LEGEND OF LUPE VAZQUEZ
This occurrence took place sometime in the early 1940s. Even at this late
date there were still a few gangs of bandidos around as leftovers of the Mexican
Revolution. When the revolutionary private armies were disbanded, many of the
erstwhile soldiers had known no other way of life, and opportunities for finding
legitimate work, especially in this poor and sparsely inhabited hinterland, were
few and far between. And their life in the army had taught them how to live off the
people. Lupe, along with his gang, was one of these last bandidos.
The setting for this occurrence is about sixty miles to the north of La
Esmeralda, and the area borders on what was still at that time the vast Hacienda
Cerro Blanco, one of the old Spanish Land Grants which comprised hundreds of
square miles. Scattered across this hacienda were cowhand outposts where
several cowhands lived with their families and took care of the cattle in that area.
The owner of the hacienda, Francisco Armendáiz (sic) lived in Monterrey, and at
this time the day by day administration of the hacienda was entrusted to a
woman whom everyone called Doña Herlinda. All in all, the supervision was
insufficient, and as a result there were thousands of heads of unbranded cattle.
One of the ranches on the southern border of the hacienda is Rancho
Santa Rita, and the owner at the time was Rubén Guevara. Rubén made a deal
with Lupe and his henchmen to bring in unbranded cattle from Cerro Blanco.
Then Rubén was going put his brand on them so that they could be sold, and
afterwards they would split the proceeds. This went on for some time, and Rubén
always had an excuse for not paying up. Then Lupe’s wife took sick and needed
an operation. Lupe went to see Rubén and pressured him for money. Rubén
countered saying that all the cattle on his ranch had his brand on them, and that
if Lupe had any quarrel, he could go see the sheriff. Lupe’s wife died. Lupe
comes back to Santa Rita and tells Rubén that he is going to tell his quarrel to his
gang, and they are going to come back and kill him. Rubén’s foreman was
present, and asserted that before they could kill his boss, they would have to kill
him first. Lupe responded with, “‘Tá bien.” (Agreed)
So it was that some days later Lupe and his men rode onto the ranch. The
first man they met down at the cattle dam was the foreman. Lupe asked him if he
remembered what he (the foreman) had said. And then shot him. The band rode
on to the ranch compound and found Rubén in his house. In those days the
ranchers did not use banks. The nearest bank was close to two hundred miles
away, and a trip of two days. Too, Rubén ran a little store there at the ranch
offering such items as horseshoes and nails, sheets of raw leather for harness
and chaps repair, soap and other small household items. Rubén was tortured for
hours to make him disclose all the places where he had money hidden.
In the meantime the armed ranch hands surrounded the house at strategic
points and were on top the roofs, but they were afraid to take any action so as
not to jeopardize Rubén.
In the end Lupe killed Rubén, and the gang waited until it was getting dark
to make their getaway. The ranch hands fired at them as they rode off and
knocked the horse out from under one of them. Pursuit was difficult and
dangerous under the cover of darkness. The one who had his horse shot from
under him turned up at Rancho San Rafael several days later. San Rafael is
about forty miles east of Santa Rita. Of course the news had gotten around very
quickly, and everyone knew all the “Lupe gang”. Nacho Delgado saw the man
drinking at a cattle trough, and apprehended him.
Lupe made it to Rancho San Antonio de los Alamos, and holed up in the
canyon where there was water and plenty of places to hide and from which to
snipe. Rancho San Antonio is maybe twenty miles from Rancho Santa Rita, and
also borders on the old Hacienda Cerro Blanco. A posse was formed to hunt the
gang down, and of course the posse came to Rancho San Antonio. At the time
only one cowhand lived there, and they asked him whether he had seen Lupe.
The cowhand said, yes, he had seen him, that Lupe was up in the canyon, and
that from time to time Lupe came down to chat. The head of the posse asked the
cowhand to take them up into the canyon to look for Lupe. The cowhand replied
that in no way was he going to lead them into the canyon. If they wanted, they
could go take look for themselves. The posse decided that Lupe had probably
already left the canyon, and so there was no point in searching it.
Lupe, and probably the rest of the gang, made it across the border into
Chihuahua which was only about fifty miles from there. The one who was caught
in Rancho San Rafael was heading that way too. He had only about another ten
miles to go, but he had to have water. The police in Mexico are not known to
bother themselves unduly with inter state cooperation, and less so in those times.
So Lupe and associates dropped out of sight.
