Paulino Serda was a small ranch owner near Edinburg, Texas, in 1915 when a group of Mexican bandits came through town. They demanded he open the gates that connected the ranches so the group could pass.

“And of course, you didn’t really say ‘no’ to these individuals,” says Serda’s great-grandson Trinidad Gonzales, assistant chair of history and philosophy at South Texas College. “And apparently word got back to the Rangers that this had occurred. And when they went to his ranch, they asked to talk to him, to question him in private. And while that was going on, my great-grandmother heard the gunshots.”

The Texas Rangers killed Serda, no questions asked. Gonzales’s family was one of many affected by some of the worst state-sanctioned violence in the history of the U.S. Today, he’s part of a group of scholars working to get this part of Texas history recognized.

“Well essentially, the Matanza resulted because of reprisals by state and local authorities against a guerrilla uprising that had occurred,” says John Morán González (no relation), associate professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin and part of the group of scholars.

He says the guerrilla uprising was small and not very well organized, made up of bandits or Mexican revolutionaries. Nevertheless, the Texas Rangers were called in to control the situation. The repression, however, was not just directed at the bandits, but at the Texas-Mexican population as a whole. Morán González says that between 1915 and 1919, hundreds – if not thousands – of Mexicans and Tejanos in South Texas were killed by the Rangers and other vigilantes.

“So in that sense, the project of policing throughout much of this era was also about the establishment of a racial order, of white supremacy,” Morán González says.

For the first time, this part of history will be acknowledged by the state of Texas through an exhibit at the Bob Bullock Museum called “Life and Death on the Border, 1910 to 1920.”

“The scholars and professors approached the Bullock with this idea of this exhibit, to learn about this piece of history,” says Jennifer Cobb, Associate Curator of Exhibitions at the museum. “I never knew about it until I started working on this exhibit, and it was astounding that this is not public knowledge. This is largely faded from public memory after the period ended, aside from those who were directly affected by it.”

Cobb says the exhibit will be a look into what life was like leading up to, during, and after this violent period. It’ll showcase court documents, photographs and artifacts from the era, even one of Pancho Villa’s saddles. But Gonzales, whose great-grandfather was killed, says the exhibit is more than just about the victims.

“It’s also a way of celebrating our resiliency of the community against these conditions,” Gonzales says. “To respond by pursuing our civil rights and our rights as equal participants within our society.”

This violent period spurred what would become the Mexican-American civil rights movement. One important document on display is the complete transcript of the 1919 Texas Legislative Investigation that looked into the Texas Rangers’ actions, and found them guilty.

“This was the first time that the Texas Rangers had ever been called to be held accountable for atrocities against the Texas-Mexican community by the legislature,” Morán González says. “Prior to that, the Texas Rangers knew pretty much anything goes.”

The group of scholars – which includes both Gonzales and Morán González – have named their project Refusing to Forget. Their goal is to commemorate this forgotten period of Texas history by making it known to a wider public. Currently, it’s not part of the Texas public school curriculum. The exhibit is just one part of their efforts: They are also working to erect historical landmarks and develop a traveling exhibit to tour Texas, and eventually, the country.

The Bullock exhibit will open to the public on Saturday, and run through April.

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  • Carlos Ayala March 26, 2016 at 1:46 pm

    The history curriculum taught in our public schools is very vague and obviously leaves out tragic incidents such as this one. One day , the right qualified people will recognize and include all history for its children. This country was , is and will continue to be made greater by immigrants. Say No To Racism!

  • El tejano March 15, 2016 at 8:35 am

    Hopefully they bring this to edinburg

  • Robert Benavides March 4, 2016 at 4:11 pm

    I am a 64 year old male who heard these stories when I was a child and always knew they were true and so it’s nice to read that some day the state of Texas will recognize these wrongs. My own grandmother who was Atkinson inherited a lot of acres outside of San Benito, Texas but she married a Rameriz and so in those years of 1910-1915 the word on the street was that if you mexican and got caught out at night you would be hung. For that reason my grandmother and grandfather sold the land dirt cheap so they could move into town, sad but true/

  • R J Molina February 16, 2016 at 10:45 am

    Excellent audio.

    Good write up on Texas Rangers abuse.

    FYI, There were also killings of Mexican Americans and Mexicans along with land grabbing in the 1870s (attack of Nuecestown/now Robstown) and 1920s-1930s Los Tequileros era.

