When Arlinda Valencia’s uncle told their family that her great grandfather Longino Flores had been massacred by the Texas Rangers in 1918, they scoffed. Despite him claiming Logino’s son Juan Flores was a survivor of the incident and had confided in him, they were not convinced. “We said, that can’t be true. We blew him off,” Arlinda said. “I grew up with the Rangers being the heroes. Who would have believed that they were the ones who killed my great grandfather?”
The Texas Rangers are held up as an emblem of Texas exceptionalism, the American protectors in the wild west. First appearing in cinema in 1910, they were depicted as handsome saviors galloping into town and implementing law and order in the dusty wake of their stallions’ hooves. The 1950s hit TV series “The Lone Ranger” fortified the force’s image in popular culture, and reboots like the western-ranger drama Walker keep their mystique alive and well. Today, when visiting Waco, Texas, you can wander through the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame & Museum and read about the brave frontiersmen, their rugged individualism and valiant military victories.
Months after hearing what seemed like outlandish family lore, Arlinda and her sister decided to map their ancestry. It was 1996. Their goal was to construct a family tree, not resurrect a brutal tragedy or fuel a movement. However, Arlinda soon found their uncle had been right. She discovered her great grandfather’s name listed alongside fourteen other men and boys murdered on January 28th, 1918 by a group of Texas Rangers, cavalry soldiers, and local ranchmen in Porvenir, a remote village located on the banks of the Rio Grande.
Arlinda soon traveled to Odessa, Texas, to speak to her great uncle, Juan Flores. She showed him proof that they knew about the incident and at 91 years old, he opened up about the terrors of that night. He had been spared by the Rangers due to his young age of twelve, but he helped collect the mutilated bodies of his father and neighbors whom he loved. It haunted him and his mother. Seventeen years later, he arrived home to find his mother had put a bullet in her head. The grief and trauma of the massacre never left her. Throughout his life, Juan suffered from horrible nightmares. The childhood of his daughters, Benita and Paula, was marked by their father waking up in cold sweats. Paula described how her father was “so afraid of English people” that when she got in a car accident with friends he would not come pick her up because he feared “they might get [him] there.”¹ To Juan Flores, the Rangers were murderous assassins.
Juan’s encounter with the Rangers was not unique. From their founding in 1823, the Rangers perpetrated genocidal violence. Created to exterminate Native Americans, they hunted runaway slaves and murdered ethnic Mexicans. During the Mexican-American War, the Rangers established their reputation and precedent of using excessive violence as vengeance against Mexican civilians. The first decades of the twentieth century were marked by a flood of Anglo settlers into the border region and the resulting dispossession of ethnic Mexicans. With the eruption of the Mexican civil war in 1910, some Tejanos began to hope for a revolution of their own. In response, Rangers unleashed a reign of terror. They functioned as private agents of Anglo power, massacring scores of victims. Yet, few Americans know this shocking history.
Memories of this period, however, have been passed down in the Tejano community; the wounds left from the indiscriminate murder of their loved ones still bleed. In the past ten years, descendants of those victimized by the Rangers, together with scholars, have headed a movement that aims to bring attention to the true history of the force and to pay tribute to the many who suffered at the hands of those supposed to protect them. These initiatives have led to many successes, but as the myth of Texas exceptionalism begins to crumble, those in the highest level of state government have strived to preserve the state’s whitewashed version of the past. The current controversies over critical race theory and how current events can be taught in Texas beg us to ask: How can we make the true history of the Texas Rangers widely known?
Origins of the force
In 1823, Stephen F. Austin, known as the “Father of Texas,” famously wrote to the Mexican governor requesting authorization to organize two companies of men who would “act as rangers for the common defense.” Two years earlier, the Mexican government had sold portions of its territory to American settlers, seeing that as the easiest and most profitable tactic for pacifying a land occupied by native groups.² Anglo settlers agreed to follow Catholicism and abide by Mexican law in exchange for cheap land. As journalist and author of the Cult of Glory: The Bold and Brutal History of the Texas Rangers Doug Swanson said in a phone interview: “These people were brave and hearty and tough and all that, but part of the reason they came to Texas was to set up a slave empire.” Their sights were set on establishing cotton plantations as profitable as those in America’s Deep South.³
The settlers’ new homes came with native neighbors who saw horse-filled stables and stockpiled belongings as easy pickings. Coexistence was never an option; on his first trip to Texas, Stephen F. Austin wrote in his journal that “Indians” were “universal enemies to man. […] There will be no way for subduing them, but extermination.” Out of this agenda, the first Ranger force was formed.
