Honoring Pioneer Families of El Rio Bravo del Norte
By Antonio Noé Zavaleta
The history of Northeastern Mexico and South Texas is one of a struggle for survival against Native predations in an unforgiving environment where the few pioneering Spanish families necessarily intermarried in order to protect their lands. The harsh existence claimed many lives, but the survivors settled along the Rio Bravo and Camino Real (King’s Highway). 1
Four hundred years after the arrival of the first families, we have still failed to recognize and properly honor the accomplishment of these brave founders and their place in Texas history. For the most part, we do not recognize our family relationships with them. We have failed to document or communicate our rich heritage or to pass on this critical information to our children. We have failed our ancestors by not remembering who they were and how we are related to their descendants, our cousins, or primos. 2 History has overlooked the many hundreds of families and thousands of individuals who struggled to build this unique region of the U.S.-Mexico borderland.
If we assume that, on the average, there are twenty years between human generations, by the time a person reaches the age of twenty, the next generation is being born. Beginning at the time of the Spanish arrival in Mexico around 1520, the years from 1520 to the year 2000 constitute approximately twenty-five human generations. If each in any generation has two parents and four grandparents, the next generation, will double the number of great-grandparents to eight. The following generation will have sixteen great-great-grandparents and so on. Over the twenty- five generations that Europeans have been in the Americas, any individual living today can claim an incomprehensible number of sets of grandparents and great-grandparents, as well as literally hundreds of surnames, which are his or her rightful kin. As each new surname is added by marriage, it connects us to still more important genealogical lines of descent, each with its special characters, both heroes, and villains. This fact is often overlooked by those who are not professional genealogists. It is just as important for us to examine our heritage and descent through our mother and grandmother’s lines as it is through the male line and the surname we carry. In fact, the National Geographic’s Human Genome Project points out that we are all related if relationships are traced back far enough. 3 The male line and surname are usually the ones traced because that is the most familiar name, but it is not always the most exciting. For each generation of grandparents there are three or more surnames added to the male surname, and therefore additional genealogical lines represented in each individual’s heritage. It is no more difficult to trace the maternal than the paternal line, once its importance is realized.
My father’s surname was Zavaleta, his father was Zavaleta, and his father was Zavaleta (Zabaleta), and so on in an unbroken line back to their arrival in Mexico around 1530. However, by studying only the Zavaleta line, we overlook other very important surnames that exist in our family heritage. In just the three generations mentioned above, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, we find the following surnames: Garcia, Gomez, Chapa (which appears in my family twice), Cortina, Trevino, Cisneros, Sanchez, and Saenz. Because of the unique nature of our surnames, and because of the importance of our geographic region, it is possible to trace our collective heritage through twenty-five generations in the Americas and even well beyond that point in Spain, if we care to. If we examine most ancestral family lines in the region of Northeastern Mexico and South Texas since its founding around 1600, we can easily trace families for twenty of the twenty-five human generations in the Americas right here along the banks of the Rio Bravo. Many ancestral histories contain a distant but real relationship with notable surnames that formed the region, such as Alonzo, de la Garza, Chapa, Falcon, Sanchez, and Trevino. 4
As we search ancestral generations, we recognize that our grandparents and great-grandparents were also someone else’s. Any study of the growth and development of this important region of Spanish colonization reveals the relatedness of surnames of the founders as well as the patterns of marriage and settlement of extended kinship groups. 5
Consider a brief history lesson. In 1519, Alonso Alvarez de Pineda sailed northward along the Gulf Coast from Veracruz, recording the location of the mouth of the Rio Bravo del Norte. Pineda and his crew were, arguably, the first Europeans to visit the region. Sailing just a few leagues upriver, they encountered numerous settlements of unfriendly, native Coahuiltecans. These first explorers described the region as hostile, unhealthy, swampy, and disease-ridden. It was nearly another one hundred years before any sustained settlement was considered in the region of the lower Rio Bravo del Norte. 6
Spanish settlers traveled along the Camino Real from Mexico City to Zacatecas, Saltillo, Cerralvo and Ciudad Mier, then north to the Rio Bravo del Norte. The camino continued on east to the border with the French territory or west to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Spanish settlement was not haphazard, and military units, exploring ever northward, were accompanied by Catholic priests. Villas, presidios, and misiones were established, and special grants of land were made to Spanish nobility and entrepreneurs. When it was thought that the area was safe enough for families, settlers came along.
The first families settled in the north in the larger and more safely populated towns, but as families grew they required new land holdings. Second-born sons and others who were not entitled to inherit land were sent out along the newest routes in search of land and opportunities to establish new settlements. This is how the northeastern region of Mexico and South Texas were originally settled. 7
By 1600, less than 100 years after the Conquista, Spanish families began pouring into the Mexican provinces of Coahuila, and Nuevo Leon. In many cases, very large portions of land were granted at great distances from family homes. Families who settled in Nuevo Leon and Coahuila also had grants of land far to the north and west in Texas and New Mexico. 8
Escandon’s settlement of Nuevo Santander, in the 1750s, came very late in Spanish colonization, so that the establishment of the communities from Laredo down-river to Reynosa and eventually to Matamoros provided the last great economic opportunity in the region. It was critically important that family members who lived at distances from the family homes be connected, socially, politically, and economically. To achieve and sustain ties over time and distance, Spanish families sought to arrange the marriage of their children to other Spaniards. The children of Spaniards born in the New World were not considered pure Spaniards but were assigned instead to the second-highest class category of criollo. There was a constant need to attract young Spaniards available for marriage in the area. This was not always possible so that marriages between cousins became characteristic of the region. Northeastern Mexico was also home to ethnic enclaves of Sephardic Jews and Basques. 9 Both of these groups married within their ethnic categories as well. 10
Examination of marriage documents from important central places such as Parras and Saltillo in Coahuila; Monterrey and Cerralvo in Nuevo Leon; and Ciudad Mier and Camargo in Tamaulipas reveal very definite patterns of preferred marriage between prominent families.11 This was an important strategy in maintaining and consolidating land holdings. It was common for siblings from one prominent family to marry the siblings of another prominent family. Commonly, brothers and sisters from one family would marry the brothers and sisters of another family. This was so often the case in the author’s family that today it is laughable when almost any descendant of a pioneer family may be identified as a cousin. The complexity of the interrelatedness of families in the region is extraordinary. Additionally, Spanish families were continuously recruited to ensure Spanish marriage partners for the next generation thus keeping their Spanish line “pure.” 12
The descent line in Spanish-American colonial society, as in Spain, was all-important. The disclosure of at least two surnames, father’s surname followed by mother’s surname (for example, Garcia Gomez, Zavaleta Chapa, or Cisneros Chapa) was absolutely required to place a person properly in society. In elite families and those families that could claim nobility, it was not uncommon to list four or more surnames. Any sort of official action in government, church, or society required one to “Diles Quien Eres” (“tell them who you are”), that is to lay out an ancestral line to establish ones bonafides and how ones social position was to be assigned.
