Trinidad San Miguel had three children with Tomasa Vargas
Federico - b. 1897
Daniel - b. 1900
Gilberto - b. 1904
Trinidad San Miguel Plants Civilization on the Border
“Patriarch of Rio Grande and Eagle Pass Grew Up Together and He Has Been The Good Samaritan for Many, Says His Old Friend E. E. Townsend”
San Antonio News Sunday Edition July 24, 1932 - E. E. Townsend
Transcribed by: Maurice William Baron, Jr.
Paternal great-grandson of Trinidad San Miguel
Below is an article published four years before Trinidad San Miguel's death. This is a tremendous resource that has many historical facts and attests to the character of this great man.
Trinidad San Miguel and the little city of Eagle Pass are almost co-existent. The history of one cannot be written without including that of the other. Both, having been born in the early days of the Southwest, have witnessed many thrilling events, while they grew up together. According to the stories handed down to Trinidad San Miguel by his parents, it was on June 14, 1849, that Gen. Duncan of the U. S. Army arrived on the Rio Grande and set the first stakes for the building of Fort Duncan. Within a short time the little town of Eagle Pass took root near this new fort. Three miles below the townsite and just opposite the mouth of the Rio Escondida, which flow into the Rio Grande from Mexico, there had once been a soldier camp called “General” – possibly because a general lived there. But this camp, some of the old rock houses of which may still be seen, had been abandoned before Fort Duncan was founded.
Soon after the founding of the Fort Duncan, Don Federico Groos secured the army contract for hauling materials and supplies from San Antonio to the new post. In order to carry out his obligations, he induced 70 Mexican families to come from various towns in the state of Coahuila and settle in the new village and engage in this freighting. Among those who came was a young man by the name of Refugio San Miguel, a scion of an old family of Matamoros, Tamaulipas, and another family by the name of Alderete from Santa Rosa, Coahuila. Don Refugio won the love of Rita Alderete, and they with her parents traveled 160 miles to the nearest priest, who was in San Antonio, and they were married in 1854. This couple became the parents of Trinidad San Miguel.
Don Francisco Groos, who built the first house in Eagle Pass – this old house is still standing just down the hill from the international bridgehead – purchase a number of the old style, high wheel Mexican carts and many yokes of oxen. To the man of each family who was to engage in freighting, he advanced two of these carts and four yoke of oxen. Many of these old carts were used for several decades. They were known as “Indianola carts” because they had the word Indianola painted in red letters on the blue colored axels, indicating that they had been shipped from the factory to Old Port Indianola. In good weather and with no mishaps it required 23 days for a round trip from Eagle Pass to San Antonio. This included one day for loading in San Antonio and one discharging the cargo at the new post.
Refugio San Miguel gave strict attention to his freighting business and in a few years had built up his freight train to 20 carts and 40 yokes of oxen. The freighters always traveled in considerable numbers and corralled their carts at night in order to protect themselves from Indians, an ever present danger. He also engaged in stock raising (sic) and established the first ranch I Maverick County. The ranch was located about seven miles out from Elm Creek just below the point where the Southern Pacific Railroad now crosses the creek. Don Refugio stocked the ranch with cattle, horses and sheep which he branded (with) the Fierros Viejo (old brand) made to resemble a script “A” with an “S” lying down atop the “A” and so-called because it had been used by his forefather in Mexico for nearly 300 years.
In those early stirring days in that exciting setting Trinidad San Miguel was born. The eldest son of Don Refugio San Miguel, he was descended from pure blood, Mexican ancestors. He first saw light on August 5, 1859, in a mulberry log cabin in that little village of Eagle Pass, which, with its mud walls and grass roofs, lay straggling along the wind swept (sic) banks of the Rio Grande, just above Fort Duncan. Before the birth of this baby and as the people in the fort increased, the need of a chapel for religious services had been felt. But no priest would come to serve them, because of fear of Indians, unless the chapel could be built within the military reservation.
