United States

Family of 1918 Porvenir Attack Victim Gets Death Document

On Jan. 28, 1918, Longino Flores and 14 other unarmed Mexican men and boys were rounded up and shot to death at a remote Presidio County border settlement called Porvenir.
The San Antonio Express-News reports terrified survivors of the shootings fled to Mexico. Days later, the village was razed by soldiers. It was soon swallowed up by the desert.
Despite cries for justice in both Texas and Mexico, no charges resulted against the Texas Rangers and local ranchers accused of the murders. The horrific event largely faded from public consciousness.
Until now.
This year, Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara signed an official state of Texas death certificate for Longino Flores, who was 47 and had three children when he was killed.
His manner of death is listed as "homicide." More specifically, it states that Flores was "assassinated/shot to death."
"It means a lot to me and my father, wherever he is. He always wondered if anyone would ever know what happened to the people of Porvenir," said Paula Flores Smith, 86, of Arlington, a granddaughter of Longino Flores.
She also is the eldest daughter of Juan Flores, one of the last known survivors of the massacre. He died in 2007.
Late in his life, Flores opened up about the horrors he witnessed in Porvenir and led researchers to the site of the massacre.
"It's very important to the family because my father had dreams about it," Paula Flores said.
After the shooting, she said, when Juan Flores, 12, went to search for his father, he found him in pieces among the other bodies.
"The only way he recognized him was by the shirt he was wearing," she added.
Obtaining the death certificate took months and required the help of two nieces to track down old public records in Mexico, along with the cooperation of the Presidio County clerk's office.
"For us, it means they did exist and that Texas is admitting to the assassinations, which is on the death certificate, and they signed it. It's closure," said Yolanda Mesa, a great-great-granddaughter of Longino Flores who lives in California.
In Florida, descendants of another victim, Manuel Moralez, who was part-owner of the Porvenir Ranch, are also anxiously awaiting the issuance of his death certificate in Presidio County.
"Of the 15 killed, seven were related to the Moralezes in one way or another," said Amanda Shields, 54, a great-granddaughter of Manuel Moralez.
"Our family has always known about the massacre. We grew up with the story," she said, noting that decades ago, her father, Jesus, traveled first to Mexico and then to Texas seeking information.
"What people don't know is that in the '60s, he went looking for the graveyard in Mexico. And in the early '80s, I went to Texas with him. He met with his great-aunt Jovita, who was at the massacre," she added.
But, she said, her father never found Porvenir and was unsuccessful in his attempt to visit the graves in Mexico because the roads were so bad.
"He was trying to get answers. He talked to lawyers, but no one would help him. It was a dead end, and he kind of put it to rest," she added.
Like others who have pondered why the massacre occurred, Shields is still grasping to understand what led to such extreme violence.
"I believe it was many things, not just race. It was about land, greed, envy, revenge. They were prospering in Porvenir. There is no simple answer," she said.
Juan Flores, who caused the reopening of the investigation into the massacre, died in Odessa at 101. The Porvenir Ranch has been symbolically reborn in the city, where a cluster of his descendants live.
Brothers Pete and Longino Flores, both grandsons of Juan Flores, have erected a white metal gate topped by the words "Porvenir Ranch" outside their 6-acre compound.
Pete Flores, 45, said that for much of his life, he knew nothing of the shootings.
"My grandfather never told the story until he was about 96. The family thought that he was crazy. He'd have nightmares. He'd wake up screaming," he said.
He said the ornate ranch entrance was created "to bring back the memory of my grandfather and great-grandfather; not only them, but the others who died."
Among the family's most treasured possessions is a framed painting of a charging Pancho Villa, pistol in hand, that has been handed down for generations.
Hinting at its provenance is a small, blue 50 centavo note issued in 1914 by the state of Chihuahua that is tucked behind the glass.
"My father used to tell stories about Pancho Villa and his visits to Porvenir. When they saw him coming, they'd hide the young girls in a dry water well," Pete Flores said.
His younger sister Belinda said the Flores family now takes pride in what is being learned about the past.
"I like that we have a history in the family name and that we can finally bring it out and tell everyone what happened," she said.
For Big Bend historian Glenn Justice, a recent PBS documentary about the event, with which he was deeply involved, is gratifying.
"I'm very pleased with it. It nearly made me white-headed, but I did manage to maintain the historical integrity. And that's what PBS wanted, history and keep the politics out of it," he said.
Justice will soon publish a book about the massacre based on more than three decades of research, including interviews with Juan Flores.
Justice said he and former Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who likewise was involved in the documentary, disagree over the role of the U.S. cavalry in the massacre. Justice believes that the ballistic evidence recovered in an archaeological dig at the scene implicates the soldiers in the shootings. Patterson thinks otherwise
"If the military was not involved, why did they come back and burn the village? Their version is that they were riding along one morning and found those bodies," Justice said.
Patterson, who helped finance the documentary, is also pleased with the result.
"It's impactful, and it should be. The bottom line is there was a lot of violence on the border on both sides during the Mexican Revolution. Frequently, people who were guilty of nothing, particularly Tejanos, were killed because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Porvenir is the extreme example," he said.

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