Popo’s Funeral – La Uña – Popo’s Last Anniversary Mass
First, a prelude to better understand the story. The present owner of Rancho San
Antonio de los Alamos is Sr. Rodolfo Villarreal. I came to know the Villarreal family and
their ranch some few months after arriving in Mexico in 1967. And from early on we
became close friends. I helped Rodolfo out at this time when he needed funds for urgent
legal maneuvers to acquire a clear title to the ranch. In the course of the years I helped
him out in many other ways also. I always stayed at the ranch when I was out in that
area, and because sometimes I would arrive late at night, or when for some reason there
was no one at the ranch, I had a key to the house. Popo (nickname) is the second son of
Rodolfo and Elena, and he was about twenty-two years of age at this time.
It was September l7, 1987, the day after celebrating Mexican Independence Day. I had
been out in the villages for several days, and I was now heading back to town. I was still
forty miles away, and it was about eleven at night. Off in the distance were the
headlights of another vehicle coming my way. When the headlights came closer I pulled
off the road and turned off my lights. I always did this because at some places in the trail
the way is very narrow, and if two vehicles meet there, there can be problems. Too, one
never knew if the other driver had had one too many. When the other vehicle, another
pickup, arrived where I was parked, it too stopped because the driver recognized who I
was. Angel Gómez got out and came over and said that they had been looking and
waiting for me in town all day. He said that Popo had been murdered the night before,
and that they were going to bury him at the ranch come morning. So I turned around and
went ahead of Angel because Angel did not know that stretch of trail well, and farther
along the trail had been washed out, and at night the washout could come up
unexpectedly at the last moment.
From where we were it was a drive of only about an hour and a half to the ranch,
and so when we were still about two miles away we stopped and slept until daylight, and
then went on to the ranch. Rodolfo and Elena were so glad that I had come.
Popo’s body had been laid out in a casket in the living / dining room. The burial
had to be as soon as possible because out that way there are no funeral parlors and no
embalming. The law is that the burial should take place within twenty-four hours. It had
now been over thirty hours, and it was becoming obvious.
There was a problem. One time, not too long before, Popo was sitting on a slight
slope a few hundred feet from the house taking in the scene of the ranch stead: the
house with its garden, the corrals and the out buildings, the orchard, the high cliff in front
of him, and the other cliff to his left behind the house. And the large cotton wood trees at
the entrance to the wooded canyon with its small springs and rippling water. He was
heard to say that he could just stay there forever. And it was there that they were going
to bury him.
The trouble was that in this area the soil is only a few inches thick, and below
that is a bed of tuff which is well metamorphosed, and so very resistant to a sledge and
a chisel. A crew of neighbors had been working all night, and when we got there the hole
was only about two feet deep. Now they were starting to use small charges of dynamite,
but the drill they were using was the blunt end of a jack hammer bit. The plan was to
deepen the hole just enough so that slab of concrete could be poured over the casket.
But still! I talked to Rodolfo and Elena and explained to them that there was a wedding
in La Esmeralda that evening at six, and so I would have to leave no later than one-
thirty. Rancho San Antonio is only about thirty-five miles from town by the short way, but
the trail is so bad that it takes at least three and a half hours. (This shorter trail is so bad
that it is better to take the long way around even though it takes more time.)
Next, it had been some years since I had been over the short way, and I knew
that in the meantime some of the trail near the ranch had been washed out, and so
another trail had been made. Also that a fence had been put in, and the fence cut the
trail off at one point. I explained that I could stay until one-thirty only under the condition
that someone would go along back with me to show the way. Angel volunteered. Since
this had been an unexpected detour, I did not have enough gasoline to make it back into
town. Rodolfo always has several fifty-five gallon drums of gasoline at the ranch for his
use, and he gave me enough to get back.
A little later Rodolfo called me to one side to tell me that someone had just told
him that Popo had been murdered. Up until this time they had let Rodolfo and Elena
believe that Popo had committed suicide. There was only one wound, and that to the
right temple. Too, everyone knew that Popo had been experiencing a difficult personal
problem. This new knowledge was at one and the same time a slight relief to the
parents, and an added wrenching grief. (That will be explained in the second part of this
When it got to be one o-clock it was obvious that it would still be hours before the
grave was deep enough. So we had the funeral mass under the porch roof of the house,
and the burial would be when the grave was finished. By this time there were at least a
hundred people around.
