Discover more from Armas
Podcast: "The Hard Country," Ep.12, and the fortress.
The inheritance in stone, on the banks of the Rio Grande.
On the banks of the Rio Grande just north of San Ygnacio, Texas, there is a ranch I’ve passed time and again with no especial notice. I’ve seen San Ygnacio many times: its charming architecture and well-preserved Treviño-Uribe fort are mandatory visits when driving upriver from McAllen to Laredo. It is easily over 150 miles one-way — a day trip in Texas — and so the opportunity to stop is welcome. This is the old country, Nuevo Santander, founded in the 1750s with the river as a unifying center rather than a dividing border. My ancestors were among the founders.
The ranch to the north of San Ygnacio was, I was told once, held by a family with exceptionally deep roots in the region. This is not uncommon. But this past week, I saw new signage up and immediately turned off the main highway to visit. The sign announced that the ranch was, in fact, San José de los Corralitos. I had read about it before. But I never knew this ranch was it. And yet: behold.
There, on the ranch, stands still the small fortress built in 1753 by the settler patriarch José Fernando Vidaurri. It is a small, stout, and formidable structure, hardly bigger than a small room, and oriented entirely toward the defense. There are gun ports but no windows. The stone walls are three feet thick. The roof is built to accommodate riflemen up top. Fully manned, attackers will meet fire from the front and fire from above. Within, whatever women and children are present will pray — the interior’s sole feature is an ersatz altar — and pass the ammunition.
This was the Rio Grande frontier of days gone by: violent and capricious. The Vidaurris spent each night within their fortress for most of the next century.
It is of more than academic interest. José Fernando Vidaurri is my sixth-great grandfather. We live in ease because our forefathers lived, fought, and won in their riverside fortress.
In this week’s episode of The Hard Country, we discuss our experiences on the Rio Grande, the horrors of human trafficking on the border — including heartbreaking tales of children trapped in that web — and what comes next on the troubled southern frontier. The situation there is fraught to be sure: but the fortress reminds us that this is not the exception in the history of south Texas and northern Mexico, but the norm.
The question is whether we meet today’s challenges with the decisiveness and tenacity of our forefathers.
Armas is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.