Summaries of Tejanos Unidos Books and Presentations
“The Last Knight (Don Bernardo Gutierrez de Lara Uribe, A Texas Hero)”
“Nights of Wailing, Days of Pain (Life in 1920s South Texas)”
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1. “The Last Knight” is the story of Don Bernardo Gutierrez de Lara Uribe. Before Sam Houston, Jim Bowie, and William Travis, there was Don Bernardo, the President of the First Republic of Texas. On April 6, 1813, he signed the first Texas Declaration of Independence. In answering Father Hidalgo’s “Grito de Dolores”, Don Bernardo lit the spark that led to Texas independence. His is a truly fascinating story that has been left out of mainstream Texas history books. (For additional details, see book summary below.)
2. “Nights of Wailing, Days of Pain (Life in 1920s South Texas)” is based on the book by the same name. This is the story of a typical South Texas Tejano family who is struggling to make it in the harsh brush country of South Texas while battling the Texas Rangers and those who want to take their land at all costs. The presentation gives a summary of the contributions of early Spanish Mexican pioneers. It also compares the fictionalized story with real events. (For additional details, see book summary below.)
3. “The Uribe Family” presentation is a brief genealogy visit with the Don Javier Uribe Family, one of the families accompanying Don Jose de Escandon into what is now South Texas in the mid-1700s. It follows the family trail of the descendants of Don Jose Dionisio Uribe, son of Don Blas Maria Uribe. In addition, it covers some historical and interesting facts as to how this brave, resourceful, and faithful family has thrived in the Zapata and Webb Counties area.
4. “Who are the Tejanos?” is an interesting presentation regarding the meaning of the words “Tejano” and “Tejana”. In truth, Tejanos have a great story to tell. The terms became common during the 1820s, but had been used for years to refer to the members of those families in the interior of Mexico who were brave enough to go north and make a new life for themselves. Places such as Monclova, Monterrey, Queretaro, Saltillo, Zacatecas, Tampico, Veracruz, and many more villages in between have special meaning to modern-day Tejanos, since that is where their families came from.
5. "Tejanas in Texas History" is a short summary of six biographies of Tejana women in Texas history in the fields of inspiration, Texas exploration, pioneering and settlement, journalism, civil rights, and labor issues.
6. “Adelante, Tejanos” is a short presentation on what to do to preserve our rich heritage. Many Spanish-surnamed people in the Southwest are unaware of their past. Also, many have been misled as to their ancestors’ key role in building this great place we call Texas. This presentation offers a brief revisit to many unsung Spanish Mexican heroes. It includes activities that all of us can do to continue to tell our story.
7. “Tejano Essays, Poems, and Stories” is an assortment of various means of communicating Tejano culture. The discussion relies on an audience participation format. The speaker gives a short presentation and opens it up for discussion where the audience can offer their own thoughts on the subject being presented.
8. “El Camino Real and Los Caminos del Rio” is a look at the framework of trails that kept our earliest ancestors connected with each other. The “Camino Real” or “King’s Road” was the major road. In actually, the Camino Real was a system of separate roads that connected major communities. They allowed the Spanish Mexican soldiers, priests, and pioneers to settle Central and Northern Mexico, which includes the U.S. Southwest. In Texas, the road was named “El Camino Real de los Tejas”. Major parts of our Spanish Mexican ancestors’ lifeline from Monclova, Coahuila, to Nacogdoches, Texas has disappeared forever under the plow and grazing fields of large ranches. As concerted efforts to settle what is now known as South Texas in the mid-1700s, our ancestors carved out a system of roads called “Los Caminos del Rio”. These roads were located on both banks of the Rio Grande and ran from Laredo all the way down to Brownsville and Matamoros. These “Caminos” were vital to the safety, security, and development of the area. Just as was done for the “Camino Real”, there is a move afoot in the U.S. Congress headed by Rep. Henry Cuellar from Laredo to designate the “Caminos del Rio” as part of our national park system.
9. ANIMO! This is a short presentation on the basic tools young adults need to get started as they make their way into the world of work. Specifically, the discussion revolves around the importance of life factors, such as, Attitude, Neatness, Initiative, Motivation, and Organization. (Target Audience: High School Students.)
10. “Handrails to the Future”. This is a must for young adults who are unsure of what lies ahead after high school graduation. The presentation is used as a map that will hopefully point young adults in the right direction and help mold them into the leaders of tomorrow. (Target Audience: High School Seniors.)
