|"First appearances never tell the whole story.
'Tis the same with family history."
- Randall Davis
Jesus Cavazos (1853-1939)
Jesus Cavazos was born on April 17, 1853, in Victoria, Texas, to Jesus Cabazos and Porfiria Guerra.1 Shortly after his birth, the family returned to Reynosa, Mexico. He was an educated man and could read as well as write. He labored as a farmer most of his life raising cattle and picking cotton. Working as a rancher took him on cattle drives throughout Texas and Oklahoma.2
Jesus met his wife, Juana Castro, in Reynosa, Mexico around 1883.3 Although some evidence also suggests that they were married in a civil ceremony, several family members state that it was a common law marriage, and they were never officially married.4
Their first child, Francisco, was born on December 11, 1884, in Reynosa, Mexico, on a ranch named Potrero Nuevo.5 They were the parents of at least ten more children, those known being Rafaela, Paula, Luis, Jesus, Gaspar, Amando, Francisco, Porfiria, Ana Maria, and Ramiro.6 These children were born on Zapotal Ranch outside of Reynosa, Mexico.7
The children had little formal education, but it had more to do with their social situation than lack of ambition. Poverty obviously placed barriers before them, but this did not dispel their thirst for knowledge and a better way of living. Ana Maria Cavazos states:
I only went to school for five months. My mom didn't want me to go; my place was at home she said, but I wanted to learn. The boys didn't have time to go to school because the were always working in the fields.8
Even though they did not have a lot of schooling, there were opportunities to learn. Ramiro Cavazos tells how his father taught him how to read and write:
One time while my father was reading the newspaper, I was amazed at the number of letters on the page. There were so many. When I asked my father how one could learn to read with so many letters, he told me that there were only so many different letters of the alphabet, and with those letters, I could write anything I wanted.9
Political unrest in Mexico began to surface after 1900. Except from 1880 to 1884, President of Mexico Porfirio Díaz had led the county with an iron hand from 1876 to 1911. Rising disapproval to his rule was apparent, and in 1910, Francisco Madero, an opposition leader, issued a plea for revolution against Díaz. As a result, the countryside became a haven for revolutionaries, including Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata, who attacked towns, destroyed railroads, and fought federal troops. Ana Maria Cavazos describes the effect this unrest had on the family:
[My brothers] Gaspar and Luis . . . came to the U.S. because there was a war going on, and they [the revolutionaries] were burning houses and churches. For that reason, I don't have a birth certificate [the church was burned]. . . . So when the Revolution took place, I was about five years old. My sister, Paulita, and I came with a group of the Cavazos' and Singlaterry' families in 1913 because we heard that they [those involved in the revolution] were abusing and raping the young women. . . . We settled on Jackson Farm in San Juan, Texas.10
Once the family arrived in Texas??a short trip of some 10 miles north across the Rio Grande River?? some of the children including Luis, Gaspar, and Jesus looked for work. On one occasion, Luis sent word to Gaspar and Amando that he had found work for them. Because of distance, Gaspar and Amando decided to hitch a ride on a freight train along side mules and cattle for eight days, and at times, hid inside barrels in the box cars to avoid detection.11
To the Mexicans that came to the United States, any available work enabled them to make a living. However, many employers saw this as a lucrative opportunity to take advantage of this cheap labor; as for the family, they worked for an hourly wage, but often were not paid. Given the racial attitudes that labeled the Mexicans as second-class citizens, some white men could not imagine the Mexicans as anything other than a people destined to do menial tasks.
Unfortunately, the notion that the Mexicans are idle and unambitious has somehow been perpetuated to the present day. Yet, many of those who came to the United States triumphed over the forces of exclusion to emerge as successful farmers and businessmen. Jesus Cabazos often said that he wanted his own children to learn to provide for themselves and held out hope that they would progress beyond his own standard of living. The accomplishments of Jesus Cavazos as well as his children point to the possibilities that were available to hard workers. He emphasized honest work, something reverberated by his son Luis as related by his wife, Esther Hinojosa Cavazos:
His advice to the world would be to work hard, and when you owe some money, pay your bills so you will have a good reputation; be independent in your work.12
According to Esther Cavazos, "Jesus Cavazos was a generous man. After he would go on a cattle drive, he would put the money he earned in a money bag, and people would come by and take the money they needed."13
Because of marital problems, Jesus and Juana separated after the family came to the United States. Juana was never satisfied with their marriage. Some say that she had always been in love with another man, and that her marriage with Jesus was arranged.14 After they were separated, Jesus lived with his son Luis in Pharr, Texas, while Juana lived with some of the other brothers and sisters in Beeville and Combes, Texas.15
While Jesus lived with Luis, he stayed in a small shelter apart from the main house. He resided there until he died on June 28, 1939.16 Esther Cavazos recounts the events that proceeded his death:
One day in the afternoon after he [Jesus] had gone for a walk with my daughters, he sat down and wanted something to eat. He asked for coffee and bisquits. He said he was cold, so I turned off the battery-operated fan we had at home . . . . Grandpa then wanted to go to bed. One of my daughters helped him to his bed. The next morning, I went in to see if he wanted some cocoa for breakfast. When I saw him, I realized that something was wrong. I called Luis and told him something was wrong with his father. He knew instantly that his father was dead. As it turns out, he died of a heart attack.17
He was buried the same day in El Capote Cemetery on Ramirez Farm near Pharr, Texas. A grandson of Jesus relates some interesting details about his grandfather's burial:
Jesus was buried in the same grave as his son, Jesus, who had been dead for some time [about 1914]. They unearthed the grave and placed the remains of Jesus, the son, in a basket. They then lowered Jesus, his father, in the grave and then placed the basket on top of him. There was a slab of cement placed on top, but there is no marker on the tomb. We used to put marbles in the indentations on the slab over his grave. I would describe the burial place as having a small slab of cement laid down surrounded by rubble. The cemetery had a wire fence around it. There was a church nearby also.18
Jesus was small in stature and often had a beard and a mustache. He made a cane from a branch of a Mesquite tree. He carved eyes and a mouth on it and called it "El Viejito."
(FHC refers to the number of the microfilm on which the particular record is found with the Family History Centers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.)
4. According to the Civil Registration in Nuevo Laredo, Tampulipas, Mexico, in volume 1 of marriages of 1880, act 105, Jesus Cavazos and Porfiria Guerra were married on December 15, 1880. Also the death certificate of Jesus Cavazos indicates that he was married at the time of his death; however, during several interviews with Ana Maria Contreras (July 31, 1988) and Esther Hinojosa Cavazos (December 30, 1988), they said that Jesus and Juana were never married. Esther suggested that the marriage record could be a forgery. Also, the birth certificate of their first child states they were not married.
6. According to Ana Maria Contreras, there was another child named Porfiria between Jesus and Gaspar. David Cavazos stated that Jesus and Juana had seventeen children, but not all of them lived, September 10, 1983.
16. Texas Certificate of Death of Jesus Cavazos in the possession of Randall Davis, local registrar's file number 430; also Texas General Birth and Death Record Index, 1900-1940; p. 4292 of index; file number 28895, FHC Film 1503830. Amando Cavazos, son of Jesus, visited the cemetery in June of 1988, but was unable to locate the actual gravesite.