It was in the early 1970s when I was making one of my regular visits to the
little community of Zenzontle. Before the Hacienda Cerro Blanco was partitioned
and given to the ejiditarios in compliance with the Agrarian Reform Law of the
Mexican Revolution, Zenzontle was one of the cowhand outposts of the
Hacienda. This village is only about eight miles from Rancho San Antonio. On
this one particular visit several of the men mentioned to me that it was being said
that Lupe Vázquez had been seen in the area. At the time I took the remarks of
the men as nothing more than a bit of news. Later back in town I mentioned the
news to a friend. This friend was an older man with wide experience and savvy.
He said the men of Zenzontle meant to caution me. This friend knew Lupe, and
knew he was not to be trifled with.
Ruperto, a younger brother of Rubén, had taken over Rancho Santa Rita.
When the report came out that Lupe was seen in the area, Ruperto moved into a
home he had in La Esmeralda, and never again left town. Later Ruperto moved
to Monterrey where he passed away. In the meantime Rancho Santa Rita had
been sold to another local.
At the same time Nacho Delgado left Rancho San Rafael and moved into
his house in La Esmeralda. And he never again left town. There are those who
are of the opinion that Nacho too had an agreement with Lupe. Nacho finally
moved to Camargo, Chihuahua, his place of origin, and passed away there.
It was sometime in the mid 1980s When Don Chuy Espinosa and his wife,
Tula, moved to Zenzontle. Don Chuy had for many long years been the foreman
in Rancho El Tecolote which is very close to Santa Rita.
Tecolote is the indigenous name for an ‘owl’. The owner of the ranch lived
in Monclova. It is the custom when the owner does not live on the ranch, he
appoints a foreman, and the foreman is given a certain percentage of the new-
born calves and colts, etc. A good arrangement because then the foreman is
going to take good care of the livestock. Don Chuy was now an older man, and it
was time to retire from the arduous post of foreman. The three children born to
the couple were married and on their own. So now Don Chuy would dedicate
himself to managing his own small herd of cattle. Zenzontle was at one time a
community of several hundred people. But it had in a few short years collapsed,
domino style, to a handful of a dozen or so people. So Don Chuy made an
arrangement with the ejiditarios of Zenzontle to run his small herd on some of the
thousands of the now ‘idle’ acres belonging to the ejido of Zenzontle.
Don Chuy was a very clean living man, and the very fact that the people
had spontaneously accredited him the respectful title of ‘Don’ showed their
esteem for the man…. and Celia was accorded the title of ‘Doña’.
When the community of Zenzontle was going strong I had built a nice little
chapel there, and now Don Chuy and Celia took it upon themselves to take care
of the chapel. Celia kept the inside dust-free. A low wall had been built around
the chapel to keep the goats and burros at bay. Don Chuy watered the pines and
palms within the enclosure. Most always when I went to Zenzontle I would have
my meals in their house.
Before Don Chuy and Celia moved to Zenzontle I hardly knew them. El
Tecolote is a small ranch way out of the way, and I had been there only a couple
of times. It was only after they had been in Zenzontle for some time that I learned
that Don Chuy was the son of the foreman whom Lupe had killed at Santa Rita.
At the time he was a very small boy. Some while later his mother took him along
and went to live with Amado Elizonde. When I first knew this couple they lived on
a small poor ranch called San Felipe, which they owned. By this time their
children, including Chuy, had left home and were raising their own families. One
time when Amado and his wife came into town for the feast of Our Lady of
Guadalupe (the titular name of the church) I convinced them that now after all
these years they should receive the sacrament of matrimony. They readily
agreed. We went to see if there was a record of their baptism in the archives.
They would have been baptized during the time when the church was outlawed,
and all functions had to be carried out in secret. And so in most cases records
were either not kept, or became lost. At that time there was no priest in La
Esmeralda, but an ‘outlaw’ priest, Rev. Lucas Cervantes, from Coyote, about a
hundred miles south, made the rounds of the desert surrounded a small group of
men riding shotgun. It is said that he died of complications resulting from torture
when on one occasion he was captured. Señora Elizonde gave the date and year
of her birth, but the baptismal record revealed that she was two years younger
than she thought. She had been baptized by Rev. Lucas Cervantes. We never
found Amado’s record.
Even today there are many people who do not know for sure the date of
their birth. Until the more recent years calendars were not a usual household
item. Too, many births in these hinter villages are never registered. The law is
that the baby has to be physically brought by the parents along with ‘witnesses’
to the county office of registration, and a fee is charged. An increasing fine is
imposed for late registration. Many poor people simply cannot afford the trip to
the office of registration, much less when the fines increase.
