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The Lightbournes of the Point Isabel Lighthouse

By Antonio N. Zavaleta1

Historical scholars perform two types of research. Some historians may produce a lifetime of work without ever examining an original document. An original document is one, which is written or produced during the time-period being studied. Locating primary sources appropriate to the topic being studied in archives and in personal collections can be demanding and time consuming. This is tedious work, especially when the documents are handwritten and in an archaic form of English or in a foreign language. Original documents are also oftentimes faded to the point of being quasi-illegible.

The second type of historical research is one which is accomplished entirely or mainly by citing secondary documents. That is, by examining the published works of colleagues who initially analyzed primary sources. This type of historical research is both important and satisfying, allowing analyses of numerous and varied theoretical perspectives.

This article is based upon the unlikely appearance of a personal album maintained by a young girl who was born in and reared at the Point Isabel lighthouse during the late 19th century between the years 1884 to 1900. Additional handwritten loose-leaf papers found inside the album extend her recollections of Point Isabel and Brownsville from 1900 to the mid-1950s.

These two primary documents provide us with a unique view of Point Isabel and Brownsville, Texas for approximately 75 years. It encompasses individuals from childhood to adulthood and her dealings with them, and the Point Isabel Lighthouse. (1)

In 1846, General Zachary Taylor marched his troops southward along the Texas coastline from Corpus Christi Bay to the Brazos Santiago Pass situated at the southern end of Padre Island. He established Camp Polk in the area known as El Fronton Santa Isabella, which is the present site of Port Isabel, Texas formerly also known as Point Isabel. Five distinct geographical locations were significant in the historical development and settlement of the area, including Point Isabel, Brazos Santiago Pass, Boca Chica Beach, the mouth of the Rio Grande River, and South Padre Island, Texas.

Point Isabel does not have a natural port formed by a bay or other natural land feature allowing oceangoing vessels to dock safely on the mainland. Only during a calm high tide could a shallow draft vessel make the treacherous “leap” over the sand bar and through the Brazos de Santiago Pass or “Arms of Saint James.” Once across, they slipped into peaceful bay waters. At certain times of the year and depending on the depth of the tides, deeply drafted vessels could attempt to enter the bay safely, but never with total certainty. Because of this nautical caveat, oceangoing ships would drop their anchors just beyond the breakers and the menacing sandbar to shuttle passengers and cargo the short distance to shore.

In 1850, two years after the end of the Mexican War, Congress authorized a standard brick lighthouse for Point Isabel by appropriating $15,000 for its construction. (2) The lighthouse was constructed “on the highest bastion of Fort Polk, across the Laguna Madre from Brazos Island at Point Isabel. It was to be completed in two years and was topped with the conventional non-movable white light reflecting apparatus of the day. (3) In 1857, a Third Order Fresnel lens replaced the original reflector system. The new light system displayed a fixed white light with a flash. (4)

During the Civil War, both Point Isabel and the lighthouse were alternately occupied by Union and Confederate forces. The Confederates attempted to blow up the Point Isabel lighthouse, but were unsuccessful. However, they removed the light to the safety of Brownsville, a Confederate stronghold. For a few years during and after the war, the Point Isabel lighthouse was closed and in desperate need of repair after the assault. At the end of the Civil War, the lighthouse was repaired; the light was returned from Brownsville, and the lighthouse was restored to full function on February 22, 1866.

In 1887, after nearly twenty-years in operation, the United States Lighthouse Board voted to close the Point Isabel lighthouse, and it was briefly closed. A plea from the Mexican government for continued safety along the Gulf coast was granted, and the lighthouse resumed operating. A few months later, in 1888, the Lighthouse Board closed it for the third time.

In 1891, Congress voted to re-open the Point Isabel lighthouse, and this was eventually accomplished in 1894.(5) The lighthouse began operation on July 16, 1895 and functioned faithfully for ten years, its guiding and protective light permanently extinguished when it finally ceased operation in 1905. By then, people and produce making their way to the Lower Rio Grande Valley were transported via the newly constructed railroad.

