Porvenir Massacre victims honored, finally

PRESIDIO COUNTY- And so it was, a historical marker commemorating the 1918 Porvenir Massacre and its victims was officially unveiled during a dedication in the second-floor Presidio County Courthouse courtroom on Friday.

In the afternoon hours between 2 and 3pm, we collectively honored the long un-illuminated reality that was the Porvenier Massacre. Presidio County officials and residents, Texas Historical Commission and Presidio County Historical Commission members, and various intrigued and ignited individuals assembled in the company of descendants and family members of the massacre victims to commemorate and acknowledge the history surrounding a town whose name quite literally conjures a translation of “future.” However, in the early morning hours of January 28th, 1918, that very town, Porvenir, and perhaps what was to come of its future, ceased to exist.

“RE-member means to bring certain events from the past together again to make them whole in order that they may not be forgotten,” began Vicar Mike Wallens of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Marfa during his invocation at Friday’s ceremony. “We must make efforts not to let the great tragedy of the Porvenir Massacre to slip from the collective mind of this county,” he continued, “for if the massacre at Porvenir is forgotten, the way will be paved for others as we see today. This plaque is one step in helping us to never forget, lest we learn nothing. Let us pray!”

The Texas Historical Commission welcomed the following speakers/presenters to the dedication ceremony: Vicar Wallens, Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara; Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Judge David Beebe; Mona Blocker Garcia – chair of the Presidio County Historical Commission; Executive Director of the THC Mark Wolfe; Chairman of the THC John L. Nau III; THC Vice Chair and CEO of the Summerlee Foundation John Crain; and Paula Flores, descendant and relative to one of the victims of the massacre.

“I am glad that some of our high schoolers are here today to learn about this event,” opened Judge Guevara, referring to the Marfa High School Band who, so studiously, led the crowd through our country’s national anthem.

She continued, “Like so many incidents in Texas, history would be lost without the efforts of educators.”

We owe the cognizance of the Porvenir Massacre and the record of its victims to one such educator, schoolteacher Henry Warren, a schoolmaster who lived near Porvenir, Texas, who documented the list of victims. He wrote an account of the 1918 massacre after being notified by a brave 13-year old student of his, Juan Bonilla Flores (June 25, 1905 – March 25, 2007) and returning to the scene to record names and details. “Because of him, the massacre is known,” said Lisa Torres, great-granddaughter of Juan B. Flores.

According to the Texas State Historical Association, in November of 1917 Ranger Captain J.M Fox noted that “a few cattle and horses” had been stolen and that he suspected “Mexican bandits” from the Carrancistas and Villistas near Presidio County. According to a commemorative article in El Paso Times earlier this year, when raiders (believed to be supporters of Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa) waged a deadly attack on the nearby Brite Ranch in Presidio County on Christmas Day, December 25, 1917, law enforcement looked toward Porvenir in their search for the perpetrators. Several weeks later, in January of 1918, Company B of the Rangers (from Marfa)- including eight men under Fox; Troop G, Eighth U.S Cavalry, from Camp Evetts; and a crew of local ranchers arrived at the ranch of Manuel Moralas in Porvenir. While there was no evidence linking the villagers of Porvenir to the raid, 15 unarmed and able-bodied men of Mexican descent (residing in Texas) between the ages of 16 and 72 were separated from the women, children and elderly; and executed in the middle of the night in a misplaced act of retaliation.

Family members and friends fled in fear across the Rio Grande and buried the dead at Pilares in Mexico. According to records provided to the public through the Refusing to Forget project, an educational non-profit that hopes to bring awareness to this often-forgotten period; in the months following the massacre, Texas courts failed to prosecute the assailants that participated in the massacre. The brutality of the occurrence inspired the 1919 state congressional investigation into frequent abuse at the hands of Texas Rangers known as the Canales investigation. The hearings included statements from witnesses of the massacre and written statements from Rangers that confirmed their participation.

As a result, Texas Ranger Captain James Monroe Fox was forced to resign and five officers were fired, Company B of the Rangers was also disbanded. However, despite the statements from witnesses and Rangers themselves, no assailants were ever prosecuted and the survivors sought justice through international tribunals.

With the help of Mexican diplomats, Concepció n Carrasco de Gonzá lez, Jesus Garcí a, Victoria Jimé nez de Garcí a, Librada M. Já quez, Eulalia Gonzá lez, Juana Bonilla Flores, Rita Já quez, Severiano Moralez, Alejandra Niéves, Francisca Moralez, Pablo Jimé nez, and Luis Jimé nez filed claims through the US-Mexico General Claims Commission of 1923. They charged the United States with the wrongful deaths of residents, denial of justice for surviving relatives, unlawful use of rearms, and international delinquency on the part of the government. In the days, months, years, and decades following the massacre, survivors and witnesses shared accounts of the massacre to ensure that the tragedy would never be forgotten.

