamas to the dinner table because it would have a negative impact on our image. Being beautiful was more than just looking good; it’s a way of life that emphasized aesthetics and good behavior. She ordered us to be “Good People” That was our Golden inheritance, from her to her children.
By the time I reached the age of fourteen I had become a troubled young man. I had grown up shining shoes in beer joints and whore houses up and down McCarty Drive in Port Houston Texas, gambling, stealing and running away from home had become a way of life, but very early in life, I had been influenced by three very wise men. My mother’s father “Papa Meme” would pull me up on the haunches of his horse and I would ride with him all day long listening to his stories and his singing, I thought I was living in heaven. When we returned to Mama Mina’s house “Tio Chale” would become my baby sitter, from him I learned how to read write and speak in Spanish. “Papa Lalo” would buy comic books in English and have me tell him the story in Spanish; he was a strong teacher and a versatile, easy-going workaholic. His workdays were often sixteen hours or more. He spent most of this time over the hot coal-fired forge and large anvil, hammering an edge on plows or horse shoes and other items used in farming communities around on both sides of the river. When I went to stay with him we were calabaza candy salesmen. Papa Lalo would make candy, barbacoa, chicharones and cabrito in the back yard and he and I would go to La Grulla, Los Ebanos, San Miguel, Peñitas and La Joya to sell our merchandize, and he made me carry the money, make the sales pitch and handle the change. He made me feel like the most important and fortunate person in the world. He made me promise that I would keep that feeling for the rest of my life as well as my faith in our Blessed Virgin Mary, my trust in the coming of the Kingdom of God, and my love and loyalty to Our Lady of Guadalupe, The mother of God.
All three of them were my idols but it was Papa Meme who convinced me to join the Marine Corp later on in my teen age years. He felt that fate had cheated my father, his primary ancestor, Carlos Cantú Gonzalez was the founder of Reynosa Tamaulipas and political enemies had conspired against him to relieve him of the position of Alcalde and Justicia Mayor of the town in 1757, the plague of 1918 had taken his mother away when he was only two years old and a bad decision by his foster mother had advised him against joining the Marine Corp and encouraged him to return to Mexico
When “Papa Lalo” died in 1957 I took it real hard and it’s about that time that I started running away from home. But when I signed up to join the Marine Corp in 1960, my “Papa Meme” reminded me that “Papa Lalo” had commended me to “Our Lady of Guadalupe in a promise” saying that if I lived to be a God Fearing young man, he would visit the Basilica in Mexico City. After “Papa Meme” died in 1966, I went to the Basilica in Mexico City and Presented Our Lady of Guadalupe with the following poem that I authored in Spanish in their honor and left a copy there with their names printed on the poem asking the Virgin of Guadalupe to carry their souls to Heavens Gates. Years later I translated it to English.
Our Lady of Guadalupe
On the twelfth day of December, in the early morning hours
We the faithful congregate, expressing this faith of ours
Dressing your beautiful feet, with lovely bouquets of flowers
Each of us has a connection, with your miracles and powers
You bring hope to they that suffer; darkness has no chance with you
Advocating for the humble, in protection of the truth
The flowers that we bring this morning are fruits of the seeds you sowed
Once upon a mountainside in Mexico, several hundred years ago
Today is Guadalupano day, and pilgrims like Juan Diego know
It’s when we forgive offenses, all the small, great, new and old
We break bread, as we drink chocolate, in a modest communion
Sharing Gods sweet gift of love for us, in a faithful reunion
O’ sweet Virgin Mary, mother of our precious Lord
You have made your apparitions, throughout the Christian world
But you have blessed all of America, increasing our spiritual worth
You’re the Queen of Catholic America, all of south central and north
© 1966 David Noe Cantú
Primo, muchas gracias! Thank you David for sharing with us and agreeing for me to make you comment originally posted at, La Herencia de Los Longoria by Noe Gonzalez Salazar, into a post for everyone to enjoy.
I grew up in La Grulla, in South Texas. This small quiet town is only a few miles away from the river bordering Mexico and about 60 miles from where I was born and raised. When I was going through Jr. High I used to see the following mural each day for three years, 6th – 8th grade, and never got tired of seeing it. It would cause many questions and also remind me of the small Mexican town of El Arcabuz. El Arcabuz used to have a similar mural but instead of depicting the heritage of its area as the following picture does. The one in El Arcabuz depicted the rise and birth of a nation, depicting characters as Miguel Hidalgo and Benito Juarez. I wish I had a picture of the one in Arcabuz but I don’t, I asked on their facebook page to see if anyone has one.