Throughout its storied operation, the Point Isabel lighthouse had a keeper, an assistant keeper and one or more tenders, members of the U.S. Lighthouse Service of the U.S. Government. The names of all who served at Point Isabel are recorded in the archives of the U.S. Lighthouse Service. (6)

In the early years after the Civil War, the lighthouse keeper was an Englishman named William Henry Lightbourne, born on Turk Island in the British West Indies.(7) On June 9, 1867, in Brownsville, William married Frances Gunn, also English, born in Devonshire, England, and raised in Mobile, Alabama. The couple raised its family, including their daughter Bella, in Point Isabel, in and around the lighthouse. (8)

The Lightbourne surname was well known in Cameron County, Texas, for most of the 19th and 20th centuries, and family descendants continue to live there today. The lighthouse keeper during the last ten years of its operation (1895-1905) was William Egly. (9) The Egly name represents a family, which is widely known and well regarded in both Port Isabel and Brownsville.

The American Album Tradition

Throughout early American history, it was customary for families, especially young girls, to maintain album-documenting visitors to their farms or homes. It was also common for young girls to keep albums as personal keepsakes and holders of memorable events. A fitting Christmas present or birthday gift in the 1880s might be to present a daughter with a fancy new album. Relatives, friends, and visitors would be asked to pen a personal inscription inside the album. These inscriptions were often poetic and always heartfelt, and the albums were considered prized personal possessions that were passed down from generation to generation.

The album of Bella Lightbourne belonged to young girl who was born in and lived at the lighthouse at Point Isabel, Texas, from 1875 to 1895. Bella kept her album until the end of her life and probably passed it along to a family member before it was tossed into the trash in Brownsville, retrieved by a trash picker, and later, fortuitously, found its way into the hands of UT-B anthropologist and administrator Dr. Tony Zavaleta.

The Album Reappears

One day in the 1990s, my secretary came in to the office saying “a little man” would like to see you. Knowing that she was translating from Spanish to English in her mind, I knew immediately that her use of the term “little man” could literally refer to his small stature or a man of low social status, or both. Her statement piqued my curiosity especially when she added, “And he says he has something for you.” “Show him in,” I responded.

Indeed, the “little man” (it was both) who entered my office that day, so many years ago, was what we refer to here on the border as a callejonero, an alley picker. A callejonero makes a living by going up and down the alleys of Brownsville collecting what they can from other people’s junk for resale at the la pulga or flea market in Matamoros or other outlets.

The objects collected can be either organic or inorganic, like an old bed, discarded clothes, or day-old bread. Reportedly, the discarded food from some Brownsville restaurants supports families as well as pig farms in the area. Brownsville residents know the alley pickers and sometimes call them by name. Not seen as threats, they are depended upon to haul off junk and keep the alleyways clean. Mostly they come from Matamoros, across the river from Brownsville, in Mexico, pedaling little makeshift bicycle contraptions. These callejoneros make a living performing this service and are territorial, “adopting” certain alleys as “proprietary” and passing their routes on to their children, the next generation of junk collectors.

The “little man” who asked to see me that day was indeed a callejonero and as he humbly approached my desk, he asked, “Are you Zavaleta, the one who studies our history?” “Yes, I am,” I responded, what I can do for you? ”

From his raggedy mochila or knapsack, he pulled a crumpled paper bag the kind they put beer cans in at corner mom-and-pop grocery stores. He explained, “I found this book amongst the trash in an alley downtown and I thought you should see it. It seemed a shame to throw it away. I thought it might be something important and it looks old.”

As he spoke, my mind tried to comprehend what he was saying. “How could this man know of my work, who I was, what I do, and how to find me? It was intriguing. That realization has never left me. I thought this old book has come to me for a reason. Secondly, what could this book be? It showed me that any person of any social rank could value writing about their shared culture and history.