11. “The Learning and Reading Circle”. This is a presentation based on the theory that children learn to read faster if they are part of a group. Based on a group size of five students, each group member is able to individually read to the group, but also has a group-wide responsibility. For example, duties are rotated among the students each day they meet. These duties include Discussion Leader, Literary Investigator, Link Master, Grammar Tamer, and Master of Art. (Target Audience: Elementary School Students, Third - Fifth.)
12. “The Art of Listening” is a short presentation that explains the difference to the students between listening and hearing. (Target Audience: Elementary School Students, First – Fifth.)
“The Last Knight” (Don Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara Uribe, a Texas Hero)
Once there was a magical land called “Tejas”. Here is where our Spanish-Mexican ancestors settled to raise families, build their homes, and ranching communities. They were a rare breed of men and women; a hearty stock, strong of both mind and body. They valued their strong sense of faith, self-reliance, and independence. As they lived and died for generations, they faced a great many challenges, using ingenuity and resolve to survive. They tamed what historian Jerry Thompson calls the Wild and Vivid Land of South Texas. In so doing, they invented the ranching and cowboy phenomena. However, all was not well. Spain ruled Tejas with oppressive and unjust laws. Other colonial states in the new world were also enduring the same inequality from their European mother countries.
In response for direction to rid America of European colonial rule, several great American-born leaders answered the call to duty during those turbulent times of the late 1700s and early 1800s. Among these were George Washington, Simon Bolivar, and Bernardo Gutierrez de Lara Uribe. While most people may have heard of the first two, few are familiar with Don Bernardo. The Last Knight is the story of this great Texas hero.
To begin with, Don Bernardo’s life has the drama, action, and intrigue of a Hollywood movie, but it is a true story. He was born in Revilla (now Guerrero), on the southern bank of the Rio Grande back when the Rio was just another river in what is now South Texas where the same families lived on both sides of the river. (The shape of Texas was very different than it is today.)
As a young man, Don Bernardo loved to help his father run their large rancho. He was an excellent rancher and horseman. So, he took over the entire operation when his father died. He was happy there, living comfortably as a rancher and merchant in his hacienda in Revilla, but he decided to get involved in bringing social change in his community and throughout Texas and Mexico. The reasons are that he possessed a rare passion for human rights, and he was concerned about the social injustice he saw all around him. His passion for equality was shared by his brothers Jose Antonio and Enrique who also risked their lives in the name of freedom. It was in this restless period of early Texas history that Don Bernardo volunteered to help Father Miguel Hidalgo in his struggle to gain Mexico’s independence from Spain. This was to be the first of many occasions where he sacrificed his own family life and security for his unbending dedication to the ideals of freedom for all citizens. It should be noted that Texas was part of Mexico at this time. As such, Father Hidalgo’s grito (call) of “Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe! Viva la Independencia! Viva Mexico!” on September 16, 1810, was as inspiring a call to arms here in Texas as it was in the rest of Mexico. That is why this important holiday celebrating Mexican Independence can legitimately be celebrated today in Texas and the U.S. Southwest.
Immediately showing brilliance as a leader, Don Bernardo was appointed a Lt Colonel in the Republican Army. Sadly, Father Hidalgo and his senior staff were captured and killed after a major battle. It was shortly thereafter that Lt Colonel Gutierrez de Lara undertook an arduous trip to Washington, D.C. to seek help for the Mexican and Tejano rebellion. Accompanied by a small group of soldiers he started his trip on El Camino Real de los Tejas toward Louisiana. He narrowly escaped death when he was attacked in an ambush by Spanish royalist forces that killed three of his soldiers. In time, he stopped in New Orleans where he left his wounded soldiers to recuperate and continued his journey on horseback. A skilled outdoorsman and marksman he was able to defend himself against assassins sent by Spain to prevent him from reaching his goal. Facing harsh weather conditions in Tennessee, he was forced to sell his horse. He finally arrived in Washington, D.C. by stagecoach; the whole trip from the Rio Grande taking nearly half-a-year.