The system seemed to work well until Mexico gained her independence from Spain in 1821. The increasing presence of Anglo settlement in east-central Texas in the 1830s eventually led to the Mexican military intervention at San Antonio de Valero and the battle of the Alamo. By the time of the Battle of the Alamo, Spanish/Mexican families who settled on the Rio Bravo more than one hundred years earlier were stretched out along the Camino Real, north to San Antonio, east to Nacogdoches and west to Santa Fe. The Mexican’s fleeting victory at the Alamo was followed by Santa Anna’s defeat at San Jacinto, and that failure eventually led to the formation of the Republic of Texas. Mexico, a centralized nation with a government and social culture centered in the Valley of Mexico and paid little attention to a settlement north of the Rio Bravo. As a result, of this failure, Mexico eventually lost half of its land to the United States in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. 13
The decade between 1835 and 1845 was of critical importance to the Spanish/Mexican families living along the Rio Bravo and the Camino Real, Imagine that your family had a two-hundred-year history in one ranching location and were left alone, being only tangentially connected to centralized government. Imagine that, in a period of only 50 years (that is less than two generations), your governmental affiliation changed repeatedly from Spanish colonial government to Mexican republic, to contested no man’s land, to the locally-formed break-away Republic of the Rio Grande (1840). And then, to another republic controlled by foreigners – the Republic of Texas, and finally to statehood and the formation of Texas. Then imagine that this final socio-political state was dominated by a foreign nation, not like yours with a foreign culture and a language and laws you did not understand. This is exactly what the Spanish/ Mexican families of the Rio Bravo and the Camino Real experienced. The families of the Rio Bravo have lived in an increasingly irredentist society for more than two hundred years since the formation of Texas.
The Mexican American War of 1846 to 1848 culminated in the annexation of the (formerly Spanish) Mexican lands of all Mexican families in Texas. That tumultuous era was followed by political uncertainty and military conflict that lasted through the end of the nineteenth century. Through it all, hundreds of families faced great hostilities but were able to maintain title to their ancestral lands. Many others were not so fortunate, losing both their lands and their lives. By the Fourth Legislature of the State of Texas in 1852, laws were established that recognized Spanish and Mexican land grants as valid in Texas.
Volume four of the proceedings of the fourth legislature, Chapter LXXI, pages 63 to 71, list the names of the Spanish/Mexican families and their titles to land in Webb, Starr, Cameron, Nueces, and Kinney Counties.
In 1976, Virginia H. Taylor published an Index to Spanish and Mexican Land Grants for the Texas General Land Office, which further codifies family title to land. For example, on page 14, an entry for our family up-river lands reads as follows:
Chapa, Joaquin, Porcion 58, Mier, Starr County 5,733.87 acres; Abstract S-289, Granted by Spain, 1767. Copy of title in “Visita General,” Spanish Archives. Bourland and Miller Report; Rafael Martinez by Gregorio Saens applies for Porcion 58, originally granted to Joaquin Chapa. Recommended. Confirmed by Legislature, Act of March 31, 1921 (37th Legislature, Ch. 123, p. 232, General Laws). Patent: February 11, 1948, No. 371, V. 8-B. General Land Office File San Patricio 1-787. 14 The families who were granted porciones of land fronting on the river in Texas, Webb, and Starr Counties were the pioneer families of Nuevo Leon and later of Tamaulipas and the Escandon settlements in Nuevo Laredo, Revilla (Guerrero), Mier, Camargo, and Reynosa. The children born on the porcion married one another uniting families, with familiar surnames such as the following:
Chapa(porcion59), Farias (porcion 60), Guerra (porcion 66), Leal (porcion 55), Ysaguirre and Pantaleon (porcion 56); Ramirez (porcion 67 and 76), Salinas (porcion 70 and 71), Vela (porcion 57), Ynojosa (porcion 68), Saenz/Saens (porciones74,72,73), Sanchez (porciones53,69), de la Garza, Farias, Zavaleta, Ramirez, Pena, de la Pena, Guerra, Villarreal, Trevino, Cavazos, Cortinas, Cisneros, Gomez, Garcia, Orive, Uribe, Hinojosa, Falcon and others Descendants of Don Juan Bautista Chapa and Dona Beatriz Olivarez de Trevino; Descendants of Don Bias Maria de la Garza y Falcon and Dona Beatriz Gonzalez Hidalgo; Descendants of Gabriel Cavazos; Descendants of Capitan Pedro de la Garza Falcon y Trevino; Descendants of Don Jose Manuel de Goseascochea and Dona Maria Francisca Xaviera delay Garza de la Garza). 15
There are too many names to list. This partial list is intended to show many of the common and familiar family names in Northeastern Mexican and South Texas history.
By the early twentieth century in the area of Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico, almost all of the original Escandon families had intermarried, with family members living in such origin cities as Parras and Saltillo in Coahuila and Monterrey and Cerralvo in Nuevo Leon. They also had family members living in newer communities such as Dr. Gonzalez and General Teran in Nuevo Leon, as well as in the downriver communities of Camargo, Reynosa, and Matamoros.