    Regarding your article. During the 1910 Mexican Revolution and into WWI, Axis Germans promised to give the American Southwest land back to the Mexicans including the American Indians. See Plan de San Diego or book “Bolo’s War” by Alfredo Cardenas.

    On the opposite spectrum, proud Mexican Americans went to fight for our country in WWI to attain/reaffirm our rights in America. See
    “My World War One Diary by Jose De La Luz Saenz” (1933 Spanish) translated to English (2015) by UT professor Emilio Zamora.

    Btw, in 1930s Jim Hogg County (Hebbronville county seat), W W Jones forced (w/his militia Rangers) Mexican Americans to sell their land adjacent to his land for 25 cents an acre. Sometimes the owner (mostly males) were found dead leaving the spouse and family to sell. See Rafael Ramirez Charo Redondo land grant.

    Anglos say it was the because of America’s Depression, (yea collusion of banks and big land owners or unscrupulous deed loans). The 1920s-1930s was the period of Los Tequileros. See Dr George Diaz book “Contraband.”

    Also, see GLO Texas Maps of 1913 Jim Hogg County and compare it to 1930s-1940s Jim Hogg County.

    Hope this enhances your story.

    Sincerely American (1st), Tejano/Texan (2nd).

    R J Molina

    • Laura Rice February 16, 2016 at 11:17 am

      Thanks, RJ! This is great information. I’ve removed your contact information from the public version of this post — but we have it if we need it!

  • Criselda Leticia Quintanilla February 13, 2016 at 10:55 am

    This most definitely needs to be taught in schools. How can such a big part of history be left out? It is very important to have this knowledge and realize how this has affected our borders.

  • Rosalinda Villalobos February 9, 2016 at 2:58 pm

    Love anything to help Chicanos and Mexican-Americans be more aware and learn more about our history.

  • Mary Helen lee January 27, 2016 at 2:47 pm

    I think this is a tremendous idea. I’m a strong advocate of awareness of what they are being taught. I will talk to my grandkids while driving them to school. We discuss current events, history and what ever is trending on the internet. I am definitely making plans to visit the exhibit. I gave in the past done research on genealogy and Las Porciones. Big you need any help with research or reaching out to people I would be very intetested. Thank you

  • Mary Jane Cuellar Gutierrez Miller January 27, 2016 at 8:16 am

    After my grandpa was shot off duty at a party. My grandma was blind and all land was taken from her.

  • Elisa Andrada Abila January 26, 2016 at 9:04 pm

    I was told that white settlers were allowed to come to Texas and claim land what they did was came to our relatives farms either ran them off or threatened to kill them or they were allowed to stay and work on the land that was theirs for the new settlers who stole it from them.

  • gem January 26, 2016 at 1:07 pm

    Great..exhibit the 50 n 60s too!!! Latinos matter?

  • Ruby Kissoyan January 26, 2016 at 8:49 am

    My husband and I didn’t renew our membership this year because we were horrified that the exhibits left out important history such as this and made slavery look like business as usual. Even calling white people brave for committing acts that were completely left out of all exhibits. Perhaps one day when permanence is established for exhibits such as this, we’ll once again renew our yearly membership.

  • R January 25, 2016 at 11:59 pm

    I think the people of today still going off of what happened back then. To me I feel the Mexican and blacks and Indians should come together and put all of this to rest because this is not godly by far people who think their better then the next need to understand that god made all of us the same and as we can see we pay more taxes and have to work way harder then the whites for anything that we get ,this system is set for our people to fail but it’s something because we will not stop until whatever it is done ,I think they not only need to tell about this they need to tell about the Indians as well .

  • David Ruiz January 25, 2016 at 2:48 pm

    My visit to this exhibit was well served. I saw and felt chills of what lingers in our past. I was born and raised in Brownsville Texas and my grandmother who raised me was born in 1918. The only problem I saw with this was that the ethnic cleansing began 100’s of years before these dates. This was a bit upsetting to me knowing our history that is not taught in scholastic levels of any kind anywhere in Texas. The true tail of The Republic of Tejas starts when the lands were taken from the early settlers of Spain and Mexico who avasted great parcels of land. It was after this that the families that survived this massacres and fled to Mexico that was a revolt against Whites and Hispanics and Mexican’s alike. Knowing that the families that overtook those lands as the Kings, Kennedys , Kleburgs and Armstrongs are still in control of those lands to this day after all the chicanery involved and corrupt political ties within the Republic of Texas saddens me. That no one up until now has showcased these atrocities and held people and a system accountable for their actions. I hope this display brings light to all of the history starting with the natives to the early pioneer families of Sourh Texas. My family was the Cisneros Family who were one of the many true cattle Barron’s of South Texas. This is now the page in history where we Hispanics can tell our version and write our books of what really was and is our experiences with the earliest forms of Texas Government.

