Hopefully, articles I write for the Rio Grande Guardian are received by readers as a sincere effort to familiarize South Texans with their early Texas history.

Of special concern to me continues to be the sad fact that so many of our young people are unaware of their ancestors’ courageous stories. With a great sense of optimism, my goal is to try to fix that.

Based on consistent positive reader response, articles involving actual people tend to be more popular than those that deal with history in a general sense. That is, readers wish to learn specific details, and rightly so. Nothing adds more warmth and personal interest in a story than family names. That’s to be expected, since a number of popular old Spanish surnames bind us together as one large family, linking us to the past. In short, it’s those distinct roots of our family tree that encourages us to affectionately refer to each other as prima, primo, tia, and tio.

In writing history articles, I often mention that our ancestors’ accounts of faith, courage, and determination are second to none. At a minimum, they match any of the human interest storylines of families struggling to survive in popular Old West-based programs we’ve seen on TV for years. Yet, readers themselves often point out (and many wonder why) our stories aren’t better known and accepted as part of U.S. history.

Sadly, stories of endurance involving Spanish Mexican people of early Texas and the Southwest are rare (absent) in mainstream history book pages. That’s true, but that doesn’t mean they’re not real. Worse still is the fact that the movie industry and western paperback books have done grave damage to our beautiful legacy in Texas. Such venues normally dismiss, diminish, and distort our ancestors’ role as pioneers in founding the region now known as Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and California. To that end, I offer below the true story of my ancestor, Manuel Ramírez Martínez.

Manuel grew up in the early 1800s South Texas brush country; a time when people of Spanish European ancestry on either side of the Rio Grande were few. Rancho families originating in Las Villas del Norte were just beginning to start life on their own in the wild, harsh countryside.

Typical of the ranchos in those days was the one owned by José Luis Ramírez and Basilia Martínez de Ramírez. They were granted land in Porción 5 in the township of Revilla, Nuevo Santander. Manuel’s job was to tend the family’s herds of cattle and goats. At times, looking for sufficient grass for the animals to graze on took the young man miles from his home.

It was during one of those outings that while searching for a lost calf in a thicket, he was hit from behind and knocked unconscious by a Comanche. The band of Comanches quickly tied his hands together and dragged him through the brush. Bloodied and hurting from his wounds, he awoke to discover that he had been thrown across the back of a horse and securely tied to avoid his escape.

For days, the party travelled north. All the while, Manuel only saw the ground because he was still riding face down, bound hand and foot. At night, he was secured to a stake and made to stand or sit. He wasn’t allowed to lie down to sleep. Manuel recalls that it was at night that his captors became his tormentors. They punched, kicked, and taunted him endlessly while being hand-cuffed to the stake. Finally, the group reached their main camp on the Brazos River.

He soon realized that he was one of four white Spanish captives the Comanches had captured. Manuel and the other prisoners continued to be brutalized and made to do menial tasks in the village for many months. Because they were kept separated, Manuel never learned of their fate. Worse, he was then traded to a man leading another group on their way to Natchitoches, Louisiana to take part in a slave auction.

Shortly after arriving at the auction house, a kind man by the name of Mr. Denis noticed Manuel before he was put on the selling platform. This individual observed that Manuel was not black, nor was he a slave of indigenous background. On a hunch, Mr. Denis spoke to him in Spanish. Hearing someone speak to him in his language brought great joy and relief to Manuel, who was finally able to tell his story.

Mr. Denis, a slave trader himself, was overcome with Manuel’s agonizing narrative. So, Mr. Denis bargained with Manuel’s owner and became his new master. However, upon arriving in his plantation nearby, Mr. Denis allowed Manuel to recover from months of distress. Further, he told Manuel that he was free to go back to his home on the Rio Grande whenever he wished. To pay back his new owner, Manuel worked for Mr. Denis for about one year as payment for his freedom. Eventually, he returned to his grief-stricken parents who had given him up for dead.