It is in these violent encounters that the Texas Rangers formed their rugged identity. As Swanson depicts in his book, a de-romanticized telling of the Rangers’ exploits, these men raped, robbed, and scalped their so-called “savage” enemies.
In 1823, a group of ten men, made up of farmers and teachers, were given ammunition and tasked with building forts for protection. They utterly failed, spending most of their time hunting for food in the wilderness. Over the following years similar volunteer companies formed and disbanded in response to conflict with natives. With little distinction between settler and Ranger, it became common practice to shoot natives on sight.⁴
As more land-hungry Anglo settlers poured into Mexican territory, they used smallpox-infected blankets to wipe out Native Americans. The provisional Texas government established the first official Ranger corps in 1835 to finish off those who survived. Meanwhile, tensions with the Mexican government were about to boil over.⁵ Six years before, the Mexican government had outlawed slavery in Tejas in an effort to curb the flow of American settlers; the proclamation had virtually been ignored.⁶
Texas declared itself independent from Mexico in March 1836. As legend has it, a few days later, gallant Anglo settlers sacrificed their lives in the name of freedom against the oppressive Mexican dictator at the battle of the Alamo. Other interpreters of history posit that the Revolution was fought on behalf of preserving slavery.
In the new republic there were still Native Americans resisting Anglo domination of their land. It is in these violent encounters that the Texas Rangers formed their rugged identity. As Swanson depicts in his book, a de-romanticized telling of the Rangers’ exploits, these men raped, robbed, and scalped their so-called “savage” enemies.⁷
Los Diablos: The Mexican target
In his memoir, Samuel Chamberlain, a U.S. soldier who fought in the Mexican-American War wrote: a U.S. commander “let loose on [Mexico] packs of human blood-hounds called Texas Rangers.” He was referring to an incident in Febuary 1847 near Agua Fria (in what today is recognized as New Mexico) in which a band of Rangers rode to a ranch, dragged out all the young men from the houses, tied them to the posts, and shot them in the head; the survivors were given half an hour to gather their belongings before their homes were torched. Chamberlain reported that “thirty-six Mexicans were shot” before “the ferocious [Texans] rode off to fresh scenes of blood.”⁸ This act had been in response to Mexican guerrillas reportedly torturing and killing forty Americans after attacking a wagon train. However, according to the memoir of field surgeon Compton Smith, the Rangers’ victims had nothing to do with the previous attack. He wrote: “This party, in cold blood, murdered almost the entire male population of the old rancho of Guadalupe—where not a single weapon, offensive or defensive, could be found! Their only object being plunder.”
Details of this massacre are eerily similar to what would occur seventy years later at the village of Porvenir. While the political context of the two incidents differ, there are two crucial connecting factors: a clash at an ever-evolving border in the battle for land and the Texas Rangers being the agents of Anglo-American power. The key feature of their work? Indiscriminate violence as “retribution” for acts victims had not committed.
In December 1846, Texas’s stint as an independent nation came to a close; it neither had the money nor military to stave off the looming threat of Mexico re-claiming its territory. Meanwhile, President Polk had his sights set on fulfilling the popular notion of Manifest Destiny by making the U.S. empire span from coast to coast; he wanted California and that meant war with Mexico. Texas was his way through.⁹ After the annexation of Texas, U.S. troops seized the Nueces Strip, claiming the border of Texas lay at the Rio Grande; the aggressive act inevitably led the two nations into battle.
While the political context of the two incidents differ, there are two crucial connecting factors: a clash at an ever-evolving border in the battle for land and the Texas Rangers being the agents of Anglo-American power. The key feature of their work? Indiscriminate violence as “retribution” for acts victims had not committed.