When I went to see Angel about going along back with me, he reneged. When
he had agreed to go along, he believed that the burial would be over by this time. He
said that there were two teenage girls there who wanted to go back to Rancho Rosarito
which is on the way back to La Esmeralda. Angel said that the girls knew the way. It was
between San Antonio and Rosarito that the trail had been changed. Once I was in
Rosarito, I knew the rest of the road back.
So the three of us started off. For about two miles it was the same old trail, and
then we came to a fork in the road. I stopped and asked the girls which trail to take. The
girls replied that they did not know these roads. Angel had pulled a fast one on me, and I
was a little put out about it because he knew how important it was to me. So we took the
trail that headed in the general direction of Rosarito, but after a couple of miles I
recognized it as the road that goes directly to Rancho La Pistola. So I turned around,
came back to the fork and took the other option. After about a mile and a half we came
to the fence that somewhere along the line had cut off the old trail. There was a new trail
following the fence and leading directly to Rosarito which we could see away in the
In the meantime it had clouded up and a storm was brewing. When we were
about two miles from Rosarito the clouds opened, and there followed one of those
intense desert down pours. These are just so wonderful and welcome, so long as one is
not on the road. The ground in the area in which we were is quite soft, and when the ruts
of the trail become too deep, another trail is made along side. And then maybe a third
and fourth. Within a matter of minutes the trail was flooded with water, and it was
impossible to see which set of tracks was best to drive. Suddenly the pickup lurched and
came to an abrupt stop resting at right angles to the trail, and hung up on the berms
between the ruts.
These sudden desert rains are usually over in a short time. So we waited until it
stopped raining and the water was going down. In the meantime I told the girls that I was
tired and sleepy, and needed some rest. It was agreed that they would walk on into
Rosarito and send back some help.
In time a pickup was seen coming my way, and it stopped about three hundred
yards from where my pickup was stuck. The stretch of trail between from where the
pickup stopped and back to Rosarito is over slightly higher ground, and is made up of
small rock and gravel; it was almost an all weather road. Besides, in Rosarito there had
been no more than a good sprinkle. Had I not made the mistake of taking the wrong turn
at the fork, I would have easily made it out ahead of the storm.
There was no way in the world to extricate the pickup so long as it was
surrounded with water. But Gordo (Fats) Luján had an old Toyota pickup and agreed to
taxi me back into town. Trouble was that the Toyota had an electric fuel pump that went
out every so often, and it was difficult for Gordo get his bulk beneath the low Toyota to
reconnect the wires, or whatever he had to do. So it was just about nine o’clock when
we pulled into La Esmeralda. Immediately I rang the church bell.
The wedding party had been there at six, and had waited for about an hour.
When I did not show they knew that something had happened, and it was no telling
when I would be back. So they went back home…. only a couple of blocks away.
In Mexico for a marriage to have legal status, it must be performed in the
presence of the designated civil official. The ordinary place for the marriage is in the
office of the said official, but for an extra fee the official will perform the wedding in
another place of choice. And this is usually what happens. Simply it is more convenient
that the official come to where the wedding party is than for all the wedding party to go to
the official’s office. Besides, there are office hours.
So that is what the wedding party did when I did not show. They went back to the
house of the bride, the civil ceremony was performed, and then they sat down for the
wedding dinner. They had just sat down when they heard the bell, and everyone came to
church for the wedding mass. The greatest inconvenience to them was that they had to
go to church twice.
The pickup I was driving was a ’82 Ford 150. I also had a ’75 Jeep 1½ ton 4X4
pickup with a power takeoff winch. I used that only for hauling heavy loads, and when I
left town knowing that probably the roads would be bad. So Monday morning a couple of
friends and I left in the Jeep to retrieve the Ford. When we got there we found that all the
water had drained away, and the ground was all but dry. It took only fifteen minutes or so
of shovel work to make it possible for the pickup to drive out under its own power.
The above is the story of the funeral. The story behind the murder has some
startling twists to it. Wait for the sequel.