Perhaps it is best to read the saga in our hero’s own words (see below). Manuel left for his descendants a vivid first-person account of his ordeal by using a form of Spanish verse known as “Décimas” (ten-line stanzas). He wrote it when he was 80 years old. If readers are unable to read the poem themselves, they must get someone who reads Spanish to read it for them. It’s guaranteed to touch your heart regarding the bravery, anguish, and inner strength of this remarkable man.

Stories such as Manuel’s are just now being rediscovered. No doubt, there’s dozens of such anecdotes sitting in old family trunks (castañas) waiting to see the light of day. The main reason that it’s time to tell our stories is that before the TV show, Little House on the Prairie that records pioneer life in the 1870s-1880s, our early Villas del Norte pioneer ancestors had already experienced real survival ordeals as shown above since the late 1700s to early 1800s. Similarly, our brethren in Nuevo Mexico had done likewise since 1598. It is in recognizing our ancestors’ courageous sacrifice to build a life for us (their descendants) that we must continue to honor their memory by preserving early Texas history. If we don’t do it ourselves, no one else is going to do it for us.

(Note: Special thanks and a hearty “abrazo” in spirit go to my late grand-uncle Mercurio Martínez, Sr., for co-authoring the book, “Kingdom of Zapata.” It is the source for my article.)


(Por Manuel Ramirez Martinez (1799-1882), Revilla (Porción 5, Ramireño).


Voy a referir mi historia
A Todos mis decendientes,
Con todos sus accidentes
De mi vida transitoria;
No obstante, ser perentoria,
Largos años he vivido,
Por lo que he reconocido
Doy gracias al Ser Increado,
Que de riesgos me ha librado
Sin haberlo merecido.


Fue el caso que andando activo
El año de diez y nueve,
Por una partida leve
De Comanches fui cautivo,
Estos es cierto y positivo,
Pues conmigo se marcharon
De pies y manos me ataron,
Y llegando a sus Aduares,
Se aumentaron mis penares,
Porque el rigor duplicaron.


En la Casa de Contrato,
Del Gobierno Americano,
Me encontró un buen ciudadano
Que humilde me dio otro trato;
Yo recuerdo siempre grato,
Favores que me otorgó,
Porque cuando concluyó,
El término profinido,
De devengarte cumplido,
Con placer me despidió.


A estos puntos va a tratar,
Un tal Macurine, Pirata,
Y vendido no por plata,
Con seis Negros fue al contar.
Aquí comenzó a cambiar,
Mi suerte, pues al momento,
Mr. Denis a este evento,
Me sustrajo del Bandido,
Y aun le estoy agradecido,
Por su buen compartimiento.


De tan triste situación,
Denis a mí me sacó,
Y a su casa me llevó
Con la mejor intención.
Me dijo en esta ocasión,
Manuel, vivirás conmigo.
Y después te iras,
Al seno de tu familia,
Porque todo se concilia,
Donde hay buena fe, veras.


En efecto, al fin de un año
De servir en Natitoches,
Sin dar lugar a reproches,
Se expresó así sin engaño,
Yo, Manuel, nunca en tu daño.
He sido, ni quiero ser,
Lo dije, y lo puedo creer.  
Que te has llevado la palma,
De quererte con el alma,
Hasta que deje de ser.


Dos años permanecí,
De mi madre amada, ausente.
Y ya libre e independiente,
Al verla luego emprendí,
Cuando en sus brazos me vi,
Tuvimos tal complacencia,
Y aun doy a la Providencia,
Gracias, mil, por tus bondades.
Pues me hayo en esta ciudad,
Y bendigo su clemencia.


Visto esto que fue fatal,
Mi suerte hasta el de Veintiuno,
Año que me fue oportuno,
Pues vi a mi pueblo natal.
El cuidado maternal,
Me ha hecho feliz y lo soy.
Con gusto mi alma reposa,
En compañía de mi esposa,
Rodeado de amor filial.


Aquí doy por terminada,
Mi relación emprendida,
Pues, sé que voy de partida,
Y rendiré mi jornada,
En polvo, en viento, y en nada,
Sé que me he de convertir,
Después de tanto vivir,
Porque ochenta años que cuento,
Los he pasado contento,
Y más no quiero decir.