Maria Rita Teofila Alderete
Two articles are presented here. One was published in 1949 by the Eagle Pass Guide and the second was published in the San Antonio Express and News in 1959. A lot of excellent history is included in these stories.
RITA DE ALDRETE DE SAN MIGUEL WAS PIONEER MOTHER AND
EAGLE PASS BUSINESS EXECUTIVE
BY DOROTHY OSTROM WORRELL
EAGLE PASS NEWS GUIDE
EAGLE PASS CENTENNIAL EDITION
Sixteen miles above Eagle Pass, on a western branch of Elm Creek, stand the ruins of the famous old San Miguel ranch house. Time was when it stood close by the most travelled road in the country, but today it is almost inaccessible and few people in Eagle Pass even know of its existence. It was built by one of the most remarkable women this section has ever known: Dona Rita Aldrete de San Miguel. Without realizing it, perhaps, she set a high standard of achievement for the women who followed in later years.
Hardly had the stakes been driven for Fort Duncan when Frederick Groos secured the contract for hauling supplies for the Army. In order to fulfill his obligation, Don Frederick induced seventy reliable families from various towns in Mexico to settle near the post and engage in freighting. He purchased old style, high wheeled Mexican carts to be drawn by oxen. They were known as Indianola Carts because that name was stamped in red letters on the blue axles, indicating they had been shipped from the factory to old Port Indianola. To the man of each family Don Frederick advanced two carts and four yoke of oxen. Many of the old caretas remained in service for several decades.
Among the colonists that came was young Refugio San Miguel, son of Pablo San Miguel. he was born in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, in 1828, of an old colonial family. He came to Eagle Pass in 1851. From Santa Rosa, (now Muzquiz, Coah.) came the Miguel Aldrete family. Rita Aldrete is still referred to by her descendants as La Espanola, for she was very fair and had blue eyes. In 1854 the Aldrete family and Don Refugio San Miguel journeyed 160 miles to the nearest Catholic church where Rita and Refugio were married in San Fernando Cathedral, San Antonio. The bride was 13 years old, a not unusual age for marriage in days when circumstances required that those who would survive learn early to face the grave responsibilities of life. The first home of the young couple was a mulberry log cabin at the comer of the present streets of Ford and Adams. Don Refugio was a canny business man and before long he had built up his freighting line to twenty carts and forty yoke of oxen. he began to acquire stock and in 1865 established the first ranch in Maverick County. It was located about seven miles out from Elm Creek just below the present railroad crossing of the creek, and was stocked with horses, cattle and sheep. They were branded with Los Fierros Viejos which Don Refugio's forefathers had used in Mexico for almost 300 years. Life on the frontier was not easy for women. In addition to the ordinary hardships there was the constant menace of Indians. The round trip from Eagle Pass to San Antonio on the freighting line took 23 days with good weather and good luck. This included a day each for loading and unloading. They travelled in large numbers for protection and corralled their carts and oxen at night. The families in Eagle Pass were in constant anxiety until their men-folk returned from these long trips.
As the settlement grew there was an increasing urgency for the ministrations and comforts of the church. Women could hardly be expected to make the hazardous journey to San Antonio, for instance, to have their children baptized. The Indian situation was such that the bishop required the citizens to furnish a chapel within the protecting boundaries of Fort Duncan before services could be held here. Accordingly, a committee of Catholics, Don Refugio no doubt among them, called on the commanding officer of the post and requested permission to build a church on the reservation. They were received courteously and promised the use of a stone building for a chapel. The church then sent a priest from Mexico and Dona Rita's first son, Trinidad, was the first child to be baptized in the chapel. Eagle Pass has many colorful stories in her background - legends of notorious killers and outlaws, soldiers and merchants - but all the while, quietly and unwaveringly, the women of the little town were establishing homes and working for things of eternal value. Tragedy of the first magnitude struck the San Miguel family in 1868. One day, as he was riding to the ranch, a short distance this side of the Pat Thomson Ranch, Don Refugio was shot from ambush. Subsequent events proved beyond doubt that he was killed by one Melquiades Cadena, who had been arrested and freed on bond for having in his possession sheep with the brand of San Miguel. A pile of stones that marks the place where