This is the Mural at the La Grulla Middle School taken by Jimmy Martinez
You can see Jimmy’s post in Facebook and according to comments on face book the mural was painted in 1976 – 1978 by Mr. Sergio Higareda.
As you can see the mural depicts this areas rich heritage and history. Starting with the indigenous people and then the effort of the church to Christianize them. Then we see the the Spaniard rule by the sword and the ranching that ensued. Then this area became part of the United States and towards the end we see farming that still continues to this date. Finally science and education.
Eight Generations of Vales and Sanchez and Consanguine Zamorano Curbelo and Trevino Families, is a very interesting family Genealogy Book. The author starts by describing how she arrived to Rio Grande City and then to La Grulla, Texas. Her story begins with her decision to get a teaching position in La Grulla, Texas back in the 1920’s.
I have yet to fully go over all the names in this book to see if any of my wife’s or even my ancestors are listed in there. I just thought that I let you know about this book since I am sure it will be of interest to anyone who has their roots in La Grulla, Rio Grande City and also other cities and towns of Starr and Hidalgo Counties.
If interested and want to read it, it is available for free at FamilySearch.org. You can download it or view it on the link listed bellow.
Let me know what you think about it and also if you find your family listed within the pages of this book.
I found this book at the University of Texas Pan American’s Special collections. If you are from La Grulla or just want to know more about it I highly recommend the following book. “Survival The Historical Heritage of La Grulla, Texas 1749 – 1974 a thesis by Narciso A. Guerra and Imelda G. Guerra”.
The authors also list their family connection to the first Longorias of La Grulla. You can also find a full map of La Grulla.
I just wish I had more time to go over it since you are not allowed to take it out of the Library I just quickly browsed through it.
If anyone else knows about any other books about La Grulla or it’s people let me know so that I can lsit them here.
This guest post is brought to you by David Cantú Garcia. It is an awesome story and you will enjoy reading it. Thanks David for sharing.
What a man, he made all the John Wayne’s look like punks. Papa Lalo, as I called him, was my father’s foster father and his baptismal Padrino, but he was the only Grandpa I knew on my father’s side. Don Eulalio Contreras Garza, my grandfather, was born in El Rancho de Los Solis’s outside of La Grulla Texas in Starr County on February 12, 1876. His father Apolonio Contreras Villarreal and his mother Demetria Garza Solis were descendants of the original porciones grantees. Demetria Garza died on 30 Apr 1930 at Precinct No 5, Starr, Texas, she died at the age of 82 years of age, her birth year is 1848, her birthplace was Ciudad Camargo, Tamaulipas, Mexico her father’s name was Nepomuceno Garza and her mother’s name was Maria Eugenia Solis she was buried at Solis’s Cemetery in La Grulla Texas on May 1st 1930
Papa Lalo stood more than six feet three inches tall, straight as a wooden soldier. His eyes were a penetrating light brown, his hair pitch black; even as an old man he still had a bounce in his step, a strong hand shake and plenty of black hair. He had the face of a movie star and was well versed in history and politics. He worked on his father’s fields and properties until 1895 when he built a blacksmith shop on family property at the old river crossing at the contraband river crossing at Villarreales and Valadeces Tamaulipas on the Mexican side of the river but he maintained his residence and his own farming business properties in what is now Los Solis’s de La Grulla Texas.
In 1897, that river frontage on the Rio Grande was a contraband crossing from Valadeces to La Grulla where small appliances, dry goods and other necessary goods would be traded back and forth. The crossing could quite easily be negotiated by swimming across, by chalupa or on horseback. I recall him saying that his blacksmith business would clear him as much as five dollars per month and that much money was hard to come by during the depression of that time.
He was a strong, versatile, easy-going workaholic. His workdays were often sixteen hours or more. He spent most of this time over the hot coal-fired forge and large anvil, hammering an edge on plows or horse shoes and other items used in farming communities around on both sides of the river. Business grew and he purchased an additional forge and anvil and in 1900 he built a huge guest house to help feed and accommodate the travelers and farm workers. He would welcome every one and became quite the politician. When I met him 47 years later we were calabaza candy salesmen. Papa Lalo would make candy, barbacoa, chicharones and cabrito in the back yard and he and I would go to La Grulla to sell our merchandize, and he made me carry the money and make the sales pitch and handle the money and the change. He made me feel like the most important and fortunate person in the world. He made sure I would keep that feeling for the rest of my life.