The Rangers served as U.S. soldiers, but did not wear a uniform or follow traditional military protocols; they continued to travel in packs and wore their characteristic cowboy-style hats. Swanson said, “They were extraordinarily effective doing what they were supposed to do—they were great scouts, great guerrilla fighters, and didn’t hesitate to use violence when it was needed—and when it wasn’t needed.” Their knowledge of the arid, scorching Southwestern terrain helped U.S. forces survive the harsh, unfamiliar area. That said, Swanson continued, “they certainly committed a great many of what we would call today war crimes. It got so bad that the American authorities finally kicked them out. Army commanders sent a number of Ranger companies—especially those found to have committed atrocities—back to Texas, where many of them continued to commit atrocities. Some stayed in Mexico and went from village to village, robbing and murdering the inhabitants. Others became professional scalp hunters, taking Native American scalps and selling them to Mexican provincial governments.”
It was during the Mexican-American War that the Rangers earned their name los diablos tejanos (the Texan devils) due to their routine brutality against Mexicans. It was their second armed conflict in two decades with Mexico. Not only had many Rangers been taken prisoner or personally injured by Mexican troops in the previous war, but also, they held an ardent hatred of a population considered inferior and racially impure. If the Native Americans were the first targets of the Rangers’ wrath, Mexicans living in the Southwest were the second.
“The border crossed us”
After two years of fighting, Mexico forfeited more than half its territory to the United States with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in February 1848. The treaty promised the many ethnic Mexicans living on the transferred land citizenship and the right to keep their property. Nevertheless, the American legal system preyed on Mexican landowners.
There, the Rangers functioned as private security, continuing their practice of clearing racial “others” off surrounding land through intimidation and explicit violence. As Doug Swanson pointed out, this “was a state police agency working on the payroll of Anglo landowners.”
Historian and author of Revolution in Texas: How a Forgotten Rebellion Turned Mexicans into Americans Benjamin Johnson attributes it to “the extension of a capitalist marketplace” to the area. Rancheros who had lived in the area since the eighteenth century raised cattle for local consumption; the energies of Anglo ranchers went into the exportation of livestock for profit. Under American control, Tejanos were faced with rising property taxes, court-ordered surveys of land boundaries, and challenges of their Spanish land grants. Unable to pay exorbitant legal and tax fees, county sheriffs and courts would auction off thousands of acres of Tejano land at extremely low prices.¹⁰
Tejanos in South Texas watched with horror and amazement as one Anglo rancher’s property in particular swelled in size. Measuring 500,000 acres in 1885 and 1.25 million acres in 1932, the King Ranch epitomized Anglo usurpation of generations of Tejano land and political control of the region.¹¹ The founder’s success was accomplished, as Johnson writes, “by a strategic marriage, by purchases, [by smuggling cotton for the Confederacy during the Civil War], and, many said, by fraud, outright murder, and theft.”¹² The Texas Rangers were ever present at the ranch, the owner’s power and influence so vast that they housed the force’s headquarters. There, the Rangers functioned as private security, continuing their practice of clearing racial “others” off surrounding land through intimidation and explicit violence.¹³ As Doug Swanson pointed out, this “was a state police agency working on the payroll of Anglo landowners.”
In January 1915, a young man of Mexican citizenry named Basilio Ramos was arrested in the Rio Grande Valley. In his pocket, the authorities found a document calling for a radical insurrection that would take back the states of “Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and upper California, of which states the republic of Mexico was robbed in a most perfidious manner by North American imperialism.” The manifesto, titled the Plan de San Diego, was passionate, specific, and called for blood. It detailed the date and hour at which the rebels “will arise in arms […] one as all and all as one, proclaiming the liberty of the individuals of the black race and its independence of Yankee tyranny which has held us in iniquitous slavery since remote times.” Every North American older than sixteen was to be killed. In return for assisting with the rebellion, the plan promised to return the land taken from Native Americans and grant African Americans their own independent nation. There was to be an outright race war. Tensions on the border had vastly escalated in only fifteen years. What had happened?
