Descendants of El Polvo’s founding families gather on the border to celebrate the community’s history

On a recent weekend, people from around the country came together in Redford to commemorate the small town’s 150th anniversary. But the history they had convened to celebrate goes back much further.

By Annie Rosenthal, Marfa Public RadioMarch 22, 2023 11:30 am, , ,

From Marfa Public Radio:

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It’s a Saturday afternoon in March, and Elisa Madrid and Oscar Hinojos are sitting at a table at the community center in Redford, filling out a handwritten family tree.

“They had two kids – Macario y Celestino, am I right?” Madrid asks. “Or they had more?”

“They had more,” Hinojos says. “It’s Macario, Celestino, and Amelio, who ended up moving to Midland.”

Like many of the 50-some people in this room, Madrid and Hinojos are related — but until today, they’d never met. They’re still disentangling exactly how they’re connected.

“Mi abuelo y el abuelo tuyo, primos segundos,” Elisa says, tracing her finger along her careful notes. “Then your father and my father, third cousins. Which leaves you and I…”

“Fourth cousins,” Hinojos says.

They got in touch through a Facebook group for the descendants of Redford’s founders. And after months of trading photos and stories about their ancestors, dozens of those group members came together for this event: a reunion of long-lost relatives on the border.

For Madrid, that meant driving 20 minutes down the road from Presidio. For Hinojos, it meant a four hour trip from Midland. For others, like their cousin Diana Madrid Mullar, who lives in Maryland, it was a more dramatic journey — some 30 hours in the car.

“My husband decided he could drive all night, so we drove all night and we didn’t stop until Fort Stockton,” Mullar says.

The occasion is an anniversary: in 1872, just over 150 years ago, the state gave out land grants here to 22 people — including Elisa Madrid’s great-great-great grandfather.

Madrid’s family once owned the land we’re sitting on, and she went to school in this very building. Outside, she shows Hinojos the parcel boundaries.

“Our property is from the corner of that chain-link fence all the way to the river,” she says, pointing.

Carlos Morales / Marfa Public Radio

Cousins Diana Madrid Mullar, Elisa Madrid, and Oscar Hinojos pose in front of land that Elisa's family still owns in Redford. Their ancestors were among the founding residents who received land grants here in 1872.

In the ‘60s and ‘70s, when Madrid was growing up, Redford was a small but vibrant farming community. Madrid worked packing melons and onions in the summertime. Since then, the local agricultural economy has largely dried up, and many residents have moved away — to places with consistent cell service, closer medical care, and more jobs.

But some descendants of the original land grantees are still here. Elisa points out the house where her mom lives.

“Wow. Amazing,” Hinojos says. Though he’s driven through town frequently when visiting family in the cemetery in Lajitas, this is his first time stopping in Redford.

Today is also about remembering a history much older than the land grants. Many of the families gathered were here long before the 1870s. Bill Acosta’s family is one of them. He’s an enrolled member of the Jumano Nation, and his ancestor had to file a claim with the government for the land he was born on.

“The family was given 160 acres in what is now Redford, which was El Polvo back then,” Acosta says.

El Polvo means “dust.” And it’s that deeper history, the Polvo history, that’s been the focus of much of today’s event. In the morning, a series of lectures described evidence of settlement in the area around 800 years ago — and how one Lipan Apache band made a home here well before Redford was founded.

Lunchtime brings a blend of the traditions and cultures that have shaped the community. Becky Sanchez and her family, who live in Redford, have cooked a meal of frijoles charros, Mexican rice, pasta salad, asado, and guacamole — plus homemade flour tortillas.

A California cousin has sent seeds from a special kind of melon that originated in El Polvo, associated with the Jumano people of the region. She hopes locals can plant them in town.

Carlos Morales / Marfa Public Radio

Attendees gather for lunch in the community center in Redford.

And Presidio resident Arian Velazquez-Ornelas is giving out ground buffalo meat from the Texas Tribal Buffalo Project — an effort to connect Lipan Apache descendants around the state to their heritage.

“This is what your ancestors were actually eating back in their time,” Velazquez-Ornelas explains.

For Celina Acosta, who came all the way from Indiana, this kind of effort makes a huge difference.

“I want to learn more about my ancestors, I want to honor them. I want to make sure that they’re not forgotten,” she says. “Because you die twice, once when you die. And secondly, when no one remembers you, no one speaks your name.”

After lunch, everyone heads out on a tour of the town. We stop first at an old church by the river.

“You can see the salt cedar is on this side of the Rio Grande, what is it, a hundred yards or something like that?” says Oscar Rodriguez.

Looking out across the water, Rodriguez can see the small Mexican community of El Mulato, where he grew up.

“See that ridge of mountains? Right in the middle is this canyon. And so for the longest time, this was a fording area, this was like a pass,” he says. “One of the many ways across the Rio Grande in what later became the Comanche War Trails, so-called.”

Rodriguez was one of the speakers this morning. For him, today is a reminder of how united this area once was, before the slow-moving river between El Mulato and El Polvo became a strictly policed boundary.

For hundreds of years, he says, this area was a cultural crossroads, part of a vast network of trade and migration.

“And how about that? In this sleepy place that otherwise people would forget,” he says. “The water’s receding, I think, you know, the population that’s here will likely, you know, go down with climate change, et cetera. And their story’s not gonna be told other than these kinds of things.”

He looks back at the people milling around the church. “See how much it’s refreshed in their family lore by them having come here? I hope it is.”

Carlos Morales / Marfa Public Radio

Descendants of Redford's founders pay a visit to ancestors at a cemetery in town.

Talking to Celina Acosta again, it seems like Rodriguez has reason to be optimistic.

“This is a dream come true. This is like a bucket list item for me,” she says, and laughs. “My friends go to Hawaii on vacation and they go to Costa Rica and Florida. I go to Terlingua, Presidio, and Alpine, Big Bend.”

And she’s leaving with a renewed commitment to her Polvo ancestors’ legacy: “I’m just looking to keep their history alive.”

Soon, the group will head to the cemetery to pay their respects — but first, everybody gathers for a photo, squinting in the sun.

The church behind them is an AirBnB now, its most frequent guests tourists to the area. But this big, grinning group photo, sure to be all over Facebook soon, is a nice reminder. In a region increasingly geared towards newcomers, this is still home for those whose roots run deep — into the dust.

Carlos Morales / Marfa Public Radio

Attendees of Redford's 150th anniversary celebration gather for a group photo.

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