A committee of Catholics called upon the commanding officer and asked for permission to construct a chapel within the fort. The officer received them kindly, listened to their request, and offered them the use of a stone building already on the grounds. The committee accepted his offer and secured a priest from Mexico. In this chapel Trinidad San Miguel was the first child to be ba
When Trine was only 9 years old the first tragedy came into his life. It was the death of his father, and it occurred in this manner. Having steadily increased his ranch holdings, Don Refugio found it necessary to employ many men to assist him. One of these, Melquires Cadena who, after working for him some time, quit his job and went to work for a neighboring sheep man named Jones. One day in passing a flock of sheep that Cadena had in charge, Don Refugio saw some saw some sheep whose ear marks had recently been altered. He came back to Fort Duncan, and the commanding officer sent some soldiers out with him.
After a careful examination of the sheep, it was clear they had been stolen. So Cadena was arrested, and bound over to the District Court of Uvalde, to which Maverick County was attached for judicial purposes. William Stone and Jones signed the bond for Cadena, who was released. Cadena returned to work for Jones.
It was Don Refugio’s custom to come on from his ranch every Saturday, stay over in town with his family until Tuesday and the return to the ranch. This custom (w)as well known to Cadena and many others. On Tuesday September 8, 1868, Don Refugio set out on what proved to be his last journey to the ranch, for, in crossing the deep arroyo just south of the Pat Thompson ranch, he was fired upon from ambush. The first shot wounded his horse and the next struck the rider in the thigh. All circumstances and physical evidence clearly showed these facts and proved further that Don Refugio drew his rifle and fired one shot as he saw his assailant running off through the brush. He then turned his horse back toward town, rode a short distance to where he dismounted and sat in the shade of a small tree, where he died from loss of blood. The horse remained with his dead master until a passing woodhauler discovered the body. The man left his wagon and team, mounted the slightly wounded horse and rode into town with the news of the tragedy.
A few hours afterward Cadena appeared at Jones’ camp in Quemado Valley, some 15 miles from the scene of the murder. Cadena told Jones to send someone to take charge of the sheep that he had been herding. He added that he was going to Mexico because San Miguel, who had accused him of stealing sheep, had today tried to kill him. As proof of the statement he exhibited a bullet hole through one of his ears. George San Miguel, a cousin of Don Refugio’s, was at Jones camp, heard the conversation and saw the wound. Had he know that his cousin had been murdered, he would have captured or killed Cadena.
About 20 years after this tragedy, Cadena was arrested somewhere in Texas and was brought to Eagle Pass and put in jail. Trine went down to look at him and found an old man, well up in the 80’s with a bullet hole through one ear. The decrepitude of the old fellow so touched Trine’s heart the he prevailed upon the district attorney to dismiss the murder charges against him and let the old man go free. After the procedure had been agreed upon, Trine went to the old man in jail and told him that his release was conditioned upon his promise to go to Mexico and to never return, for said Trine “I do not wish to harm you. But if you stay here where I can see you every day, I may have a change of heart.” The old fellow was released and went back to Mexico where he died.
When Don Refugio (San) Miguel was murdered in 1868, his wife Rita was left a widow, with six small children, Trine the eldest being scarcely 9 years old. True to border conditions everywhere in those days, she was faced with great difficulties. Her history proves she met these obstacles as fearlessly and as bravely as did our own Anglo-Saxon mothers on the frontier. Sometime before his death Don Refugio had located a new ranch on Elm Creek about seven or eight miles above his first location. It was on low ground, and after being flooded several times, was at last destroyed by high water. The Widow San Miguel was confronted with the necessity of selecting a new site for the ranch buildings. She found a location near a large deep water hole on a western branch of Elm Creek, about three miles west of the present railroad station of Palomas.