On Sundays, he would load his farrier equipment and apply his other trade: shoeing horses in surrounding communities. El Rancho de Los Villarreales, el Rancho de Las Cuevas, or Camargo and Valadeces always had several horses to be shod and one Sunday each month was spent at those places. The money made on Sundays not only kept him in business, but also kept many area farmers, ranchers and the local dairy in business supplying his needs. Money was scarce, but credit was never refused at Papa Lalo’s shop. Most payments were in the form of essentials, such as eggs, chickens, butter, hams, fruit and garden produce. On more than one occasion, horses, calves and even live hogs were delivered to his home as payment for his services.
Papa Lalos’ ‘s shop was becoming a focal meeting point at the river during the terrible turn of the century. People would come to the crossing, drop off their various jobs and visit while their repairs were being made. His Guesthouse had become a sort of social center. In time it became a safe place for political discussion.
One historic event that Papa Lalo talked about was when in 1906 El Carnicero from San Miguel de Las Cuevas Abelino Mata, and Papa Meme came to see him to discuss a way in which military merchandise could be crossed into Mexico. At that time Revolutionaries were preparing for a revolution in Mexico and they were organizing meetings with leaders in Tamaulipas. The revolutionaries needed weapons and were willing to go to all means to obtain them.
The weapons would be acquired from sources in San Antonio then passed over the Rio Grande River in boats at Papa Lalo’s Crossing from La Grulla to Valadeces or Villarreales and from there the weapons would be taken to the El Rancho San Vicente del Potrero to be delivered by mule drawn wagons to points west and south.
This is where and how Papa Meme, Tio David, Papa Silverio, and all of our great uncles and Papa Lalo met. Papa Meme worked for the Mexican Government and patrolled the Mexican side of the river as a border agent from Ciudad Rio Bravo, then called La Estación del Ebano, to Ciudad Mier. Papa Lalo was now serving breakfast lunch and dinner at his Guest House (Casa de Huéspedes) and Papa Meme would drop in from time to time to freshen up, enjoy a warm meal and indulge in good coffee and good conversation.
More than once Papa Meme told me about participating in meetings at the guesthouse discussing political subjects and sharing stories of the Mexican Revolution with his friends such as the Flores Magon brothers and others who motivated el Tio David and others to finally join the Revolution. And I still choke up when I recall how his eyes would swell up with tears when on occasion, he would tell me of how armed gringos would fire upon on and commit bloody atrocities against our people, especially in isolated rural areas. These brutal incidents against U.S. citizens of Mexican descent would quickly prompt an aggressive counter response from some quick tempered Tejanos, especially when the authorities would side with the gringo criminals, and he would answer with their own retaliation against the vile gringos and authorities. The result was a reign of turmoil and violence in the lower Rio Grande valley marked by atrocities, depredations, cruelty, and bloodshed, with the Texas Rangers establishing fear and terror among the Tejano population in an effort to maintain Anglo-American social control. According to him, it was a war.
The Rangers had become the vicious perpetrators of Terrorism, violence and mayhem creating the only topic of discussion at Papa Lalo’s Guesthouse. The summary executions of “meskins” as they were called by Rangers were by no means, isolated events, nor were the Rangers the only perpetrators. Local sheriffs and other gringo town officials, along with the general Anglo populace, also became involved. Thousands of our ancestors fled their lands in the United States for refuge in Mexico in the face of the Ranger and Sheriff raids and the rampant gringo terrorism.
My Grandfather Lalo was an unofficial politician on both sides of the border and over the years Papa Lalo had emerged as a leader in his community on both sides of the river. A corrupt Porfirio Diaz dictatorship in Mexico and the racist Ku Klux Klan Rangers in Texas made living outside the law as a contrabandist a necessity and the only possible means of survival and support. Contraband was simply commerce. He personally had been Godfather to hundreds of new born babies that would be crossed over from Mexico and baptized and registered on the north side off the river, he was everybody’s Padrino. He was my father’s Padrino he was my Tia Nene’s Padrino and if I recall correctly my Tia Lala is named after him. For the poorest of the poor Papa Lalo’s guesthouse became their Ellis Island. Papa Lalo was a statue of liberty for them, their entry to a better life if they could get beyond the border. His hopes of economic and social advancement for his people were dashed by the terror of the Anglo violence. In spite of his best efforts conducting meetings and organizing Benevolent Associations, along with those who shared his views, they soon became convinced that living in south Texas was living in a war zone. At least that is the excuse that my Tio David Garcia gave when he announced that he had sold his general store where Sam Fordyce now stands, was buying horses and rifles, equipping a troop of jinetes and of to the revolution he would go.
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