Refugio San Miguel died alone may still be seen about one mile south of Los Olmos Ranch. Dona Rita, still under thirty years of age, was left to manage the complicated business interests of her husband and to rear the family of six small children. She was the owner of hundreds of horses and thousands of cattle and sheep on a great unfenced range. The countryside was infested with hostile Indians, and outlaws of both nations roamed at will. In addition to the ranching interests the freighting business was thriving and required at its head a person of executive ability. Without question the widow of Refugio San Miguel was a woman endowed with extraordinary gifts, and she added to those an iron willed determination to maintain and increase the wealth for which she and her husband had struggled. Dona Rita wanted her children to have the advantages of education they were entitled to and when they had completed the meager course of study provided by the schools of Eagle Pass at that time, she laid her plans for sending them to San Antonio. The full meaning of what an expedition of that sort meant in the seventies in Texas can hardly be imagined today. Four or five days had to be spent on the road, each way, and complete camping facilities had to be carried. They travelled by hack or Ambulance, with four armed out-riders. Of necessity, several of these round trips had to be made each year while the children were in school. The girls were placed in the Ursuline convent and the boys in St. Mary's College. The earlier ranch house built by Don Refugio had been destroyed by flood and in addition to all her other responsibilities Dona Rita had to choose a site for a new house. She selected a high place near an old water hole on El Sauz three or four miles west of the present railroad stop of Paloma. The contract was let to Green Van in 1873 for one of the most unique houses ever built in the county. It was two story, built of stone and wood with an outside stairway. The feature that made the house famous was the stone tower on the northeast comet, which rose the full height of the house. Though fallen to ruin, its beauty has been preserved for future generations on the Centennial Plate. The tower was designed for defense against indian raiders and could be reached from each floor level. Portholes were left at advantageous points. A high stone wall encircled the whole area, making it a veritable fortress. Travellers between Fort Clark and Fort Duncan were always sure of hospitality at the San Miguel Ranch. The raids continued until July 1877, when a final battle was waged with a war party of Kickapoos. The narrowest escape any of the family ever had occurred one day when young Trinidad was out alone on his horse. A party of Indians attempted to lasso him and he "lit a shuck" for the ranch house. He barely made it into the welcoming walls of the corrals, with the rope singing around his dodging head. It was always believed they wanted to capture him for hostage or to incorporate him into their tribe, for they were armed and could easily have shot him. Dona Rita had valuable help in the management of the estate from her son, Trinidad. A lad of nine when his father was murdered, he matured very young and was able to take a share of the responsibility from his mother. In 1880 he brought to the stone house with the tower, a young bride from Monclova Angelita Diaz was only fourteen when she was married to Trinidad San Miguel She had' a fund of interesting stories of the early days in Eagle Pass which her family delighted to hear. The original San Miguel home at the comer of Ford and Adams was always kept as a town house. All of Dona Rita's children were born there, and doubtless her happiest memories centered on that spot. In later years a rock and adobe house replaced the outgrown mulberry log cabin. Originally the house was two story, with a separate kitchen at the back. An eight foot wall ran along the Ford Street side. a remnant of which may be seen there today. It is still owned by a descendant of Dona Rita She also built the house adjoining it on Adams, and it, also, is occupied by descendants. Members of the San Miguel family live on three comers of the intersection of Ford and Adams. The picture of Dona Rita which the family treasure today shows a woman with snow-white hair, although she was only sixty at the time of her death in 1902. Her eyes look directly into those of the beholder. They are calm and unafraid; her mouth shows determination, even stubbornness. Withal, it is the face of a woman who met, undismayed, whatever life presented. As the town prepares to round out the first hundred years of its existence, lurid tales will be told of the first chapters of our history. It is well to remember that behind the closed doors and barred windows there were always women who, like Dona Rita, held fast to the ways of gentility in the face of every obstacle.