The short answer is the completion of the railroad in 1904. Now connected to the rest of the United States, produce grown in Southern Texas could be shipped throughout the U.S. Land prices, and thus property taxes, skyrocketed as Anglos seeking riches swarmed the region. Many small rancheros were forced to sell. Historian Johnson said, “The dispossession of so many Texas-Mexican landowners is the key development that creates a local constituency for armed resistance.”
What is more, the border region had been an enclave from the rest of the United States where there was a distinct social order in which Anglos and Tejanos lived collectively. No longer isolated, the area was now flooded with individuals who held strong beliefs in White superiority and were eager to implement “Juan Crow” segregation policies to maintain their hierarchy.¹⁴ Tejanos watched as their rights and privileges were gradually undermined by newcomers. Marriages between Anglos and Mexicans were outlawed. By the 1910s, the two groups that had often intermingled now lived on opposite sides of the town and Tejanos were forced to labor the fields their community used to own.
There was to be an outright race war. Tensions on the border had vastly escalated in only fifteen years. What had happened?
As Texas was experiencing one of the most expansive land grabs in U.S. history, across the border in Mexico, citizens were growing restless with their dictatorial government that only benefitted wealthy landowners and industrialists. Thus the Mexican Revolution began in 1910. It inspired fear in Anglo settlers in Texas, who worried that plots to redistribute land in Mexico would spill across the border. The conflict in Mexico disrupted border communities in both nations. There was an uptick in the number of raids on Anglo ranches. Mexican refugees fled to West Texas in search of safety after violence broke out in their hometowns; they were met with hostility from Anglos and detained in camps constructed by soldiers of Fort Bliss. In 1913, in response to calls from Anglo residents, one thousand state militiamen and the Texas National Guard were dispatched to protect El Paso and Brownsville by patrolling the border.¹⁵
The Plan de San Diego discovered two years later was a confirmation of Anglo Texans’ worst nightmare. Despite mass migration in the first decade of the twentieth century, Anglos remained the minority in the region. Was this the moment those subjugated by the White race were to seek vengeance for decades and decades of state-approved dispossession and terror? However, the day of rebellion came and went; all was quiet on the frontier. Nonetheless, Anglos’ paranoia continued and U.S. officers stationed at the border became frustrated at the alarmist character of Texans now reporting typical robberies and livestock theft.¹⁶
Then, in July 1915 the raids began. At first, they mirrored typical banditry—stolen equipment, horses, and ammunition—but then they took on the form of guerrilla warfare. A 75-foot railroad trestle was burned, telegraph lines were cut, some farm buildings were lit aflame, a bridge destroyed. Alfred Austin and his son Charlie, ardent segregationists who headed the local Law and Order League and were known for their violence against local Tejanos, were sought out by a band of Mexican men and murdered on their farm. Then there was the attack on the enormous King Ranch.
The managers of the Las Norias section of the ranch caught wind that danger was headed their way and called on army troops, deputies, and Rangers to aid their defense. Rangers were scouting the surrounding area when the sedicios (seditionists) descended, leaving sixteen men to defend the property. After two and a half hours, the rebels rode off. Four Anglos were wounded and at least five of the raiding men were killed.¹⁷ Despite the Rangers’ absence at the fight, two Rangers and a civilian mounted on horses posed with the corpses sprawled out before them in an infamous postcard titled “Mexican Bandits.” To some it symbolized the power, authority, and protection Rangers ensured; to others it showed the forces of terror and the blatant disregard for Mexican life. One of the men is Captain Fox, the Ranger that would lead Company B to Porvenir three years later to murder the men of the village.¹⁸
Anglo-centric tellings of history refer to this period as the “Bandit Wars;” Tejanos called it La Matanza—the massacre. Following the King Ranch raid, the Rangers conducted a systematic manhunt. No Mexican was safe. The Rangers had a list of around a hundred Mexicans and ticked them off one by one. There was no “innocent before proven guilty” in this period of bloodshed. Scholar Monica Martinez describes Rangers’ techniques as “revenge-by-proxy,” profiling any ethnic Mexican as a bandit or bandit sympathizer simply on account of their “approximate location to the crime.”¹⁹ When not simply shot on sight, Rangers were known to collude with mobs, handing prisoners over to be hung on mesquite trees. Or they would use la ley de fuga, the law of flight. Rangers would release a prisoner, order them to run, and then shoot them; their incident report would claim the reason of death as an attempted escape.²⁰
Mexicans were left with no safety or protection by law enforcement. In September 1915 when a band of armed Mexican men stole supplies and horses from their ranch (no one was harmed), Jesus Bazán and his son-in-law Antonio Longoria were torn about what to do. Reporting the theft could make them targets of the assailants, but if authorities found the raiders with their horses, the family could be accused of assisting bandits. Either choice could result in violence.