  • Antonio Magaña January 25, 2016 at 11:04 am

    Great investigative work is needed in our history still. There are many family stories that need to be written down & shared. Ask ALL of our abuelos & abuelas THEIR stories. Young ones recognize la lucha has been going on since the conquest.

  • Alonzo sandoval January 24, 2016 at 11:13 pm

    The truth will set us free!

  • José C. Sanchez January 24, 2016 at 8:18 pm

    Sweet, more Mexican history is missing. You tell it. Hopefully ignorant people will become educated.

  • Melissa January 24, 2016 at 3:01 pm

    I think my grampa was one of their victims and wrongly accused. My mom is getting together with her elderly cousin to get the rest of the details.

  • rey candia January 24, 2016 at 2:14 pm

    I GROW UP SEEING SIGNS LIKE THAT [NO MEXICANS OR DOGS ALLOWED.

  • Elizabeth January 24, 2016 at 1:50 pm

    Finally the real Mexican American history is told. Need to educate people.

  • Michael Salinas January 24, 2016 at 1:05 pm

    My ancestors from Spain have been in North Anerica since 1598 on my Salinas side and 1606 on my Longoria side. These people were the first European settlers in the Missions and Presidios, which became cities and states. They were here then and are still here now despite the Anglo- inclusion that supported stealing lands, payoff from judges and murder and lawlessness for breeds sake. There are many, many stories that have never been told, only the memories of what the families lost in heritage, nationality and assimilation by force.

  • Avila January 24, 2016 at 10:02 am

    Plz send me the address 2 see this exhibit. Tks

  • Anne G. Locascio January 24, 2016 at 10:01 am

    There is a great need for this story to be told. My Grandfather, J.T. Canales, a Texas Sate Representative beginning in 1905, was instrumental in bringing attention to the illegal actions of the Texas Rangers. I would appreciate being connected with anyone writing this story.

    • Laura Rice January 25, 2016 at 9:09 am

      Hi Anne. Here’s more information about the group that’s telling/researching this story: http://refusingtoforget.org/

  • Juan jose Pineda January 23, 2016 at 7:30 pm

    This should be part of Texas school curriculum .

  • Barbara Aguirre January 23, 2016 at 6:04 pm

    It’s about time these historical inaccuracies were corrected.

  • Paul Renteria January 23, 2016 at 3:24 pm

    Never forget. Please mention my ancestor Eusebio Renteria*RIP*, who was shot 60 miles South of the USA in Chihuahua and was hanged in Deming, New Mexico on June 30, 2916 for the supposed Pancho Villa Raid on Columbus NM on March 9, 1916. Other players included Bush Paternal Heirarchy, Samuel & his son Army Officer Prescott Bush. Visit Eusebio Rentetia’s story at PauRenteria.com

  • Maryjane Castillo January 23, 2016 at 3:22 pm

    I think it still happen

  • Anonymous January 23, 2016 at 2:20 pm

    This is one incident that I was not aware of. It should be part of the educational process. It is unfortunate that incidents should have occurred and are not public knowledge.

  • Anonymous January 23, 2016 at 1:48 pm

    Great work

  • Eusebia January 23, 2016 at 12:22 pm

    BRAVO

  • Coahuiltejano January 23, 2016 at 11:33 am

    Numbers from nowhere. Thousands? I doubt it seriously…Show the numbers and evidence first…

  • Sam January 23, 2016 at 9:56 am

    About time. But it was life back then. Still a ways to but getting there

  • Andrew lopez January 23, 2016 at 1:16 am

    I represent The Central Texas Hispanic Museum in Waco Texas. I am very interested in what you are doing. It may fill in the gaps of the Hispanic migration to central Texas. Please send me some contact information so I can become more familiar with those who are involved with your museum

    • Laura Rice January 25, 2016 at 9:15 am

      Hi Andrew. This project is being spearheaded by researchers involved with the “Refusing to Forget” project. Here’s their website: http://refusingtoforget.org/

  • Laura Ramos January 22, 2016 at 9:31 pm

    Was not aware, thank you for making it known!

  • […] Our exhibit and piece profiled in today’s Guardian and Texas Standard.  […]

  • […] aired on Texas Standard on January 22, […]