Big Bend Ranch State Park lights up the night with annual Posada at Fort Leaton

The Mariachi Santa Cruz performed historic Christmas carols, singing along with the gathered crowd outside of Big Bend Ranch State Park’s Fort Leaton during Saturday’s Posada before entering the historic fort. Photo by Hannah Gentiles for the Big Bend Sentinel.

PRESIDIO — Last Saturday, hundreds of luminaria guided visitors by candlelight through the halls of Fort Leaton. The old adobe fort — a Big Bend Ranch State Park visitor center located just south of Presidio — was lit up with holiday cheer, including tamales, mariachi and a spirited round of piñata-busting.

The annual event is referred to as a Posada, one of countless such celebrations held throughout the borderlands every year. Officially, the gathering honors in some way the Biblical story of Mary and Joseph looking for shelter just before the birth of Jesus — but colloquially speaking, it’s an excuse to party. 

Site Superintendent Tom Forwood wasn’t sure exactly how long Presidio’s version of the traditional holiday party had been going on at the fort. Thanks to turnover in park management over the past few decades, no one can say for sure. “That’s one of the more ironic things,” he said. “We know it’s over 20 years old, but still aren’t 100% sure.”

No matter when the fun started, Forwood said that the event was a way for the park to celebrate its home community and to recognize its strong cultural connections across the border, honoring families whose ties wind through centuries of Anglo, Mexican and Indigenous settlement.

He pointed out that Anglo settler Ben Leaton came to occupy the site in 1848 — the same year that the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo designated the Rio Grande as the boundary between the U.S. and Mexico. Those who occupied the site before Leaton did so on Mexican soil. 

The Posada is a festive way of recognizing the ties between the multiple cultures that make La Junta de los Rios — the strip of settlements around where the Rio Conchos and Rio Grande meet — a unique place. “It was created originally as a community event that recognizes those cultures’ significance,” Forwood said. 

He hoped that hosting the Posada at Fort Leaton gave guests a sense of their place in history — what would Posada celebrations at the site have looked like 200 years ago? “It’s to keep that connection with that community at all times, to remind them that their voice and their story is a part of what we do,” he said. 


With Yaretzi Barrra and Jose Tvarez playing the roles of Mary and Joseph for the Fort Leaton Historic Site’s annual Posada at the center, the crowd gathered inside the fort’s interior to listen to hear music and enjoy refreshments. Photo by Hannah Gentiles for the Big Bend Sentinel.

Camilla Rodriguez, a child attending Fort Leaton Historic Site’s annual Posada, gets help lighting her candle as she joins the procession into the fort. Photo by Hannah Gentiles for the Big Bend Sentinel.

Micheal Hernandez and John and Lucy Ferguson of The Mariachi Santa Cruz lead the procession into Big Bend Ranch State Park’s historic Fort Leaton, kicking off the fort’s annual Posada. Photo by Hannah Gentiles for the Big Bend Sentinel.