From the bag, I withdrew a very old and crumbling hardcover album, which measured about seven inches squared. I had seen them before and knew instantly what it was. The ones I had seen were filled with children s scribbling, but this one was different. At one time, this little book would have been a treasured possession. The book had a nicely padded red cover with a single word inscribed across it: “Album,” (9) the fifty or so sheets were of a proud durable paper with a gold trim bordering each page. In its time, this album would have been considered elegant.

Considering that, there are different types of albums and notebooks, this one was meant to contain very personal and special correspondence. Most of the fifty-seven inscriptions began with “To Bella.” It was not that much different from an album you might purchase today in a stationary store, except that this one was over 100 years old! As I very gingerly turned the pages of the album, the cover and so carefully, I was fascinated by the many archaic handwriting styles. Mostly written in English, I noticed they were dedicated solely to a young girl at the lighthouse in Point Isabel, Texas: To Bella. By happenstance, a true historical treasure (primary document) had landed in my hands, brought to me by a callejonero in Brownsville.

I asked him. “How much do you want for this?” He answered, “I just want you to have it, if it’s something important you will know what to do with it, if not throw it away.” I thanked him and reached into my pocket, pulling out $20. He was pleased with this “tip” for his service and by this exchange the album was now officially mine (meaning the public sector).

The album has proved to be vitally important addition to our Cameron County archival history, and, via this article, I am completing this story after it made its way into my very appreciative hands. Next, it will be donated to the Port Isabel Museum as a permanent part of its collection. At that point, it will be in its rightful home. The following is the story of that little album, which was lost for all those years. It has survived its owner to tell the story of Isabella “Bella’’ Lightbourne Lambert who was actually born in the lighthouse in Point Isabel around 1875 and died in Brownsville circa 1960. Her 85 years of life in Texas and Alabama will never be forgotten. At least some of the events of those years are chronicled for us to share.

The album itself has approximately 50 leaves for 100 potentially legible pages. Only about half of them are inscribed with liquid inks of the nineteenth century. Each page had to be carefully blotted; the inscriptions, which usually did not face one another, have unmasked beautiful forms of calligraphic penmanship. In the back of the album, which is missing its cover, were 15 neatly folded additional loose-leaf crumbling pages, each filled with beautifully handwritten notes. Each was written in a well-schooled, cursive penmanship with ink rarely seen outside of an archival setting.

This personal album belonged to an adolescent girl about 15 years of age. Each entry is uniquely inscribed and personally dedicated to Bella Lightbourne. The Lightbourne surname is recognized in Point/Port Isabel since the Lightbournes served in a variety of public capacities, including one of the original lighthouse keepers in Point Isabel. Bellas father was William Henry Lightbourne, a Point Isabel lighthouse keeper after the Civil War.

The album has approximately 57 individualized inscriptions, most of them dated and placed at the time of each inscription. The personalized handwritten inscriptions were made by visitors to the lighthouse or by Bellas friends and schoolmates in Point Isabel. The earliest Point Isabel inscription is dated 1884; Bella would have been about nine years old. They continue through 1900, some 16 years after she had married and moved to Battery (Men lighthouse in Mobile. Bella met her future husband. Peter Lambert, in Point Isabel. He was the lighthouse keeper at Brazos Santiago Pass. The last Point Isabel inscription found in the album is 1895, after which Bella moved with her husband to Mobile. Bella and Peter were married in 1895, and he was soon assigned the duties of head lighthouse keeper in Mobile. The majority of the album inscriptions date from 1890 to 1895 at Point Isabel, during her early teenage years. Fifty-Seven personalized inscriptions are written primarily in English, with several in Spanish and one in German. Most have a dateline of Point Isabel or just Isabel, with several inscribed from Brownsville and one from Rio Grande City. The final entry in the album came approximately five years after Bella left Point Isabel for the Mobile assignment.