Doubtless Rita San Miguel had to draw heavily upon her heroic courage for, in addition to building the new ranch home, she had to maintain her position of importance in the community and keep the wealth for which she and her husband had so valiantly struggled. She was the owner of hundreds of horses and thousands of cattle scattered over a vast, unfenced range, open to the incursions of hostile and thieving Indians and of the outlaws of two major nations, who hesitated not to prey upon the weak as well as upon the strong, and who took their toll of loot and of blood wherever it might be found. Nature had endowed her with a brave heart and a strong mind or she could not have gone forward in the face of such grave difficulties and dangers. Besides her great livestock and ranch interests, she had to keep the freight carts on the road and attend a thousand and one duties.
Through it all she managed to keep the two boys and four girls in school. As the children advanced from the little grade school of Eagle Pass, the lion-hearted mother gathered her retainers about her and under cover of their guns escorted the little fellows through the wild land of Indians and outlaws to San Antonio where she placed the boys in St. Mary College and the girls in Ursuline Convent. Few can realize the courage required to make several round trips of over 300 miles each through Indian infested country every year. These journeys usually consumed four days each way and were made in the old style hack or ambulance, drawn by four good horses or mule. The escort consisted of four of the best men on the ranch and often included Jesse Sifuentes, Roberto Guerrero and Jose Maria Nido as mounted outriders and of Jesus Vella as driver and cook. These men were always armed and prepared to defend their mistress against all comers. Tents and other equipment were carried along for the convenience of the women. While never attacked by Indians, these journeys to and from San Antonio were always filled with grave risks for the entire party and they had many narrow escapes from large war parties of Indians
In 1873 the contract for erecting the new ranch house, called “El Sauz”, was let to Green Vann, who had been second sheriff of Maverick County. The stability of his workmanship is attested to by the fact that the house is still standing in good condition. It is an oblong two story building with a great stone tower, with entrances to the tower from the first and second floors and an eccessible (sic) roof at the northeast corner of the main building. The walls of the tower and the main building are fitted with portholes for the use of rifles from within. The whole was surrounded by a high stone and adobe inclosure (sic), which increased its defensive power and served as stock corrals. It was a veritable fortress and served the owner well. The Indians made many raids to its vicinity, often chasing the vaqueros into its protecting walls. One time Trine, himself, had a narrow escape from a band of hostile savages who followed him to its very doors in a vain attempt to capture him alive. He escaped that terrible experience by the fleetness of pony and by his own good judgment and hard riding. Trine has often said that every hair was standing straight up as he dashed through the welcoming portals of the old place, because he heard the swish of the hurtling lassos as they almost fell about his dodging head, while the Indians tried to rope him. They could have killed him with their rifles or their bows and arrows, since they had chased him for several miles and were very close to him. But evidently they preferred to capture him alive, possibly with the intention of adopting into their tribe this son of the brave woman, who had successfully defied them on their vast range. These Indian raids were a continual menace through all the years up until July 1877, when the last one was made by a war party of Kickapoos.
Under Rita San Miguel’s careful management the livestock and the other holdings of the estate increased as the years went by. When the time came for Trine, as the eldest son, to assume control, there was hardly a ripple on the surface of the great business as his capable mind began directing the affairs. At one time the San Miguel’s branded as many as 2,300 calves in one year; and their remuda was the largest and the best in this part of the southwest. These cattle ranged over many counties. So it became Trine’s duty to take an active part in many interesting, adventurous events. Once he, accompanied by one of his vaqueros, was returning from a business trip into an adjoining county, when he discovered a wild steer, bearing the fierro viejo (sic), among a bunch of range cattle. They were 60 miles from “El Sauz”. The vaquero could think of no way to drive the steer home because he knew it was impossible to drive a big wild steer alone for such a long distance. At last Trine had an idea and said, “That’s a muley steer, isn’t it?” “Yes” the vaquero replied. “Well he can’t hook the pack horse. So lets neck them together and drive the two. “This was done. After several miles of rebellious struggling the wild steer settled down to the pack horse’s gait and was safely returned to the home ranch.