It is related that Don Chuy always wanted to be in the general area of
The leader of the posse that came to Rancho San Antonio looking for
Lupe was José Villarreal who was sort of deputy sheriff for out in that area. He
lived at Rancho El Perdido which is maybe ten miles from Rancho Santa Rita. El
Perdido means ‘The Lost One’. It could have gotten its name from the fact that
the ranch is ‘hidden’ or ‘lost’ among high, contorted volcanic hills. The road into
the ranch is torturous. When the rains are good, a little spring at the ranch
compound fills a small pool. So there is always a shallow source of water. There
is a small body of fairly good alabaster which shows evidence of having been
quarried long years past. The method of quarrying was by the use of quick lime.
A series of holes about an inch and a half in diameter were drilled by hand.
These were then filled with coarse quick lime, water was added, and a wooden
plug was driven in as a stopper. By the next morning the block had cracked
loose. The ranchers made their own quick lime.
José Villarreal was the father of Elena Villarreal, the wife of Rodolfo Villarreal of
Rancho San Antonio. At the time of the above episode, Elena, a small girl, lived
in El Perdido. She told me that she remembered Lupe. Apparently Lupe visited at
the ranch. Elena has a more compassionate picture of Lupe. She says that when
his wife died, Lupe was devastated. Now nothing mattered to him anymore.
José Villarreal and his wife María Zúniga had a family of twelve children.
They retired to a large house in La Esmeralda which included an ample courtyard
/ corral. .José passed away several years before I arrived in La Esmeralda in
1967. María lived on until about 1990. About half of the twelve children stayed
around the area, the rest, mostly the girls following their husbands, left for other
places. Nearly all the twelve have suffered deep tragedies in their lives. To tell it
all would take a book.
One son who stayed around La Esmeralda was Chapo (Manuel), an
interesting individual. They tell me that in his earlier years he was an engaging,
amiable never-do-well. They tell that once when he was caught with someone
else’s cow in the back of someone else’s pickup. Chapo explained that the cow
had climbed into the pickup all by itself, and how was he going to be as unkind to
it as not to take it for a ride.
In La Esmeralda there is a federal grade school. Since the place is so
remote, young teachers with no seniority are assigned to teach there. One was a
young girl, a Mayan descendent from Yucatán. She became enamored of Chapo,
who really was a likeable person. Everyone warned her off telling her how Chapo
was a miscreant deadbeat who already had fathered a son in outlying Alicante.
She was deaf to all advice. Chapo willingly accepted the meal ticket, and the two
married. Now Chapo could sleep in and ask his wife to serve him breakfast in
bed! This went on for several years until the wife grew in wisdom, and with just a
bit of seniority now, asked to be sent to teach in Yucatán, Fortunately there were
This took place several years before I went to La Esmeralda. Chapo too
was starting to see the light and settling down to a more serious life style. Then
Josefina Olague from El Oro cane to live with Chapo. They hit it off well, and
there were two daughters. It was around the mid 1980s when word came that the
teacher from Yucatán had passed away and shortly afterward Chapo and
Josefina came to me to have their marriage set aright.
Chapo had an inventive mind and turned to mechanics and practical
tinkering. He was now a conscientious worker. He found and repaired an
assortment of old mechanical tools. He had few electric tools because he could
not afford them. He made most of his income fixing things for others, or making
things to sell. He scrounged far and wide even outside of La Esmeralda, for
parts, to put an ancient tractor back into working order. Now the only one in town.
He rented the few acres he himself planted, and he also charged to plow for
others who had only mules and a hand-held plow. Many times he would come
over to my shop for some special task he could not do in his shop. At times he
would bring me a comb of honey from one of his several hives.
Chapo had a heart condition for some years. He would often point to his
heart, call it his clock, and shake his head negatively. It was a Good Friday
afternoon, around the year l995, that he suddenly collapsed in his house.
Josefina is a resourceful individual, and carried on with sewing, making flour
tortillas to sell, and occasionally caring for sick people in their homes…. and like
The word zenzontle is an indigenous name for the mocking bird. The word
means ‘the bird of a thousand songs’. This bird is quite abundant in the area.
They commonly nest in the coachella cactus which branches like a tree and
seldom reaches more than eight feet tall. The trunk and stems (branches) are
covered with short, hard thorns, and no snake or other animal is going to climb
up and disturb the nest. There is hardly a house in Mexico that does not have a
bird cage with some sort of a bird, and here zenzontles are a favorite. It is easy
for the people to take newly hatched zenzontles before they open their eyes, and
raise them for their cages. Needless to say, they are wonderful song birds.
LA LLORONA. “The Wailing Woman” It is a common belief in Mexico that
if a woman suffers a tragic death, her ghost will come back to that place and cry
out her lament. Zenzontle has its own La Llorona. The story is like this.