His arrival at the capital on December 11, 1812 caused lots of excitement. He was the first cowboy to set foot in Washington D.C. and the White House. He was well-received by government dignitaries, including President James Madison, Secretary of State James Monroe, among others. Everyone wanted to meet the stranger from faraway wild Texas. After receiving authority to recruit volunteers in the U.S, Colonel Gutierrez de Lara returned home in a victorious mood proclaiming to all that the shackles of Spanish tyranny would soon disappear. He declared Texas was now an independent state. On April 6, 1813, he signed and issued Texas’ first Declaration of Independence. Later that month, he issued the first constitution in Texas. Due to his military genius, he won a series of battles. Organizing his army in Natchitoches, Louisiana, he crossed the Sabine and defeated the Spanish forces in Nacogdoches. Flying the Green Flag, he then led his troops in taking possession of the Presidio of La Bahia (Goliad). Other victories quickly followed: Rosillo, Bexar, and Alazan. He was a gifted communicator and was able to win over many Spanish royalist soldiers who put down their arms and joined his cause for independence. He became the first President (governor) of the First Republic of Texas. However, his hope of victory over the Spanish forces vanished quickly, when he was betrayed by some within his immediate military staff. Don Bernardo was relieved of command and forced into exile in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Under a different commander, the Tejano Army was defeated at the Battle of Medina, about 20 miles south of San Antonio. Over 800 brave Tejano soldiers died for the noblest of reasons: freedom, liberty, family, and their land. Because of its vicious nature, the battle has been designated by the Texas Historical Commission as the bloodiest military battle ever fought on Texas soil. More Texas patriots died at this battle than in all the 1836 battles combined. As a warning to future revolutionaries, the bodies of the Tejanos were left on the battlefield for over nine years. Indeed, it was the native-born Tejanos who initially paid the ultimate price, not only in death, but in the continued suffering and deprivation of their families in the name of Texas liberty. Yet, their sacrifice is rarely mentioned in mainstream Texas history books. Thus, General Sam Houston merely continued a movement for Texas independence started by Father Hidalgo on September 16, 1810.
Still, the brave Don Bernardo never gave up his dream to gain independence for his beloved Texas nor to participate in gaining freedom for others. Our fearless soldier knew no political bounds when championing freedom for all. In 1815, accompanied by his battle-seasoned Tejanos living in exile with him in Louisiana, Don Bernardo fought bravely side-by-side with General Andrew Jackson in the U.S. victory against the British in the Battle of New Orleans, the last battle of the War of 1812.
When Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821, Don Bernardo was asked to return to his homeland. He did so in 1824. Upon arriving, he was rewarded by becoming the governor of the new state of Tamaulipas. In reality, he was the “first” governor of two states – Texas and Tamaulipas; a rare feat. He also was appointed to several military posts, including Commandant General of Tamaulipas and Commandant General of the Eastern Interior States (Texas, Coahuila, Tamaulipas, and Nuevo Leon.)
He died in 1841 after an illustrious career as a rancher, military leader, gifted communicator, skilled diplomat, governor of two states (Texas and Tamaulipas), and commandant general of four states. He was a man who possessed rare leadership qualities. We owe our gratitude to this great hero who gave us the first vision of a free and independent Texas. END oOo
“El Ultimo Caballero”. (“The Last Knight” in Español). Antes de los héroes, Sam Houston, Jim Bowie, y William Travis, tuvo gran éxito Don Bernardo Gutierrez de Lara, el primer campeón de libertad en Texas. La epopeya de Don Bernardo tiene todas las cualidades de una épica histórica -amor a la familia, fe, honor, galantería, patriotismo, valor, sacrificio, sufrimiento, intriga, y drama. Ayudó encender la mecha del auto determinación de Texas. Fue nombrado por el Padre Miguel Hidalgo como el primer embajador de México a los Estados Unidos. Fue el primer presidente de la República de Texas. Escribió y firmo la primer declaración de independencia de Texas en Abril 6, 1813, y la primer constitución, en Abril 17, 1813. Fue el primer gobernador de Tamaulipas. Aun, su memoria no se encuentra en los libros de historia. Al fin, lea la verdadera historia del primer héroe de Texas. (Viva Tejas!)
“Nights of Wailing, Days of Pain” (Life in 1920s South Texas)
Life in 1920s South Texas was mercilessly miserable for U.S. citizens of Spanish Mexican (Tejano) ancestry. The courageous descendants of Native Americans and the first Europeans to set foot in Texas had been reduced by this time to the status of foreigners in their own homeland. It had been over 80 years since the 1836 Battle of the Alamo, but the suffering of the native inhabitants continued unrestrained into the 20th Century. In short, Tejanos looked like the enemy, spoke Spanish like the enemy, worshipped as Catholics like the enemy, and thus were treated like the enemy. Akin to a never-ending nightmarish inferno stoked by constant Battle of the Alamo reminders, the damage to the tormented Tejano psyche persists to this day.
“Nights of Wailing, Days of Pain” involves the day-to-day life of a Tejano family whose members are living in two parallel worlds. One is the world of their Spanish Mexican ancestors, inventors of the ranch and cowboy phenomena, and the other is the world of Anglo Saxon Texas that treats them as strangers in the only homeland they have ever known. The first world is a sanctuary providing comfort, but it is slowly disappearing. The second world is fraught with overwhelming anxiety and continues unabated to the present time. The book typifies the saga of countless Tejano families struggling to make a living in the harsh scrub-brush country of South Texas, while at the same time fighting off those who wanted their land at all costs.