On September 27, Bazán and Longoria reported the robbery to Ranger Ransom stationed at a local Anglo ranch. After a brief conversation, the two men headed home on horseback. Then a bullet shot through each of their backs. Ranger Ransom and two civilians had followed them, now they warned those who witnessed the murder not to touch the bodies. Ransom wanted them to remain on the ground in the scorching sun to warn others. Those who mourned the men were too terrorized to bury them; witnesses reported that for days wagons had to maneuver around the bodies.²¹
Following the King Ranch raid, the Rangers conducted a systematic manhunt. No Mexican was safe. The Rangers had a list of around a hundred Mexicans and ticked them off one by one.
Bazán and Longoria were both U.S. citizens from prominent Tejano landowning families. In fact, Bazán was a community leader, having been a public servant and educator, and was a Hidalgo County commissioner at the time of his death. Both men had agreed to testify on behalf of a neighbor fighting the encroachment of an Anglo land company on his property. Rather than Bazán and Longoria’s class, citizenship, and political authority shielding them from Ranger violence, scholar Monica Martinez speculates it may have made them targets; their prominence stood in the way of Anglo supremacy in the region.²²
Between August 1915 and June 1916, historians posit that between 100 to 300 ethnic Mexicans were murdered.²³ Although the general public may know little about this period, the horror that ensued was captured and passed down from one generation to the next in the Tejano community through in a corrido (Tejano folksong) titled Los sedciosos; the lyrics lament how the revolutionary raiders lit a “fuse,” but was “those of us who are blameless [that paid] the price.”²⁴ In his memoir, a U.S. soldier in the region wrote that the Rangers’ “glaring abuses in retribution…threaten[ed] to clear the Valley of Mexicans.”²⁵ Anglo farmers became concerned about a labor shortage because so many of their field workers were fleeing to Mexico. People were abandoning their homes, jobs, land, and cattle, relocating to a country enveloped in a civil war—that was how much they feared Texan state terror.²⁶
The Porvenir Massacre
What happened at the village of Porvenir two years later fits neatly into the Texas Rangers’ menacing policing tactics. When the Brite Ranch, one of the most prominent Anglo properties in the area, was attacked by raiders on Christmas day 1917, vengeance took the form of pools of blood. The raiders had killed three people—a mail coach and his two Mexican passengers. In pursuit of the bandits, the Ranger Captain Fox reported that he and his company had killed twenty-five men across the river in Mexico. That was not enough; revenge-by-proxy took hold. Fox accused Porvenir of harboring bandits.
Porvenir was a close community. Its one hundred and five families supported each other by bartering labor, tools, and goods. Twenty-five families owned their homes, the majority of them Mexican. To most people, the rural west Texas desert was uninhabitable but Porvenir kept itself going; residents lived off the yields of the land and worked on neighboring ranches in addition to their own. In an effort to keep up with rising land costs, one owner named Morales worked hard to instigate an irrigation system by diverting water from the Rio Grande so he could farm cotton. There was also a small public school run by Henry Warren, an Anglo man from Missouri who married a Mexican woman in Porvenir despite the segregationist beliefs of his Anglo peers.²⁷ Porvenir residents were not squatters as reports made by local ranchmen about the incident would later claim, but rather an established and reputable community. They were friendly with the U.S. soldiers who would stop in the village for goods or a home-cooked meal on their patrols. Yet these relationships did not shield them from Ranger violence.²⁸
In pursuit of the bandits, the Ranger Captain Fox reported that he and his company had killed twenty-five men across the river in Mexico. That was not enough; revenge-by-proxy took hold.