At another time Trine was called by the Sheriff of a neighboring county to identify one of his cows by the brand and make a complaint against a man for stealing this cow’s calf. In those days of open ranges and great herds there were many honest errors in branding out the yearly crop of calves among the owner of large herds. There was always a mutual understanding between these owners that that when these errors were discovered they should be corrected according to certain well laid-down rules for such cases. At the same time there many thieves, fellows who were usually owners of only a few cattle and who were struggling to build up large herds for themselves by the simple, quick process of annexation. This was the annexation of the unbranded calves of their successful neighbors, who had probably in their turn pursued this same process of annexation. It was considered impossible as well as unethical for one of these little fellow (sic) to make a mistake in putting his brand on one of his neighbor’s calves, since it was a well known fact that each one of the little men could recognize his own cattle by their flesh marks as far as he could see them. This of course was an impossible accomplishment for the owners of thousands.
In this case Trine went over to the adjoining county and claimed the cow in question, because she bore his brand. This cow’s calf carried a different brand. So a warrant for the arrest of the owner of the calf’s brand was issued, after Trine had been told this fellow was the owner of only a dozen or so cows and was considered a thief of no little repute. In due course of time was announced to District Court for the trial of the case. He was sitting in the courtroom when the case was called and saw the defendant for the first time as the latter strode forward in answer to his name. The man was poorly dressed and was followed by two small, ragged children.
In answer to the court’s inquiry, he said he had no lawyer, had no money to hire one. Thereupon, the court appointed a young, inexperienced attorney to defend the man, who had already been condemned by nearly every- one in the room. Trine leaned toward some of those sitting nearby and asked if the children belonged to the defendant. When answered in the affirmative, he wanted to know where their mother was. He was told that she was dead. Then he motioned me aside and said: “This man must not be sent to the penitentiary. Here, take this (sic) hundred dollars and get the best lawyer in town to defend him. Tell the lawyer to ask me when on the stand if many honest mistakes are not made branding calves on the range. And be sure to keep your mouth shut about my part in this.” Trine made a good witness for the defendant, who was cleared of the charge.
Trine knew all the great gunmen of the Southwest, who rode unhindered and unhung and lived and died by the power of the Colt .45. He knew King Fisher, Ben Thompson and dozens of lesser lights, all history makers (sic) up and down the Rio Grande, who rode in and out of towns under clouds of acrid smoke, the choking blue of the old black powder days. Above them all Trine admired King Fisher. And there seemed to have been a mutual feeling of regard between the two. Fisher had proved his friendship under many trying circumstances. One day two of Fisher’s men were trying to find some comfort on the shady side of a jacal, when they saw one Prajedes, a wood hauler, driving his ox cart down the road. One of these men said to the other, “I’ll take the brindle ox, and you take the other. If I fail to kill mine, I’ll give you $15, and if you miss yours, you give me $15”. “It’s a bet,“ (sic) said the other.
Out came two six shooter and it took a quick ear to distinguish two reports as the two oxen fell dead on what is now Main Street in front of the Eagle drug store. Prajedes, fearing that the next shots might be aimed for him, lost no time in leaving his team to its fate. A few minutes afterward King Fisher saw the dead oxen and asked Trine who killed them. When told how it was done, he asked Trine to go with him to the owner to interpret for him, because he wanted to find out the amount of the damage and make it good. As the two approached Prajedes’ house, all was in consternation, since the Mexican thought that Fisher was coming to finish the job, which his men had started, by killing the wood-hauler also, Prajedes’ wife met them outside the door of the little shack, saying that her man was absent and humbly desiring to know the will of Mr. King. It took a lot of explaining on Trine’s part to convince her that no harm was intended toward her husband. Even then she would not tell them his whereabouts, but invited them into the house, and while talking to Trine, made signs for him to look under the bed, where he found the much frightened Mexican, who was finally persuaded to come out. After much more persuasion, he told Fisher that the oxen were worth $25, the average price of such a team in those days. Fisher and Trine went down to saloon, where the former found a crowd of his men. He asked them who killed the oxen. Two men spoke up to say they did. They told of the $15 dollar bet, which neither had lost since each had hit his target. Fisher replied to this; “You are wrong. You both lost because each of you will have to dig up $15 for that poor old Mexican.” Fisher collected the money, and gave it to Prajedes, telling him to go skin the oxen and sell the meat and the hides. The old Mexican did this, probably feeling very well paid for the scare and other inconveniences.