Matamoros, located near to the coast and so important economically, grew rapidly and quickly boasted representatives of most of the pioneer families who continued to marry amongst themselves. Many of these families had members living in both the north and the south sides of the river. By 1900, families had been split by nationality for approximately fifty years. The Rio Bravo ran through their ancestral lands, so that family members on the south bank were Mexicans, while those living on the north bank were Americans. Geographic location determined national identity.
A well-documented early-twentieth-century land dispute in the area of Matamoros is instructive in that it lists many of the intermarried relatives who had rights to land in the area of Matamoros. All are cousins, including the surnames Chapa, Cisneros, Trevino, Hinojosa, Alaniz, Pena, Martinez, Garcia, Gomez, Gonzalez, Vidal, Bochas, Longoria, Ramirez, Santos Coy, (de los Santos Coy), Solis, Barbosa, Perez, Fernandez, Vela, Zavaleta, Munoz, Guzman, Lucio, Fragoso, Valdez, Elizondo, Orive, Cabrera, de los Santos, Larrasquitu, Pacheco, Romo, Romero, Guerra and many others.
After the Mexican American War and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, Brownsville, Texas, was founded on the north bank of the Rio Bravo del Norte, directly across from Matamoros, Tamaulipas. Matamoros was a cosmopolitan city with at least seventy-five years of history at the time Brownsville was founded. Spanish/Mexican families owned the prairies and grasslands on the north bank, which served as pasturelands for their herds. Their surnames are still recognized in Matamoros and Brownsville today. Enormous tracts of land were granted to Spanish/Mexican families who pioneered northern Mexico and the other communities’ up-river from Matamoros. Many other landless families filled in the area, working on the ranches and farms and building the towns. The social structure that was created in early Matamoros and Brownsville survives to this day.
By 1750, or one hundred years before the founding of Brownsville and seventy years before Mexico gained her independence from Spain, small ranches (rancherias) were established along the banks of the river, where cattle owners from neighboring Reynosa and Camargo pastured their animals. In 1774, three wealthy families from Nuevo Leon purchased locations for the pasturing of cattle led by Capitan Don Ignacio Anastacio de Ayala. Eventually, the area came to be known as San Juan de los Esteros Hermosos. 16
In the 19th century, long before their family members relocated to Matamoros, the Zavaleta, Chapa, Garcia, and Gomez families were mercantilists and ranchers from Coahuila and Nuevo Leon. Pedro Zavaleta Chapa, the eldest son of Bartolo Zavaleta Sanchez and Eufemia Chapa Saenz/Saens, was born in Ciudad Mier and raised on the family ranches at Chapeño porcion 58 and 59, near Roma, Texas in Starr County. Early connections were established between the families of Cd. Mier, Saltillo, and Matamoros. As a young boy, Pedro Zavaleta Chapa was sent to boarding school down-river at Saint Joseph Academy in Brownsville. He had relatives in Matamoros who looked after him, and he would travel by riverboat from Roma to Matamoros/Brownsville. Upon his graduation, he was sent to stay with family (Chapa-Sanchez-Saenz/Saens) in Saltillo, where he studied to be a civil engineer at university and married Rafaela Mireles Farias, the daughter of a wealthy Coahuila family.
By 1900, the extended Chapa family stretched out across Northern Mexico and South Texas. Cities, towns, and ranches were linked by a familial relationship where one had only to “tell them who you were” to find room, board, and support.
Economic ties were also established. Pedro and Rafaela first lived in Laredo and then at the family ranch at Roma, Texas. Rafaela bore four sons, dying during the birth of her fourth son, Enrique. Pedro, now a widower, moved his four sons from the ranch in Roma to the big city of Matamoros and finally to Brownsville. Pedro’s father, Bartolo was Constable in Starr County, Texas, and one of the first Spanish-surnamed elected officials in the County. He was also a powerful politician. Down-river at Brownsville, the most influential Republican in Texas, R.B. Creager, influenced both state and national politics in the early twentieth century. Creager was Bartolo’s attorney, so he penned a note (still in the possession of the family) of introduction for his son to Mr. Creager, which led to one of the most lucrative land clearing contracts, desenraiz (root plow), in Cameron County history. Pedro, with hundreds of workers, hand cleared all of the monte, south Texas thorn brushlands, owned by Harlingen businessman Lon C. Hill. From Los Fresnos north to Rio Hondo along the coast, these virgin lands were leveled and prepared for agricultural activity. Because Pedro had cousins living in Matamoros, he was introduced to Matamoros society and married Concepcion Garcia Gomez Cisneros Cortina Chapa. Concepcion was the granddaughter of Tamaulipas General and Military Governor Juan N. Cortina and a descendant of Irineo Gomez and Rafael Garcia, all wealthy landowners. Irineo Gomez was the owner of Las Barrosas Ranch, and Rafael Garcia and Ygnacio Trevino owned most of the land around Point Isabel, Texas. Ygnacio Trevino was the original grantee of the San Martin Ranch (where Palmito Hill is located). All three are original family land grants, and the following legal descriptions are taken from the Spanish archives of the State of Texas General Land Office. 17
Gomez, Irineo. “Las Barrosas.” Kenedy County. 24,660 acres; K-43. Granted by Mexico, January 16, 1848. The original title, V. 58, No. 208, Spanish Archives. Bourland and Miller Report: Irineo Gomez and Macedonio Capistran apply for five Leagues of land originally granted to said Irineo Gomez by Mexican authorities in 1832. Witnesses prove occupation of the land claimed by the two applicants. Recommended. Confirmed by Legislature, Act of February 10, 1852. Patent May 26, 1873; No. 390, V. 19. General Land Office File San Patricio 1-548. 18