On January 28, 1918, a group of Texas Rangers from Company B, local ranchmen, and some soldiers stormed the village. Four nights earlier, the Rangers and ranchmen had searched the homes of the residents and found no evidence of the community participating in or supporting the raid; they left with all the guns and ammunition found in the homes and three young men as prisoners, whom they tortured for two nights before letting them go. On the 28th, the Porvenir families were roused from their beds at gunpoint once again, with no way to protect themselves.²⁹
The families watched as the Rangers separated fifteen husbands, sons, and brothers from the crowd and led them away into the darkness. When asked about the night decades later, Juan Flores detailed the horror, grief, and confusion that followed the mass murder: “I saw [my father], he was hardly recognizable, they were torn to pieces, all of them, his entire head was not recognizable […] Every one of us collapsed, crying. There was nothing we could do. There was nothing that could help us. To whom could we complain?”³⁰
Fearing the Rangers would come back and finish them off, the surviving Porvenir families fled across the border to Mexico, abandoning their homes and community. Witnesses of the massacre have speculated that the community was targeted because Anglos wanted the irrigated land.³¹ If so, the incident follows the three qualities of the Texas Rangers’ policing practice since their founding: a thirst for vengeance, indiscriminate violence, and persecution of non-Anglo groups on behalf of Anglos’ economic interests.
Horrified by the violence and injustice that marked their family history, Arlinda Valencia and Juan Flores’s daughter Benita Albarado each started to research the massacre. Weekends were spent traveling to state and university archives, collecting photographs and maps, and taping oral histories in an effort to reconstruct this forgotten tragedy.
They discovered that at the insistence of the Mexican consul the U.S. State Department had investigated the incident and found that Ranger and ranchmen’s reports were falsified. In response to diplomatic pressure, Texas’s governor disbanded Company B, firing and transferring a few Rangers; Fox was forced to resign. It was rare for Rangers to face any consequences for extralegal violence, but losing one’s job is not justice for murder. In fact, Fox rejoined the force a few years later. Porvenir survivors continued to seek reparations through the U.S. Mexico General Claims Commission; despite the damning evidence, their claims were denied. The case of Porvenir speaks to the long culture of impunity for law enforcement actors by the U.S. courts and resonates today in the Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality; accountability is extremely rare.
Benita Albarado and Arlinda Valencia dedicated themselves to making the history of Porvenir and Ranger violence known to the public. With her husband, Benita traveled to historians’ book talks and other events to educate people about the massacre.³² In 2013, they connected with a group of Chicano/a scholars, which included Monica Muñoz Martinez and Benjamin Johnson, who had founded Refusing to Forget (RTF), an educational non-profit that aims to bring public awareness to Mexican-Americans’ struggle for justice in Texas from 1910 to 1920. The Albarados pressed RTF to consider how the state was going to partake in the memorialization efforts. This led RTF to pursue a historical marker for the tragedy, which although the local community resisted, was implemented in 2018. That same year Arlinda Valencia organized a Centennial Remembrance for Porvenir massacre at the Texas State Capitol in Austin. She has also created lesson plans on Porvenir so that this history can be included in high school curriculums.
RTF has also successfully erected a marker for Jesus Bazán and Antonio Longoria and La Matanza. In 2016, the organization put on an exhibit at the Bullock History Museum in Austin. Titled Life and Death on the Border 1910-1920, it spotlighted state-sanctioned anti-Mexican violence during the early twentieth century.