Zenzonlte was a cowhand outpost of the Hacienda Cerro Blanco whose
headquarters were in El Guaje. Looking from Zenzontle, El Guaje is far on the
other side of a broad valley of low hills and dry washes stretching out almost to
Sierra del Pino. The distance between Zenzontle and El Guaje is about fifty
miles. The two would be visible to each other except that El Guaje is just behind
a low mountain. But once out from behind the mountain, the high, distinctive
volcanic hills of Zenzontle are clearly see. The tale is that a teen mother in El
Guaje was brutally treated by her husband, and in desperation she took her
infant and fled on foot to Zenzontle where a relative lived. Only a disturbed
person destitute of sound reasoning would make such an attempt across the
desert. They found her corpse and that of her infant about a quarter of a mile
from the cattle dam at the edge of Zenzontle. The people there have always
heard from time to time her pitiful cries.
I was there on one occasion and celebrated mass very late in the evening.
After the mass the people asked me if I had heard the La Llorona. The chapel is
just across the narrow arroyo from where the La Llorona is usually heard. I had
not heard her. At this time only a few people lived in Zenzontle, mostly men,
because their wives and children were in a far-off town where there was a
school. The people assured me it was not a trick, because all the people who
were in Zenzontle at the time were at mass.
A final story from Zenzontle. When the village was going strong there lived
there a certain man called Sr. Urrútia. If I remember correctly, his given name
was Gustavo. Gustavo had a family of eleven. At times I would bring him some
used clothing. At that time to own a pickup was a status symbol, and Gustavo
always wanted a pickup. The opportunity came when someone offered to trade
an old wreck of a pickup for Gustavo’s entire small herd of burros which he used
for gathering candelilla. It was a fair deal. The old pickup kept on breaking down.
Gustavo loved his children very much, and whenever he could, he would take
some of the children along with him when he used the pickup. Any kid took it as a
real treat to be able to ride in the back of any pickup, and so Gustavo’s kids had
it one up on their friends. On this one occasion Gustavo took some of the
children along on a trip to a place a good distance from the village. The pickup
broke down, and the only alternative was a long hot walk back to Zenzontle. At
one place the trail takes a long loop around a dry wash. One of the little girls,
aged about five, said that she was not going to take that long walk; instead she
was going to cut across and would meet them on the other side. Daddy said that
if that was what she wanted, it was OK. It is ever so easy to become
disorientated trying to find a way through unfamiliar terrain. When the rest of the
party arrived at the agreed-upon meeting place, the little girl was not there. Some
went to look for her, and others returned to Zenzontle for help. By nightfall they
had still not found her. Early the next morning the whole village turned out to
search. They found some tatters of clothing and a few scattered bones. The little
girl had become the prey of coyotes. They saw how the terrified girl in
desperation had started to gather small rocks to form a defense wall.
This tragedy did not change Gustavo. He still let his children ride with him.
Late one evening I came upon him and four of his children with the pickup broke
down. The U joint had come apart, and it was going to take a longer time than
daylight permitted to find all the pins and put it back together. Gustavo asked me
for a blanket. Even in the dead of summer there is a pre-dawn chill out on the
desert. I always carried a blanket in case of a breakdown or getting stuck.
Gustavo refused my offer to take them back to Zenzontle because if someone
else happened by in the meantime, Gustavo feared that on returning he would
find some other parts of the pickup missing. Besides, he would have to pay
someone to bring him back.
EJIDO This is an indigenous word tracing back to the times of the Aztecs.
Basically it means ‘common’ or ‘cooperative’
One of the objectives of the Mexican Revolution (1910 - ¿1928?) was to
break up the vast land holdings of individuals (old Spanish Land Grants), and
give the land to poor landless people so they could make their own living. A
group of poor landless people could petition the Government, and they would be
given the amount of land deemed necessary for each to make a living. Because
the land around La Esmeralda was considered strictly ranch land, and poor at
that, an ejido of maybe twenty members (with their families) could comprise
thousands of acres.
The land remained the property of the Government; the ejiditarios had
only permission to use it. The governing of the individual ejido was by democratic
election among the members. The ejido was intended to operate as a commune.
One negative aspect was that normally the members of an ejido were
poor, and some without any education, and as such were not capable of
progressive planning and governing. Another negative factor was that since no
one was an owner, there was little incentive to develop for the benefit of another.
The success of a commune (ejido) is based on altruism. Poverty and altruism
make poor bed fellows.
The Government supported the ejidos extensively with free material
improvements, and offered many low-paying programs to help the people
economically. In spite of a great in-pouring of aid, generally speaking the plan of
the ejido was a disaster. About 1990 the Government started partitioning the
ejidos and giving to each member of the ejido a full title to his portion of the land,
and then reduced aid to the ejidos. I suspect that Don Chuy bought into