Originally publised in El Paso Times
AUSTIN — It has been 100 years since 15 unarmed men and boys from a small border town south of Marfa were executed in the middle of night.
“Men were dragged from their beds, and, without having been given time to dress, were led away in their night clothes to the edge of the settlement, where they were shot to death by the posse,” reads an El Paso Morning Times article published on Feb. 8, 1918, almost two weeks after the massacre. “The bodies of the men were found the next day where they had fallen, riddled with bullets.”
They were killed after a group of Texas Rangers, U.S. Army cavalry soldiers and local ranchers descended on their village, Porvenir, seeking revenge for a deadly attack at a nearby ranch a month earlier — although there was no evidence tying the villagers to it.
Details of the massacre shed light on the daily realities of one of the most violent periods in Texas history. As bandits from Mexico led raids in Texas towns, law enforcement officers responded to growing fear by being openly violent towards people of Mexican descent.
The massacre was the subject of an investigation by the Texas Legislature, which resulted in a reorganization of the Rangers.
The perpetrators never faced criminal charges, but their actions still are felt 100 years later by the descendants of those who were killed.
These same descendants refuse to let the massacre fade from Texas’ collective memory, inspiring historians to unearth new details about Porvenir and what happened there.
While it is one of the most well-documented atrocities of this period in Texas history, details of the massacre have been shrouded in mystery for decades. Many federal government documents about the killing were classified and the state refused to publish transcripts of the investigation until the late 1970s.
Jerry Patterson, the former Texas land commissioner, helped organize an archaeological dig at the site in 2015, along with a handful of historians. He also is behind an effort to produce a documentary about the massacre.
“I consider myself an amateur historian,” he said. “I’m interested in Confederate history, Tejano history, Buffalo Soldier history — the chapters that are misunderstood, have bad information or nobody knows about.
“Porvenir is a chapter in Texas history that nobody knows about.”