La familia de León was one of the foundation stones on which Texas was built. Martín de León and his wife Patricia de la Garza left a comfortable life in Mexico for the hardships and uncertainties of the Texas frontier in 1801. Together, they established family ranches in South Texas and, in 1824, the town of Victoria and the de León colony on the Guadalupe River (along with Stephen F. Austin's colony, the only completely successful colonization effort in Texas). They and their descendents survived and prospered under four governments, as the society in which they lived evolved from autocratic to republican and the economy from which they drew their livelihood changed from one of mercantile control to one characterized by capitalistic investments.
Combining the storytelling flair of a novelist with a scholar's concern for the facts, Ana Carolina Castillo Crimm here recounts the history of three generations of the de León family. She follows Martín and Patricia from their beginnings in Mexico through the establishment of the family ranches in Texas and the founding of the de León colony and the town of Victoria. Then she details how, after Martín's death in 1834, Patricia and her children endured the Texas Revolution, exile in New Orleans and Mexico, expropriation of their lands, and, after returning to Texas, years of legal battles to regain their property. Representative of the experiences of many Tejanos whose stories have yet to be written, the history of the de León family is the story of the Tejano settlers of Texas.
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If Patricia de la Garza de León, wife of Martín de León, the founder of Victoria, Texas, were to return to her community one hundred fifty years after her passing, she would be amazed by the changes but pleased with how much remains the same. The buildings on the main plaza are different now, but she would be proud of the beautiful St. Mary's Church built on land she had donated. She would be gratified to find that her husband is still revered by the citizens of the city, the descendants of their old friends among the early Tejanos as well as the Anglo Americans and the newer Mexican-American arrivals. Never a woman to flaunt her position, she would probably smile at seeing their names so prominently displayed on the plaques in the plaza. She could walk down the Street of the Ten Friends and remember those early settlers, her Irish friends, John Linn and his family, and that old reprobate Leonardo Manso. The rough bark of the now-giant oaks in the plaza would recall the memories of Martín laying out the dusty streets, of building their home on the town square, or of the little tortilla store on the corner, of Plácido Benavides' Round House, that Spanish torreón which provided refuge from the Indians. She would laugh at the memory of the city fathers struggling to build wooden fences around the plaza to keep the livestock out and protect the town well that Martín had built at such cost.
But the changes would not frighten her. Her family dared the wilds of Nuevo Santander and helped found Soto la Marina. Fear had not slowed Doña Patricia and her beloved husband Martín when they crossed the Río Bravo del Norte back in 1801 and settled next to the Apaches on the Nueces River with the first three children, nor when they dealt with Indians or Spanish or Anglo Americans. Nor when they moved, with all ten children, to the crossing on the Guadalupe to found Victoria in 1824. She had faced danger time and again, in 1814 from the dreaded General Arredondo during the wars for independence, in 1817 and 1821 from the Anglo filibusters and the Comanche and Norteño raids, in 1836 from the wild and uncontrollable Texian troops. No, fear had never stopped her.
Doña Patricia would ask, of course, after her family and the families of her friends. How did the marriage between her eldest son, Fernando, and Luz Escalera work out? Did they do well? She had always worried about Fernando. Had the inheritance she left young Francisco Santiago, her orphaned grandson, helped him? And what about her daughters Maria Jesús and Francisca? Had they lived comfortably from the mortgages? And had all of Felix's children kept the Mission Valley Ranch? Felix had been so distraught over his son Silvestre's drinking. Had Silvestre continued to drink? And dear Matiana, what a pair she and Luz had been, such businesswomen! Are their descendants still here?
"Yes, Doña Patricia, they are still here, the descendants of so many of the first families, the de León, Benavides, de la Garza, Carbajal, Barrera, García, Leal, Moya, and so many new ones added every generation. They are all here."
"What happened to the land?" she would ask.
"It is gone, Doña Patricia. Some was stolen, some was sold, and the rest was divided among the children and the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren until there was nothing left. There are still a few who keep the land. You remember the Pérez family that moved here from San Antonio in 1832? They still have land over around Bloomington, and they will only sell to mexicanos. And old Carlos de la Garza, down on the San Antonio? He tried so hard to keep the land together, but it is almost gone now."
She would shake her head sadly, perhaps, but it would not surprise her. She and Don Martín had given up the two ranches on the Nueces and the Aransas when they moved to Victoria. She, too, had sold ranch lands to survive when they fled into exile in Louisiana in 1836. But when they returned, and they always returned, she did not let her family give up without a fight. She had encouraged Fernando and Candelaria and the family to fight the court battles to regain their land, and they had, in many of the cases. And when the land was divided among the grandchildren, better that all should have their tierra, their land, an herencia, an inheritance, no matter how small, than that some should be left with nothing. Yes, her family had suffered, but they had survived. Some had succeeded and prospered, others had failed and died in poverty. But, on the whole, as she looked around her community, Patricia de la Garza de León would be pleased.