Garcia, Rafael (Deceased), Santa Isabel Cameron County, 32,355 acres; Abstract C-l. Granted by Mexico, 1828. Copy of title: Original testimonial withdrew from Spanish Archives April 1, 1847, by Heirs of Rafael Garcia. Bourland and Miller Report: Dona Maria de Los Angeles Garcia de Tarnava and Dona Felipa Garcia de Mananton (Mannatou) apply for seven leagues of land called Santa Isabel, originally granted by the State of Tamaulipas to Rafael Garcia, now deceased. Witnesses prove the validity of this grant and the occupation, cultivation, and pasturage of the same having thereon, two separate ranches or farms from the year 1826 down to the present time, and say that they have never heard of any adverse claimant to said tract of land or the title to it disputed. Recommended. Confirmed by the Legislature, Act of February 10, 1852. Patent: December 18, 1872; No. 158, V. 19. General Land Office File San Patricio, 1-418. 19
Trevino, Jose Ygnacio De, “San Martin,” Palmito Hill Ranch, Cameron County, 27,289.5 acres; Abstract C-6. Granted by Mexico, 1827. Original testimonials withdrawn from Spanish Archives, April 1, 1854, by Morgan Barclay. Bourland and Miller Report: Manuel Trevino applies for the estate of his father Ygnacio Trevino, five and one-half leagues of pastureland originally granted by the State of Tamaulipas in 1827. Recommended. Confirmed by Legislature, Act of February 10, 1852. Patent: June 27, 1872; No. 20, V. 19. General Land Office File San Patricio 1-411. Acreage corrected Supplement D. 20
Over time, children rose on the porciones upriver in the jurisdictions of Laredo, Revilla, Cd. Mier and Camargo married and moved northward along alternate routes of the Camino Real. 21 The primary Camino ran from Saltillo, crossing the river at Piedras Negras across from Eagle Pass, Texas, in Maverick County. Another branch of the Camino tracked from Cd. Mier north into Texas, to the west of the coastal lowlands and into today’s Duval County and San Diego, Texas. Numerous original Rio Bravo families settled in Jim Wells, Brooks, and Duval Counties such as the Barrera and many Chapas in San Diego, Texas, which became a noted “Mexican” town.
The brother of Bartolo, Abraham Zavaleta, and his wife, Estefania Chapa Saenz, were among those who moved from the banks of the Rio Bravo, first to Duval County and then into Karnes and DeWitt Counties. The Chapa and Saenz/ Saens families from the village of Chapeño (located below the present location of Falcon Dam on the Rio Bravo) have numerous descendants living in Duval County today. 22
The Brownsville Zavaleta’s lost touch with their cousins, descendants of Abraham and Estefania, who migrated into the Midwestern states in the early 20th century. Several of their family members remained on the West coast after World War II and their descendants live in Southern California, in the San Francisco Bay area as well as in the State of Washington. This enormous branch of the family was not reconnected to their South Texas relatives until “discovered” by Tony Zavaleta’s research in the early 1980s. Some of the Midwest Zavaleta families have moved back to Beeville, Texas and to the Rio Grande Valley in recent years.
The Camino continued north and east toward Mission Espiritu Santo in Goliad County and Presidio La Bahia. In Karnes County, Old Cart Road (the Anglo name for that section of the Camino) connected Chihuahua and El Paso to San Antonio. The Camino Real ran through today’s Brooks, Caldwell, Nueces, Live Oak, DeWitt, Gonzales, Karnes, Goliad, Refugio, and Victoria Counties, and more. Today, Spanish/ Mexican birth, death, and marriage certificates for our Rio Bravo ancestors may be culled from the county courthouses in each of these counties. I found Spanish surnames listed in official records usually spelled incorrectly so search wisely. 23
By the mid-twentieth century, families interacted with their members on both sides of the Rio Bravo with impunity. In Brownsville, Texas, the French order of Oblates of Mary Immaculate missionaries operated a Catholic boy’s school that had been in operation for ninety-three years, since 1865 — fifteen short years after the community’s founding in 1850. 24 When Pedro Zavaleta Chapa’s grandson Anthony Zavaleta Reid was promoted to the seventh grade in 1958 “skipping” the sixth grade to attend the “New St. Joe,” Grandfather Pedro brought Anthony a horse from his ranch up-river and crossed him from Mexico to Texas, down-river, east of Matamoros at El Gomeño where Grandmother Concepcion’s ranch was located. The sorrel was kept on Tia Eva Garcia Gomez Orive’s ranch at Palmito Hill. Both ranches are part of the original Ygnacio Trevino ranch founded by a land grant in 1827. Presenting his grandson with the horse, Grandfather Pedro said, “Tengo mucho orgullo de ti, hijo. Siempre diles quien eres.” “I’m very proud of you son, always tell people who you are.” Decades would pass before Anthony understood the full meaning of what his Grandfather had told him so many years before. In his seventies at the time, Pedro told his grandson that a person should always tell people his or her pedigree; a person is known by who the ancestors were.
Our personal and family histories are critically important to an understanding of our Texas persona and of Texans of Mexican descent in particular. The Rio Bravo and the Camino Real are important historic locations for us Tejanos, playing a role in defining whom we are and how we view ourselves. For more than one-hundred-seventy years, Texans have struggled to live their identity as defined by Texan jingoism. Uncovering the truth behind the heroic lives along the river and the road (El Rio y el Camino) is critical to understanding who we are. By making the truth available to the wider public, we address the even more important need to unite our Spanish/Mexican and Anglo populations. Over the course of the last fifty years, our knowledge and understanding of the “facts” surrounding life on the Rio Bravo and the Camino Real has been inadequately studied and even discouraged.
We must honor our ancestors by taking a fresh look at what life was like in South Texas from 1600 to 1900. We must re-visit all of the important personalities, high and low, in an exceptionally well-documented and informative discussion. Our ancestors expect us to review existing information to uncover new information and offer an interpretation of their lives through the eyes of the Spanish/ Mexican community. Why is this important? A new generation of Texans and Tejanos are being educated in the State’s public school system with textbooks, which continue to omit and obfuscate the facts. Today’s young Texans will face societal and economic challenges like no other generation before them. To prevail in the global economy, the next generation of Texans must forge a personal and societal identity that unites them through a shared and respected history. Texas’ prosperity lies in our ability to merge the diverse ethnic tapestry of today into the Texas of tomorrow.