Because of the common practice of nineteenth-century album inscription in America, many people developed their own self-styled and poetic inscriptions. For example, consider the following inscription to Bella from steamboat Captain J. Flynn:

“You have heard of the maxim, old but true, that a friend in need is a friend indeed. Such friends are far and few but will be a friend to you if ever a friend you need.”

Captain Flynn of the United States Steamer

Brazos Santiago, February 18th 1890 (10)

Many of Bella s inscriptions were made by friends, some of whom

were also lighthouse keepers and their family members. For example, an inscription from the daughter of another lighthouse keeper Hattie S. Wildman:

To Dear Bella: May your cheeks retain their dimple, May your heart be

Just as gay, When, some manly voice shall whisper, “Dearest will you name the day?” Ever your true friend Hattie S. Wildman Point Isabel, Texas

December 6, 1891″ (11)

The following entry was made by Bellas future husband Peter Lambert in 1891, when he took command of the Brazos Santiago lighthouse. Most likely, they had just met. They would marry four years later in 1895.

To Bella: Build now the Forte, wherein you can dwell

When sunny days are past, and I am hoping that Joy and Bliss will be your reward to the last.

J.P. Lambert, Brazos Light House May 27, 1891 (12)

Examples also include members of well-known Port Isabel and Brownsville families, such as the Egly family:

To Bella: When distant lands divide us, And I no more thee see, Remember

it is Willie, Who will always be a friend to thee

William Egly Isabel July 26, 1890(13)

A final example is this inscription by the son and patriarch of the eminent Brownsville Champion family, John G. Champion:

To Bella: May your life be bright as the morning light as lovely as the blooming rose in after years when cares increase May noble thoughts dispel your grief

J.G, Champion Isabel June J, 1890 (14)

The 15 Loose Leaf Pages

There were 15 handwritten loose-leaf pages found in the back of the album. They are not written in a dairy-style, but rather as a recollection of memories, with notes by Bella, probably penned years after these events took place. We can only guess why she was encouraged to write about these experiences; maybe because she personally knew Frank C. Pierce (died in 1918), author of “A Brief History of the Lower Rio Grande Valley.” (15) For a short time, Bella operated a small kiosk in a Brownsville drug store, where she sold Pierce’s book, prized by historians today. She described this enterprise as being very successful.

The loose-leaf pages from the album depict Bella’s life in Point Isabel as the daughter of a lighthouse keeper, her marriage to a lighthouse keeper, and their 20 years of marriage, including the approximately 40 years she lived in Port Isabel and Brownsville after she was widowed. Remarkably, 13 of her 20 years of marriage were spent almost in complete isolation on the lighthouse island approximately two and one half miles offshore from Mobile.

Today, some 52 years after her death, Bella Lightbourne’s Album and the loose-leaf pages provide the researcher with an important insight into life in South Texas during the late 19th and early 20th, centuries.

Below are just a few of her recollections, written in her own hand on the loose-leaf pages in her album:

I married a Swede in 1892. He has been on U.S. Lighthouse Vessels Brazos Santiago life-saving station. He then served as assistant lighthouse keeper at Padre Island across from Brazos Santiago and was promoted to the position of keeper of the Point Isabel lighthouse. In January 1899, Peter Lambert was appointed keeper of Battery Gladden lighthouse in Mobile.

He was responsible for the lighting of the Mobile ship channel’s 27 light beacons. It was the job of the assistant keeper to travel via U.S. Government ship thirty miles up and down the channel in order to maintain the beacons, which were lit by oil.

For a short time, I was made temporary assistant lighthouse keeper. Thirty-two years my husband served the U.S. Government. Then he took suddenly ill. The 20 years we were married he would have a cold but get over it. For 13 years, I never knew what it was to live on land, a half mile from the city. I went through lots and so did he. He would say as soon as we only have enough in bank we will go back home.

The newly appointed lighthouse keeper, Mr. Lambert and his wife Bella Lightbourne Lambert left Point Isabel aboard the Morgan Steamer for New Orleans arriving in Mobile at one a. m.