About that bed of tuff at the grave site. All the territory of Rancho San Antonio de
los Alamos, about twenty thousand acres, is of volcanic origin, and most of the volcanic
materials are highly metamorphosed volcanic ash making it very hard. The dynamics of
the geology are very complex because there were extensive movements, both vertical
and horizontal (over-thrusts). What are apparently the lower (first) emissions of ash
contain ferrous iron (Fe2+) which impart a gray-green color. This is the tuff in which
Popo was buried. (Ferric iron (Fe3+) produces colors through the range of browns.)
Though partially covered by talus, this gray-green tuff apparently underlies the entire
ranch complex which immediately adjoins on two sides distinct cliffs several hundred
feet high. The lower part of one cliff is composed of distinct layers of ash fall. These
strata vary from a few inches to several feet in thickness. Each also varies in texture and
color, including some gray-green. The top one hundred and fifty feet of both cliffs are
uniform in texture and color, as from one massive sustained eruption.
No analysis of the rock has been made, but judging from the fact that some of
these volcanics overlie well eroded Cretaceous limestone it can be suggested that this
volcanism began in the mid Paleogene Period, say twenty-five to thirty million years ago.
Some time after the present topography had been achieved, there was another eruption
during which fissures opened and thick dark rhyolite quietly oozed out covering some of
the mesas, and draping over the sides of the cliffs.
The fact that these volcanics overlie well eroded Cretaceous is seen only a few
miles from the ranch house. Close to the ranch house the visible volcanic rock is close to
a thousand feet thick, yet only several miles from the house there are places where the
layer of broken lava rocks is no more than fifty or sixty feet deep. This is evidenced by
deep arroyos that have developed in some areas, and at the bottom of these arroyos is
found Cretaceous riverbed, and among the river rock are found weathered-out fossils of
Exogyra ponderosa, a very common Cretaceous oyster.
This story needs a little background. Rodolfo and Elena had a family of seven children:
four boys and three girls. When the oldest boys were coming of age, Rodolfo bought
quite a large ranch, La Leona (The Lioness) which is about twenty miles from San
Antonio de los Alamos. At the time, the only improvements on that ranch were some
cattle dams, a bored well, a house for a cowhand, and some corrals. Rodolfo divided the
land into seven parcels, one for each of the children. When the children, including the
daughters, were coming of age, Rodolfo also gave each a starter herd. (Malena, the
youngest daughter, six foot +, rode and roped like the boys.)
Popo had been on his little ranch for about four years, and was doing well. Popo
had married a daughter of Onesimo Pacheco. The girl turned out to be very willful and
capricious, and was constantly leaving Popo. Popo, like all the rest of the children, was
of a noble character, and did all he could to please the girl, but it was a hopeless case.
In desperation Popo decided to sell the cattle and move to Juárez, Chihuahua, where he
had a paternal uncle who would provide him with a job. In the meantime a cousin of
Popo from Monterrey, La Uña, (Nickname meaning The Fingernail.) came to stay with
Popo because he was alone on the ranch. Besides, La Uña had no place to lay his head
or find beans and tortillas and jalapeños.
On September l5, eve of Mexican Independence Day, the two of them went to
Química, a town of about three thousand, and about two hours distant, to celebrate, and
for Popo to close a deal for the sale of some cattle for cash. Rounding up the cattle and
getting them ready for shipping was long extra work, and so Popo hired a young hand
who was looking for work. He would cook and take care of things around the house and
corrals. (I do not know the young man’s name, so for convenience we will call him Juan.)
Late at night the three of them left for La Leona. Before turning in, Popo was washing up
at an outdoor washstand when at close range La Uña fired a bullet into Popo’s right
temple. And then he rifled Popo’s pocket.
Of course Juan, a young greenhorn, was frightened stiff. But La Uña needed him,
and explained to him the plan. They would go and report to the police that Popo was
drunk, that he had become violent and aggressive, and that Juan shot him in self
defense. Juan would be in jail for a day or two while the investigation was made. But La
Uña would see to it that he got out quickly, and then would share with him part of the
loot, plus a few head of cattle. Juan agreed. And so they immediately went to Ocampo to
report to the police, and Juan was put in jail because In Mexico one is guilty until proven
innocent. La Uña returned with the police to make the investigation, and there were
things that were hard to explain: Among other things, the location of the wound. Popo’s
pockets were empty. It was well known that Popo never drank to excess, and was never
violent or aggressive. When La Uña realized that the police were beginning to have
other thoughts, he pulled the wad of cash out of his pocket and offered it to the police.
