Sunday, February 11, 2007

I'm Here

Although I'm here everyday, I haven't posted in awhile. I have a lot of "splaining" to do, as Ricky Ricardo would say. I'm working on that.

In the meantime, I have a piece about the old Amarillo Air Force Base that I want to get on here. The base, which contributed significantly to Amarillo's economy closed during President Johnson's administration. There has always been talk that Johnson closed the base in retaliation after the Texas Panhandle voted for his Republican opponent. The Panhandle is a bastion of conservatism, and I guess the folks here didn't care much for Johnson, even though he was a Texan.

The base is now owned and used by Amarillo College. The housing that was once homes to thousands of airmen is now rented to students and others. I used to go out there, feeling the energy that once surged through the base and is still palpable, if only to someone like me who once lived on Air Force bases.

I need to go out there and take pictures of the buildings that remain to illustrate the story, and I hope to get that done in the next couple of days.

Also, I'm fortunate to possess several diaries written by my ancestors that date from the late 1700s. They were ranchers in South Texas, and the diaries give us a glimpse into the warfare that was a part of their lives. They had to build a fort for protection, which still stands, and there's a replica of the fort at Texas Tech. You have to understand that the early Spanish ranches were small towns, employing and housing hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people. The ranches were pretty much self-supporting. San Antonio was 110 miles to the north, and Monterry (now in Mexico) was 100 miles to the south. That was a significant distance in those days. Laredo, today an important Texas city, was just another ranch at that time, no bigger than the others. It was owned by another of my ancestors, Tomas Sanchez.

The earliest war narratives detail what my family went through during Mexico's war for independence from Spain. Keep in mind that Texas and all the Southwest was Spain. My family supported the movement for independence, and they paid for it. Spanish soldiers raided the ranches, including ours. They pillaged the ranch and arrested all the men. One of my ancestors, Leonor, detailed the battle.

Later diaries contain information about the Civil War and my family's contributions to the Confederacy. My great-great-great uncle was the highest ranking Hispanic in the Confederate army. The ranches along the Rio Grande River were important to Texas' role in the war. Confederate cotton was smuggled across the river to Monterrey, Mexico, and the increased war trade turned Monterrey into an important city. Today, it is Mexico's leading industrial city.

The last war diaries contain information about the Mexican Revolution of 1910. The ranches along the river were frequently raided, and my great-grandfather kept a good account of those troubles. My grandmother remembered those battles, and she remembers using the fort for protection. The same fort that had sheltered her ancestors through numerous battles with Indians, Spaniards, Mexicans, Americans and bandits.

My family didn't support the war for Texas' independence. They were the descendants of the Spanish conquerors, so their alliance wasn't with the movement that was determined to yank Texas from Mexico and push its entry into the Union as a slave state. Funny thing is that my Spanish ancestors decimated the native population of Mexico, destroying their culture as much as they could. Even with that history of what is really genocide, they objected to the introduction of slavery into Texas by southerners who were moving in. Crazy, huh?

So, I'm translating those diaries which are written, of course, in Spanish. They're valuable to me. Texas Tech wanted me to donate them to their Ranching Heritage Center, and I probably will someday. They contain valuable information about the early establishment of the ranching industry in Texas.

I'm just grateful that our ranch was on the north side of the Rio Grande River. That important fact of geography put us on the American side when Texas became a state. A blessing for which I've always been grateful.


Flag Gazer said...

How incredibly fascinating and wonderful that you are in possession of such magnificent documents! It is an ill reported segment of history - and an important one.

Also, look forward to more on the Amarillo Air Base - it would make sense that Johnson would do that - he was ruthless with his politics when he didn't get what he wanted.

De'on Miller said...

This is grand stuff. Don't get rid of the diaries just yet!

Steve Ramos said...

I don't doubt Johnson had the base closed. I've read Robert Caro's excellent biographies of Johnson, and he details the former president's scorched earth policy when he didn't get his way. Johnson did quite a bit for the Texas Hill Country, where he was from, but he could be a nasty, nasty man if he was crossed.