|"First appearances never tell the whole story.
'Tis the same with family history."
- Randall Davis
Esteven Contreras (1850-1928)
Estevan Contreras (seen in the picture with his grandson, Ruben, about 1909) was born in Nuevo León, Mexico, in March of 1850.1 Twenty-five years later in 1875, Estevan Contreras came to the United States and settled in Brownsville, Cameron County, Texas, located in the lower Rio Grande Valley.2 The probable reasons for his coming to the United States are unclear, but it is likely that he was searching for a better and more prosperous future.
A study of Mexican history during the last half of the nineteenth century reveals forces pushing Mexicans northward. First of all, the opportunity for a relatively better standard of living beckoned many Mexicans to Texas. They abandoned the belief that economic gain was out of their reach. Also, many came seeking refuge from political unrest and instability before and after the Mexican Revolution.
Estevan married Librada Saldaña in Cameron County, Texas, on July 26, 1878.3 They were the parents of at least six children including Rebecca, Anita, Francisco (also see Francisco in the descendants chart), Josefa, Diego, and Claude.4 All were born in Cameron County, Texas, except for Claude who was born in Bee County. By this time, this valley region had changed from a sparsely settled territory of the Mexican State of Tamaulipas to small settlements of homesteaders. The economy was dominated by large fenced ranches and cattlemen.
Estevan was a farmer and spent most of his time grazing cattle and picking cotton.5 During this period, cotton farmers slowly trickled into the area buying land from two to ten dollars an acre. However, cotton farms were continually victims of declining prices and marketing problems that resulted from adverse weather conditions. So was the case in Cameron County, Texas, during the early 1890s.6
Seeing that there was not much future for the family in that area, they sold their 150 acres of land around 1892 to Ezequiel Saldaña, brother of Librada Saldaña.7 The whole family then moved north to Kingsville by wagon to search for better land and work. By 1900, they had settled in Bee County, Texas.8
Laboring in the fields was a back-breaking chore. The hard, undulating clay soils were difficult to plow and hauling crops on dirt roads was burdensome. Everything was loaded, planted, cultivated, and harvested by hand no matter what the weather conditions were like. The labor of picking cotton made the workers age quickly.
By modern standards, life for the Contreras family on the ranches was not easy. There were few amenities such as running water, electricity, radio, television, or motor transportation. Most places had windmills or vacuum-suction pumps for drawing well water. Every household chore including cooking, washing, and cleaning, and every field task including planting, cultivating, and harvesting, was done without power-driven machinery.
Not only was Estevan a farmer, but he also was a Presbyterian minister. He had been Catholic before he came to the United States, but after he met Librada, who was Presbyterian, he converted to the Presbyterian faith.He went around the area in his horse and buggy preaching the Word of God. He was a firm believer in the Lord.9
The social life of these people revolved around the family and religion. Usually there were no churches on these ranchos or farms, but the Mexicans still observed many religious celebrations. Although Estevan never owned his own farm, he would gather everyone living on that particular ranch, and they would sing and pray in the evenings.10 Religion in these Mexican-American communities was primarily home- and community-centered which helped bind family and neighbor, and served to enlivened community life. Religion brought relatives together socially.
Life on the ranchos was very much alive with festivities and celebrations. There always were weddings, birthdays, and funerals to attend. These events helped bond families together, and assisted in preserving the traditional forms of social organization regarding marriage and kinship roles.
The extended family also played a crucial role in providing economic security for everyone. Estevan Contreras relied heavily on other family members, including cousins and uncles to harvest, plant, and care for their animals. The family was a working economic unit in which the able-bodied members regardless of sex were necessary and important.
None of their children had much schooling as they were growing up.11 Like many other Mexican-Americans, they rarely attended school beyond the first three grades; nearly all dropped out after they learned enough English to write their names because they were needed to work in the fields, and schooling was generally considered a luxury that they could not afford. As a result, Estevan assumed the role of instructor of how to plant and harvest. His teachings were filled with the wisdom he had acquired through out his life. When he was no longer able to read for failing eyesight, his grandson Abel read to him from the scriptures, and accompany him as he went out to preach to the surrounding ranches.
After spending most of his life in the service of his family and his God, Estevan Contreras died around 1928(?) in Tynan, Texas. He had been sick for several days and refused to eat. His wife Librada died about one year later.12
( The letters FHC in this section make reference to a specific microfilm containing the actual record on file with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah. A copy can also be requested through any Family History Center (FHC) of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints throughout the world. The Church has made great efforts for more than a century in collecting records for the purpose of uniting families for the eternities. These records are available to both members and non members of the Church. )
1. United States. Census Office. 1900 Texas federal census: soundex and population schedules. Washington, DC: The National Archives. Bee County, supervisor district 13, enumeration district 11, sheet 9, line 45, indicates his date of birth (FHC 1241612). Abel Contreras, grandson of Estevan Contreras, said during an interview on August 24, 1983, that Estevan was from Saltillo, Coahila, Mexico, but his place of birth is listed as Nuevo LeŪn in the 1920 Texas census, Bee County, supervisor district 14, enumeration district 12, sheet 3-A, line 11 (FHC 1821775,). These kinds of discrepancies are common occurrences in historical records (back).
4. 1900 Texas census (FHC 1241612) and 1900 Texas soundex (FHC 1248777). The following names and dates listed on the census and soundex:
Furthermore, according to the 1910 Texas census (FHC 1373135), enumeration district 14, sheet 12, Librada was the mother of eight children, six who were still living in 1910. The two other children probably died in infancy between 1891 and 1897. Also, Rebecca, daughter of Esteben and Librada, was one year old in 1880, placing her birth date in 1879 (back).
11. The 1900 Texas census reveals that only Estevan Contreras could read or write in the family. However, he could not speak English. The census also reports that Francisco, Josefa, and Diego did not attend school during the previous year (back).