Bribes in Mexico are not only accepted, they are expected. The police were in the clear
because they had the signed confession of Juan. Case closed. That this is what
happened is a known fact.
Already among those gathered for the funeral the truth had been deduced. For
one thing, La Uña could easily come under suspicion because it was generally accepted
in the family circle that he had murdered a relative in Monterrey where La Uña’s parents
and siblings lived. It was then that they told Rodolfo the truth of what had happened.
There that day at the ranch I was reflecting on what troubled thoughts must have
been going through Rodolfo’s mind. Surely he must have been remembering that he
himself had two unpaid notches on his gun, gouged there when in earlier years he
avenged a betrayed troth. Rodolfo was never far out of reach of his automatic, 45, and
never left the ranch without it. Rodolfo had a noble character about him, but his most
basic trait was that he was a no-nonsense man. He himself acknowledged this.
It was there at the funeral that Rodolfo came to tell me that Onésimo too had
come, but that he, Rodolfo, had asked him to leave, telling him it was his daughter, Olga,
who was the root cause of this tragedy. Onésimo Olivas was a good man, and I think he
felt very bad about this all, and thought it was right for him to be present to show his
support for the family. One can understand too Rodolfo’s anguish.
Several months before this tragedy Olga had given birth to Popo’s son; later on
she also gave birth to someone else’s son.
Now, something as strange as fiction: Rodolfo Villarreal married Elena Villarreal,
who was no relation of Rodolfo. Elena had a brother named Rodolfo who was the father
of La Uña. Popo’s given name was Rodolfo, as it was also for La Uña. So this strange
coincidence: Rodolfo Villarreal, the son of Rodolfo Villarreal, murdered his cousin
Rodofo Villarreal, the son of Rodolfo Villarreal. Popo’s son also was named Rodolfo III.
It would have been very risky, and really impossible, to have attempted to bring
La Uña to justice.
Once Rodolfo told me that after some time Juan had sent a message asking him
to come to see him in jail. Juan pleaded with Rodolfo to help him get out of jail, saying
that Rodolfo knew full well that he was not the one who killed Popo. Rodolfo told Juan
his answer was, “It was because of your greed that you consented to lie, and so let the
murderer of my son go free, and so I could care less about your fate.” A few years later
the authorities quietly set Juan free.
Though I never noticed the least outward show, there must have now been a
distance between Rodolfo and Elena. I know that Elena was deeply mortified to know
that her own nephew had killed Popo, and she could not help but know that Rodolfo was
reflecting that her nephew had killed his son. After some years Elena left Rodolfo and
the ranch, and went to live with the other children at La Leona.
Once Rodolfo gave me his version for why Elena left. There was a time when it
did not rain well in La Leona, and the pasture was very bad. So Rodolfo let two of the
boys bring some of their cattle over to San Antonio. When the pasture in La Leona
revived, and the boys were going to drive their cattle back, Rodolfo told them to bring all
the cattle down to the corrals, and there separate his from their animals. The animals
could be separated out in the open by riding hard and chasing the cattle, but in the
process the cattle lose weight, and become less docile. To round up and bring all the
cattle down to the corrals was the work of several days. But the boys decided to do it the
short way, and when Rodolfo realized what they were doing, he went out to call them on
it, and in anger struck one of them. Elena in turn became incensed that Rodolfo had
maltreated her sons and had struck one of them. And for that reason she left. So
I strongly suspect there was another reason, and a chilling one, that made Elena
decide to leave. Rodolfo was never very far from his .45 automatic. Rodolfo had two
notches on his gun. At one time he lived in El Paso. One night he came home
unexpectedly and found his wife in bed with another.
Many times I stayed over night at Rancho San Antonio when I was out in that
area. It happened that once when I arrived Rodolfo was not home. He had gone to
Saltillo; Elena was alone there at the ranch and did not know when he would be back.
