Start with Tinder

The Alfredo Garza Colonia is located on Garza Road in Cameron County, Texas; it was part of what was called Las Yescas Ranch. In Spanish, yescas means tinder. If you need to start a fire, start with tinder.

It’s where my father’s mother; my Grandmother Genoveva Garza grew up. Her father was Alfredo Rocha de la Garza. (GG) Her mother was Marcella Ramirez de la Garza. Sometimes, it was shortened to Garza. This adds another layer of challenges, trying to distinguish actual facts from family legend.

FACT: In 1926, at a local dance in Los Cuates on a hot August night, Alfred Garza shot and killed Fernando de Leon. It was just before midnight. GG’s death certificate says he (GG) was dead at 11:30 pm. The newspaper says GG shot and killed de Leon at 11:00 p.m. Then, a constable shot and killed GG.

By car, with today’s roads the internet says you can get from Las Yescas Ranch to Los Cuates in about half an hour.  By bicycle, just over an hour and by foot about 4.5 hours. Time by horseback is not listed.

I don’t know how he got to the dance to kill de Leon. Every photograph I ever saw showed him on horseback. My Great Grandfather looked at home on a horse; mainly his favorite horse, Paloma. But however he got from the ranch, to the dance, he arrived around 11:00. After the constable shot and killed GG, one of his sons and one of his future son-in-law’s were arrested and jailed. Either they were already at the dance when GG shot de Leon or they were leaving with him when the constable shot and killed GG. For some reason, they were arrested.

When I was a little kid and Veva would drive us out to the ranch, it was so bumpy and dusty that I thought she did it as a test of our character. This would be 1960’s and the night of the murder was 1926. If the roads were that punishing in 1960, I can only imagine how dreadful they had been 40 years prior.

In 1907 it became a State Law that you had to register your car. There were only 20,000 in the entire state with over 3 million residents in Texas; according to the 1900 Census. Out in the middle of desolate Cameron County, it’s hard to imagine many families had car.  Where would you even buy gasoline?

In the 1920 Census, 11,791 people lived in Brownsville. It is the largest city in Cameron County. The entire county population, in an area covering 1,276 square miles. was 36, 662.  It is the southernmost county in Texas. It borders Mexico. The Gulf of Mexico forms its eastern boundary. It is stark and vast.

I just returned from the courthouse in neighboring Willacy County. I had to deal with settling the estate of my Anglo mom’s grandparents. The legal description of the land the estate was developed from lists it located on the San Juan de Carritcitos land grant. That land grant was for 1.5 million acres to the Cavazos family that my father’s father originates from. That is another South Texas/New Spain story.

That trip made me realize I had to know what had really happened to GG. I felt haunted. Again. The histories of my mom and dad both begin in the Valley. Mine too. I was born in Brownsville, Texas.

This is one part of the history of the Hispanic side my family. To try and discover what happened, best practices call for research and interviews. I’m mining the data. Everyone in this story is dead silent. Discussing the shooting was a big taboo. Dad said it was best to leave it in the distant past. Questions would reignite smoldering wounds and restart the fire. He said you don’t ever want to fall into the fire.

I’m haunted. I am a truth seeker. Here’s to tinder. If you want to have a good fire, start with tinder.