LA ESPANOLA FOUGHT MAN, NATURE TO HELP BUILD THE TEXAS EMPIRE SHE BATTLED TO MAKE THE EAGLE PASS AREA A SAFE PLACE TO LIVE
San Antonio Express and News
Sunday, November 24, 1957
Eagle Pass - Not all sagas were written by two-fisted, he-men, and old-timers around Eagle Pass still remember Dona Rita Alderete y San Miguel with respect and affection as muy valiente and a most remarkable woman. Fort Duncan and the town of Eagle Pass were just beginning when she entered the Texas picture. Don Federico Groos (later to found Groos National Bank in San Antonio) obtained a contract to haul military supplies from San Antonio to the new post, and as a result, had to build a freighting business from the ground up to take care of the provisions and equipment needed by the fort. Don Federico went about this in a big way. First he bought a lot of the old-style, high, two-wheeled Indianola Carts, so-called because of the name stamped on their axles. To pull them, he also purchased oxen, four for each cart, and then he set about getting drivers. Down into Coahuila he went. Here he induced 70 reliable families to return with him and settle in Eagle Pass, so that the family heads could engage in the freighting business. To each man he employed he advanced two carts and four oxen, to be paid out of his earnings. Among those who came were Refugio San Miguel, of Matamoros, and the Alderetes of Santa Rosa, whose 10- year old daughter, Rita, was called La Espanola because of her fair hair and blue eyes. Three years later the Alderete family and Don Refugio, who was 23 journeyed 160 miles to San Antonio, where, in the old Cathedral of San Fernando, the little girl became Dona Rita Alderete y San Miguel - a 13-year-old bride. Babies soon came to the little mulberry-log cabin, located in what is now downtown Eagle Pass - six of them, over the years - and Dona Rita was busy with them and her housework. Don Refugio was prospering. His first two caretas and their teams were long since paid for, and his freight line had grown until there were 20 carts and forty yokes of oxen. He bought stock, and established the first ranch in Maverick County, using as a brand Los Viejos which his forefathers had used in Mexico for almost 300 years. He built a ranch on Elm Creek, and now the San Miguels were people of consequence, with a town house, and a ranch well stocked with horses, sheep and cattle.
As leading citizens, they began to think of the welfare of their community, and Refugio was one of a committee of citizens who called upon the Commandant of Fort Duncan and requested permission to build a church upon the reservation. This location was necessary, their bishop had said, because of the Indian situation, and unless it was done, no services could be held.
The Commandant received them courteously, heard them out, then granted them the use of a stone building on the grounds for a chapel. Here, after a priest arrived from Mexico, Dona Rita's first son, Trinidad San Miguel, was the first child to be baptized. So far all things had gone well with La Espanola and her brood, but one day in 1868 tragedy struck. Don Refugio was killed! Melquiades Cadena; who had been arrested for stealing San Miguel sheep, sought revenge from ambush and Dona Rita was left a widow of less than 30, with six small children to care for.
Life on the frontier was not easy, even for a man. Besides the ordinary hardships, Indian raids were a constant menace, and outlaws of both nations were plentiful It was a tough situation, and though shaken by the blow, the little, blue-eyed, fair-haired woman took it in her stride, determined to retain the ranch and freighting business, and to educate her children.
From these objectives she was never deflected for a moment. With an iron will she battled it out with man and nature, undeterred by a load that would have caused many a man to fail. When her youngsters reached the limit of the primitive schools at Eagle Pass, she sent them to San Antonio, placing the girls in the Ursuline Convent; sending the boys to St. Mary's. If this sounds easy, it wasn't. The trip to San Antonio, which consumes only a few hours today, then meant four or five days on the road, traveling in an ambulance or covered buckboard, surrounded by armed outriders for protection against raiding Indian, and carrying camping equipment for the overnight stops. Under her careful management the ranch and freighting business also prospered, and when a flood destroyed the old ranch house on Elm Creek she built another at a waterhole three or four miles west of the present railroad stop of Paloma. And what a ranch house that was! Evidently Dona Rita knew what she wanted, and Indian formed no part of it. Called EI Sauz, the new home was a veritable fortress, definitely designed to discourage them. Two stories high, of wood and stone, with an outside stairway, the house had a great stone tower at one comer, pierced with portholes for rifles, and easily reached from either floor of the building. Moreover, a high stone wall around the whole place made it even more of a fort, and raiding Kickapoo’s and Comanche’s left EI Sauz itself severely alone, although in their last foray in 1877 a war part of the Kickapoo’s caught Dona Rita's eldest son out on the ranch and nearly finished him. Today, La Espanola's house is gone, but her fame lives after her. Many of her descendants still live in the Eagle Pass area, and one of their most treasured possessions is a picture of their pioneering ancestor. A tiny, white haired lady in severe black, Done Rita Alderete y San Miguel looked at the world with grave directness. Her firm mouth and stubborn chin showed the character that enabled her to overcome tragedy and the hazards of the frontier to build a home for her family.