When it came bedtime, Elena put a cot out on the porch and had me sleep there.
Rodolfo, now (2001) seventy-nine, lives alone at the ranch. Frequently one or the
other of the children will come from La Leona to clean the house, wash his clothes, and
prepare a stack of tortillas.
I had not seen Elena for several years until just a couple of months before I left
La Esmeralda. I am sure that she is at least ten years younger than Rodolfo, but in that
interval of several years she aged so much that they could be the same age. But she
had lost none of her energy and zest for tomorrow.
It is a custom among some people in Mexico for the women to wear black
clothing for one year after the death of a close one in the family. Elena is still wearing
A few years after the murder of Popo the father of La Uña was murdered in La
Esmeralda. He had come from Monterrey on a short business trip, and was spending
one afternoon in the cantina drinking heavily. A young man from Providencia (I think he
was from the Inguray clan.) came into the cantina, and for some reason the two became
embroiled in a violent argument and an exchange of insults. The young man from
Providencia stalked out. Rodolfo laid his head on his arms crossed on top the table, and
went to sleep. Shortly the other came back into the cantina with a .22 rifle and fired point
blank. Doña María, the mother, was out of town when this happened, and when she
arrived for the funeral the other children told her that Rodolfo had caught a “lightening
pneumonia”. Doña María replied. “I know you are not telling me the truth, and please
never tell me.”
José, Doña Maria’s husband, had died several years before I went to La
Esmeralda. There were something like twelve children in the family. About half of them,
like Elena, stayed in the area, and the rest moved to other parts. Each and every one of
those I know has a troubled history, including other wrenching tragedies.
Popo’s Last Anniversary Mass
It was the custom to celebrate a mass at the ranch for Popo every year on the
seventeenth of September, the date of his burial. There was only one year we missed,
and that was because it was one of those rare instances when there had been an almost
constant light rain for two days. It was simply impossible to make it to the ranch. This last
anniversary mass was celebrated in 1999. I would retire and leave the parish in August
Most of the time when I traveled around the parish I traveled alone, but in the
later years when I was getting older, and had to go to more remote places where it could
be days before another pickup passed that way, I would try to take someone along. This
time I asked Nacho, a local mechanic, if his eighteen year old son, Dago, could go along
with me. Dago worked along with his dad, and had a fair knowledge of common
mechanical problems. I was using an ’82 Ford 150, and now mechanical problems were
becoming more common.
It was always the custom to celebrate mass in the evening when the day’s work
was done. Rancho San Antonio is thirty-five miles from town, and it takes about three
and a half hours to make the trip. So we left town a little after noon, and were at the
ranch by about four o’clock. No one was at the ranch, and Rodolfo had not yet come in
from riding herd. So we took a long walk up the canyon. It was the first time that Dago
had been there. We stopped to see the small dam, looked at the old Indian paintings and
some of the little caves where the Indians had lived. And some of the mortars made in
the bedrock where they had ground their seeds. Then the little springs of water. In some
places the water runs entirely below the sand, and then bubbles out in another place.
The steep-walled canyon averages only a couple of hundred feet across, and is filled
with large trees, mostly cottonwood and live oak hundreds of years old. We ended up at
an ancient lava dike creating a spectacular waterfall several hundred feet high when
there is a good rain up on the mesa. The large pool scoured out at the foot of the falls
can hold water for several months. Dago was impressed. Later I learned that Nacho had
never been to the ranch.
Rodolfo came in about five o’clock. He said he had sent a reminder to the other
family members in La Leona, and if they had intended to come, they would have been
there by this time. Rodolfo was sad that no one came. So we celebrated the mass on the
dining room table, like so many many times before. Afterwards Rodolfo prepared as
simple supper, and we left.