It is fair to say that I love Texas and being a Texan. A passion for Texas runs deep in me and in all of my family. However, the bumper sticker that adorns my truck today says, “No Border Wall,” and that slogan defines the continued misunderstanding of our history and our neighbors. We are Americans, and we are Texans, but we are also fiercely proud of our Spanish/Mexican heritage.
Reared in south Texas in the second half of the 20th century, we learned the State’s historical reality as it was forged by our Texas founders. The original history of Texas was written by historical giants whose legacy and importance lives on in such sources as the work of Hubert Howe Bancroft 25 and the work of Frank Cushman Pierce. 26 Their accounts of Texas history, and especially of that great swath of land that lies between San Antonio and the Rio Bravo del Norte, shaped South Texas and influenced the outcome of national politics. In the nine years between 1836 and 1846, Texas became first a republic, and then a state and the American army of occupation invaded the sovereign nation of Mexico. In 1848, the boundary between the United States and Mexico was established at the Rio Bravo del Norte and Mexico lost half of her land mass.
The State of Texas provided my generation with both a national and cultural identity, a roadmap that leads us through life in Texas today. We have been taught that Anglo-Texans were heroes and nation builders. However, our Mexican ancestors were no less capable as nation builders when in 1840 they formed the Republic of the Rio Grande, carved out of the three northeastern Mexican states. The identities used to identify Texans and Mexicans mix concepts on both sides of the Rio Bravo del Norte. So who are we: Texans, Mexicans, Americans, Mexican-Americans, or simply Tejanos? 27
There is an entire generation of young Texans who are searching for meaning in their lives, including their cultural and historical roots. They must know where they fit to develop their identity. The sensible choice is to recognize and honor both Mexican and Texan history as “The History of Texas.” For example, in elementary school we learned that the Alamo was something important; also our fathers took us to see it. We were descended from the side that carried the field of battle in 1836, but we have lost in almost every way since then. Our ancestors served in the Matamoros Battalion at the battle of the Alamo, but we were told that we should not talk about it because people would not understand. Santa Anna was a family friend, but we were told that we should not be proud of that either.
Brownsville was widely divided along racial and ethnic lines in the 1950s, a period that had to be carefully navigated. We did not know that we were “Mexican.” In those halcyon days, we grew up in the Disney generation, and Davy Crockett was our hero alongside Zorro. We were just like thousands of other Texas kids as we anticipated each Sunday’s episode with a coonskin cap, BB gun, cape, and sword in hand. We grew to become Texans molded by the stereotypes and misrepresentations of a one-sided historical melodrama in which there were two clear sides, the winners, and the losers. Mexicans were on the losing side.
Our grandparents heralded from prominent Spanish land-grant families tracing their heritage across the Spanish province of Coahuila y Tejas long before there was the State of Texas. Today, these families stretch out along the Camino Real from Saltillo the capital of Coahuila to Cd. Mier on the Rio Bravo del Norte and northward through the brush country to San Antonio and southward to Matamoros on the Gulf coast. This is important because it helps to explain what my grandfather meant so many years ago when he told me, Diles Quien Eres. His advice was an essential requirement in his day, but is it in my day? I believe it is. It begs the question: do we come from people who ride horses Caballeros, or are we people who walk peones? One’s status and the opportunities that life brings are influenced by our personal histories.
Throughout my life, and for reasons I do not totally understand, I have revered history with all its intrigue and failings. I comprehend how things that happened in the past affect people’s lives in the present. History must constantly be called into question and corrected. Texas is a State where the books used in Texas classrooms continue to limit the contributions of our Hispanic and African-American heroes. When young Texans first learn about Texas history and especially about critically important events like the Battle of the Alamo, they believe the account they read to be true. The cowardly Mexican army slaughtered the heroic Texans. However, what had the Mexican army and their leaders done wrong in protecting their nation? Responses have always come back the same: that the Mexicans were responsible for the deaths of our Texas heroes. Must the Texas Hispanic population of the twenty-first century be held responsible for the deaths of Texas heroes in the nineteenth century?
Simply stated, I do not want Texas’s youth to experience the conflict of past generations. While I do not believe that racism is still actively taught and practiced in Texas classrooms, many of Texas’ historical myths live on and, by definition, continue to divide us into good and bad, Anglos and Mexicans. Texas’ history influences Texas’ present and future. Texans of Mexican descent continue to be stereotyped as treacherous cheaters and back-stabbers, while the heroes of the Alamo continue to be revered as exemplars. Texas’ historical icons live on and continue to affect our concepts of self and social position.
Early Texas historians spun their historical narrative of the events of the nineteenth century for purposes that have no place in the future. The evil despot Santa Anna crossed into Texas at several points along the river, including Matamoros, and marched across south Texas arriving in San Antonio where there ensued a bloody siege of the old Spanish mission and its defenders. 28 It was there that the valiant and righteous Texians staged their last stand in defense of the rights of Texas and its citizens. Bowie, Travis, and the gentleman from Tennessee, Congressman Crockett, defended the Alamo to the death, for the Glory of Texas. “Remember the Alamo!” Nevertheless, what exactly are we supposed to remember? What really happened at the Alamo? With new information validated, we can no longer “remember” or believe what we were told by earlier generations. I exonerate early Texas historians of any mistakes that might have been made in their original description of the siege and the deaths of the defenders. These early chroniclers were simply serving the important purpose of building stories and symbols for modern Texas and the Texas identity. However, a “New History” has been emerging for more than sixty years, which, remarkably, includes the contributions of Latinos, African-Americans, Native Americans, and others.