“In times as heated and diverse as these it is sobering to consider that there were (tragically) times in our national history that political and social strife similar to that which we experience today, turn to violence,” professed Judge Guevara, “as is always, when we turn to lawlessness and vigilantism, the innocent suffer. We are proud of our history, but we do not overt our gaze from our darker chapters.”

That is why Guevara believes this marker is necessary. “It serves as a history lessons and a warning to future generations, that we must allow our system of justice to do its work and we are all deserving of the protections of the rule of law.”

The Master of Ceremonies, Mark Wolfe, Executive Director of the Texas Historical Commission, began his proclamations by stating, “We do not shy away from the difficult stories of our past, and this is certainly one of those.” He continued by expounding upon the THC’s mission and referencing its tagline: “real places telling real stories.”

He went on to say, “We take responsibility very seriously… REAL means TRUE, it means authentic and it means accurate and that is a very high bar, and it should be… it means that we will unapologetically take whatever time is necessary to get it right!”

He is referring to the prolonged controversy this marker has been steeped in since its application in 2014, and expressed that, “ideally, controversy can result in an exchange of ideas, a sharing of perspectives and hopefully a discovery of common ground.”

Wolfe added, “The placement of this marker is an important step forward in the preservation of the history of the state’s border region, relations between Anglo and ethnic Mexican Texans and Texas’ role in larger world events.”

Among the speakers at Friday’s ceremony was Paula Flores Smith, the oldest living descendant – daughter of Juan Flores and granddaughter of one of the 15 men killed in the massacre, Longino Flores. “They shot them and butchered them into pieces,” she both formidably and tearfully recounted to the attentive crowd in front of her. “This is what my father told me happened.”

She then thanked THC for the marker. “This historical marker is what my father would have wanted, and I am grateful the memory of my grandfather and the fourteen other men, will last forever.”

Paula’s father, the late Juan Flores, was a child when the massacre happened and was nearly executed alongside his father, Longino Flores. According to both his testimony and THC records, he was taken initially with the other victims, and his life was later spared due to his young age.

His family explained, “Juan never forgot what he saw” that day and he struggled for years with symptoms of PTSD. “My great-grandfather lived with us for 30 years of his life and I witnessed him while he was having so many nightmares – and we didn’t realize at the time why he was having these nightmares. I would wake up to him screaming and crying,” Lisa Torres describes.

For the descendants of the Porvenir victims, including Lisa, her aunt Benita Flores Albarado (Juan Flores’ daughter and Paula Flores’ sister) and their family, unraveling and comprehending this tragic occurrence in Texas History is a process that has taken more than a century and may never arrive at the peroration.

“There’s still something there,” Torres states, “and it’s emotional for us,” she said “because of course we experienced it all while he (my great-grandfather) told us stories, and for a long time he didn’t want to talk about it.”

Benita Flores Albarado recounts times in her life she was unaware as to what her father could have possibly been processing. “He put himself in a mental institution when we were young,” she explained, “and our mother told us it was because he had seen things we didn’t understand at the time.”

When Flores was 95 years old, he finally – after decades of storing the information regarding what he had witnessed in 1918- divulged the details of his experience to his family, which prompted his daughter, Benita, to dig deeper into the archives of history and into the story her father had begun to recount, resulting in what is now the culmination of more than 20 years of gathering research.

Her husband, “Buddy” Evaristo Albarado, and her brother, Juan Flores Jr., alongside others from the Flores family joined Benita and her sister Paula at the dedication.

“It is humbling to see the interest and the passion that this subject has ignited both locally and across the state, and maybe even across the nation,” Wolfe concluded, “as I said earlier, this is a difficult story but a truly important one, we want the marker to stand for generations to inspire future research and stuffy – though more than a century has passed ad those directly touched by the violence are no longer with us, we can still gather and remember those who are lost an make sure their memory does not fade.”

In his closing, he expressed gratitude to the many people who have helped make the event and the creation of the marker possible, including Dr. Monica Muñoz Martinez, assistant professor of American Studies at Brown University and author of The Injustice Never Leaves you: Anti-Mexican Violence in Texas, who initiated the application and has worked with descendants of the victims alongside members of the Refusing to Forget project.

There are, of course, proven details surrounding the Porvenir Massacre, such as the date – January 28, 1918; the number of victims; 15 boys and men and that they were killed at the hands of authorities- however- even with the homage of the Texas Historical Commission’s Undertold Marker, there are still questions left unanswered.

“You know what, I am so happy it has finally happened,” Lisa Torres said in response to the dedication ceremony. “There’s been so much drama with this and that and this and the truth is the truth – this is the truth, this is the history – it was a massacre and it unfortunately happened in Texas. That is the dark side of it, and we need to know, we need to know the truth and I am so happy that at least now, people can know about it!”

The Porvenir Massacre marker is now in place about 27 miles west of Marfa on the eastbound side of U.S. 90 for all to see.