- A Life Crossing Borders: Memoir of a Mexican-American Confederate/Las memorias de un mexicoamericano en la Confederación
“I begin my biography today at the age of 71 years and twenty-three days,” Rev. Santiago Tafolla wrote from Pearsall, Texas, in 1908. Born in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1837, at age eleven Tafolla and a cousin fled an abusive brother on foot across the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and then along the Santa Fe Trail. Hungry and desperate after several days walking, Tafolla remembered approaching a wagon train and hearing in poor Spanish the words: “Muchacho, ¿quiero vamos Estados Unidos?” Tafolla replied, “Si, yo quiero.”
Knowing little English, the eleven-year-old arrived at Independence, Missouri, where he made his way to St. Louis and eventually New York City and Washington, D. C., where he worked as an errand boy and entered a Catholic school. Still learning English, he traveled to South Carolina where a crowd gathered to see the “Mexican boy.” Taken in by a wealthy planter, Tafolla was treated as a member of the family and worked as a cobbler, eventually returning to the nation’s capital where he obtained employment as a tailor. Noticing a recruiting ad in the Baltimore Sun calling for fifty young men to join the 2nd United States Cavalry in Texas, New Mexico, and California, Tafolla rushed to the War Department where he personally offered his services to Secretary of War Jefferson Davis. [End Page 220]
Sent to Texas, Tafolla was stationed at Fort Belknap, Fort Mason, and finally at Camp Verde. He served as company bugler, fought Indians, hunted buffalo, carried mail, and made friends with José Policarpio “Polly” Rodríguez, undeniably the best guide in the army at the time. After five years in the army, Tafolla was honorably discharged and was able to purchase 160 acres of land on Privilege Creek near Bandera. Caught up in the fervor of the times, Tafolla enlisted in the 33rd Texas Cavalry and was sent to guard the Texas-Mexico border. Near the mouth of the Rio Grande he was part of the incident when Confederates crossed to the Mexican side of the river and abducted Edmund J. Davis and William W. Montgomery. Tafolla’s account of the event, which ended in Montgomery’s lynching and considerable excitement on both sides of the Rio Grande, is one of the few eyewitness accounts of this event. When the regiment received orders to deploy to Louisiana, considerable discontent developed among the Tejanos in the regiment. A serious dispute erupted when several men in the regiment threatened to “put an end to all the greasers in their midst” (70). Tafolla and six Tejano friends, fed up with the discrimination in Texas at the time, left the regiment and made their way to Piedras Negras, Coahuila. Like hundreds of other Texas Confederates who fled to Mexico, Tafolla returned to the Lone Star State where he ranched, became a traveling merchant, raised a large family, served as Justice of the Peace for Bandera County, and renewed his friendship with Policarpio Rodríguez. He also became a minister in the Methodist Church. A nice epilogue by the editors carries Tafolla’s life forward to his death at Seguin in October 1911.
Tafolla’s deeply personal and inspirational memoir of a Tejano Confederate is the only one known to exist. In recovering, editing, and publishing Tafolla’s memoirs in both English and Spanish as part of the Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Project at the University of Houston, Carmen and Laura Tafolla, great-granddaughters of Santiago, should be congratulated. Had the editors been more familiar with army records at the National Archives and the latest Civil War scholarship, however, Tafolla’s life in the army, at least in the endnotes, could have been made a bit more complete. Tafolla’s memoir is not as detailed as that of Maj...