In the early part of the twentieth century, a whole generation of native-Texas scholars questioned Texas history as it was written. They mentored us through our university programs and, by the 1960’s, a revisionist history of Texas had emerged. Most of our teachers, including Americo Paredes and Carlos E. Castaneda, have left us now, but what they taught us lives on in our generation and is now being passed on to the next. Many academics have questioned the “official” history, a move that has not always made us welcome or popular. It has finally made us confident of our identities and has helped us to define ourselves and to teach the next generation of Texans. Texas history is mostly correct; it is the omission of facts and the interpretation of events as applied to a society that is flawed. Unfortunately, we live in a world where the facts are sometimes twisted to justify inequality.
The Rio Bravo del Norte and the Camino Real serves as the premier symbols of Tejano history, providing us with new information and a fresh way of interpreting Tejano and Texas history in the “New Texas History” Additional information will almost certainly emerge, and we must examine the merits of history as it is discovered and its veracity determined. We are obligated to correct the historical record in Texas for the benefit of future generations. Such historical revisionism is not anti-establishment. It is courageous and insightful, teaching the value of inclusion, not exclusion.
Many Families One History:
What follows represents the product of more than forty years of personal research on my family ancestry. I have listed below my father’s mother’s family heritage, followed by my father’s father’s line. These two lines are no less than the history of the Rio Bravo and the Camino Real. 29
What is notable about my father’s mother’s family is that it traces back to Marcos Alonzo and the original families of Nuevo Leon. The de la Garza-Falcon family from whom we are directly descended was one of the twelve founding families of Monterrey, and this is where the Sephardic Jewish line enters the family. Marcos Alonzo Garza is the forefather of many that carry the surnames or who are related to the Garza, de la Garza, Falcon and Trevino families. What is known about Capitan Marcos Alonzo Garza is that he was the son of Marcos Alonzo and Constanza de la Garza and that he went by the name Marcos Alonzo Garza y del Arcon; Marcos Alonzo Arza y del Arcon; Marcos Alonzo Garza del Alcon and simply Marcos Alonzo. He was born in Lepe, Huelva, Spain around 1550 and came to New Spain, serving in the military. In 1585, he married Juana de Trevino from a prominent Mexico City military family. The Trevino family was well known to have converted from Judaism to Christianity. His assignments took the family to Durango and Zacatecas, where he supervised the mining of silver and gold. His entire family settled in Nuevo Leon sometime between 1596 and 1603, after the completion of his military career. The family of Marcos Alonzo is included in the list of the twelve original founding families of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, in 1596. It is not known where the “del Arcon” or “del Alcon” part of his last name is from. However, this ending had an impact on his son, Blas, for he used it as his last name, de la Garza-Falcon. Alcon is the ancient form of the word Halcon or Falcon. The children of Marcos Alonzo did not continue the use of their father’s surname and, this might have been due to its identification with Judaism. Hernando Alonzo financed and aided Hernan Cortes. After the conquest of Mexico City, Hernando Alonzo (a Jew who was well known in the New World) became wealthy and powerful and was ordered burned alive by the Inquisition. Marcos Alonzo’s sons Francisco and Pedro used the last name de la Garza. Blas used the last name de la Garza-Falcon, and sons Diego, Alonzo, and Jose used their maternal last name, Trevino. 30
My father’s mother, Concepcion Garcia Gomez Cisneros Cortina Chapa, is where we pick up this incredible genealogical line. I hope you find your ancestor in here as well.
Descent Line through author’s father’s (#29) mother (#27)
- Marcos Alonzo=2. Constanza la Garza
- Marcos Alonzo de la Garza = A. Juana Quintanilla Trevino
- Bias Maria de la=6. Beatriz Gonzalez Hidalgo-Garza-Falcon-Trevino Navarro
- Teresa Guerrero
- Miguel de la Garza 10 Gertrudis Sepulveda Falcon Guerrero de Renteria
- Maria de la Garza = 12. Pedro de Elizondo Renteria Sepulveda
- Maria Elizondo Jose Adriano de la Garza de la Garza-Gutierrez
- Jose Salvador =16. Maria Gertrudis de la Garza Elizondo Garza Falcon Gomez
- Maria Francisca Xaviera
- Jose Manuel Goseascochea de la Garza Falcon
- Trinidad Cortina = 20. Estefana Goseascochea de la Garza
- Juan Nepomuceno Cortina =22. Rafaela Cortez
- Estefana Cortina Cortez = 24. Jesus Garcia
- Jesus Garcia Cortina =26. Francisca Gomez Cisneros Chapa
- Concepcion Garcia =28. Pedro Zavaleta Chapa Gomez Cortina Cisneros
- Fernando Zavaleta = 30. Eleanor Reid Linville
- Antonio N. Zavaleta Reid (EGO) =32. Norma Martinez Villarreal Champion
- Anthony N. Zavaleta Martinez = 34. Wendy Brown
- Alexander N. Zavaleta Brown (son of ANZ, Jr.)
- G. Christopher Zavaleta (2nd son of ANZ and NMV) =37. Jennifer Woodcock
- Rowan Willow (daughter of GCZ and JW)
- Brian Mathew Zavaleta (3rd son of ANZ and NMV) = 40. Kara Whitfield
- Michael Anthony Zavaleta (4th son of ANZ & GSV) = 37. Gabriela Sosa Vargas
What follows here is what we have been able to find on each of the persons listed above:
- Marcos Alonzo was born between around 1524 in Lepe Huelva Spain.
- Constanza la Garza was born around 1528 in Lepe Huelva Spain.
- Marcos Alonzo de la Garza was born around 1550 in Lepe Huelva Spain and died in 1634 in Nuevo Leon. Marcos Alonzo de la Garza is believed to be the progenitor of many that carry the surnames Garza, de la Garza, Falcon, and Trevino. It is believed that he came from a Jewish family and therefore his original surname of Alonzo was dropped by his children and descendants.
- Juana Quintanilla Trevino was born in 1566 in Mexico D.F. and married in Durango around 1575.
