100 years ago Sunday, a posse made up of Texas Rangers and the U.S. military raided the border village of Porvenir in the middle of the night. The lawmen took 15 boys and men of Mexican descent to a bluff and shot them. The Porvenir Massacre is a little-known dark stain on Texas’ history.
Historian Glenn Justice says the massacre happened during a chaotic time.
“In 1910 a terrible civil war broke out in Mexico,” he says. “There were border raids all up and down the border.”
Texas Rangers and the U.S. Army were called upon to help.
“A contingent of soldiers, Texas Rangers, and vigilante ranchers went to Porvenir, Texas,” he says, and “surrounded the village, and rounded up the people, and selected 15 men and boys and marched them off into the darkness and murdered them.”
Justice says it was an act of retaliation and the victims were chosen not because of their involvement in raids but simply to set an example. For decades, very few people knew about this chapter in Texas history – there was no news coverage, plus Porvenir was in a remote location.
“So it was easy to cover up,” he says. And it was covered up until the late 1980s.”
That’s when Justice was working for the Texas State Historical Association as a staff writer for the Handbook of Texas. He read Walter Prescott Webb’s book about the Texas Ranger, which included one version of the story.
“Then when I spent some time in Presidio County on the border,” he says, “I talked to the old timers and they told me a completely different version of what happened. As a result, I’ve done this research for many years and there’s no question that the Rangers, the Army, and the vigilantes murdered these innocent people.”
He says that for a long time people thought only the Texas Rangers were responsible for the murders, but an archaeological investigation two years ago at the Porvenir murder site proved that most of the ammunition was from the U.S. military.
The Porvenir Massacre may not be part of the story of Texas yet, but Justice says it should be.
“I don’t want the event to be forgotten,” he says. “I think it should be in our history books. And you would be surprised – we had our commemoration this weekend at the Capitol, Sunday at the Capitol. And we had descendants of Porvenir survivors – many, many of them from all over the country. My hope is that this brings closure and healing and understanding to people.”
Written by Jen Rice.