The Lamberts were shown to a hotel and found the room to be in shambles and certainly not appropriate for Mrs. Lambert to stay the night. Mr. Lambert remarked to his wife, “Do not get out of your clothes in case we have to flee in the night.

For breakfast, the hotel kitchen offered us fried oysters, simply asking how many we would like. After breakfast, Mr. Lambert said he would go to the docks to find out how to get to the lighthouse. He located a U.S. lighthouse tender who took Mr. Lambert to meet the keeper who had resigned. I was immediately taken to the home of the former keepers mother a French woman with an Italian clerk who ran a large grocery store. The woman became a second mother to me. (16)

Mr. Lambert had to deal with an Irishman who insisted that he was to be the new keeper but Mr. Lambert had his proper papers and the couple were taken the 2.5 miles across the bay to the lighthouse. Bella was appalled at the condition of the lighthouse, as was Mr. Lambert. Mr. Lambert told Bella not to unpack or one will take you home to Texas. However, Bella reasoned we cannot do that now, we sold our home and all our possessions and we would be penniless and without work. With groceries, they bought in Mobile and with one fork and one knife, the couple set up the operation of lighthouse keeper.

Bella describes the hardship of the life of being lighthouse keepers. Lighthouses are located at a point most convenient to seafarers, but terribly inconvenient to everyone else. Often, lighthouses are located at some distance from the nearest town, and are usually positioned on islands. Such was the case with the Mobile lighthouse. Bella describes fierce “northers” and hurricanes, along with the solitary life as the wife of a lighthouse keeper. She never had children. Mr. Lambert reassured her, “I’m putting money in the bank and as soon as we have enough 1 will take you back to Texas. “ After 20 years of marriage, 13 of them at the Mobile lighthouse, Mr. Lambert was suddenly taken ill and died.

During her 13 years as the wife of the lighthouse keeper in Alabama, Bella had numerous adventures, which she recalls in the loose-leafs. Having no children of her own, Bella talks about the two boys the couple raised as their own, who attended college and eventually served in World War I. She reflected how sad she was that the boys never returned.

She saw many men who drowned in the ship channel around the lighthouse when squalls would emerge, violently capsizing their boats. Sometimes they were able to reach the safety of the lighthouse, but many were lost. She did not recall their names. She vividly recounts a time when she saw a huge wave approaching:

“Saw a huge wave approaching” and ran up the stairs of the lighthouse as fast as she could. After the water receded, what was revealed was that the entire lower platform of the lighthouse, as well as the large storage building on the island, had been washed out to sea. Over the years, Bella experienced numerous damaging hurricanes and many frigid “northers.”

For a brief period, Bella was appointed assistant keeper at the Mobile lighthouse, and one time when her husband was away, a strange man approached the lighthouse claiming that he had a letter for her. She told him, “I can’t read,” bade him to stay back, “if you come closer I will certainly shoot you with this shotgun.”

About that time, a small sailboat approached with a “darky” in it and Bella said, “Here’s my husband now.” If he had continued toward me, I would have shot him. He thought I was foolish enough to go down the stairs. I was protecting the government. I was brave but after Mr. Lambert came home, I felt weak.

There were also terrible winter storms, which froze the water in the cistern. Another time I was alone when the launch broke down and all night and the next day Mr. Lambert did not come home. I kept the light burning and his uniform nearby and ready to step into it with the 12-gauge by my side. I said to myself “if I’m murdered it will be in the uniform of the U.S. Government and protecting their property.”

In the years they lived there, the lighthouse only had a wood burning stove, so they collected driftwood as it washed ashore, and wood was also brought from the mainland and stockpiled under the nine-foot high columns, 100 feet in circumference. (17) They would also collect coconuts and bananas that would wash up at the lighthouse — more than likely from somewhere in Mexico. In time, they purchased furniture and enjoyed a decent life in Mobile. Bella raised flowers and had a vegetable gardens as well as keeping an assortment of pets. She writes:

We saved enough money to buy a lot and six room house, and paid cash for it. My husband rented it when we were married and had it furnished. It was a lovely home for me. We were so happy.