We were about twelve miles from the ranch, and it was starting to get dark. I
noticed that when I let up on the accelerator, the lights dimmed. A reason could be that
one of the battery cables was loose. I always left one of the battery cable clamps a little
loose for a quick disconnect in case if a short. When I came to a stop to check the
clamp, the motor died. The clamps were not loose. Still, we cleaned them and the
battery terminals well, but there was not enough charge left in the battery to turn the
By this time it was dark. I had taken along the walkman radio/cassette and a
couple of operas to listen to on the way. I had listened to one of the operas on the way
out, and now the other. Then I caught the top-of-hour news from KRLD, a fifty thousand
clear channel station in Dallas. We cannot get KRLD there during the daytime, but at
night it comes in quite clear. Finally the two of us went to sleep in the cab sharing
between us an opened sleeping bag.
I had taken along a three gallon jug of water. I never left town without a supply of
water. There could always be a radiator leak, or the motor overheating. Also, in the case
of a breakdown like this, or getting stuck in the mud, hunger is a bother, but thirst is a
torture. So the worst thing that could happen to us was that we could get hungry. There
are no longer any cactus apples left in September.
The first thing we did in the morning was to change the voltage regulator. Voltage
regulator failure is rather common in Mexico, and so I always carried a spare in the
toolbox. Next I talked Dago into taking a walk over to Rancho Rosarito which was three
or four miles away, to see if there was anyone there who could help. (This is the same
Rosarito as in the story of Popo’s Funeral, but we were on a different and much less
traveled trail.) It took a bit of convincing because Dago is a ‘town boy’, meaning that he
had never been out in the bush, much less alone. Besides, from where we were Rosarito
could not be seen. But all he had to do was walk in a certain direction until he came to a
road that led to it. So he took a canteen of water and started out. He was back in a
couple of hours with the news that there was no one at the ranch. The pickup has
standard transmission, so we made an effort to push-start. But the ground was too level
and uneven to get enough momentum. Dago asked if I had a rope along. No. This is
another trick they use. One rear wheel is jacked up and a rope is wrapped around it
several times. The transmission is put into gear with the clutch depressed, the rope is
given a quick hard pull, and the clutch is released. It can be done, but really there should
be two on the rope and a third on the clutch.
Always before leaving town, especially if it was going to be to an out-of- the-way
place, I would let someone know where I was going and when I expected to be back.
And of course Nacho knew, but he did not have a pickup. So it was going to be just a
matter of time before they would come looking for us. So we settled down to wait. I
always carried a couple of magazines along with me for times when I would have to wait
for something, but they were finished in a couple of hours.
We were stalled on an old trail leading toward San Antonio, and only a mile or so
back from another trail over which help would have to come. Since this trail in the
direction of San Antonio is used so very little, and cuts off at a right angle from the other
trail, it is easy to miss even when one is looking for it. So I took a plastic bag, walked
down to the cutoff, and tied the bag to a bush to mark the spot. Near where we were
stalled I made two large piles of gobernadora, which is called the creosote bush in
English. It is a bush that grows to the height of several feet if there is enough rain, and it
grows everywhere. Down there I do not think one can be more than ten feet from a plant
no matter where he is. In some places it is about the only plant around because it is so
hardy. It never looses its leaves no matter if it does not rain well for a couple of years. It
has a very bitter taste, and not even the meanest bug will take a bite. And as the name
suggests, it makes a quantity of black smoke when it burns. The place where we were
stalled is high terrain, and miles and miles of terrain can be seen where there are many
trails leading between different ranches and cattle dams. One can see a pickup from
miles away by the dust cloud it leaves behind. So the piles of gobernadora were meant
to send a signal in case a dust trail was spotted.
But the day wore on, and it was already getting dusk when we saw a pair of
headlights coming our way. It was José and Pavín. When it had got on into the
afternoon and we were still not back, they knew that we were broke down somewhere.
For some reason José, who lives on the corner just across the street in front of
the church, was always concerned when I was out of town. True, there were many times
I either broke down or was stuck. The street to the parish passes directly in front of his
bedroom window, and once he told me that when I was out of town he had his wife
would lie awake until they heard me pass by. It was most often after midnight when I got
back into town.
Pavín lives just across the street to one side of the church. He is one who did a
lot of the work on the reconstruction of the Metalúrgica, the retreat house.
José and Pavín came in my Jeep pickup. I usually parked the Jeep in Pavín’s
back yard. There is no auto parts store in La Esmeralda, and an unguarded pickup is a
handy and inexpensive substitute.
