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Porvenir Massacre Of 1918: A Harrowing Night Of Racial Murder By Local Texans, US Military

1910s | September 7, 2020

(Texas Department of Public Safety)

On January 28, 1918, a group of Texas Rangers, U.S. Cavalry soldiers, and local ranchers descended on the village of Porvenir in Presidio County, Texas to avenge a series of cattle raids along the Mexico-Texas border. Under the cover of night, this band of armed vigilantes marched residents out of their homes before murdering 15 unarmed Mexican men and boys with no proof that anyone from Porvenir had anything to do with the crimes. No one knew about this heinous massacre for weeks, and when the gruesome execution finally came to light, the dead were described as "thieves, informers, spies, and murderers." Their story stuck for almost 100 years, but the truth is a much more upsetting affair.

A Christmas Raid

With the Mexican Revolution winding down, strong anti-Mexican sentiment gripped places like Texas and New Mexico by 1918, leading to near constant clashing between neighbors. People living on the border were especially touchy following Pancho Villa's raid on Columbus, New Mexico two years earlier, but the act that lit the fuse of the Porvenir Massacre occurred on Christmas Day 1917. Nearly 45 bandits descended on the Brite Ranch in Presidio County, killing three Americans in their tussle with the 8th Cavalry. No one ever conclusively connected the bandits to anyone in Presidio County, but the Cavalry decided that they had to be locals.

(Robert Runyon Photograph Collection/Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, via The University of Texas at Austin)

The Porvenir Massacre

Two days before the massacre, Captain James Monroe Fox led Texas Rangers Company B into Porvenir to search for anyone connected to the Brite Ranch raid. They found three weapons but nothing suggesting involvement from anyone living in the community, and three men were detained for a day before they were cut loose and allowed to return home.

In the early hours of January 28, 1918, the rangers returned to the community along with eight members of the U.S. Army Cavalry and four local ranchers. The group dragged everyone out of their homes before separating a group of 15 Mexican men and boys from their families, marching them to a nearby hill, and executing all of them. Two were teenagers, one was in his seventies, and at least two were well-to-do landowners who had no reason to take up banditry.

(Hum Images/Alamy Stock Photo)

Fleeing For Their Lives

The day after the massacre, everyone who survived abandoned Porvenir. They brought the bodies of their loved ones across the border to Pilares, Chihuahua, buried them in a mass grave, and never returned to their former village, either out of fear or the realization that nothing good was waiting for them at their former home. A few days after the villagers abandoned the town, a group of Rangers returned to Porvenir and destroyed everything left. 

(Unknown author)

The Cover Up

Captain Fox took his sweet time filing his report about the Porvenir Massacre, claiming about a month later that the 15 executed villagers had ambushed the Rangers, who only returned fire out of self defense. According to Monica Muñoz Martinez, an assistant professor at Brown University, it wasn't uncommon for members of law enforcement to craft a more sympathetic version of events in their reports following an incident like the Porvenir Massacre. She told NBC:

There were many cases like Porvenir, where the initial response from the state was to try to fabricate what really took place. It was not unusual for the state to try to justify such acts by criminalizing the victims. Residents of Porvenir were described at times as squatters or bandits. None of this is true.

It didn't fly for long in this case, though. That summer, Captain William M. Hanson of the Texas Rangers Command investigated the massacre at Porvenir and found that none of the victims were breaking the law. A year later, Representative José Tomás Canales investigated the group of Rangers and found that they had committed at least 5,000 extrajudicial killings that specifically targeted people of Mexican heritage. This investigation resulted in a restructuring of the Texas Rangers, even if it didn't bring any of the former Rangers to justice.

(Elida Tobar/Latino Public Broadcasting)

Finally Recognized

Still, the full story wasn't made public for decades, and it might have stayed buried forever had it not been for the descendants of the men who lost their lives in 1918. The family of Juan Flores, a witness to the massacre when he was only a boy, only learned about the mass execution in 1998, when Flores was 95 years old. Arlinda Valencia, Flores's niece, told Texas Monthly:

I was shocked. They weren't bandits, they weren't squatters; it's just not true. My great-grandfather was murdered, and later, my great-grandmother killed herself. That traumatized my father. My whole family suffered. And for years, no one knew why.

It's only recently that historians have given any recognition to victims of the massacre, with the area where Porvenir once stood earning a historical marker in 2016 despite of protests from officials at the Presidio County Historical Commission.

Tags: 1910s | massacre | Mexico | texas

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Jacob Shelton

Writer

Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.