Johnson spoke highly of working with the Bullock History Museum; he and his colleagues “were surprised by the risks they were willing to take to look at a really dark chapter of Texas history.” They were then shocked when in July 2021 that same museum canceled an event for the newly published book Forget the Alamo, which explores the role of slavery in the buildup to the Texas Revolution. The censorship of the book talk came at a time when Texas and other states were passing legislation attacking “critical race theory” in an effort to curtail conversations around history and race in school. When asked if he thinks this shows that Texas has become a harsher, less accepting climate, Johnson responded: “it feels like a particular kind of White supremacy that grows from a kind of fear and realization that, in fact, they have lost control of the narratives of U.S. and Texas history people are exposed to. These efforts of suppression pay unwitting tribute to the real accomplishments made toward an actually multiracial democracy.”
Despite their fear that the new legislation will prevent the history of anti-Mexican violence being honestly taught in schools, RTF is preparing for the upcoming bicentennial of the Ranger force in 2023 by developing more lesson plans and curricular materials. They hope the anniversary will not simply lionize the force, but rather be a moment of reckoning. “Given the contemporary violent practices of law enforcement and the racial inequity in the criminal justice system, we cannot tolerate an uncritical celebration of the Ranger force,” Johnson said. He also pointed to how the sentiments of suspicion and fear of a criminal Mexican “other” that blossomed during the 1900s feeds into contemporary nativism that portrays Mexicans as completely foreign to the United States. A holistic telling of this past forces us to reevaluate America’s assumed entitlement to Texan land and who we deem an “outsider.”
RTF has also been in correspondence with the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum with suggestions for ways to reform exhibits. Johnson asserted that the museum is much more like the “Daughters of the Confederacy, explicitly celebratory, unwilling to reckon with their own White supremacy,” rather than operating as a reputable historical resource. He pointed out that figures like Frank Hamer, who engaged in terroristic threats against Mexican-American civil rights advocates, and Big Foot Wallace, who is praised for hunting runaway slaves in Mexico, are held up as exemplary. As Johnson put it, “This is 2021, you don’t praise people for re-enslaving human beings, it’s insane really.” He advocated for the museum being stripped of its relationship to the state if it does not begin offering multiple interpretations of Ranger history. Even if the museum remains unchanged, “they can’t get away with it anymore without being publicly criticized and contested.” Using Tejano memories preserved and passed down like those of Juan Flores, Refusing to Forget is leading the charge to let other voices narrate this complex past.
“Given the contemporary violent practices of law enforcement and the racial inequity in the criminal justice system, we cannot tolerate an uncritical celebration of the Ranger force,” said Benjamin Johnson, historian and author of Revolution in Texas: How a Forgotten Rebellion Turned Mexicans into Americans.
Pulling back the curtain and exposing the true brutality of the Texas Rangers is a long and laborious process. Mexican-Americans and scholars have been doing crucial archival work to ensure that this history is not lost with the passing of the older generations. Juan Flores died in 2007; if Arlinda’s uncle had not chosen to speak of the massacre, Flores’s memories of Porvenir and the details necessary to reconstruct the village’s history would be lost with him. The Albarados would never have begun their advocacy, nor would they be connected with RTF. Without Juan Flores, Arlinda Valencia, and Benita Albarado it is more likely than not that there would be no historical marker, museum exhibit, or documentary asserting that this injustice happened and bringing dignity to the victims.
Despite the decades of work by scholars and descendants, the Texas Rangers continue to loom large. The state’s baseball team is named after them. The quantity of books and movies that glorify force is overwhelming. These cultural products work to obscure Tejanos’ experience. While there are many famous films, books, and TV shows that illuminate the struggles of Black Americans, there is precious little in our popular culture that tells the stories of Mexican-American history. Most known is Chincano activist-scholar Américo Paredes’s book With His Pistol in His Hand (1958), made into the movie The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez (1982). More recently, in 2018, the historical thriller El Rinche: The Ghost Ranger of the Rio Grande by South Texan novelist Christopher Carmona was published. Both are inspired by true events and depict the Rangers as a racially aggressive and unjust force. In addition to educational and memorial efforts, there is a need for more books and movies where the true history of the Texas Rangers and stories from the border region can be recounted in a widely accessible way. These marginalized voices and experiences must be elevated in popular culture so we are not fooled into celebrating agents of terror any longer.