At another time Trine rode a splendid grey horse into town. He left this horse, which he had recently bought and not branded, at one of the feed corrals, where one of Fisher’s men discovered it and appropriated it for his own use. Trine went to the Justice of the Peace, a Mr. Dell, to swear out a warrant for the arrest of the culprit and a process for the recovery of the horse. The judge, a fatherly old man, took Trine aside and earnestly advised him to drop the matter finally saying: “If you are bound to have a grey horse, please go buy another. Otherwise this rascal will probably kill you and the court, too.” Trine abided by the judge’s advice and waited for Fisher to come to town. Then he told him of the theft.
Fisher said: “Get a rope and come along with me.” They found the horse, which Trine was instructed to take home, while Fisher told his men in no uncertain terms that they had been instructed to not take any of the San Miguel horses. The fellow’s only excuse was that gray horse did not wear the “Fierro Viejo.”
Thus one sees that Trine’s life has been spent along the Rio Grande, that muddy, crooked stream which for a thousand miles or more, forms the boundary line between two great nations that have not always been friendly and that in the earlier days snarled back and forth across the river as if the very existence of each depended upon the destruction of the other. He lived during the days of the border wars, when it required a real he-man of faith and courage to stand up and show the color of his flag. No man of “white” blood ever proved himself more true (sic), more loyal to all that real Americanism stands for than this man, my friend, Trinidad San Miguel. In the bitterest days of strife and ill feeling and in spite of his sincere loyalty to our great county, he has, by his outstanding manhood and loyalty, kept the respect and the confidence of those of his own blood beyond the Rio Grande. He has a host of friends for hundreds of mile up and down the border and far back into the hinterland of both nations, to all of these friends he is affectionately known as Trine.
It was nearly 50 years ago that the writer, a mere barefoot boy in the hot sands and the cacti-strewn hills of the Southwest knew Trine. He was a kindly, loveable young man. As the crowding years pushed us forward into the mysterious future, we came into very close relationship. We worked the cattle ranges and we rode guard for Uncle Sam along the winding Rio Grande. Through this association I learned that a night never got too dark, or times too hard for Trine to reach out and help someone less fortunate than himself. He was always a friend to the poor, to the lowly and to those in distress. The people of old Maverick County have shown time and again their faith and confidence in his ability and integrity by electing him to many important offices. At one time he was hide and animal inspector; at another he was school trustee. He served as county treasurer eight years and as county assessor sixteen years. The Federal Government had confidence in him, too, because he served a deputy US marshal and mounted inspector of customs for six years. This same patriotism and desire for service must have been perpetuated in his son, Trinidad, Jr., for, when the great war (sic) came on that young man proudly entered the infantry service as a private and, when discharged 26 months later, wore the insignia of a regimental sergeant-major, high rank in the army for non-commissioned officers.
The old San Miguel home, built in 1864 on the site of the original Mulberry log cabin, is still standing. It is owned and occupied by Miguel San Miguel, an honored and respected citizen of Eagle Pass and one of the younger children of Don Refugio and Rita San Miguel. Trinidad San Miguel has always lived in Eagle Pass but now owns and operates a quiet substantial business house in Piedras Negras, Mexico, where he loves to welcome and prove his friendship to his fellow Americans. And here in this restful place it is a delight to loiter and to hear his tales of the early frontier days. Knowing the facts of those days has been the urge for my telling some of the things that I know about this big-hearted man, who grew up and spent his life in the service of the great Southwest, while it was in the making.