The story begins with a scene worthy of a Russian Czar. A ranch foreman, bloodied by a brutal beating, hangs feet first from the arm of a large encino tree. Although not charged with any crime, he had been left there by the Texas Rangers. It was a most undignified sight!
How could this be? After all, this was the 1920’s. Wasn’t the United States of America the land of the free, where a person was innocent until proven guilty? Wasn’t South Texas part of the U.S.A? Had not the country recently fought a world war, The Great War, to guarantee freedom for others in Europe? What about basic freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. constitution for citizens in this country, regardless of their race, creed, or color? The man hanging from the tree was a U.S. citizen. So, how could this be happening? Why was he being treated in such a cruel manner?
The first chapters introduce the several main characters of the storyline. Chapa, the Rancho La Paz Foreman, is a strong and capable young man who valiantly absorbs the rangers’ brutal punishment without betraying his boss. The beautiful Dona Carmelita “Meli” is the ranch owner’s wife. She is the social conscience of the community. Don Roberto Gutierrez, her husband, is the former county sheriff who traces his lineage to the first Spanish Mexican Texas settlers. He is suddenly accused of smuggling contraband horses and mules from Mexico. Justa is the ranch matron. She is a wise curandera (folk healer), whose counsel is sought by all. Sabi is Justa’s daughter and helps her mother with her duties at La Paz. Both of them are part of Don Roberto’s extended family. Epifania “Epi” Martinez is a Gutierrez relative who works at the courthouse. Amble Macray is a rich Anglo Saxon cattleman from Fort Worth. He grew up with the Gutierrez Family. He and his family are very supportive of Tejano culture and respectful of the Spanish Mexican roots of Texas. Amble has two brothers. One of them (Deck) is now the sheriff. Deck reluctantly participates in Don Roberto’s persecution and prosecution. They have one sister, Libby. They also have a half-sibling, Raymundo, a U.S. Marshal. Scott Johnson is Don Roberto’s defense attorney. Scott is a young, idealistic lawyer who is defending his first case. George R. Reed is a former county judge who controls most significant activities in the community. As the area political boss, he wants Rancho La Paz for himself and often brags to his inner circle that he will do anything to obtain it. Icky Jones is Judge Reed’s slimy sidekick. Jones is an unscrupulous man who operates a pawn shop in town. Ranger Thompson is Don Roberto’s chief accuser. He is an evil man with a shadowy past. There are other interesting characters. Chapter 2 provides a summary of the economic, political, and social issues that in essence kept Tejanos in a virtual prison without bars.
The storyline involves an improbable premise. The honorable Don Roberto is being accused of crimes he has no earthly reason to commit; importing contraband animals from Mexico. He is one of the wealthiest ranchers in the surrounding area and values his honor. Ironically, his only weakness is a virtue; he trusts people. He is convinced that he can fix his dilemma once he gets his day in court. However, through fabrication and tampering of evidence, he is unaware of the odds against him.
A stranger rides into Rancho La Paz. He is on his way to Mexico to marry his sweetheart. He offers to sell a team of mules to Don Roberto and tells him that he plans to use the money for his wedding. He then mysteriously disappears. Shortly thereafter, the area customs agent and Texas Rangers appear at La Paz in search of contraband animals supposedly brought into the rancho by the stranger. Not finding proof of wrongdoing, the officials then plot to bring charges by creating the evidence. At first, Don Roberto is forced to run for his life, but decides to turn himself in to face his accusers. The confident former sheriff is brought to trial. The wheels of justice are turning as they should, but it is George Reed who is in control. He personally selects members of his secret society to sit on the jury. Don Roberto’s fate is sealed. After a laudable defense, he and his ranch foreman are found guilty and are sent to prison.
The Tejano community is stunned. Only guilty persons are supposed to be punished by society. They are sure that Don Roberto is not guilty. How can his family and friends prove his innocence? Will the mysterious stranger ever be found? Will justice prevail? Will George Reed’s iron-fist control of the community be challenged? All these questions are answered as the story reaches its suspenseful climax.
In summary, Texas owes so much to its beginnings as part of New Spain and to Tejanos, its first citizens. However, few stories focus on their daily lives or those of their descendants. This story hopefully will serve to depict Tejano families as normal, freedom-loving U.S. citizens who happen to use Spanish as their primary form of communication. oOo