After we were in Mobile a few years, a relative of the Stillman family wrote to my husband about this house for sale and the amount. My husband sent the amount cash. He rented it for us during the summer. Then three years later, we came home to Point Isabel to visit my mother and the little home in Point Isabel.

In 1909, my mother came to visit us. Mobile was her First home, after she came from England as a bride. She was four weeks with us when she suddenly passed away. My dear father had passed away 11 months after I left for Mobile. My sister who was Post Mistress at Point Isabel for years, passed away after my father. My youngest sister was a schoolteacher who married a druggist and moved back to his home to Missouri and on their way back brought out mother to me. Only my three brothers were left in Point Isabel with their families (circa 1910). (18)

Return to Port Isabel and Brownsville Bella also wrote:

I have never been a mother but I have been a mother to a good many. The soldier boys called me mother. I did not know the names of any but I called them all my boys. When Point Isabel was sold to this new company, the headman sent me word to remove the old home or it would be put on the beach at Mexican town.

I said to him it is an old pitch pine white washed house. It was my dear mother’s home. In addition, it will never be put in poverty row or in Mexican town either. That corner lot I said, on Powers and Garcia Streets, I own. He looked at me and sent me word that he would give me $100 and move me. I knew the Stillman’s cousin would let me put my house on their summer home lot close by. (19)

By 1915, Mr. Lambert had died in service as the lighthouse keeper, and his widow, Isabella “Bella” G. Lightbourne Lambert, had returned to her home in Point Isabel. There was no pension for the widow of a lighthouse Keeper, Her papers describe the trouble she experienced with the corrupt officials of the new land company in Point Isabel. Subsequently, she decided to purchase property in Brownsville. During the war years, she rented too many of the soldiers stationed at Fort Brown. The widow Lightbourne was a respected, even revered, woman. She was well connected to many of Brownsville’s power brokers of that era, including bankers, lawyers, and judges, all of whom safeguarded her from shady characters and their swindling schemes. Many of the loose-leaf pages disclose her many business dealings and the attempts to steal her property. Between 1920 and 1940, Bella acquired considerable property, rental houses, and a partial interest in a grocery store.


William Henry and Frances Lightbourne had six children, all of whom lived to adulthood and married. All but Bella had children themselves. Bella returned to Brownsville after the death of her husband, lighthouse keeper Peter Lambert, to live out her remaining years. The Brownsville Herald did not record her obituary. It is thought that she lived to 85 years of age, dying in Brownsville around 1960.

We know from numerous Herald articles that her brother John lived in Port Isabel for many years, serving as a wildlife warden, as is mentioned in a May 5th, 1949, article. (20) Another brother, possibly Nathan, or his descendant, served as a judge in Port Isabel, and her sister Frances served as postmaster and is listed as 39years of age in the 1940 census. (21) Most of Bellas brothers and sisters married into Brownsville families and, as such, many Brownsville families have Lightbourne roots in their genealogical history. While no one possessing the Lightbourne surname is believed to be living in Brownsville today, they have many descendants.

The Herald published a brief story, in the 1980s, about a woman from Missouri who came here searching for her ancestors named Lightbourne in the Brownsville/Port Isabel area. She was clearly the granddaughter of Bella’s sister who moved with her husband, the druggist, to Missouri around 1890. She should have been able to locate her cousin, Frances Lightbourne, who would have been in her 70s then. (22) Another Herald article, dated April 21, 1952, briefly mentions Isabel’s sister Beatrice Lightbourne.