- Bias Maria de la Garza Falcon-Trevino was born on February 21, 1580 in Real de Mapimi, Durango and died February 21, 1669 in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon. He married Beatriz Gonzalez Hidalgo-Navarro sometime before 1626 in Saltillo, Coahuila.
- Beatriz Gonzalez Hidalgo-Navarro was born about 1591 in Saltillo, Coahuila, and died on May 10, 1670, in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon. Her parents were Marcos Gonzalez Hidalgo de Valle and Mariana Navarro Rodriguez. She is a direct descendant of Juan Navarro the Conquistador a Basque warrior who arrived with Hernan Cortez in Mexico in 1519. His son was one of the founders of Nueva Vizcaya or Durango, Mexico.
- Sergeant Major Bias de la Garza-Falcon was the son of Bias and Beatriz. He was born in 1621 in Saltillo, Coahuila and died on October 3, 1689, in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon. He served as the Governor of Nuevo Leon from 1667 to 1676.
- Teresa Guerrero was born in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon and died on August 16, 1677, in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon. She was the wife of Bias de la Garza-Falcon.
- Captain Miguel de la Garza-Falcon was born in Monterrey Nuevo Leon in 1640 and died on October 27, 1697 in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon. Miguel de la Garza-Falcon was married to Gertrudis Sepulveda-de Renteria.
- Gertrudis Sepulveda-de Renteria was born in 1642 in Nuevo Leon and died on January 22, 1687/9 in Nuevo Leon. Her parents were Jacinto Garcia de Sepulveda and Clara Fernandez de Castro.
- Maria de la Garza Renteria-Sepulveda was the daughter of Miguel de la Garza Falcon and Gertrudis Sepulveda de Renteria and was born in 1674 in Nuevo Leon and died on July 8, 1715 in Salinas Victoria, Nuevo Leon.
- General Pedro de Elizondo was born in 1681 in Saltillo; Coahuila married Maria de la Garza Renteria Sepulveda he died in Monterrey on July 30, 1749.
- Maria Elizondo de la Garza was the daughter of Maria de la Garza and Pedro Elizondo. She was born in 1698 in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon and death not known. She was married in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon on November 17, 1717 to Capitan Jose Adriano de la Garza- Gutierrez.
- Capitan Jose Adriano de la Garza-Gutierrez was born on May 10, 1687 in Monterrey Nuevo Leon and died on August 18, 1757 in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon. His parents were Salvador de la Garza-Montemayor and Juana Gutierrez de Castro.
- Jose Salvador de la Garza Elizondo was born on May 25, 1738, in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon and died in September 1781 at his ranch, Rancho Viejo in present-day Cameron County, Texas. He was the original grantee of the Espiritu Santo Land Grant and was married to Gertrudis de la Garza Falcon Gomez.
- Maria Gertrudis de la Garza is a descendant of General Ireneo Gomez the land grantee of Las Barrosas, which was located in the modern day King Ranch and the owner of very large portions of land in modern-day Matamoros, and San Carlos, Tamaulipas. Ireneo was the ancestor of the Gomez family, which lived in Matamoros and married Pedro Zavaleta grandfather of Anthony “Tony” Zavaleta.
- Maria Francisca Xaviera de la Garza de la Garza Falcon was born in Camargo, Tamaulipas in 1770 and died on August 20, 1833. She inherited the western one-third of the Espiritu Santo Land Grant (Rancho Viejo) and was married to Jose Manuel Goseascochea in Camargo, Tamaulipas on February 27, 1787.
- Jose Manuel Goseascochea was born in Lequito Spain in the Basque Province in 1768 and was Alcalde of Matamoros at the time of his marriage.
- Trinidad Cortina was an attorney and Alcalde of Camargo, Tamaulipas when he married Estefana Goseascochea de la Garza viuda de Cavazos.
- Estefana Goseascochea de la Garza was born in 1797 in Camargo, Tamaulipas and died in 1850 on her ranch El Carmen in Cameron County Texas. She was first married to Jos£ Maria Francisco Vicente Cavazos in 1815 in Camargo, Tamaulipas and widowed. She then in 1823 married Trinidad Cortina the alcalde of Camargo and their son was Juan N. Cortina.
- Juan Nepomuceno Cortina Goseascochea de la Garza was born on May 16, 1824, in Camargo, Tamaulipas and died on October 30, 1894, in Mexico; D.F. He married Rafaela Cortez in Brownsville, Texas in January of 1850.
- Rafaela Cortez married Juan N. Cortina in 1850 in Brownsville, Texas. Their daughter was Estefana Cortina Cortez.
- Estefana Cortina Cortez, the daughter of Juan N. Cortina was born about 1851 in Brownsville, Texas and married Jesus Garcia.
- Jesus Garcia married Estefana Cortina Cortez the daughter of Juan N. Cortina
- Jesus Garcia Cortina was the father of Conception Garcia Gomez Zavaleta
- Francisca Gomez Cisneros was the mother of Conception Garcia Gomez and is the direct Descendant of General Ireneo Gomez.
- Concepcion Garcia Gomez Cortina was the grandmother of Tony Zavaleta, Sr.
- Pedro Zavaleta Chapa was the grandfather of Anthony Noe “Tony” Zavaleta Sr.
- Fernando Zavaleta Garcia G6mez, father of Anthony “Tony” Noe Zavaleta, Sr.
- Eleanor Reid Linville, mother of Anthony Noe Zavaleta, Sr.
- Anthony Noe Zavaleta Reid, EGO
- Norma Martinez Villarreal Champion, first wife of Anthony Noe Zavaleta, Sr.
- Anthony N. Zavaleta Martinez, first-born son of Anthony and Norma
- Wendy Brown, wife of Anthony Noe Zavaleta, Jr.
- Alexander N. Zavaleta Brown, son of Anthony Zavaleta, Jr. and Wendy Brown
- Gus Christopher Zavaleta, second born son of Anthony Zavaleta, Sr.