There are very few people in La Esmeralda who know the trail to San Antonio.
José had been there several times years ago, and still had a pretty good idea of the way.
José said he made several wrong turns, but quickly caught himself. Pavín too had really
never been out in the bush, and he was getting a little anxious about being lost.
So we jump started the Ford, but the motor was running very erratically, and
would die at a low throttle. The best option was to try to get both vehicles back as far as
La Borrega (The Ewe) which is about eight miles down the road. José said that Alfredo
was there when he passed by. I took the lead. All the way along the motor kept cutting
out intermittently and then backfiring and at one super blast it broke the muffler wide
open. Several times we had to again jump start the Ford. But we finally made it, and I
parked the Ford on a steep incline with the front facing down, and put some rocks in
front of the wheels. A gravity starter just in case. The battery had charged very little on
the way in.
La Borrega is the name of a cattle dam, and Alfredo has a small herd of cattle in
the area. Alfredo lives in Química where he has a small business, and comes out on
weekends to tend the cattle, and will sometimes stay several days. He has there a three
room shack made of adobe and an assortment of used materials. Once in a while his
wife accompanies him.
It was now about nine o’clock, and neither Dago nor I had had eaten since the
evening before. José and Pavín had not had supper yet. Alfredo invited us for a bite to
eat. There were beans and tortillas, caned sardines and homemade cheese. Avocado,
tomatoes and jalapeños. Then Nescafé along with a long talk session.
I do not remember why, but for some reason we did not trust the battery in the
Jeep. Alfredo generously loaned us the battery from his pickup as a backup. This was
generous because he would be stranded there until we got came back. It was now
Saturday night, and I could not come back until Monday. We took along the battery from
the Ford to charge it. We made it back into town around one o’clock without any further
Monday morning Nacho came along with his toolbox, and we went back to La
Borrega. When we arrived Alfredo was off somewhere riding herd. The first thing Nacho
did was to get out his volt meter, and in less than a minute found the problem. An
electric cable between the alternator and the voltage regulator was cracked (broken)
inside the insulation of the cable, and so the break could not be seen. Sometimes the
cable would make contact, and then again break contact. So the reason why the battery
discharged and the motor ran erratically. The trails there are so rough that the vehicle
and everything on it is in a constant vibration that breaks even the sheet metal. A
unsupported cable is very susceptible.
We replaced the cable, installed the battery, and cut off the ruptured, dangling
muffler, and put Alfredo’s battery back in his pickup. I took the lead with the Jeep, and
Nacho followed in the Ford.
September 17, 2005
I have learned that Rodolfo and Elena were formally divorced in about the year
2003. It was about this time or maybe a little later, that Rodolfo broke his ankle, and was
too impatient to let it heal well before getting back on it again. And so he broke it several
times more. Rodolfo now realized that he was no longer capable of working the ranch
alone. So he sold the cattle and moved to Saltillo where many years before he had built
a nice house where the children could live while getting a college education. But they
could never unlearn the lure of the land.
Some time after moving to Saltillo Rodolfo was involved in an automobile
accident. After the accident one of his daughters, Hogarita who lives in Saltillo, took care
of him. It was in January of this year that, while Rodolfo was alone in the house, that he
had a heart attack and passed away. Rodolfo would have been about eighty-five years
I inquired, and was sad to hear that Rodolfo had been buried in Saltillo. The thing
is that shortly after the burial of Popo, Rodolfo and Elena had built a sturdy fence around
grave enclosing a plot about twenty-five feet square. Then shortly after that they had two
graves dug, one on either side of Popp’s grave. It was their wish and intention to be
buried there. The graves were pre-dug because of the hard tuff. But now, since Rodolfo
had separated himself from the rest of the family, it was difficult for Hogarita to make
arrangements for a burial in the ranch. Too, I have heard that Rodolfo left all of his
property, including Rancho San Antonio de los Alamos, to Hogarita. It seems that the will
is being contested. In the meantime it is certain that Elena with her sons Lázaro and
Genaro are living at the ranch. The oldest son, Armando, is living in La Leona.
Rancho San Antonio de los Álamos
The little black vertical mark toward the right of the picture and a little above center
marks the tomb of Popo.