Finally, The Brownsville Herald lists the obituary of Frances Lightbourne de la Pena, who died at 91 years of age in 2006. I believe I had a brief conversation with her in the early 1990s when the album first came to me. She was Bella’s niece and the daughter of John and Josephine Lightbourne and had inherited the name of her grandmother, Frances. (23)

When the little album of Bella Lightbourne, the great aunt of Frances Lightbourne de la Pena was delivered to me, I immediately searched for the Lightbourne surname in the Brownsville telephone directory, found a single entry, and called. An elderly woman answered. I am not sure that I was speaking with the Frances Lightbourne de la Pena mentioned above, but when I said to her that I had Bella’s album and would like to interview her about it she became very indignant and simply said, “You have no right to have that.” “I responded that it was brought to me by a junk picker.” She hung up, and I did not try to contact her after that incident. There is certainly much more to this story, but that is up to you to discover if you are a member of the Lightbourne clan.

There are many references to the Lightbourne surname of Port Isabel through the genealogical services now available.


  1. My thanks to Dr. Philip W. Kendall for many hours of work transcribing
  2. the 15 pages of handwritten materials into a more readable form for analysis.
  1. Wayne C. Wheeler, “The Point Isabel Lighthouse” in Famous American

Lighthouses (Winter 2000), pp. 2-7.

4- Texas Parks and Wildlife, “State Historical Site: Port Isabel Lighthouse” (visitors brochure).

Ibid. p. A.

5 Ibid., p. 5.

6 V.S. Coast Guard Aids to Navigation bibliography, Lighthouse


7, Leckie Vanderlieck family page

8 Ibid,

9 David L. Cipra. Lighthouses, Lightships and the Gulf of Mexico

(Alexandria, Virginia: Cypress Comr., 1997).

10 “Bella Lightbourne Album,” page 1.

11 “Bella Lightbourne Album,” page 15.

12 “Bella Lightbourne Album,” page 26.

13 “Bella Lightbourne Album,” page 67.

14 “Bella Lightbourne Album,” page 75.

15 Franklin C. Pierce, A Brief History of the Lower Rio Grande Valley


16 Loose Leaf page Cl.

17 Loose Leaf page A2.

18 Loose Leaf page N1.

19 Loose Leaf page Kl.

20 Brownsville Herald May 5, 19-49.

21 Frances Lightbourne in the 1940 Census,


22 Brownsville Herald sometime in the 1980’s. “Missouri visitor searches for


23 Brownsville Herald, obituary tor Frances Lightbourne de la Pena. 2006.

1 This article was originally published in More Studies in Rio Grande Valley History in 2013, Edited by Milo Kearney, Anthony Knopp and Antonio Zavaleta.

Dr. Tony Zavaleta grew up in Brownsville and is a member of one of the 13 founding families of northern Mexico. He is the nephew of Dr. Joe Zavaleta and Prax Orive, each of whom served on the TSC Board.

Dr. Zavaleta graduated from Saint Joseph Academy in 1964 and entered Texas Southmost College, graduating and transferring to The University of Texas at Austin in 1966, where he completed a Ph.D. in Anthropology in 1976. Moving back to Brownsville in 1976, Dr. Zavaleta began teaching sociology and anthropology at Texas Southmost College and at Pan American University at Brownsville. Dr. Zavaleta became the first Dean of the College of Liberal Arts for UTB/TSC, and also served as the Dean of the College of Mathematics and Science and Technology. He next served as Vice President for Partnership Affairs, where he coordinated all of the work between the TSC Board and UTB, and then became the Vice President for External Affairs, which included governmental relations and all external programs such as Workforce Training and Continuing Education. Dr. Zavaleta served as Interim Provost, the chief operating officer of UTB/TSC, and then as the Associate Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. In 2011 he retired from the administration to return to full-time teaching. Dr. Zavaleta retired in May 2016 after 40 years of service.

Dr. Zavaleta is regarded as one of the top experts on the US-Mexico Border, and frequently speaks throughout Mexico and the U.S. Dr. Zavaleta was appointed to two Federal commissions by Presidents Reagan and Obama, and he served two terms on the Brownsville City Commission, followed by a term on the City of Brownsville Civil Service Commission.

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