- Jennifer Woodcock mother wife of Christopher and mother of Rowan
- Rowan Willow, daughter of Christopher and Jennifer
- Brian Mathew Zavaleta, third son of Anthony Zavaleta, Sr.
- Kara Whitfield wife of Brian Mathew Zavaleta
- Michael Anthony Zavaleta Sosa, fourth born son of Anthony Noe Zavaleta, Sr. 12/4/07
- Gabriela Sosa Vargas, third wife of Anthony Noe Zavaleta, Sr. and mother of Michael Anthony/Miguel Antonio Zavaleta
What follows here is an equally remarkable ancestral line followed from my father’s father’s line through Mexico and back to the former Basque principality of Navarre in Spain with descent lines to Romans, Goths, and Arabs.
Descent line through Author’s father’s (#29) father (#28)
- Michael Anthony fourth son of Anthony Noe Zavaleta, Sr. Son 1. Anthony Noe Zavaleta, Jr. Alexander, son of Anthony Noe Zavaleta, Jr. Son
- Gus Christopher Zavaleta Rowan, daughter of Gus Christopher Zavaleta
- Brian Mathew Son
- Anthony Noe Zavaleta, Sr. Son
- Fernando Emilio Zavaleta Son
- A. Pedro Zavaleta Chapa Son
- Bartolo Zavaleta Sanchez Saenz
(This is where the Abraham and Estefana Zavaleta ancestry line begins), Son
- Augustina Sanchez Saenz, Daughter
- Guadalupe Rodriguez, Daughter
- Jose Antonio Rodriguez de Montemayor, Son
- Nicolas Jose Rodriguez de Montemayor, Son
- Miguel Rodriguez de Montemayor, Son
- Diego Rodriguez de Montemayor, Son
- Diego Rodriguez de Montemayor, Son
- Diego Rodriguez de Montemayor, Son
- Estefania Montemayor, Daughter
- Juana Porcallo de la Cerda Casada en Mazapil, Zacatecas, Mexico 1572, Daughter
- Vasco Porcallo Figueroa Nacio en Espana y fue un Notable Conquistador, Son
- Maria Aldonza Manuel de Figueroa Nacio en Espana alrededor del ano 1500, Daughter
- Gomez Suarez de Figueroa, Son
- Gomez Suarez de Figueroa, III, Son
- Lorenzo Suarez de Figueroa, Son
- Gomez Suarez de Figueroa, Son
- Suer Fernandez de Figueroa, Son
- Rui Fernandez Barba, Son
- Teresa Ortiz Calderon, Daughter
- Fortun Ortiz Calderon, Son
- Fortun Sanchez (Sanz) de Salzedo, Son
- Sancho Garcia de Salzedo, Daughter
- Garcia Galindez Salzedo, son
- Garcia Valasquez, Daughter
- Lope Sanchez de Ayala, son
- Sanchez de Ayala, son
- Sancho Senor de Velasquez, Son
- Vela de Aragon, Son
- Ramiro King I, Son
- Sancho el Tercero de Navarre, Son
- Garcia King the Fourth of Pamplona 1134-1150 King, Son
- Sancho Garces Abarca, Son
- Garcia III Sanchez 1000-1035 King the Third, Son
- Sancho II Garces Abarca 970-994 King the Second, Son
- King Sancho Garces the First King of Navarre, 905-926AD reign, Married Toda Aznarez de Larron. She is the connection to the Arabic, ancient Goth and Roman lines.31, son
4 Duaine, Carl L. 1987 With All Arms. A Study of a Kindred Group, New Santander Press,
5 Weckmann, Luis, the Medieval Heritage of Mexico, (New York: Fordham University
6 Clotilde P. Garcia, Capitan Alonso Alvarez de Pineda and the Exploration of the Texas
Coast and the Gulf of Mexico (Austin: Jenkins Press, 1982).
7 Donald E. Chipman and H. Denise Joseph, Explorers and Settlers of Spanish Texas
(Austin: The University of Texas Press, 2001).
8 Guillermo Garmendia Leal, Mas de 2000families, sus descendientes y mas de 250
Apellidos Diferentes, Tomo I y 11 (Monterrey: 1993) and the same for Saltillo. These
books may be accessed through http://www.borderlandsbooks.com.
11 Joel, Rene Escobar, Family Tree Book: The F. W. Seabury Papers, (Edinburg, Texas:
New Santander Press, 1995).
12 William C. Foster, Spanish Expeditions into Texas 1689-1768 (Austin: The University of
Texas Press, 1995).
16 Jose Raul Canseco, Historic de Matamoros (Matamoros: Municipio de Matamoros, no
date); Clemente Rendon de la Garza, Vidas Ilustres en la Historic y la Culture de la
Heroica Matamoros (Matamoros: Municipio de Matamoros, 2000).
17 See also two newer General Land Office publications, Catalogue of the Spanish
Collection of the Texas General Land Office Part I Titles, Unfinished Titles, Character
Certificates, Applications for Admission, Register and Field Notes, and Part II
Correspondence, Empresario Contracts, Decrees, Appointments, Reports, Notices and
Proceedings, Archives and Records Division, Texas General Land Office, 2003, Austin,
21 A good list of the original misiones, villas, presidios in Texas are found in the work of
Moore and may be accessed at http://www.Texascaminoreal.com/mission.html.
23 The Handbook of Texas Online, http://www/tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/.
24 Bernard Doyon, OMI, The Cavalry of Christ on the Rio Grande (Milwaukee: Bruce
28 Richard R. Flores, Remembering The Alamo (Austin: University of Texas Press,
29 Long an obsession of mine, it was not until the advent of the internet, and remarkable
resources like Ancestry.com and Familysearch.org facilitated through the archives of the
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) that I have been able along with
my son Tony, Michael Van Wagenen, and many others to locate such a remarkable
30 Research by Michael Van Wagenen, Church of Latter-Day Saints, Archives Salt Lake
31 The research for this article was done by Antonio Zavaleta, Anthony Zavaleta, Jr., and
Michael Van Wagenen.